A Flash of Light

A Flash of Light January 1, 2024


a firework against a black sky
image via Pixabay

The sun went down on the last day of the year, though we couldn’t see it.

It’s a proper Northern Appalachian winter now, a mix of perpetual wet, snow and sleet and sloppy rain but rarely sun. There will be clouds above and slick muddy earth below for about two and a half months. Astronomically, the nights will get shorter bit by bit, gradually but inevitably.  Meteorologically, it’ll be night until mid-March. Experientially, it will be night until the crocuses bloom and not fully morning until we see the harbinger-of-spring.

Michael wanted to go to Mass at eleven-thirty at night, a vigil for the next day’s solemnity.

I didn’t.

I’ve begun to go back to Sunday Masses, most of the time, but I can’t imagine going more often than that.

There was no bus in the middle of  the night, so I said I’d give him a lift. Adrienne came along for the fun of a drive somewhere. After we dropped him off, there didn’t seem to be any point in going all the way home just to come back, so we drove up and down the neighborhoods, chatting in the last cold drizzle of December.

We didn’t need to glance at the clock to know when it was midnight.

There was a boom, deeper and more staccato than natural thunder, and then a great flash reflecting off the amethyst clouds. I couldn’t see the explosion, just the flash. If I’d been new to the Valley I’d have thought it was lightning. And then the volley went up: a great burst of glittering white chrysanthemums across the firmament where the stars ought to be.

“Do you know why they do that at New Years?” I remarked to Adrienne.  “They used to believe that evil spirits were afraid of light and loud bangs, so they started a tradition of setting off fireworks to drive the bad luck out of the new year.”

As I’ve observed so many times, Northern Appalachian people love their fireworks. Others may associate fireworks with China or Independence Day, but I will always associate fireworks with the east coast of Ohio and the chimney of West Virginia. There is nothing more Northern Appalachian than scraping together more money you can comfortably afford to buy the very finest dubiously legal pyrotechnics from a shack across the state border, hoarding them all year, then shooting them off in the back alley to capstone your weekend celebration. There are backyard firework parties for the last three weeks of June and into August; there are backyard fireworks for birthdays and graduations; there are backyard fireworks in the freezing cold at midnight on New Years’ Eve. We celebrate by exploding things and lighting them on fire.

For auld lang syne, my dear or auld lang syne, we’ll drink a cup of kindness yet for days of auld lang syne! 
I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit Heaven, the glorious sun’s lifegiving ray, the whiteness of the moon at even, the flashing of the lightning free, the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks, the stable earth, the deep salt sea, around the old eternal rocks. 
This is the year of the favor of the Lord! This is the year of the vengeance of our God! This is the year of the favor of the Lord! This is the year of the vengeance of our God, the vengeance of our God! 
Glória in excélsis Deo et in terra pax homínibus bonæ voluntátis. Laudámus te, benedícimus te, adorámus te, glorificámus te, grátias ágimus tibi propter magnam glóriam tuam.

We drove up and down the pleasanter streets in the nice part of town, between rows of neat houses festooned with glorious Christmas displays– whimsical balloon snowmen and woven wicker reindeer, and here and there a luminous plastic creche. Above, the rockets continued to go up. Those evil spirits didn’t stand a chance, not in Northern Appalachia.

For a moment, the wh0le of the world was noise and light, and noise and light were the whole of the world.

And then it was quiet again.

We circled up and down a few more times before picking up Michael at the front of the church. The priests were still on the church porch shaking hands, their white embroidered vestments glittering in the porch light as if they, too, were decorated for Christmas. He jumped in the car, his coat reeking of incense.

“They sang the Veni Creator Spiritus” for the recessional hymn,” he said. “You would have liked it.”

I did used to like that hymn, a lifetime ago.

It’s complicated now.

Former Charismatics do not get along with the Holy Spirit.

No, that’s not strictly true. If there really is a Holy Spirit, a spirit of charity,  joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, She stands with me in direct opposition to the religious sect that drew me out to Steubenville and destroyed my life. There is the spirit of Mike Scanlan and his cronies, and then there is the Holy One who will burst out like an Appalachian firework and scare the Charismatic Renewal off to hell where it belongs. No matter what else may prove to be true, their god is nothing.

Veni Creator Spiritus,
Mentes tuorum visita,
Imple superna gratia,
Quae tu creasti pectora.

Qui diceris Paraclitus,
Altissimi donum Dei,
Fons vivus, ignis, caritas,
Et spiritalis unctio.

Tu septiformis munere,
Digitus Paternae dexterae,
Tu rite promissum Patris,
Sermone ditans guttura.

You will be clothed with power from on high, when the Holy Spirit comes to you! And you will be my witnesses throughout the ends of the earth! 

Holy Spirit, Glorify thy name. Holy Spirit, purify thy name!  Come, Holy Spirit, let the fire fall. Come, Holy Spirit, let the fire fall. Let the fire fall, let the fire fall! 

This is the year of the favor of the Lord! This is the year of the vengeance of our God! This is the year of the favor of the Lord! This is the year of the vengeance of our God, the vengeance of our God! 

We went home, in the dark early morning of a brand new year with no evil in it yet.

It didn’t feel safe, but it felt better.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.






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