Caspar David Friedrich created this small painting in 1825. It is called Woman Climbing up to the Light and shows his wife Caroline going up the steep stairs in their house—seemingly an everyday scene. But there is a provocation in this motif. These stairs are a deeply undistinguished part of the house: narrow, cold, dark, ugly—not worthy of being painted. And yet there is a sense of magic, of mystical enchantment in this painting. A secret force, it seems, elevates the woman from the dark and depressing depths to a higher and brighter level. The light is clear and warm—but apparently without a source. There is no lamp, torch, window, or open door to be seen. It is a light from nowhere. Or is it an inner light that only the painter—or the woman—can ‘see’? She does not look up to the light, but her bearing is unusually upright and easy. There can be just one explanation: she is ‘in’ the light.
The first Christians lived in a paradox. They had received God’s redeeming grace and yet continued to lead a modest or even miserable life. Ephesians 5 stresses the newness of Christian existence: ‘You were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord’ (v.8). What kind of a light is this? It must be an inner force that transforms an existence that outwardly may not change all that much. In this sense, Friedrich’s painting can be seen as a modern commentary on this ‘inner light’. It gives an idea of what it means to live in the light, to be light in the Lord, overcoming the barriers between dark and light, down and up, depression and hope, death and life, the immanent and the transcendent.
Hofmann, Werner. 2000. Caspar David Friedrich (New York: Thames and Hudson)
3 But fornication and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. 4Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. 6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. 7Therefore do not associate with them, 8for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light 9(for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10and try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is a shame even to speak of the things that they do in secret; 13but when anything is exposed by the light it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. 14Therefore it is said,
“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,
and Christ shall give you light.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, 20always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.