Volume 26, No. 17
April 29, 2001
It was a complete failure and a glowing success at the same time. It
happened in Italy during 1603.
Vincenzo Cascariolo was a shoemaker in the city of Bologna, but his
real passion was alchemy, the forerunner of modern chemistry.
Alchemists were obsessed with finding two things: the "elixir of life"
-- a drink that would halt decay and death -- and "the philosopher's
stone," a way of turning common metals like iron and copper into gold.
It was that second search that preoccupied Cascariolo. One day, he
heated a mixture of powdered coal and barium sulfate, spread it over an
iron bar, and let it cool. Much to his disappointment, the iron didn't
turn to gold. But when the cobbler put the bar on a shelf in a dark
room, he was astonished to see it glow!
Though the light eventually faded, Cascariolo found that repeated
exposure to the sun "reanimated" the bar. The pseudo-scientist thought
he'd stumbled upon a way of capturing the sun's rays and, in a primitive
way, his chemicals did briefly store a form of solar energy. But the
process was shrouded in mystery. All across Italy, the new compound was
known simply as lapis solaris, or "sun stone". Ironically, priests were
the first to embrace the new discovery. Crucifixes, rosary beads and
religious figurines were covered with the material to give them a
holy-looking halo. Before long, people believed prayers said in the
presence of the glowing icons would be answered more quickly. The
market for glow-in-the-dark objects exploded and remains strong today,
even though the ancient sense of awe has long been replaced with the
knowledge of how molecules absorb and radiate light.
When you think of it, Christians are glow-in-the-dark symbols of
faith. In fact, many of us begin our personal transformations with
motives not too different from Cascariolo's. In a search to turn our
common, ordinary lives into something of special value we experiment
with a variety of combinations. Invariably, we're disappointed.
The things we hope will deliver approval and popularity, respect, status
and success never deliver. We can't reach the expectations we set for
ourselves, let alone the standards imposed upon us, so we end up on the
But often it's when we stop chasing the world's tainted, unattainable
dream that a curious thing happens. As the Spirit of God works upon our
cold, hard heart, we begin to glow. It's not something we figure out,
or achieve on our own. The Light is a simple reflection of the Son's
power and energy in our lives, but it's unmistakable to those who see us
in the darkness of the world. That's the way Jesus wants it. "You are
the light of the world ... glowing in the night," he tells us. "[Let]
your good deeds shine out for all to see so everyone will praise your
heavenly Father." (Matt. 5:14-16).
To some, we'll be nothing more than religious curiosities. But
sometimes our reflected glory will attract others looking for the light.
Just remember that our feeble rays fade quickly. That's why we need
repeated, replenishing exposure to the Son, to keep us renewed and
reanimated. In that way, when we go back into the blackness of the
world, we'll not only glow in the dark, we'll grow in it, too.
For us, the search is over. With his sacrificial death, his
resurrection, and the vitality of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has found a way
to transform us from the unimportant into the priceless. He's also our
official supplier of the Living Water -- the true Elixir of life.
--by Rick Gamble, published in Cross Current, Brantford, Ontario.
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