Thursday, September 27, 2012


The author at Odawara Castle, Odawara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

‘…God is light and in him is no darkness at all.’ (1 Jn 1:5) [RSV]

I have said before that all talk of ‘God’ is the language of poetry. Yes, theology uses the language, metaphors and thought-forms of poetry in an attempt to describe what is. Now, the word ‘God’ is simply an expression, a figure of speech. The word ‘God’---if we choose to use it at all, and I use it very sparingly indeed---refers to that which we deem to be of ‘ultimate’ importance or our ‘ultimate’ concern. (I use the word ‘ultimate’ advisedly, not wishing to suggest for one moment that the so-called ‘ultimate’ is or lies in some supposed order or level of reality ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ so-called ordinary reality. As I see it, there is only one order or level of reality, that is, one way of being, that of ordinary things in time and space. For me, the word ‘ultimate’ is simply synonymous with the words ‘sacred’ and ‘holy’. The sacred or holy is to be found in the ordinary and the everyday, although there is certainly much that is truly extraordinary about the mundane.)

We are told that God is light, not ‘the’ light or ‘a’ light but light itself. This light is said to be the source of all other light. Thus, James writes:

Every good and perfect gift is from above and cometh down from the Father of Lights, in Whom there is no variableness, or shadow of turning (Ja I: 17).

The prophet Isaiah said:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined (Is 9:2).

We dwell in ‘the land of the shadow of death’ when we live mindlessly, that is, when we live with unawareness. Nevertheless, the light still shines, even in the darkness of unawareness. We are simply unaware of that fact---very much to our detriment, I might add.

Now, here is a paradox. All of the world’s major religions, and most other systems of spirituality as well, exhort us to seek some ultimate ‘light’, which is said to be ‘above’ or ‘beyond’ us, ‘within’ us, or both. However, in that wonderful little work of Christian mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing, we are told that we must ‘learn to be at home’ in darkness. Why darkness? Because when there is ‘darkness’ the things of the world are no longer visible, so we can’t see them. If we are to live mindfully---that is, with choiceless awareness of what is from one moment to the next---we must learn to be ‘at home’ in darkness.

No matter what happens to us, our life can still be ‘brighter than the noonday sun’ (cf Job 11:17), and we can shine even in darkness. Returning to the theme of The Cloud of Unknowing, we are most likely to come to know God (or Life, Truth or Reality) as light in darkness---as that ‘cloud of unknowing’ that remains when we objectively see things-as-they-are--things both inner and outer---without becoming attached to anything.  In other words, there is no choosing to be aware of one thing but not another. We simply look, watch and observe without identifying too closely with any elements of the experience and without judging anything that arises as 'good' or 'bad'.  In other words, we do not try to dispel the cloud but simply let it be.

Yes, you can walk in darkness yet still see a great light---at all times. In order to see that light---at all times--- there must be no analysis, comment, judgment, evaluation or condemnation, no 'abiding of thought' anywhere on anything, just a constant, continuous, pliable, effortless, ever-present and unconditioned state of impartial, objective and choiceless awareness of life as it unfolds from one moment to the next. In the words of James, there must be ‘no variableness, or shadow of turning.’



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