God: The Cause of Our Wonder

You make darkness, and it is night…   (Psalm 104:20)

…even the darkness is not dark to you;

the night is as bright as the day,

for darkness is as light to you.  (Psalm 139:12)

He bowed the heavens, and came down;

thick darkness was under his feet.

He rode on a cherub, and flew;

he came swiftly upon the wings of the wind.

He made darkness his covering around him,

his canopy thick clouds dark with water.  (Psalm 18:9-11)

 

And so it proves to be for each one who follows the spiritual Way. We go out from the known to the unknown, we advance from light into darkness. We do not simply proceed from the darkness of igno­rance into the light of knowledge, but we go forward from the light of partial knowledge into a greater knowledge which is so much more profound that it can only be described as the “dark­ness of unknowing.”

Like Socrates we begin to realize how little we understand. We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progres­sively aware of a mystery.

God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder. Quoting Psalm 8:1, “O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth”, St Gregory of Nyssa states: “God’s name is not known; it is won­dered at.”

(Kallistos Ware, The Orthodox Way, p. 16)

Jesus is the Light of the World

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”  (St. Simeon, Luke 2:29-32)

“In the Old Testament, Moses entered into that light, that luminous cloud on the mountaintop. In Exodus, when Moses is coming down from the mountain, his face is shining with the light, and they have to put a veil over his face because people could not look at him (see Ex. 34:29–35). In the synoptic Gospels, at the Transfiguration, Jesus goes up on Mt. Tabor with Peter, James, and John and is transfigured, shining with the uncreated light. The disciples see Him, but they have to hide their faces (see Matt. 17:1–9; Mark 9:2–10; Luke 9:28–36).

These passages show the real, divine light that is in the world, a light that human beings can actually experience. We can know it and see it, and as creatures we can participate in it. The mystical saints, when speaking of this light, name it Jesus. If there are holy and righteous people anywhere who have pure hearts and seek the true God, God in His mercy may reveal to them His divine light.

We, as Christians, would say it is Jesus Christ they see. The others may not know it is Jesus, but we do. This glory St. John speaks about—“we have beheld his glory” (John 1:14)—is the uncreated splendor of God that Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah in the temple saw in the Old Testament.

It is the light St. Paul saw when he was struck down on the road to Damascus. This light of God, we Christians confess, is hypostatically, personally, Jesus Christ. Not only does this light shine from Jesus’ face in the Transfiguration, but in St. John’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘I am this Light.‘ Jesus Christ is the Light and the source of light.”

(Thomas Hopko, The Names of Jesus: Discovering the Person of Christ through Scripture, Kindle Location 2855-2866)

What the Blind Man Could See Even Without His Eyes

“And he who sees me sees him who sent me.” (John 12:45)

This past Sunday’s Gospel lesson was John 9:1-38  – Christ healing a man who had been born blind.   Several of the hymns from Matins today reviewed the events and point out that what was clear to the blind man was that the enemies of Christ were indeed “darkened in heart, mind and soul” and were willfully blind to the facts.  Christ’s opponents found the truth to be inconvenient for them and so they tried to change, distort or destroy the facts so they could hold to their own interpretation of events.

THE MAN ONCE BLIND SAW THAT THOSE WITH SIGHT WERE TRULY BLIND, DARKENED IN HEART, MIND AND SOUL, FOR WHEN THEY SAW THAT HE SUDDENLY WAS ABLE TO SEE, THEY QUESTIONED HIM WITH PERSISTENCE: HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU NOW TO SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY?  YOU WERE BLIND FROM BIRTH.  YOU SAT ON THE ROADSIDES AND BEGGED!  HE TOLD THEM WHO HAD GIVEN HIM SIGHT, AND IN THE MIDST OF THEIR DARKENED ASSEMBLY HE CONFESSED YOU: THE SON, BEGOTTEN OF THE FATHER BEFORE THE AGES, WHO FASHIONED THE LIGHTS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND IN THESE LAST DAYS, IN YOUR COMPASSION, BY THE HOLY SPIRIT, FROM THE VIRGIN MARY, DAWNED UPON THE WORLD AS A MORTAL MAN!

Light was shining in the darkness but those opposed to Christ preferred the darkness so that they wouldn’t have to change their own beliefs or practices.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.”  (John 3:19-20)

 

The man born blind is given not only his physical sight, but true spiritual insight.  He sees for the first time, but what he sees came not from his physical eyes but from the eyes of his heart and soul.  For he sees light for the first time and immediately recognizes Christ, the light of the world.  He was blind from birth but he was not willfully blind – given the opportunity, he could immediately see what those who had never been physically blind could not.

THE BLIND MAN WALKED THE STREETS OF LIFE LIKE ONE CONDEMNED TO ENDLESS LABOR IN THE PITS OF THE EARTH.  HIS FEET WERE BRUISED; HE HAD A STAFF INSTEAD OF EYES, AND THUS HE FLED FOR REFUGE TO THE GIVER OF LIGHT.  HE RECEIVED HIS SIGHT, AND THE FIRST THING HE SAW WAS HIS CREATOR WHO FASHIONED THE HUMAN RACE ACCORDING TO HIS OWN IMAGE AND LIKENESS.  HE CREATED ALL THINGS FIRST FROM THE DUST OF THE EARTH, AND NOW HE GIVES LIGHT THROUGH DUST AND SPITTLE, OPENING BLIND EYES TO THE SUN, IN HIS LOVE FOR MANKIND.

Usually, if we get dust or dirt in  our eyes, we cannot see and our eyelids want to close.  But when Christ puts the clay made from dust and spittle on the man’s eyes, the blind suddenly can see for his eyes were opened.  Dirt and dust did not block his view but opened his eyes to the spiritual reality that Christ is Lord, God and Savior.

Light Shines in Darkness

“It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6)

So interesting is the wording here – God commands the light to shine out of darkness not into it.  It is as if God can see the light which exists in the darkness and summons it forth, so that it is  hidden no more.  It turns out that darkness has no substance, and is revealed to be nothing.   More interesting is that St Paul connects the darkness and the light to our own hearts – it is not something outside of ourselves. Yet, Christ who is light abides in us.  St. Peter says that God called us “out of darkness into his marvelous light.”  (1 Peter 2:9).  The darkness is not external to us, but it is alien to us!

“… the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God.”  (1 Corinthians 4;5)

The darkness is not necessarily malevolent.  It hides things, and so in it is mystery.  Mystery both defines the nature of God as well as gives name to the sacramental realities.  So it is also true that as we are attracted to God who is light, we find in God hidden mysteries – there is darkness, and we can enter into that darkness to deepen our experience of God.   St. Gregory of Nyssa says:

“The manifestation of God was made first to Moses though light; then He spoke with him in the cloud; finally, having become more perfect, Moses contemplated God in darkness. The passage from darkness to light is the first separation (anachoresis) from false and erroneous ideas about God. The more attentive understanding of divine things, leading the soul by invisible things to the invisible reality, is as it were a cloud that obscures everything sensible and accustoms the soul to the contemplation of what is hidden.  Finally, the soul who has traveled by these ways towards the things that are on high, having left earthly things so far as this is possible to human nature, penetrates into the sanctuaries of the divine knowledge (theognosia) surrounded on all sides by the divine darkness.” (in The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers by Louis Bouyer, p 355)

” The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)

The Perpetual Light of the Eternal Christ

“And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light,

to cause the lamp to burn continually.

In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony,

Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD.

It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel.” (Exodus 27:20-21)

A Halloween Sermon (1989)

October 29, 1989                                Luke 8:16-39

It is the Halloween season again. Stores and merchants are featuring all kinds of spooky sights. It is a time to when many mock devils and evil spirits, and some who belong to pagan and satanic cults come out in earnest to worship their powers.

Friday evening, I went over to the Books and Company. They happened to be having an adult Halloween event of some sort. There were indeed a number of strange characters there. What was most interesting to me was that throughout the store, they were having a variety of New Age religionists practicing their persuasion. There were tarot card readers, and various people sniffing and selling some sort of scented liquids which somehow are supposed to relax you or make you feel the forces of nature. There were people offering free mood altering stones, which they claimed would relax you or improve your sex life. These stone age believers hold some sort of religious ceremonies on Saturdays and they were proselytizing among the people in the store trying to win converts to their religion.

While all of this was being done in the supposedly friendly spirit of an adult Halloween event, the people who were aiming to make converts to their New Age religion were quite serious in what they were doing. They certainly were not interested in fun, but seemed to believe in what they were saying and doing. I found myself saddened by the pure pagan ideas being hawked there, and at the deception for which the people so willingly embraced.

For me personally, it was my first contact with the New Age religion which has become faddish and popular these days. It was obvious that so many people around us are hungering for something religious, something ritualistic, something spiritual. It was obvious that there certainly is a spiritual harvest that can be made in America if only we Orthodox would take seriously Jesus Christ’s command to us to go and preach the Gospel to all people. There is obviously a need. There are obviously a number of people who are suffering this spiritual emptiness and who fill that void with any and every type of belief.

So Christ tells us in the Gospel lesson today:

No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a basket or puts it under the bed, but rather he sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light.

My friends, in baptism, and through the faithful hearing of the Gospel, the lamps of our hearts have been illumined. We are to shine with the light of Christ to all of those who walk in darkness. Our faith is not some private thoughts between me and God. Rather, our Faith is to be the Light of the World. In all humility, let the light of Christ shine brightly in your life so that all other people may see Christ in you and give glory to God the Father!

As the Lord Jesus told the man whom he saved from demonic possession, “Return to your own house, and tell what great things God has done for you.” Each of us has to become extremely clear as to what God has done for us personally. We need to rid ourselves of fuzzy thinking about God in our lives.

St. Mark the Ascetic, a 4th Century Christian said:

“Can any man consciously call these things to mind and not be moved always to contrition of heart?  Having so many pledges from the past blessings, will he not always have firm hope, in spite of the fact that he himself has so far done nothing good?  He will say to himself: ‘Though I have done nothing good and have committed many sins before Him, living in uncleanness of the flesh and indulging in may other vices, yet He did not deal with me according to my sins, or reward me according to my iniquities (Ps 103:10), but gave me all these gifts of grace for my salvation.”  (Philokalia, Vol. I, pp 148-149).

Certainly, I am one person who know’s the love and patience of God. There was a time when I refused to go to church, when I openly opposed Christians and even God Himself. Yet God in His patient love waited for my conversion from an evil lifestyle. It is that great love which God showed me personally, the love which He has for the Prodigal child, always waiting for us to return, which moved me to become a priest. It is that message which I want to share with you and to have you share with others.

In Saturday’s newspaper there also appeared an article on the new pagan church of Pantheism. It consisted mostly of an interview with one former Roman Catholic man who had abandoned Christianity for paganism. He said there was a spiritual void in his life which the Catholic Church was not meeting.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be very clear about the activity and love of God in our hearts and lives. We need to share with each other the stories about how God has effected us. We need to have a very clear understanding of who God is and how He relates to us. We must consciously tend to the spiritual needs of the other members of our parish family. Then and only then will we fulfill the commandments of Christ to let the light of the Gospel shine in our lives and to be able to tell others what great things God has done for us.

As was clear to me in yesterday’s workshop in Columbus, we all need to spend more time with each other sharing our spiritual stories, and encouraging each other to be faithful to the Lord God. Our battle in this world is not against armies and the flesh, but rather it is a warfare against the spiritual powers of darkness which are obviously at work right now in our world. In America, we have to be tolerant of the existence of those who want the New Age religion of paganism, spirit forces and magick. As Christians, we have to kindle in our hearts the flame of the Holy Spirit so that we can see the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. Amen.

Out of Darkness Light Will Shine

2 Corinthians 4:6  –  “It is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (St. Paul)

Saint John of Kronstadt wrote:

“Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them – hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depth of his heart cries unto God: ‘Why have You turned Your face from me, You the everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me, the darkness of the accursed evil Satan, and has obscured all my soul. It is very grievous for the soul to be in his torturing darkness, which gives a presentiment of the torments and darkness of hell. Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Your commandments and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray You.’ “ (My Life in Christ, pg.41)

The Word, The Information, The Bit (IV)

This is the 4th and final blog in this essay series reflecting on James Gleick’s book THE INFORMATION: A HISTORY, A THEORY, A FLOOD.   The first blog is The Word, The Information, The Bit (1) and the immediately preceding blog is The Word,  The Information, The Bit (III).

The printing press by making permanent records available to all had the potential to preserve so much information from the past that we might become so overwhelmed with it that we would suffer a memory loss – no longer sure as to what was the exact past as we can now see all of the variations and changes and mistakes of the past – nothing has been forgotten and so the past becomes buried under mounds of facts which we don’t know how to measure or weigh.   Or it is possible that the new technologies in preserving more of the past make it more visible in detail to us, increasing our understanding of ourselves and of history?

“Another way to speak of the anxiety is in terms of the gap between information and knowledge.  A barrage of data so often fails to tell us what we need to know.  Knowledge, in turn, does not guarantee enlightenment or wisdom.  (T. S. Eliot [d 1965]  said that, too:  ‘Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? / Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? …)’”  (p 403)

Or as one clever wag said:

“The more we study, the more we learn.

The more we learn, the more we know.

The more we know, the more we forget.

So, why study?”

All of Gleick’s book is a study of information, whatever that is, it has become the basis of the technologies we use daily and are so dependent on – all of the computing of any sorts we do from cell phones, to GPS, to e-readers, to computers of every size.     It is a fascinating look at the history of how our ideas of information have evolved through time.

“A ‘file’ was originally – in sixteenth-century England – a wire on which slips and bills and notes and letters could be strung for preservation and reference.  Then came file folders, file drawers, and file cabinets; then the electronic namesakes of all these; and the inevitable irony.  Once a piece of information is filed, it is statistically unlikely ever to be seen again by human eyes.”  (p 410)

So the Word became flesh according to St. John, but in the modern world the word becomes filed existing in an electronic incarnation called the bit.

“It was once thought that a perfect language should have an exact one-to-one correspondence between words and their meanings.  There should be no ambiguity, no vagueness, no confusion.  Our earthly Babel is a falling off from the lost speech of Eden: a catastrophe and a punishment.”  But information theory and science says it ain’t so. “With or without God, there is no perfect language.”  (p 418)

All information requires interpretation.  It is the way of Christ who interprets Torah. It is God’s way.  Any incarnation of the word requires interpretation.   Christianity, if it is not so fearful, may come to realize that information theory tells us what we knew all along.   Islam for its part will struggle with this much more for it does hold that there is the exact original of the Quran in heaven of which all earthly volumes are precise copies –  though the Quran itself implies relying on a recited word, not one committed to print.

Babel was aimed at preventing humans from conspiring against heaven, not to prevent humans from understanding God who intended Babel to be a lesson.

But science in information theory sees itself moving in a particular direction.  Dexter Palmer wrote:

“In a modern age without an Author looking down on us from heaven, language is not a thing of definite certainty, but infinite possibility; without the comforting illusion of meaningful order we have no choice but to stare into the face of meaningless disorder; without the feeling that meaning can be certain, we find ourselves overwhelmed by all things that words might mean.” (p 419)

This seems to assume that humans are isolated and alienated from each other, and from all others and from God – extreme individualism with no shared anything.   But we share a world, and can share not only information but also understanding and meaning.  We can interpret and debate because we can share meaning.  Everything is not random.  Humans do some things with intention and with intended meaning – in other words, we do communicate.  It is also the nature of divine revelation, which is at the heart of Christian claims.  The reality may be that there is a pattern to all that exists, but we simply lack the perspective – the God view – to see it.  We are limited beings and do not like such limitations.

The English language according to Claude Shannon’s   (d 2001) statistics has close to 75% redundancy.  Certain letters follow other letters regularly, some combinations are totally rare.  It is what enables Google to “read my mind” when I do a search as it “guesses” the next letter in my search.  Randomness is not complete, order is both in the information and imposed on it.     And Gleick can write a 526 page book about it which does convey meaning in written form to any who read his book.   Even in the quantum world of unpredictability, there is a great amount of information conveyable to those who know how to read the signs.

Too bad that I read his book, and got my e-reader afterwards.  His may be the last of its kind for me – I’ll look for “books” that are available on Kindle.   It is a technology made possible by information theory.

“In the beginning was the Word…”   And that word was not coterminous with printed letters, but as a spoken word had no physical form, no letters serving as bookends to contain it within certain symbols.

The word became print, but that never altered the Word which retains all of its divinity.  Perhaps technology is freeing that Word once again so we will never mistakenly equate the Word with a written script, but rather will understand that the Word in its electronic manifestation (no incarnation, but an electronation?) will be much closer to its original revelation when God said, “let there be light.”

See also my blogs:  From Incarnation to Encryption and Knowledge and Wisdom, Fact and Truth