Pure light

A few times I’ve talked about God’s being invisible, and that we know Him is through His outward manifestations and attributes – in the way a poet is known by his words, or a lover by his actions, or a craftsman by his handiwork. However, I do not mean invisible or hidden in the sense of something beyond reach. A thing can be inaccessible to view, and yet be very present and always around us. That is, God is not the Hidden because He is obscure, but because He is too obvious to see. “Yea, the intensity of His revelation hath covered Him, and the fullness of His shining forth hath hidden Him.”

For example, a sphere is the simplest shape for an object in space, because it distributes its mass evenly. To we standing on the Earth’s surface, however, it appears flat because of the immensity of scale. What historically should have been the most straightforward deduction was beyond the scope of agreement for so long, exactly because our eyes could not take in the magnitude of the problem.

Another example is pure light. If a white light shines on a painting, we see color and shape in the artwork. That color, though, is not coming from the painting. The colors we’re seeing were actually “hidden” in the white light, until the pigments on the canvas caused a few of them to be absorbed, and others to be reflected to the eye. (A red object appears red because it absorbs every color but red, leaving only the red light to reach the viewer). The painting is not emitting its own light, but “sculpting” the complete, white light into a smattering of various frequencies: called red, green, blue, yellow, etc. It’s like a filter, revealing different parts of the light in different places, until the eye sees what was always potential in the light all along.

The same thing happens with sculpting stone: every possible sculpture is “hidden” in that stone, until the artist decides what to take away to reveal an image. It’s not that the substance making up the image was not there, but that the completeness of the original stone kept it from being seen. If our eyes were unlimited perhaps we could see in an untouched block all sculpture, but our awareness can handle only one image at a time. Thus the artist puts his hand to stone, and with each block develops a different piece. Each one was always possible, but only when they became actual could we know them.

Likewise all poems, letters, essays, etc., are potential and “hidden” in a dictionary – since it contains every word I’m using to write these entries. But who can stare at a dictionary and realize all knowledge? The purpose of a writer is to consider these words before each sentence, and remove everything but what reveals his meaning.

So art, speech, the visible world, all consist of a process of placing limitations on a much vaster substrate of possibility. The painter carves light by applying pigments which absorb – and thus inhibit – the flow of pure light that would otherwise reach our eyes. Because of this limiting effect we become aware of things like color, shape, texture, etc., which are the substance of visual experience.

And yet, the elements of all we see were at every moment potential within the same white light, since it has always been the same sun shining down. The activities of life greatly modulate and alter that light, producing innumerable variations, but that’s all we do – vary a pre-existing potential. “There is nothing new under the sun”. Nothing is visible which doesn’t come from the same light as always. It may appear new, but the potential for its appearance was there from the beginning.

Life is like this too. Experience is a tenuous process of imposing limits on an infinite background. Or in the sense of a sculptor, we are a kind of nothingness who causes the waiting statue to be revealed. Michaelangelo’s David sat in his block of marble for many millions of years before we knew him. He may have known he was there all along, but until we brought him the gift of empty space, he remained “hidden” and unsung.

With respect to God, perhaps our very souls are a brand of nothingness like the space surrounding David’s features. God knows Who He is, and always has, but He wrote through His Messengers, “I wished to become known.” As a pure light, He shone with perfect brilliance, but the colors and possibilities of that light remained fast bound within it, hidden by its own perfection. So He created darkness to sculpt that light and reveal the beauties it contained.

If we are that darkness in motile form, it would explain the basic pattern of our lives: to serve that Light by revealing and concealing different aspects of its possibility. For example, men are capable of doing just about anything, but how we each choose to live brings out a different artwork: a David or a roughened lump of stone. We are the border, the contrast, the pigments who coax from pure light its wondrous forms. Those who strive to compete with God, through the acquisition of their own powers and attributes, miss a basic feature of their nature: We are a nothingness by which Something is known, as if gaps in the figures of a parchment. Yet the meaning is in those gaps, as much as the ink between them. The two together reveal the purpose.

Now I look at the light in the room where I’m sitting, and know that every face I’ve ever known or will know is hidden within it. It’s obscure only to my eyes; in my mind I know the potential is there. It’s because that potential so full and so complete that I can’t see their faces until the time arrives. The fullness of its shining forth hides what it might reveal. God is everywhere, but my eyes cannot penetrate such an infinite radiance. Not until that light is carved will I know what more it has to show me.