Posts tagged ‘light’

November 29, 2016

I certainly can’t conceive … any grosser abuse of language than to call a discussion a meditation

Delightful collection of “less commonly used quotes” from the letters of C.S. Lewis:

  • Many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light but also the natural light which pagans possess.
  • I certainly can’t conceive any less suitable preparation for Holy Communion than a discussion or any grosser abuse of language than to call a discussion a meditation.
  • I really believe I would have come to Christianity much less reluctantly if it had not involved the Church.
  • There is much to be puzzled about. There is nothing to be worried about.
  • It has been my experience that the rich of any country are usually the least attractive specimens of that nation.
November 27, 2015

to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light

It has seemed to me Sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light.
…So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing. There may have been a more wonderful first moment ‘when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy,’ but for all I know to the contrary, they still do sing and shout, and they certainly might well. Here on the prairie there is nothing to distract attention from the evening and the morning, nothing on the horizon to abbreviate or to delay. Mountains would seem an impertinence from that point of view. To me it seems rather Christlike to be as unadorned as this [prairie] is, as little regarded.

Marilynne Robinson in Gilead.

July 18, 2015

Light within light

The moon looks wonderful in this warm evening light, just as a candle flame looks beautiful in the light of morning. Light within light. It seems like a metaphor for something. So much does. Ralph Waldo Emerson is excellent on this point.

It seems to me to be a metaphor for the human soul, the singular light within the great general light of existence. Or it seems like poetry within language. Perhaps wisdom within experience. Or marriage within friendship and love.

From Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (119).

November 30, 2014

his feet moving to the long-ago memory of womb kicks

“The Man Who Was a Lamp” by John Shea:

Legend says,
the cave of Christmas
where the child of light
burns in the darkness
is hidden
in the center of the earth.

Access is not easy.
You cannot just amble to a mantle,
note the craft of the crib child,
and return to the party for more eggnog.
You may see a figurine in this way,
but you will not find the child of light.
The center of the earth is not the surface.
You must journey
and, wayfarer,
you need a guide.

Even the Wise Men had to risk
the treacherous courts of Herod
to consult the map of Scripture.
They knew that a star, no matter how bright,
could not take them all the way
It is true
that sometimes angels hover in the sky
and sing directions,
but they cannot be counted on
to appear.
Besides, you are not one
to keep watch over a flock by night.

There is another pointer of the way,
a map of a man,
who when you try to read him,
reads you.
Unexpected angels are pussycats
next to this lion,
a roar that once overrode Judea.
You may not heed
but you will hear
his insistent,
intruding,
unsoothing voice.
Some say this thunder is because his father
stumbled mute from the Holy of Holies,
tongue tied by an angel who was peeved
by the old man’s stubborn allegiance to biological laws.
The priest was silenced in the temple
because he thought flesh could stop God.
The son of the priest shouted in the wilderness
because he feared God would stop flesh.
His open mouth was an open warning.

His name is John,
a man who was a lamp,
at least that is what Jesus said,
“a burning and shining lamp.”
The implication is clear:
The lamp is a torch through the darkness
to find the Light of the World.
As the lamp comes closer to the Light,
its radiance is overwhelmed.
It is in the presence of a stronger shining.
It decreases as the Light increases.
Yet there is no comparison.

The child cannot be found by competition.
The lamp and the Light meet
in the mystery of communion.
The two become one
while remaining two.
Follow John and find Jesus.
Find Jesus and find the Illness of John.

But John is not so easy to follow.
He is no toady
He lacks senility
and does not work for pay
In truth,
he is more guardian than guide,
more dragon at the gate than porter at the door,
more fire on the earth than lamp on a stand.
Opposite of the sought-after child in every way
The child is round,
this one has edges;
the child nurses on virgin’s milk,
this one crunches locusts;
the child is wrapped in swaddling clothes,
this one is rubbed raw by camel hair.
Yet they know one another
even exchange smiles.
They share a mystery,
this hairy man and smooth child.

Jesus came out of John
as surely as he came out of Mary.
John was the desert soil
in which the flower of Jesus grew.
John was the voice in the wilderness
who taught Jesus to hear the voice from the sky.
John would push sinners beneath the water
and Jesus would resurrect them on the waves.
John was the fast
who prepared for Jesus the feast.

No man ever less a shepherd than John,
yet loved by one.
If you are surprised that Jesus came from John,
imagine John’s prophetic puzzle
when the predicted “wrath to come” came
and he said, “Let’s eat!”
John expected an ax to the root of the tree
and instead he found a gardener hoeing around it.
He dreamt of a man with a winnowing fan and a fire
and along came a singing seed scatterer.
He welcomed wrathful verdicts,
then found a bridegroom on the bench.
When John said, “There is one among you
Whom you do not know,”
he spoke from experience.

So from prison
John sent his disciples to Jesus.
He will send you too.
Despite his reputation,
he is best at introductions.
It is simply who he is,
preparer, primer, pointer,
a tongue always on the verge of exclaiming,
“Behold!”

His question was, “Are you the One Who Is to Come
or should we look for another)”

This arrow of a question was sent from prison
but the bow was bent in the desert
by “none greater born of woman”
who was awake before the sun,
waiting,
watching the vipers flee before the morning
his eyes welcomed.

“Are you the One Who Is to Come”
is the question of John highway,
his road under construction,
hammer and pick and hardhat song,
“I have leveled a mountain
and raised a valley
to make even the path of the Lord!”

You
are the mountain
his sunburnt muscles
are slamming to cracked rock.
You
are the valley
his tattooed arms
are filling with broken earth.
He will trowel you to smooth,
and when there is no impediment,
when there is nothing in you
which would cause a child to trip,
you will yearn for someone to arrive
and ask the question
that guards the cave of Christmas,
“Are you the One Who Is to Come?”
So do not go fearfully
into John’s wilderness,
beaten from civilization by others
or driven by your own self-loathing.
Go simply because it is the abode
of wild beasts and demons
and, given all you are,
you will most certainly feel at home.
Wrestle with the rages of the soul,
talk to the twistedness.

Try no tricks on him.
Parade no pedigree.
Who you know will not help you.
If the children of Abraham and stones
have equal standing in his eyes,
you will not impress him
with anything you pull from your wallet.

Also do not ready your brain for debate.
He is not much for talk.
He has washed his mind with sand.
Injunctions are his game.
If you have two coats or two loaves of bread,
share them.
Do not bully,
do not exploit,
do not falsely accuse.
Do not object that these actions are
economically naive,
culturally inappropriate,
insufficiently religious.
Just do them.
Afterwards,
you will be unencumbered,
yet lacking nothing,
freer to move, to bend.
The entrance to the cave is low.

John’s desert is the place between slavery and promise,
out of Egypt but not yet in the waters of the Jordan,
Your sojourn there will burn away
the last marks of the shackles
and you will stand unfettered.
You will be between the castle and the crowd,
between fine garments and reeds shaken by the wind.
You will not lord it over others
and you will not be pushed around.
Prophet?
Yes, and more.
But in the thrill of freedom
it will take you a moment to notice
what that more is.
In the emptiness of John’s desert
you will find yourself waiting,
like a bowl that waits for wine,
like a flute that waits for breath,
like a sentinel that waits for the dawn.
You are a highway ready for traffic,
and here comes One
who seems also to have been waiting,
waiting for the construction to be complete.
The more is arriving,
and there is only one question,
“Are you the One Who Is to Come?”

Jesus answered,
“Go and tell John
what you see and hear.”

So they did.
The disciples of John returned on the night of Herod’s birthday
The music and laughter of the celebration
twisted down the stairs to the dungeon
beneath the earth.
They talked to John through the bars.
They could barely make him out
in the shadows.

“We saw a blind woman staring at her hand,
first the palm, then the back,
over and over again,
twisting it like a diamond in the sun,
weeping all the time and saying,
“I can see through tears! I can see through tears!”

We saw a lame man
bounce his granddaughter
on his knee.

We saw a leper
kiss her husband.

We saw a deaf boy
snap his fingers
next to his ear
and jump.

We saw a dead girl
wake and stretch
and eat breakfast.

The poor we saw
were not poor.

They paused.
Although there was no light in the dungeon,
there was a glow around John.
It softened the fierceness of his face
yet took no strength away
When he had preached on the banks of the Jordan,
they could not take their eyes off his fire.
Now this new light made them look down.
“Jesus said
we would be blest
if these sights did not scandalize us.

John was silent.
When he spoke,
the words had no urgency.
There was no strain in his voice.
It was no longer
the voice in the wilderness.
“The guards tell me that Herod,
panting,
has promised Salome
half a kingdom
if she will dance for him.
Surely she will ask for me
for I am half a kingdom.
I can denounce a king
but I cannot enthrone one.
I can strip an idol of its power
but I cannot reveal the true God.
I can wash the soul in sand
but I cannot dress it in white.
I devour the Word of the Lord like wild honey
but I cannot lace his sandal.
I can condemn the sin
but I cannot bear it away
Behold, the lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world!

Yet he came to me
to go beyond me.
He entered the water
to rise out of it.
He knew I would know him when he came
even though I did not know him before he came.
The fulfillment is always more than the promise,
but if you hunger and thirst in the promise,
you will welcome the One Who Is Not You
as All You Are,
and more.
Go back
and tell Jesus
what you see and hear –
John,
not scandalized but fulfilled,
witness to his coming.

When you told me
what you saw and heard,
I knew who I was:
the cleanser of eyes but not the sight that fills them,
the opener of ears but not the word that thrills them.
A prophet?
Yes, and more.
Friend of the Bridegroom.
And more.
It was love in the desert and I did not know it.
It was love by the river and I did not know it.
It is love in this cave and now I know it.
Bridegroom myself!”

The guards clattered down the stairs,
their impotent swords drawn.
They pushed aside the disciples
and unlocked a dungeon of light
to find John dancing,
his feet moving to the long-ago memory
of womb kicks.
Who was about to lose his head to Herod
had lost his mind to God.

The cave of Christmas
is hidden
in the center of the earth.
You will need a lamp for the journey
A man named John
is a step ahead of you.
His torch sweeps the ground
so that you do not stumble.
He brings you,
at your own pace,
to the entrance of the cave.
His smile is complete,
perfect,
whole,
lacking nothing.

Inside
there is a sudden light,
but it does not hurt your eyes.
The darkness has been pushed back by radiance.
You feel like an underwater swimmer
who has just broken the surface of the Jordan
and is breathing in the sky
John is gone.
Notice
from whom the light is shining,
beloved child.

From Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All Year Long by John Shea (New York: Crossroad, 1993), 174–83.

December 11, 2012

taught by a Star

This sampling of ancient Christian hymns connected to Mary and the Nativity (and taken from Orthodox service books) represent a remarkable range of theological insights:

From the most common megalynarion (used in the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom):

It is truly meet to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed and most blameless and the Mother of our God:
More honourable than the Cherubim,
and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim,
who without corruption gave birth to God the Word,
true Theotokos, we magnify thee.

From the Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas (Preparation for the Nativity of Christ):

O cave, make ready, for the Ewe Lamb comes, bearing Christ in her womb!
O manger, receive Him Who by a word has released the dwellers of earth from lawlessness!
Shepherds, abiding in the fields, bear witness to the fearful wonder!
You magi from Persia, offer to the King gold, myrrh and frankincense,
for the Lord has appeared from a Virgin Mother!
And she, bending over Him as a handmaiden,
worshiped Him as He lay in her arms, saying to Him:
“How were You sown as seed in me?
How have You grown within me,//
my Deliverer and my God?”

…Unwedded Virgin, from where have you come?
Who has given you birth?
Who is your mother?
How can you carry your Creator in your arms?
How is your womb free from corruption?

Most holy one, we see great and fearful mysteries upon earth fulfilled in you;
we adorn the cave as a house worthy of you;
we ask the heavens to send us a star,
for behold, the Magi proceed from the East to the West,
desiring to see the Salvation of mortal men//
shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame.

From the Royal Hours of the Nativity:

Troparion (Tone 4)
Mary was of David’s seed, So she went with Joseph to register in Bethlehem. She bore in her womb the fruit not sown by man. The time for the birth was at hand. Since there was no room at the inn, The cave became a beautiful palace for the queen. Christ is born, raising up the image that fell of old.
…Prepare, O Bethlehem, For Eden has been opened to all. Adorn yourself, O Ephratha, For the Tree of Life blossoms forth from the virgin in the cave. Her womb is a spiritual paradise planted with the Fruit Divine; If we eat of it, we shall live forever and not die like Adam. Christ is coming to restore the image which He made in the beginning.

Troparion (Tone 8)
Make ready, O Bethlehem. Let the manger be prepared. Let the cave show its welcome. The truth comes and the shadow flees. God is born of a virgin and revealed to men. He is clothed in our flesh, and makes it divine. Therefore Adam is renewed, and cries with Eve, Thy favor has appeared on earth, O Lord, For the salvation of the human race.

From the Great Compline and Matins of the Nativity:

Nativity Troparion (Tone 4)
Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, has shown to the world the light of wisdom. For by it, those who worshiped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore Thee, the Sun of Righteousness, and to know Thee, the Orient from on high. O Lord, glory to Thee!

The Litiya
Let heaven and earth as was foretold rejoice today. Angels and man let us keep the spiritual feast.
…Heaven and earth are united today for Christ is born. Today has God come to earth, and man gone up to heaven.

Aposticha
A great and marvelous wonder has come to pass this day: a Virgin bears a child, and her womb suffers no corruption. The Word is made flesh, yet ceases not to dwell with the Father.
…Today the Virgin gives birth to the Maker of all! Eden offers a cave. To those in darkness a star reveals Christ, the Sun! Wise men are enlightened by faith and worship with gifts.
…Sing, O Jerusalem! Make merry, all who love Zion! Today Adam’s ancient bonds are broken! Paradise is opened to us! The serpent is cast down! Long ago our first mother was deceived by him. Now he sees a woman become Mother of the Creator. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! Through Eve, woman became a tool of sin, bringing death to all flesh; but through Mary she becomes the first-fruits of salvation for all the world. For God, the All-Perfect is born of Her. By His birth He seals Her Virginity. He is bound in swaddling cloths to loose the bonds of sin! Through His birth, the pains of Eve are healed! Let all creation sing and dance for joy, for Christ has come to restore and to save our souls.

Fire is a symbol of God (“For the Lord your God is a consuming fire,” Deuteronomy 4:24), and the burning bush, which was not consumed by fire, is considered a symbol of Mary, who carried the fire of the Divinity in her womb and was not consumed by it. References to Mary’s womb containing God “without corruption” refer to the miraculous fact that her womb was not destroyed by God’s presence. Also, language about the Christ child “shining in your arms as a Pillar of Flame” recognize that Mary continued to handle the Divine fire in intimate ways even after Christ’s birth. Because Mary caries this fire and light, she is therefore also called the “Golden Lampstand” and “Golden Censor.” Mary’s identity as the “Unburnt Bush” is depicted here in a painting by Nicholas Froment called “The Burning Bush” (1476, Wood, 410 x 305 cm, Cathedrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence):

Nicholas Froment The Burning Bush 1476 Wood 410 x 305 cm Cathedrale Saint Sauveur in Aix-en-Provence

This unburnt bush image also brings to mind the tree of life imagery used of Mary in the Nativity hymns above. Below are three examples of the traditional Orthodox “Unburnt Bush” icon. They depict Mary within a green or brown star (representing the bush) and superimposed over a red star (representing the fire). They are also filled with many other Old Testament symbols connected to Mary, Divine fire, and epiphany:

neopalimaya_kupina_2

Russian_-_Presentation_of_the_Virgin_in_the_Temple_and_the_Virgin_of_the_Burning_Bush_-_Walters_372664_-_Back

unburnt bush icons

December 6, 2012

you that love the feasts

Glorious Nicholas, the holy preacher of Christ,
you are the great and fervent protector of those in danger,
those on land and sea, far off or near;
for you are a most compassionate and mighty intercessor.
Therefore, as we assemble, we cry aloud://
“Pray to the Lord that we may be delivered from all danger!”

…What crowns of praise shall we weave the Bishop?
Although he lived in Myra,
he reaches out in spirit to all who sincerely love him.
He is the consolation of all in affliction, the refuge of all in danger,
the tower of godliness, the champion of the faithful,//
for whose sake the greatly merciful Christ has laid low the arrogance of
the Enemy.

…You that love the feasts,
let us gather and sing the praises of the fair ornament of bishops,
the glory of the Fathers, the fount of wonders and the great protector of the faithful.
Let us say: “Rejoice, guardian of the people of Myra,
their chief and honored counselor and the pillar that cannot be moved!
Rejoice, light filled with brightness!
You make the ends of the world shine with wonders.
Rejoice, divine delight of the afflicted,
the fervent advocate of those who suffer from injustice!
And now, all-blessed Nicholas, never cease praying to Christ our God//
for those who honor the high feast of your memorial with faith and love!”

now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the “Propers for the Feast of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker, Archbishop of Myra in Lycia” (Orthodox Church of America).

October 23, 2012

there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach

There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach. His song in the Tower had been defiance rather than hope; for then he was thinking of himself. Now, for a moment, his own fate, and even his master’s, ceased to trouble him. He crawled back into the brambles and laid himself by Frodo’s side, and putting away all fear he cast himself into a deep untroubled sleep.

From Tolkien’s “The Land of Shadow” (chapter 2 of book VI) in The Return of the King.

September 19, 2011

turn off the limelight

From “The Superstition of School” (1923) by G.K. Chesterton:

Education ought to be a searchlight given to a man to explore everything, but very specially the things most distant from himself. Education tends to be a spotlight; which is centered entirely on himself. Some improvement may be made by turning equally vivid and perhaps vulgar spotlights upon a large number of other people as well. But the only final cure is to turn off the limelight and let him realize the stars.

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August 30, 2011

double darkness

Prayer by Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things, true source of light and wisdom, origin of all being, graciously let a ray of your light penetrate the darkness of my understanding. Take from me the double darkness in which I have been born, an obscurity of sin and ignorance. Give me a keen understanding, a retentive memory, and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally. Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm. Point out the beginning, direct the progress, and help in the completion. I ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Cited in Jens Zimmermann and Norman Klassen. The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education (197-198).

August 22, 2011

broken Hallelujah

A couple lines from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I heard it recently from a friend and teacher. With several versions during Cohen’s long career and recordings by some 50 artists, the lyrics seem to vary slightly each time.

It’s not the laughter of someone who claims to have seen the light
No, it’s a cold, and it’s a very broken Hallelujah

…There’s a blaze of light in every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

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