Seeing darkly

Nov 9th, 2008 | By | Category: Spirituality

The late Michael Ramsey once commented that he was glad to read in the Bible that there were windows in heaven because he was good at looking out of the window and not so good at praying.

It is a comment that came to mind approaching the time of contemplative prayer at church this evening.  Dr Billy Marshall led the contemplation of Jesus’ words, “I am the light of the world”.

The mind wandered this way and that.  Keep focused on the words; keep repeating the words.

The words seemed to bounce from side to side, from one temple to the other.

The motion of the sentence, from one side to the other, seemed like a shuttle carrying the weft of a tapestry through the threads of the warp.  The loom holding the shuttle was inside a building with a door into the open air.  Through the threads of the warp, brilliant light shone in through the door.

“I am the light of the world”. Keep focused.

A figure appeared against the brilliant light.  Staring through the threads of the tapestry, the figure was no more than a silhouette.  The brighter the light; the darker the silhouette.  No amount of staring would bring the figure into any more clarity.

Moses’ encounter with God was a meeting with light, but also with a silhouette, with a figure whose clarity could not be known:

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”     Exodus 33:19-23

“I am the light of the world”.  Brilliant light illumines, but it also casts dark shadows.  In making God’s presence known, Jesus also creates a sense of God’s mystery, a sense of the unknowingness of God.

“I am the light of the world”, but that light is one that creates silhouettes; silhouettes that will not come into focus because they cannot do so within the finitude of human knowledge.

Paul writing to the church at Corinth describes that experience of looking in expectation, but without clarity,

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

It was a not-quite contemplation of the light of the world.

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  1. I know exactly what you mean about the lack of concentration … oh where was I, yes but what a wonderful insight your persistence gave you.

    I remember Dr Marshall from my days at the Theological College – his incredibly wise and interesting lectures (even if I only understood a fraction of them) and his example of Christlike humility in all circumstances are things that remain with me as lofty aspirations.

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