Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Second Time We Discovered Fire

In this darkest season we hang lights to carry on an ancient tradition, to remind ourselves of something our ancestors felt was important. But we have forgotten what their symbols were pointing to.

The light in me recognizes the light in you. That is the meaning of "Namaste." The light that looks out through my eyes and illumines the world in front of me is the same that looks out through your eyes and illumines the world in front of you.

There are not two different kinds of light. There is just light, refracted through different prisms shaped like people and animals and plants and rocks and oceans and planets and stars. It is the light of the divine itself, which takes countless names and forms but cannot be grasped through any of them.

Your human eyes were made to see but a fraction of the spectrum of light, most of which is masked from you, hidden in plain sight. The invisible infrared lies before you at this very moment, seen perhaps by other creatures gifted with different eyes but never by yours. "You may not look directly at my face," Moses was told by the pillar of cloud. "For no man may see me and live."

Light can shine or it can blind. It is a candle flame and it is a laser beam that cuts through rocks and diamonds. Light is a warm glow and it is a cosmic explosion and it is the unholy force unleashed when atoms are broken by human hands. Light is the sun, friendly to you only because you are shielded from its full power; the same sun would burn the flesh from your bones and turn your bones to dust, returning you to the state from whence you came. We are all stardust, after all. The very earth on which we walk is only borrowed temporarily from that nuclear ball of fire and light, and will one day be returned.

As theologian Teilhard de Chardin said, we live "steeped in divinity's burning layers." The holy fire in the burning bush is what we are made of.

And we are darkness too, of course. All that we cannot see or do not want to see. All that is hidden from us because the light does not reach into its depths. All that we do not know about ourselves; all that we do not want to know. The universe is made mostly of dark matter, and scientists do not yet even know what dark matter is; its existence is only hypothesized because it cannot be seen with our eyes or instruments. The darkness holds us in its infinite embrace.

And yet there is light. The whole universe is decked with points of light ornamenting the vast reaches of darkness, like a great tree. Each ornament a cluster of galaxies made of trillions of stars, each star creating worlds around it. And each illuminated world potentially crawling with beings like you and me: beings crafted from light and darkness. Beings lost in their minds and unaware that they are but the light looking out through their own eyes, which is the same light looking out through yours and mine.

The light in me cannot recognize the light in you until I recognize it first in myself. When I know the light and the darkness of which I am made, I will know that it is the same light and darkness of which you and all things are made, and that we live together in a fragile and temporary world of stardust where every invisible atom was bonded together with so much power that it could level an entire city if its nuclear bonds were broken. Look at how intelligent we are! We have mastered atomic energy, and unlocked the awesome destructive power hidden within matter. Look at how stupid and lost we are! We have forgotten how to love one another, and what all of this creation is for.

“Someday,” said de Chardin, “after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

Come, friend. There is something important for us here. Let us hang lights together and try to think of what our ancestors wanted us to remember.

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