Monday, December 11, 2006

Ancient Greek tradition has Prometheus stealing fire from heaven, fire used to light the path toward civilization. You can see the sun this way, if you wish, as Prometheus riding his horse into space and time, a lantern in his hand, held out toward the planets, a bit of it split into the belly of a furnace, forging steel, the steel splintering off to spark and die away on a blacksmith shop floor, little smidgens of fading heaven, little cosmic mysteries, plucked from the sparkling hair of God. In Egypt the sun was the eye of a god: the sun god Ra, in the evening closed his eyes and opened them again in the morning, thus the light by which we work and see and have our being is the gaze of a god. I like the Hindu tradition that has Shiva and his lover, Parvati, engaged in foreplay, Parvati coming from behind Shiva and covering his eyes, stopping the light from shining down off the Himalayas. Imagine young Indian children being beckoned to sleep by the erotic ritual of divinity. The gods are randy, night after night, the teenagers must have giggled. It is enough to make a Hindu blush.
In the Hebrew tradition, which splintered off into the Christian tradition, which is how I was raised, light is a metaphor. God makes a cosmos out of the nothingness, a molecular composition, of which He is not and never has been, as anything is limiting, and God has no limits. In this way, He isn't, and yet is. The poetic imagery is rather beautiful, stating that all we see and feel and touch, the hardness of dense atoms, the softness of a breeze (atoms perhaps loose as if in play) is the breath of God. And into this being, into this existence, God first creates light. This light is not to be confused with the sun and moon and stars, as they are not created until later. He simply creates light, a nonsubstance that is like a particle and like a wave, but perhaps neither, just some kind of traveling energy. A kind of magnetic wave. Light, then, becomes a fitting metaphor for a nonbeing who is. God, if like light, travels at the speed of light, and because space and time are mingled with speed, the speed of light is the magic, exact number that allows a kind of escape from time. Scientists have played with atomic clocks, matched exactly, setting one in a plane to fly around the world, and another motionless, waiting for the return of its partner. When they reunite, the one that traveled rests milliseconds behind the one fixed. The faster you move, physicists have found, the less you experience time. And if you move at the speed of light, you will never age; you are outside of time; you are an eternal creature. But before you strap on your running shoes, you should know scientists warn us that with speed, matter increases in density, so an attempt at the speed of light will have you imploded by the time you hit Wichita, your atoms as dense as bowling balls. And to make matter worse, your density increases on a curve; the faster you go, the greater the density, and though you can get close to the speed of light, matter and that magic speed can never meet; the faster you go, the steeper the trajectory on the graph. You and I, made from molecules, cannot travel at the speed of light and cannot escape time, at least not with a body. Consider the complexity of light in light of the Hebrew metaphor: we don't see light; we see what it touches. It is more or less invisible, made from nothing, just purposed and focused energy, infinite in its power (it will never tire if fired into a vacuum, going on forever). How fitting, then, for God to create an existence, then a metaphor, as if to say, here is something entirely unlike you, outside of time, infinite in its power and thrust: here is something you can experience but cannot understand. Throughout the remainder of the Bible, then, God calls Himself light. The perfection of the Hebrew metaphor is eerie, especially considering Eratosthenes wouldn't play with sticks and shadows for several thousand years, discovering Ra was, in fact, never closing his eyes.

From Donald Miller's Through Painted Deserts

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