Let There Be Light

In my last blog message, I suggested that it's common for a wisdom story to offer a spectrum of meaning ranging from the most literal/factual to the most hidden/mystical.

I suggested that the problem with our post-enlightenment/western world orientation is that it so favors the literal/factual end of the spectrum – it so favors that which can be charted on a graph, weighed on a scale, measured with a ruler – that when a wisdom story fails to resonate with us at that end of the spectrum, we discard it.  And as a result, we are discarding the timeless wisdom of centuries even as we are dismantling the noble aspects of religion.

I suggested that at the literal/factual end of the spectrum (our Jewish brothers and sisters would call this end of the spectrum Pshat), our wisdom stories tend to exist as history or culture or ethics.  But at the hidden/mystical end of the spectrum (and our Jewish brothers and sisters would call this end of the spectrum Sod), our wisdom stories tend to come alive as autobiography!

So deeply did Unity co-founders Myrtle and Charles Fillmore avail themselves to this hidden/mystical end of the spectrum that they ultimately came to perceive the entirety of the Judeo-Christian Bible as something of an owner’s manual for the awakening and evolution of every human soul.  From Genesis through Revelation, places were assigned metaphysical meaning.  Names were assigned metaphysical meaning.  Animals were assigned metaphysical meaning.  Events were assigned metaphysical meaning.  Numbers were assigned metaphysical meaning, and so forth.

And while generations of students have studied and memorized and regurgitated the metaphysical meanings assigned by the Fillmores, to call that good enough is to miss their deeper lesson – that deeper lesson being that they availed themselves to the hidden/mystical end of the spectrum in the first place.  To be an excellent Unity student, you see, isn’t about arriving at a destination.  It’s about embarking upon a journey.

In the end, there is no surrogacy program for spiritual awakening.  Parroting the words of our greatest souls without embodying the meanings they represent will never get you through the pearly gates, contrary to the opinions of some.

And so it is that I’ve invited us to avail ourselves to the grand and epic myth commonly called The Seven Days of Creation in a deep and personal way.  I’ve invited us to interrupt it as a highly problematic story about some cosmic assembly line, and to rediscover it as autobiography.  I’ve invited us to find ourselves in the story.

Now, Abraham of Hebrew scripture experienced the divine presence as a flaming torch in a deep and terrifying darkness.  Jacob described a fiery ladder with angels descending and ascending in the night sky.  The psalmist explained that, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  The prophet Isaiah, that, “Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them has light shined.”  Paul, that, “While I was approaching Damascus, a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me,” Jesus, that, “You are the light of the world.  And you, like the lamp, must shed light among all people.”

And this symbolism of dark and light continues, even through the book of Revelation, in which the New Jerusalem is described as a city of light, requiring neither sun nor moon.

The nativity narratives of Christian scripture certainly don’t disappoint – both the authors of Luke and Matthew fill the night sky with light – one for those angels who would announce the birth and another for those magi who would locate it.

And it’s not difficult to understand why this symbolism of dark and light so permeates our world’s religious traditions.  In the dark we cannot see.  So, in the dark we stumble, in the dark we fear, in the dark we lose our way.  And in the dark we rest – so this is to say that in the dark we are unconscious, we are unaware, we are asleep.

But in the light, we can see.  So, in the light we don’t stumble, in the light we don’t fear, in the light we don’t lose our way.  And in the light we are active – this is to say that in the light we are conscious, we are aware, we are awake!

This symbolism of dark and light expands to represent bondage and liberation, exile and return, inequity and justice, violence and peace, falsehood and truth, death and life – dynamics just as relevant for those of us today, as they were for those who shared the narratives so many years ago.

So, it’s in this second week of my meditations upon this particular creation story (and if you’re waiting for Adam and the rib and the snake – you’re thinking of the wrong creation story), following last week’s prologue, “In the beginning of creation, God,” in what can only be imagined as an infinite darkness, that God spoke.

Now, while certain interpretations might equate the power of the word with the power of thought, and while the power of thought is really quite central to Unity philosophy, I can quite assure you that the power of the word to elevate, affirm and create; or to diminish, degrade and destroy is oh-so-real.  Maybe you can relate.  Even in the small scope of my public life, navigating the pain and even the damage of words can only be described as regular housekeeping.  It’s been too long since I’ve encouraged us (respectfully and humbly), to remain ever mindful of the caustic opinions, cynical assertions and partial truths we might leverage about others.

Even science supports this idea of the power of the word.  Science tells us that to bring an intention into tight focus is to maximize all that reflects the quality of that intention and to minimize all that does not.  In effect, science tells us that, as Unity teaches, thoughts held in mind produce after their kind.

So, the next question for each of us, in conversation about any creative process, becomes: If my words really are that powerful, do I speak words which would elevate, affirm and create; or words which would diminish, degrade and destroy?

Do I speak words which would argue stuck-ness or envision freedom?

Do I speak words which would argue a stale history or envision an inspired possibility?

And as each of us call recall from our earliest days of plaid shorts, hairbows and macaroni messiahs, the words attributed to God were, “Let there be light.”  In what can only be imagined as an infinite darkness, “Let there be light.”

And it occurs to me that there comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of that which is not yet visible.

Certainly, the rabbi Jesus spoke to this when he was asked how to pray.  He offered the words, “On earth, as it is in heaven.”  And while, in our relentless distancing from Jesus and his teachings, humanity assigned heaven as something of a future state, I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.  For Jesus, I think it’s more contextually reasonable that he considered heaven to be a very real, albeit alternate, reality of higher possibilities, waiting not for our death out there and then, but for our welcome right here and now.  And if I’m right, then to forgo heaven for one’s final days is to completely miss his point.  To forgo heaven for one’s final days is to leave Jesus shaking his head.

There comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of that which is not yet visible.

Isn’t this what so many of our greatest visionaries, creators and avatars did, each in his or her own way?  Didn’t so many of our noblest souls press against the walls of impossibility erected by humanity’s limited thinking until those walls of impossibility began to crumble?

It occurs to me that there comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of liberation even as we dwell in bondage; people of return even as we dwell in exile; people of justice even as we dwell in inequity.  It occurs to me that there comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of peace, truth and life even as we dwell amidst violence, falsehood and death.

It occurs to me that there comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of light, even though we might be immersed in the lengthening shadows of our own brands of infinite night.

All the experts said so!  Heavier-than-air flight was clearly impossible.  Until it wasn’t.  The year was 1903.

All the experts said so!  Climbing Mr. Everest was clearly impossible.  Until it wasn’t.  The year was 1953.

All the experts said so!  The 4-minute mile was clearly impossible.  Until it wasn’t.  The year was 1954.

There comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of that which is not yet visible.

And while we’ve come to enjoy what this suggestion can mean in our individual lives (greater prosperity, heightened creativity, deeper satisfaction, richer relationships and so much more), let us remain ever mindful that our work is never for us alone.  That there’s something of a wake that follows individual elevation, pouring itself forth in support of collective elevation.

Even though it was decades and decades and decades before Bannister finally broke that 4-minute mile, you see, it was a mere weeks later that an Australian did the same.  It was a mere months later that three more did the same (in a single race, by the way).  In the years since, over 20,000 have done the same including high school students.  I myself have.

There’s something of a wake that follows individual elevation, pouring itself forth in support of collective elevation.  I like to think that one person demonstrating a never-before-seen equality makes it easier for the next 20,000, that one person demonstrating a never-before-seen generosity makes it easier for the next 20,000, that one person demonstrating a never-before-seen compassion makes it easier for the next 20,000, that one person demonstrating a never-before-seen understanding makes it easier for the next 20,000.

It was George Bernard Shaw who spoke to this when he said, "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

There comes a point in any creative process at which we must become people of that which is not yet visible.

There comes a point in any creative process at which, even though we might be immersed in the lengthening shadows of our own brands of infinite night, we must turn from common wisdom, we must turn from popular cynicism, we must turn from cliquish complaint; there comes a point in any creative process at which we must become wildly unreasonable, even as we lift our eyes toward the darkness to say again and again, “Let there be light.”