Monday, February 23, 2009

Philosophical Reflections: God and Light

At Yosemite National Park 4-5 years ago

Before I begin, I've been thinking, once again, about my blog. Just looking back through my earlier posts, I always seem to jump from one place to another. I might have a serious discussion about alcoholism, and then later follow up with a silly post/video. Unless I have a weekly theme, like the iconography of St. Ignatius, you never know what I'll be posting about.  Frankly, I never know what I'll be posting about.  In some ways, I could see how people would lose patience with my style because I don't really have a set style.  Or, you may say my style is ADD--it probably is. My interests are vast and diverse, and I try to incorporate my faith and Jesuit spirituality in all of them. I just get really excited about different things, and desire to share them.  It is, in a sense, a blogging with the spirit. So, I hope my blog thus far has not been too jarring for you.  

Anyway, since I am studying to obtain a Master's in Philosophical Resources (just the fancy way of saying the Jesuit degree for philosophy here at Fordham), I will probably be posting every now and then on some philosophical issues.  Today, in our Augustine class, there is one idea that stuck out to me--our discussion of the sun and relating that to God.  

For those of you familiar with the philosophy of Plato, you probably have encountered one of his most famous passages--the allegory of the cave. In this story, Plato depicts a group of people shackled their whole lives in a cave, and all that they see are shadows created from the light of a fire behind them. To them, these shadows are all that they know, since they have not seen anything else.  One day, however, a man is able to break free and emerge out of the cave. Never having seen the sun, he finds the light so bright that it is blinding to him. Soon, however, his eyes are able to adjust, and he is able to see the world anew for the first time in this light.  

Plato, however, is not necessarily talking about physical sight. Immediately following this passage is a discussion of education and knowledge. This allegory, then, is an image that illustrates the "sight" of our mind, of how we may know more rightly and truly.  

Augustine takes this image of the sun in one of his earlier works, the Soliloquies.  He writes: 
"Now listen while I teach you something concerning God from the analogy of sensible things, so far as the present time demands. God, of course, belongs to the realm of intelligible things, and so do these mathematical symbols, though there is a great difference. Similarly the earth and light are visible, but the earth cannot be seen unless it is illumined.  Anyone who knows the mathematical symbols admits that they are true without the shadow of a doubt. But he must also believe that they cannot be known unless they are illumined by something else corresponding to the sun.  About this corporeal sun notice three things. It exists. It shines. It illumines. So in knowing the hidden God you must observe three things. He exists. He is known. He causes other things to be known."
A number of years ago, I went to Yosemite National Park with my family in CA. The picture that I attached shows that it is a nice, sunny day, and you can see the beauty of creation behind. Clearly, those who wish to experience nature in its glory goes during the day. Without the light of the sun, all that you see behind me would be black, especially in more ancient days when we did not have light technology.  Yes, we need eyes in order to see. But, eyes in themselves are not sufficient for sight. Without light, all is dark.  

Augustine, then, uses that image of the sun to speak about how we see with our mind. For Augustine, we could not have clear vision without the power of God at work. Left to our own devices, our minds are caught up in the shadows of the world. In order to free ourselves from these shackles, three things are necessary: faith, hope, and love--"without these three no soul is healed so that it may see, that is, know God." 

Ideally, for Christians, we seek to see the world as God sees it. One may call a "seeing for the first time" a conversion experience, as Ignatius had while recovering from his critical wound at Pamplona. Many of us may have had those experiences where you have an "a ha!" moment.  You see something new that you never saw before in something quite old.  

That moment is real beauty.  That moment is a grace of God.  

When Jesuits pray the examen, we pray for the grace to see the day as God sees our day.  We strive to ground our understanding and our experiences in the light of Christ. This is difficult to do, especially when you are in the thick of things. This is why Ignatius felt the examen so important for us--so that we may look back on our day, seeing what transpired in a new light.  Ideally, we learn from this and try to integrate these graces for the next day. Yet, in reality, this is a lifelong process for us.  

It makes our life interesting. And, it means we have faith to find new light in all we do every day of our lives.  

I would like to end with a prayer from Fr. Pedro Arrupe
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits
that help me read the signs of the times,
to relish the things that are yours, and to communicate
     them to others. 
Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave 


Travel Monkey said...

Don't be so hard on yourself. I personally like random blogs. It's more like a public diary -- a mismatched quilt and matches the day-to-day stuff that happens. :-)

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Being hard on myself is my middle name. I know, I have a lot of growth to do--probably a life's work =p