02 January, 2012

A Feast of Light

(Yes, I know, I'm a little late with this.)

"The sun ... not only furnishes to those that see the power of visibility but it also provides for their generation and growth and nurture though it is not itself generation. ... In like manner, then ... the objects of knowledge not only receive from the presence of the Good their being known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them from it, though the Good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and surpassing power." (The Republic, 509b, trans. Paul Shorey)

With the rapid approach of the winter solstice, at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere we are approaching with equal rapidity a grand Feast of Lights. Whether this is Christmas or Chanukah, Kwanza, Yule or some other variation on the theme is not, for just this moment, the point. The point is the return or birth of the Light into the world. It is perhaps tempting to put scare quotes around return and birth. We all know the sun is in no way born at this time of the year and in fact the earth begins to move away from the sun in its elliptical orbit. So it is in no way returning to us, either. We are all aware that these words are metaphors for something else. But let us resist the urge, again for just this moment. Instead let us understand that the sun is indeed once again born to the world. That it has returned to us.

Or, rather, that at this time of the year we return to it. Let’s come back to that in a moment.

In The Republic, in the portion just before what is known as the allegory of the cave, as well as in that allegory, Plato connects the sun to the Form or Idea of the Good, which is understood by the Neoplatonists as an aspect of the One, God. The sun is described as a symbol for the Good. As the above quotation tells us, both the sun and the Good give to that which is beneath them life and existence. At the same time, the sun and the Good are beyond that which they give. When we talk about the return of the sun, or Son, this is what we are talking about.

The Good is a selfless giver. It asks for nothing in return for what it gifts to us. The Good, the One, God, whatever you’d like to call this, needs nothing from us. We, however, need it and need it entirely, for the Good is the source of being and essence. Without the Good there is nothing at all.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being." – John 1:1-3

The quotation from John, which perhaps not coincidentally is my favorite quotation from the Gospels, describes this well enough. Everything that exists has existence because of the Good. Because that spiritual Sun shines upon us, loosing nothing of itself while granting everything to us. That we give gifts at this time of the year is then not at all surprising as the impulse to life in imitation of the Good is perhaps strengthened at this time.

If that is true, that especially at this time of the year we have a renewed desire to participate in the Good through our various religious and spiritual traditions then we have also come back to the beginning of this little missive. If this is true, then the sun, or the Sun, really is returning to us. Or we are really returning to it. God is always there, of course. Not just “out there” but “in here” as well. Always has been. Must be. For without the Good, without the Logos, we are nothing, without being or essence. So God hasn’t gone anywhere. This leaves us with the uncomfortable idea that we’re the ones who left. Probably without so much as a “be seeing you.” We likely didn’t realize we were drifting apart. And once we’ve spent time in the darkness, our eyes adjust and we think we’re seeing things clearly.

In the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite this is the very definition of “sin.” Sin is not some act of petty, let alone horrific evil. It is missing the mark due to our varying degrees of ignorance of the Good. Yes, we all want to do good, to be good, to participate in the Good. We all act with some good in mind. Even the worst demons, Dionysius tells us, act with a good in mind. But if we have hidden ourselves from the Light, our blinded vision is of no help to us, and so we wonder off the path, sometimes a little, sometimes more than a little.

The Good does not condemn us for this. God knows who and what we are, after all. According to Iamblichus we incarnate the first time because, though pure of sole, we cannot control our passions. God knows this already. It’s part of who we are and it’s part of why we’re here. There is no need for condemnation, just correction. That correction may take a long time to achieve, but it is never impossible. Because even though we may no longer see the Light, even though we may have hidden ourselves inside a cave to watch the flickering shadows, that cave and those shadows are also filled with God. Just as we are.

The truth is that the Light never ceases to shine upon us or in us. Our awareness of this fact, or lack thereof, doesn’t change this. It changes us. And so, once a year, we give ourselves a reminder. We light lights to remind ourselves that the Good loves us and is with us and that we can live in participation of that love and share it with others, which is also in imitation of that ceaseless love. And when we do that, when we once again become aware of that Light, it is born within us. It is a birth that has nothing to do with time and history as we commonly understand it, but a birth that exists within an eternal NOW. It is the Word being spoken for the first time and forever, not echoing throughout eternity but having full voice in a constant creative speech.

At this time of the beginning of the eternal Feast of Light I offer to you, my friends, my brothers and sisters, whatever blessings you would wish for yourselves, not just for the coming year but for now and eternity. For a Word spoken, just like the eternal Light and Love of God, never diminishes.

Peace to you.


  1. A perfect meditation for the season. I've had to spend a lot of it away from liturgy, so it's great to have writing like this. Many thanks and blessings!

  2. A most excellent meditation on what / why we celebrate at this time of the year. Blessings and a Great Year Frater!

  3. A very good explanation on why we celebrate at this time of year,thanks look foward to your next post.

  4. Thank you all. I'm glad you were able to find something of use in my ramblings.