Brilliant Darkness

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Tomorrow there will be a total solar eclipse that passes over the United States. If you are in the path of totality, you will get to experience something that won’t happen here again for another two decades. If you are lucky enough to be within the path, you will have a chance to experience one of the great natural wonders. As the moon travels in front of the sun, light begins to do strange things. In the shadows of trees you can see the shape of the moon dancing in the breeze. As the moon nears totality you can see, with eye protection, the disk of the moon covering the sun. But the main event is totality. When the moon completely covers the sun everything darkens, a coolness suddenly falls over everything, and when you look up through your eclipse glasses you see the corona of the sun, the outermost crown of the sun’s atmosphere reaching out into space. The corona is usually hidden by the blinding brilliance of the sun’s light, but on these special days you can see what is hidden.

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a 5th or 6th century theologian, opens his Mystical Theology with:

Trinity! Higher than any being,
any divinity, any goodness!
Guide of Christians in the wisdom of heaven!
Lead us up beyond unknowing and light,
up to the farthest, highest peak
of mystic scripture,
where the mysteries of God’s Word
lie simple, absolute and unchangeable
in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.
Amid the deepest shadow
they pour overwhelming light
on what is most manifest.
Amid the wholly unsensed and unseen
they completely fill our sightless minds
with treasures beyond all beauty.

For Pseudo-Dionysius, God can be found in the spaces between, in the darkness, and in the silence. Like the total eclipse, the brilliance of God can be seen around the edges of the darkness, and then only obliquely. To see the full brilliance of God is overwhelming and blinding, but we can’t help but find ways to look. When our eyes are trained to look for God in the darkness, the silence, the hidden places, we find God in those places, and often the light around the edges is more dazzling than we can bear.

About the Painting

Eclipse of the Sun and Moon
Watercolor on wood
Stella Maria Baer

Learn more about Seth & Stella.

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