The Luminous Darkness

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Creativity is not, as such, a personal trait. Instead, it is the result of our interaction with that which the story-telling author of Genesis 1 calls the deep (tehom, in the Hebrew text).

Genesis 1:1-2   When God began to create the heavens and the earth— the earth was without shape or form, it was dark over the deep sea, and God’s wind swept over the waters  (CEB)

[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[Image: Hoag’s Object, public domain created by NASA and ESA.]


Genesis 1:1-2 has has been strangely mis-represented as Christian theologians have tried to understand the nature of creation. Traditionally creation is presented as the act by which God (the Supreme Being who is Creator) forges something (“the heavens and the earth”) in place of nothing. The success of something over nothing is called creatio ex nihilo — creation out of nothingness. But that is not true to the picture presented in Genesis 1:1-2.

Genesis 1:1-2 is part of a mythic story arising out of 5th-6th Century BCE Israel.  It does, however, contain some rather significant theological insights for today:

1:1 When Elohim began to evoke creativity, 2 the earth was just limitedness and possibility (tohu va boho) and there was a breathiness (ruach) vibrating (mrhpht) over the profound potentiality of serendipitous creativity (tehom).

Genesis 1:1-2 describes a beginning. As the rest of Genesis 1 suggests, God calls forth earth, sky, light, dark, sun, moon, waters, all kinds of creatures, and human beings. If they are not created out of nothing, what is their origin? 1:2 suggests that they are called forth from the “deep” (tehom). The deep is sometimes called mystery, the boundless, infinite, the eternal. The deep is beyond immediate experience, and yet is the ground of all experience. The deep baffles every attempt to describe it, and yet it continues to call to us — inviting us into its depths. Poetry gives us a better chance of approaching the deep than reason. While too many interpreters try to approach Genesis 1:1-2 as theo-logic (that is, as rational propositions), the original author (story teller) offers us poetry: the deep is tohu va bohu — that is the tension between formless and void, wild and waste, limit and possibility. Vibrating over that tension is a kind of breathiness that is the potentiality of becoming. The not-quite-something is on the brink of becoming.

Pseudo-Dionysuis calls this “the luminous darkness.” Luminous darkness refers to our capacity to see into the tehom (the chaos) and discern both the possibility and the limitedness of continuing creation.

The capacity for such discernment makes us co-creators — capable of evoking new becomings. We demonstrate our co-creativity in the arts (painting, poetry, dance, music, …); in relationships (compassion, friendship, pregnancy, charity, …); and in society (justice, peace, community, family, …).

The manner by which we inhabit our present creates the possibility and the limits of our future. The future is always a chaotic tension between limitless possibility and limiting duplicity; or, in moral terms, between good and evil.

We are the universe’s capacity to discern the interaction between possibility and limit; and to act in favor of one or the other. The current political agenda — climate change, universal health care, immigration, civil rights for LGBT citizens, response to racism and islamaphobia, women’s rights — demonstrates the critical nature of our discernment. There is a decided movement on the political Right that perpetuates a fear-based choosing of severe limitation — especially for “them” — while touting unlimited freedom for “us.” As a result, everyone (“them” and “us”) seems to be losing ground — everyone, that is, except the 1% and the corporatocracy.

The luminous darkness is what John Caputo was describing (unwittingly) when he said, “God doesn’t exist; God insists.” Luminous darkness (the tehom, the deep) is the font out of which the insistence arises. Luminosity describes our ability to look into the chaos and see the wild / possibility / potentiality (light) and the waste / limitedness / energy-less-ness (dark) that are held in tension. Our response to the insistence (co-creation) determines the degree to which light and/or dark will be shaped into becoming. We have been given the unique role as a creature in the universe of being able to take a productive approach to chaos — that is, the role of meaning-maker.

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