Into the Light of God's Face
While on vacation in coastal Maine recently there was one particular day when the area was enveloped in a deep fog which seemed to come up out of the water while simultaneously coming down from the sky. I had awakened that day to the low blasts of a ship’s horn as it was trying to maneuver safely out of the harbor. The shroud of mist and the forlorn sound of the horn created an atmosphere of mysteriousness. However, during the day the fog broke intermittently and the sun shone through for brief moments so that one could see life going on despite the cover of mist. It was truly surreal, but also beautiful in its own way. The fog was present throughout the day, but when it would lift everything beneath shone with a vibrancy which would have gone unnoticed if not for the contrast cast by the heavy mist. Upon reflection it gave rise to the thought that life is like this: although we might feel like we are caught up in fog in our attempts to make difficult decisions or to simply get through the day, we have God as our light. He illuminates all that there is, especially by giving us His Word as a lamp and His Spirit as our guide. Without living in the light of God, as on that foggy day, we would become lost and enshrouded in darkness. Not only do we need it, but we yearn for the light of His face; and God will guide us home, toward Himself, if we let Him.
Unfortunately, it is not always so easy to see in the fog or in the darkness of confusion. There are countless decisions we have to make, and of these, some feel nearly impossible. In the Book of Psalms there is a verse that says “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.” (Ps. 119:105) It is true that if we are in need of some advice, the Scriptures are a great place to seek it out. Between the wisdom found in the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, we have everything we need to find our way. It is important to have a familiarity with the Bible because in it we discover the mercy and love of God, as well as a way of proceeding if we want to become holy. We find a way of responding to the mercy continually offered by our Father and a way of living such that our very lives can become a “thank you” to Him.
An important part of the Old Testament involves the light of God’s face. In Exodus, the cumulative effect of Moses going into the Shekinah presence of God on Mt. Horeb was that his face began to glow. It glowed so much that the radiance was impossible for others to look upon, so Moses had to wear a veil to cover his face. The light of God’s face illuminated Moses’ face, just as the holy ones radiate God’s presence and are depicted in iconography with a nimbus of light around their head.* In the Gospel of John there are many references to light, including Jesus’ reference to Himself as the Light of the World. And in the time after Jesus, as we are guided now by His Holy Spirit, we continue to hear about the same radiance of God manifesting as beauty in His creation. For example, we hear it in what St. Hildegard of Bingen referred to as viriditas; that is, the ‘greening’ of all that there is, such that all creation is imbued with God-given vitality and the light of life. There are many ways the saints have revealed that the light of God’s face is indeed given in glimpses, though the fullness of this light is what awaits us in Heaven.
One of the lines in the second Eucharistic Prayer at Mass refers to this light which we are seeking in God. It comes after the consecration, during the petitions for the Church and the world. At this point we are praying silently, along with the priest, for our beloved dead who have gone before us. “Remember also our brothers and sisters who have fallen asleep in the hope of the resurrection, and all who have died in your mercy: welcome them into the light of your face.” That line is actually about all of us, the Church, the Body of Christ. Isn’t this what we are hoping for, to be in the light of God’s face for eternity? This prayer reminds us that not only do we petition God to welcome us into Heaven, but that God wants this for us and for Himself: He wants us to bask in the light of His face simply because He loves us, as if our presence with Him makes His light that much brighter. – That is not a theological statement because clearly we cannot add to who God is. I mean this as an inflaming of His love which is so great, so unfathomable, and yet so completely desirous for us to be with Him. – God wants for us to enjoy the light of His face even more than we are able to yearn for it. It is the promise of salvation which He has offered us through our baptism, won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so He does everything He can to help bring us home to Him.
Therefore, while we are enveloped in the fog of living (due to our human limitations) God is right with us throughout our life which is filled with both joys and sorrows. Jesus promised to remain with us until He returns and left us access to His Body and Blood as food for the journey, but also to the Holy Spirit to whom we can turn for graces, guidance and protection. The Spirit leads us through our prayer and through reception of the sacraments; though largely unseen, this is the same Spirit who appeared as the fiery Shekinah ‘cloud’ of the Old Testament and at the Transfiguration of Jesus. Furthermore, we have one another: we have our family in the Body of Christ. The Eucharistic prayer says to “remember our brothers and sisters who have gone before us,” a reminder that we are all one in this Body which includes the living as well as the deceased. Therefore, if we yearn for the light of God’s face, we must look into the faces of our living brothers and sisters because we will find Him there, too.
Here is the heart of the matter: our lives are meant to be a journey from the Lord back to the Lord. In between we are given many gifts to help us on this journey. In addition to the great gift of life itself, we are given countless gifts of family and friends, material goods, health, various graces, love, mercy, and things unique to our identity. For some there is much more intense suffering than for others; for some there is poverty of the material, physical, or spiritual sort, but this does not mean that the light of God’s face is any less present and available than for those who have less suffering or less wealth. What it does mean, however, is that we are meant to bring the light of God’s face to those who are in the fog, obscured by pain and suffering, to remind them that God has never left them for one moment. It is through our works of kindness and mercy that we are the ones who become the carriers, so to speak, of the light of God’s face like a beacon in the fog to those who are feeling lost and forgotten, or who are simply beaten down by the stuff of life. Conversely, when we are the ones in need, we find the light of God’s face in the love of the ones who bring kindnesses to us.
Therefore, the light of God’s face is not only intended to be something we encounter at the end of the journey. Rather, God sends us beacons of light so that we might find our way home. Every time we do a work of mercy, a small act of kindness, or something to alleviate the suffering of another person; every time we forgive or show mercy to one who has hurt or betrayed us; every time we go before one who is lost and let them know how very important they are to God and to us, we are bringing the light of God’s face to them. It becomes a reminder that in the end, we will be out of the fog and immersed forever in light indescribable, the very light of Love. Let us trust that in the darkness the Light has indeed come, and let us look hopefully toward that day when we are guided to our true home, safe and welcomed into the light of God’s face.
May we hope in the promise of God that one day we will be in the Light of His face! May we persevere when we are in confusion or are bearing the weight of a difficult decision! May we bring the light of His love to those who are estranged from God or who have not known Him so that we might aid in guiding them to God! May we trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us with grace and in the saints to inspire us on our journey! And may we be aware of the presence of Jesus Christ as we make our way through life so that we may ever be in the Light of God’s Face! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
Dedication: To all those who have entered into the light of God's face, particularly my mother in law, Reba. May she and all our beloved dead rest in peace.
Note: Next post will be on October 10
* All icons are ‘about’ light, actually. According to Paul Evdokimov, icons convey the same Shekinah presence of God which was seen by the three apostles on Mt. Tabor during the Transfiguration of Jesus. For an interesting treatment of this topic, see the chapter called The Theology of Glory Light (chapter 17) in Evdokimov’s book, The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty.
Photos and images:
All of the photos are my own.
The first two were taken in Bar Harbor, Maine. I chose them because they were taken on the foggy day I was describing in the text. The second photo reveals the depth of the fog: the cruise ship anchored on the left was eventually 'swallowed' by the fog, but is still mostly visible at the point when this was taken, while the island to the right had almost vanished.
Third is an image by Fr. William Hart McNichols called Hebrew Name of Yahweh-adam Kadmon. I chose this image because it portrays the Shekinah fire and presence of God who revealed Himself in the Burning Bush. The image contains the tetragrammaton, the letters of the words "I Am Who Am" superimposed and aflame. You can find this image at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/hebrew-name-of-yahweh-adam-kadmon-183-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Next are three paintings from totally different artists,eras, and styles all of which use light magnificently. (I was going to say "brilliantly," but the pun would have been too much.) The first is Place des Lices St. Tropez (1904) by Henri Matisse. I chose it because of how he used the colors to make light come alive especially in the tree, which seems to be its own kind of burning bush. I love the way Matisse used light and colors in his painting. http://www.artionado.com/Matisse/Matisse%20fauve%20works%202.html
-The second painting uses light totally differently: this is Rembrandt's Self Portrait as the Apostle Paul (1661). As I indicated in one part of the entry, the darkness which frames the figure makes the contrast with the light of his face all the brighter. It truly captured the themes of this entry. See http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n23/tj-clark/world-of-faces
-The third is Saffron (1957) by Mark Rothko. Regardless if one is a fan of more modern art like Rothko or not, the usage of light in this painting shows his genius in the usage of color. The light seems to jump off the canvas. See http://www.artnet.com/artists/mark-rothko/saffron-nG2OSKJQAki3a9PW57faHw2
Next is another photo which I took in the Bar Harbor, Maine, area. This was one of those moments when the fog lifted revealing movement and vibrancy which was then brought into the light.
Next is a rather ethereal photo which I was able to take of the moon. I had my camera as 'zoomed in' as I could manage and as I took a series of shots as the clouds were moving. I used no filters except a UV filter and there was no retouching of this image. It is "as is." It was a quarter moon and the black marks that seem to be nibbling on it are actually bits of the passing clouds. I chose this shot to represent that the light is present even when we cannot see it or when it is enshrouded by passing darkness, just as the moon is always there when it is in a phase where it is not reflecting light or when it is covered by the clouds.
I took the last photo on the coast of Maine; it is the Pemaquid Lighthouse. I chose it because lighthouses are beacons which help ships when the fog is thick, representing the beacons we are meant to be for one another, as well as the beacon that God is for us when we are encased in darkness, fear, or doubt. I also chose this because it was a sunny, bright day, in contrast to the fog in the other photos.
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