1: THE PRIMEVAL HISTORY
First Story of Creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2
There are two truths illustrated in the Genesis creation account. The creation of the natural world, which is apparent in the literal meaning of the text, and that of the spiritual – the creation account of the hidden soul and its parts in the text’s deeper meaning. Such a presentation of the natural and the spiritual gives us a replication of reality. As I stated in the prelude, Genesis 1 & 3 is a grand tour de force of allegorical literary sense.
In the first verse, the Divine Host is creating man’s natural dwelling place, the earth. Darkness in Genesis without a speck of light is a palpable, thick darkness, unlike the semi-darkness one wakes up to in the middle of the night. This dense darkness covers not only the beginnings of natural creation but the spiritual caverns of the human soul as well, in Genesis called the abyss, which are the soul’s faculties of the understanding, will, and memory. An “abyss” is defined as “a deep or seemingly bottomless chasm,” Scripture footnotes notes 1,2 calls the Genesis abyss the “primordial ocean.” Comparably, St. John of the Cross calls the spiritual faculties “caverns…of which the depth is proportionate to their capacity for great blessings, for they can be filled with nothing less than the infinite,” which is God. 1
That is why finite goods fail to fill them, to satisfy them. The soul is ever hungering and thirsting while it attempts to satisfy itself with the goods of the world. The three faculties together are what enable the soul’s participation in the divine nature;2 they are, in addition to the light of faith, what unites the soul to God.3
The soul can sever its relationship with God with what it deposits into its caverns of the understanding, will, and memory. St. John tells us God is present in every soul, saint and sinner, otherwise it would fail to exist.4
God establishes the three faculties of the soul, their individual characteristics and their theological virtues of faith, love, and hope in the Genesis 1 creation account verses.
Just as natural creation is in darkness before God bestows life-giving natural light, the soul in this verse has yet to receive the life-giving spiritual light of faith. This means a soul without the light of faith is disabled (to put it mildly) in the same ways as natural creation is without its light – chilling words to ponder.
What disabilities does the natural world and the s piritual soul have in common in their darkened worlds? We know life cannot be sustained in perpetual darkness, either physical or spiritual. Disabilities in the physical world are easy to name. St. John of the Cross starts us off describing a soul who is floundering in spiritual darkness. Then we’ll read a short reflection on the Israelites and the Egyptians in the Book of Exodus which further answers this. But first, St. John:
“Until the Lord said, ‘Fiat Lux’ [be light], thick darkness was upon the face of the abyss of the cavern of sense [the spiritual faculties]; and the deeper is this abyss and the more profound are its caverns, when God, Who is light, enlightens it not, the more abysmal and profound is the thick darkness that is upon it.
And thus it is impossible for the soul to raise its eyes to the Divine Light, or even to think of such light, for it knows not of what manner is this light, since it has never seen it; wherefore it cannot desire it, but will rather desire thick darkness, knowing not what it is like; and it will go from one darkness to another, guided by that darkness, for darkness cannot lead to anything save to fresh darkness.”5
Our Saint appears to be comparing the darkness of the “abyss” in Genesis with his teaching of the soul’s faculties in darkness – perhaps offering a spiritual interpretation of the Scripture verse as the abyss and the caverns of sense of the soul are one and the same. Fiat Lux, or Let there be light, is in the next verse, Genesis 1:3.
The spiritual darkness covering the abyss of the faculties of the soul in the opening of Genesis pre-figures the spiritual darkness of both the Israelites and the Egyptians found in the Book of Exodus. The Israelites had grown comfortable in their bondage under Egyptian slavery, illustrating our Saint’s point. They were happy simply if their physical needs were met, revealing how this thick darkness prevents even the acknowledgment of the possibilities of spiritual freedom. They even complained to Moses they did not want to leave their servitude to the Egyptians.6 This darkness is so pervasive that even upon their departure from Egypt, Israel, under the slightest pressure or challenge, wanted to return to their comfortable sleep of bondage to the Egyptians, who represented slavery to their senses.
As for the Egyptians’ own dark spiritual abyss, this was represented by the 9th plague of darkness God sent to the them to persuade obstinate Pharaoh to release Israel. God caused an intense darkness over the whole land that could be felt; the word “smothering” comes to mind. The Egyptians could not see one another, nor could they move from where they were at for three days. 7 This darkness represented their own spiritual slavery: blindness in that they couldn’t see each other, and immobility. Darkness, both natural and spiritual, prevents sight and mobility. Today’s culture’s inability to see the reality behind the most vulnerable and helpless among us is spiritual blindness similar to that of the Egyptians inability to “see” their fellow man. For the soul, mobility is commonly called “spiritual freedom.” Spiritual freedom includes, but is not limited to: freedom from slavery to sin, the need to keep up with trends, inordinate desires, appetites, comforts and concerns of what others think.
St. John of the Cross calls the theological virtue of hope, “Living Hope.”8 As we turn aside from the things of the world for love of God, theological hope for God and eternal life increases, along with spiritual sight and spiritual freedom. I encourage readers to further their Lenten reflections with the Daily Readings on the USCCB website. Today’s Daily Readings about reconciliation, prayer, fasting, sacrificing, almsgiving, and righteous deeds carry us into the Holy Season of Lent, the season of Living Hope.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.