God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Genesis 1:5
Spiritually, “Day” is associated with reason, using information gleaned from the body’s five senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell.
Spiritually, “Night” is associated with spiritual knowledge that begins with faith, which is given passively by God to individual souls without the illumination of the understanding.
Holy Scripture beautifully sums up Day and Night, Reason and Faith, in Psalm 19:
Day pours out the word to day, and night to night imparts knowledge. Psalm 19:3
The soul in the spiritual “night” is ideally a movement toward greater faith, hope and charity culminating in union with God. Saint John illustrates the movement through the spiritual night with three stages: The beginning of this night is the night of sense during which the first major conversion from sin and bondage to the senses takes place. It is called night due to the privation and purgation of the soul’s senses and is represented by the time of the night just after dusk when sensible objects can no longer be seen, a perfect comparison. The second part is the night of faith. It is compared to midnight since it is farthest from the daylight of reason, leaving the understanding in darkness. In the coming days we shall see these first two parts of the night happen with the Israelites release from the Egyptians in Exodus. The third part of the night, when it is still dark but preceding dawn, is the dark night of the soul when God’s bestows his mystical prayer called contemplation. When these three parts of the night are almost over, God begins to illumine the soul with his Divine light, which is the beginning of the perfect union with him that follows – when it is nearer to dawn and the light of day, which is compared to God. 1
The light of faith, as said, has three primary functions: it gathers, guides and guards. Faith gathers together God’s people to worship, learn the Faith, and to serve others. Second, faith is a guide for the spiritual journey; leading the soul toward and ever deepening relationship with God and eternal life; for faith is the beginning of eternal life. Third, faith guards by its protection and concealment against the devil, 2 whose goal is to prevent that from happening. In this part of Genesis, we’ll look at faith as a guide; specifically with God’s example of Israel’s exodus from Egypt when we continue tomorrow.
If “gather, guide and guard” resonates familiarity, it is because they are the attributes of the Good Shepherd himself and light of the world, Jesus Christ.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text.
In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus teaches us how to pray the Our Father, bringing faith into our everyday lives. This link will take you to the USCCB website and directly to today’s Daily Readings:
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” Genesis 1:5
We continue where we left off Tuesday, meditating upon the above verse as it applies to reason, faith and the Israelites exodus from Egypt. What is happening in Exodus helps us to understand spiritually these Genesis verses on light, darkness, day and night.
Upon the Israelite’s departure from Egypt, when Pharaoh let the people go, God bestowed upon them the light of faith. This was a release from spiritual bondage as well as physical slavery, because Pharaoh wouldn’t let them make animal sacrifices to God in the desert as God wanted. 1 Enslavement to sin and sensual comforts never fosters, like Pharaoh, worship of God. Like all who are newly aware of a spiritual part of their being, the Israelites release from Egyptian captivity would require guidance without complete reliance upon the senses. For how can one journey using the very same thing one is attempting to leave behind? This is where the light of faith takes over and operates in silence and darkness as a guide, more so with a soul who is co-operative with God’s grace. The soul who is eager to advance in the spiritual life practices mortifying their earthly desires while developing a deep prayer life, which is their relationship with God. The soul’s reliance on the false props of sensual comforts and satisfied appetites diminishes as the soul’s spiritual life matures, at the same time love of God and neighbor grows with hope and charity. One by one the chains of desires fall away, and spiritual freedom blossoms. And he is set free from the hands of his enemies – “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” 2
Scripture shows God guiding Israel by the light of faith, while revealing how faith operates:
The Lord preceded them, in the day-time by means of a column of cloud to show them the way, and at night by means of a column of fire to give them light. Thus they could travel both by day and by night. Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people. Exodus 13: 21-22
It is rather contrary that a cloud could show them the way. Typically, clouds and fog disable navigation abilities. Preceding them as they marched forward, they certainly could not see ahead to use their own reasoning abilities, which is the point. But as the verse states, this was God’s means, his way, of leading Israel. The first line is the Lord himself showing them the way, which is to say spiritually, their reason (day) was darkened by the cloud, and in this darkness of their understanding, which is night, there was fire to give them guiding light. It is also amazing that “clouding the reason” could show the way; a paradox that unbelievers cannot grasp. This verse shows why faith is called “a dark night,” by illustrating no simultaneous coming of natural knowledge through reason, leaving the understanding in darkness. 3 This is God’s guidance – this is faith.
The next line tells us Israel’s journey does in fact include both reason and faith:
Thus they could travel both by day and by night: day = reason, night = faith.
Interpreted naturally: Thus they could travel both in the daytime and nighttime. Interpreted spiritually: Thus they could travel both by reason and by faith.
Forms of guidance God provides the soul’s intellect include: Holy Scripture, a mentor, instruction, community. These assist the role of reason in the life of faith. Moses’ and Aaron’s instruction was directed at the Israelites’ sense of reason: Moses performed the signs in the sight of the people and Aaron spoke to the people, both under God’s instructions. 4 In the New Testament Jesus administers all three functions, as God himself teaching about the kingdom and performing miracles. But Jesus lays it down plainly that blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. 5 Belief rests on the power of God through faith, not human understanding, which is vulnerable to attacks of the devil, as we shall see.
In Moses we see the limitations of human help as he expressed to God multiple times his reluctance to lead the people; asking him, a bit prophetically, to send someone else. 6 Contrarily, we read of God’s unwavering response to his people’s walk of faith:
Neither the column of cloud by day nor the column of fire by night ever left its place in front of the people.
Today is the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, Apostle. The Popes have faithfully shepherded the People of God, guiding them for over 2000 years since St. Peter, whose profession of faith to Jesus is the rock he built his Church upon. You can read Peter’s entire response to Jesus on the USCCB website:
We will reflect more upon the faculty of the understanding and its operations of reason, its corresponding theological virtue and God’s beacon the light of faith, faith’s role as gatherer of God’s people, and why it is a dark guide and guard toward eternal life.
The USCCB has not reviewed or approved my comments on the Biblical text
The two stages of light in the Old and New Testaments:
The light God called forth from nothingness on that first day so all might see and believe testified to him until that fourth day when the governor of light took over; the sun to shed light upon the earth, to separate the light from the darkness, and to carry on the testimony.
At that proper time, God sent his faithful servant John 1 born of a barren woman, whose light 2 testified to the Light so all might believe; until the arrival of that true Governor of Light, Jesus Christ, who came into the world so that whoever sees him sees the Father. 3
Then God said: “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky, to separate day from night. Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years, and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth.” And so it happened: God made the two great lights, the greater one to govern the day, and the lesser one to govern the night; and he made the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky, to shed light upon the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness.
We continue with our spiritual interpretation.
On day one, God called the light he created “day” and the darkness “night.” Spiritually, we saw “day” represents knowledge the soul is aware of through the body’s five senses with which it uses to reason with, enlightening the understanding. “Night” is associated with light of faith whose spiritual knowledge of God is imperceptible to the understanding. St. John calls faith “unformed knowledge.” 4 God essentially bypasses the five bodily senses when he communicates knowledge (and love in advanced prayer) to the soul because, as stated earlier, he resides in the substance of every soul. Substantial knowledge stripped of all images is produced by God passively in the faculties, rather than produced in the intellect by reception of forms, fantasies and apprehensions. 5
One day four of creation in the dome of the sky, God “organizes” the light he created and separated from the darkness on day one. The sun, moon, and stars do this on the natural level of creation. These same lights in their natural operations in the sky offer a sublime spiritual meditation on the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith. With God’s grace and St. John’s wisdom, I’ll endeavor to share God’s wonderment of the faculty of the understanding, the virtue of faith, and the dome of the sky.
In our present Genesis verse both great lights, the sun and the moon, are to shed light upon the earth to separate physical light and darkness; which is to say spiritually, the two great lights, reason and faith, are both to be used by the soul during their sojourn on earth to keep the soul from intellectual and spiritual darkness.
In Genesis, we find the faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith between the parted waters of sense and spirit: in the dome of the sky where God places the sun and moon. More precisely, the dome of the sky becomes the faculty of the understanding on day four of creation when the great lights are placed therein to govern reason and faith, according to the will of the soul. This illustrative central location is most ideal for providing the soul’s sensual part below and spiritual part above their guidance. The soul’s faculty of the understanding and the virtue of faith, the dome of the sky with the two great lights (sun & moon) in Genesis, and the dry path where the Israelites walked through the parted Red Sea in Exodus guided by the fiery cloud (of faith) and Moses who appealed to their reason, are all three symbolically one and the same.
Faith operates in the opposite way than that of reason. The soul does not glean knowledge from the night of faith the way the understanding gleans knowledge from the light of reason; rather, the soul obtains faith’s light because it’s understanding is in darkness. And the darker the soul’s understanding of God, the greater light of faith is given it. God has provided a heavenly, natural representation of faith by watching the moon in the night and daytime skies. A soul with a strong faith has its understanding of God resembling a black nighttime sky with the bright light of the moon giving light. The moon is bright because the sky is dark; therefore, the soul with strong faith receives light because it has placed it’s understanding in darkness and not using the light of reason to believe and know God. The darker the understanding of God the stronger the faith; the greater is the light from the moon in the darkened sky.
Let us read what our San Juan says about the dark night of faith, which resembles God’s illustration of the moon in the night sky:
“It is clear, then, that faith is a dark night for the soul, and it is in this way it gives light; and the more the soul is darkened, the greater is the light that comes to it.” 6
Alternatively, the moon in the daytime sky is like a soul with little or no faith. The moon is pale in the daytime sky because the soul has not placed its understanding of God in the darkness of faith. Therefore, the moon’s light is weak or absent due to the greater light (sun) of reason overwhelms it and takes precedence. This could be from the soul attempting to wrongly and habitually use the light of reason rather than the darkness of faith to know God, or it hasn’t been given the gift of faith by God. Here is another one of St. John’s sublime quotes on faith: “He that would journey towards union with God must not walk by understanding, neither lean upon experience or feeling or imagination, but he must believe in His Being, which is not perceptible to the understanding, neither to the desire nor to the imagination nor to any other sense, neither can it be known in this life at all. Yea, in this life, the highest thing that can be felt and experienced concerning God is infinitely remote from God and from the pure possession of Him.” 7
Notice our Saint is talking about concepts of God, e.g., an idea, notion, image, emotion, sensation, or experience. The highest of these, he says, is as far from God as one can get. These are likened to the weak light of the moon in the daytime sky – relying on the finite human operations of the senses, reasoning, thought and judgement to know the infinite God, which dilutes or extinguishes the light of faith. There is, of course, a right use of reason with faith. The soul uses reason to deepen their understanding of the truths of the kingdom. We will explore that when we return on Thursday, March 8.
St. John of the Cross’ extensive teaching on journeying towards union with God by the night of faith is legendary. I only briefly touched on it in these pages.
If I may suggest, today’s 1st Daily Reading tells of the army commander whose servants “reasoned” with him to make an act of faith, making our reflection today a good warm-up for today’s Word of God on the USCCB website.