17. “luminous darkness”

Behind the father-image, behind the mother-image, behind the image of light inaccessible, and behind the image of profound abysmal darkness, there is something else which we cannot conceive at all. Saint Dionysius called it the ‘luminous darkness.’ Nargajuna called it sunyata, the void. Shankara called it Brahman, that of which nothing at all can be said, neti-neti, beyond all conception whatsoever. However, this in not atheism in the formal sense of the word. On the contrary, this is a profoundly religious attitude because it corresponds practically to an attitude toward a life of total trust in letting go. When we have images of God, they are all really exhibitions of our lack of faith.

– Alan Watts: ‘Images of God’

Wherefore John the Sublime, who penetrated into the luminous darkness, says, No one has ever seen God, thus asserting that knowledge of the divine essence is unattainable not only by men but also by every intelligent creature.

– Gregory of Nyssa: ‘Life of Moses’

It is in the deepest darkness, that we most fully possess God on earth, because it is then that our minds are most truly liberated from the weak, created lights that are filled with His infinite Light which seems pure darkness to our reason.

– Thomas Merton: ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’, 1961

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