The Christian life is a life of union with God – theosis. It has three facets: purification, illumination, and deification.
Here are two passages of Scripture that have been helpful to me in this regard:
Now when Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, He departed to Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles,
The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,
And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death
Light has dawned.”
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4.12-17 NKJV)
What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it. The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world… He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believed in his name who were born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself. (John 1.4-5, 10-13 NJB)
Here is a wonderful reflection on illumination authored by Rob Des Cotes, a spiritual director, retreat leader and pastor of Imago Dei.
Everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. (Ephesians 5:13 NIV)
Between 1980 and 1994, the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, and in particular the ceiling and accompanying lunettes by Michelangelo, underwent a major restoration. The findings of an earlier investigation in 1979 revealed that the entire ceiling of the chapel was covered with a grime of candle smoke, wax and soot. Previous restorations had also left their marks on the frescoes where layers of varnish and glue that had been applied to many areas had darkened and become opaque, veiling the light’s capacity to properly reflect the original colours. The final restoration revealed colours and details that had not been seen for centuries.
The concept of light being buried under the opaqueness of dirt is also a theme that Martin Laird explores in his book Into the Silent Land where he writes on the power of prayer to restore our original light. Lairds thesis is that, “Contemplative practice helps remove that which obscures the hidden self.”
The idea that truth is not something that we have to aspire to but something that is already buried within us also resonates with Paul’s teaching in 2Cor. 3:18 where he speaks of the glory we increasingly reflect the more we come to God with “unveiled faces.” Laird too finds agreement with the apostle’s imagery when he writes,
- The discipline of contemplation is not a technique but more of a surrendering of our deeply imbedded resistances. It allows the sacred within us to gradually reveal itself. Out of this letting go emerges what Paul calls our hidden self (Eph 3:16).
Jesus assures us that “the kingdom of heaven is within” (Luke 17:21). But we also know that there is much in our lives and in our self-understanding that obscures its light. Contemplative prayer helps remove these self-defining veils so that the Holy Spirit can lead us to the simple truth of our “unveiled” self—the purity of heart by which we come to see and reflect more truthfully our oneness with God (Mat. 5:8). This is what Laird suggests when he claims,
- Union with God is not something that needs to be acquired as much as realized. Because of our unity with Christ, the reality of our oneness with God is already the case. The more we realize this to be true the more we can become ourselves just as we are.
Laird speaks of the foundational lie that veils and distorts our true self—that we tend to look to the creature for truth rather than to the Creator (Rom. 1:25). As a result of this misdirection of love we confuse our own dimly reflected light for God’s Light, and we end up living a much different narrative than the one God intended for us.
We are caught between two worlds—our self-reflected identity and our God-reflected identity in Christ. Though we are in the process of being born again we still cling, in many ways, to the lies of our old, autonomous self. Laird speaks of animals who have lived most of their lives in cages who, once released into the wild, still live as if they were caged. They are free but they do not know it. This also mirrors our spiritual reality as Christians. We are free, but the memory of the cage still remains. This is why it is so important to come to God each day in prayer. If nothing else it reminds us over and over again of our essential unity with Christ.
“You are the light of the world,” Jesus taught us. Our light is not something that lies ahead of us or that we must somehow become. It is actually hidden beneath us. We do not need to achieve or aspire to this reality as much as to simply rest in it. As we allow God’s truth to reveal to us the simplicity of our creatureliness—of our lives as something received more than something we create—we too will be more fully illuminated by His light. “Everything exposed by the light will become visible,” as Paul teaches. “And everything that is illuminated will itself become a light.”
FOR PERSONAL CONSIDERATION AND GROUP DISCUSSION:
- Like the frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, what are the layers of soot and wax that prevent God’s light from fully reaching you? How does prayer help “remove all that obscures the hidden self?”
- How does your sense of spiritual direction change when you consider that “union with God is not something you need to achieve or aspire to but something you simply need to rest in?”
- In what ways do you see yourself like the animals Laird describes who, though free, still act as if they are living in a cage? What are some of the lies that cause you to lose your sense of unity with Christ?
FOR PRAYER: Present yourself each day to God for the healing, or “unveiling,” of your heart. Welcome His exposing light so that you will more truthfully reflect it in your life. Let the Lord break down any illusion you have of being separate from Him.