But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in the darkness

Moses’ vision of God began with light (Exod. 19.18); afterwards God spoke to him in a cloud (Exod. 20.21). But when Moses rose higher and became more perfect, he saw God in the darkness (Exod. 24.15-18).

— Gregory of Nyssa, Commentary on the Song of Songs, quoted in An Anthology of Christian Mysticism edited by Harvey D. Egan. Via Anamchara – The Website of Unknowing.

This is a beautiful quote. What does it mean?

He saw God in the darkness.

Moses may have found refuge in unknowing, recognizing that no story can touch God or reality, perhaps even finding what he is as the Ground prior to any form. When we realize we don’t know, we are metaphorically in the dark.

I can’t help wondering if darkness isn’t also used in a more literal sense. When there is a head center awakening, there is often a sense of brilliant luminosity. For me, everything – all matter – was revealed as translucent golden light. Then, after a period of a dark night, everything is revealed – also – as velvety smooth luminous blackness. Where the brilliant luminosity is highly charged and may burn out some fuses, the velvety black is deeply nurturing and comforting. And both are facets of the Absolute. Both are facets of that which all happens within and as, inherently free of any I anywhere, and free to appear as everything we know – including the sense of a me and an I.

The brilliant luminosity is that which everything happens within and as, and has a transcendent feel to it. With the velvety blackness, there is also a sense that it is within everything, peering out from within everything happening.

This form of darkness includes the former, it includes unknowing, and yet – it is so much more. And far from being a metaphorical blackness, it is an immediate and literal sense of blackness – of the smooth luminous blackness everything is made up of, the smooth luminous blackness peering out from everything.

Here again is a quote that describes this beautifully, and fits my experience:

There is the perception of appearance as surface. But this surface, which is all that perception beholds, is three dimensional and dynamic. The darkness of the night and the luminous blackness of the absolute are almost indistinguishable. This mysterious blackness projects itself dynamically as the various forms, hills and trees, buildings and cars, stars and lights. My personal presence, inseparable from the body, and that of Karen, are parts of this dynamic appearance, but inseparable from it. We are both in oneness with all of existence. At the same time, our personal presences are clearly inseparable extensions of the black absolute into this oneness of appearance. We recognize that each of us is a projection of the absolute mystery as a personal presence walking into the appearance, an appearance that the absolute is also projecting. As we talk it is really the absolute talking to himself, while he walks as two people.
– Life and the Deathless, A.H. Almaas

P.S. I have written more about this in earlier posts, mostly a couple of years ago. The luminous black has a feminine feel to it, and as it is deeply nurturing it helps reorganize and heal emotional patterns in our human self, and especially fear – which is really behind anything that needs healing. The brilliant luminosity has a yang or masculine feel to it, and helps reorganize the view. One is associated with the belly center, the other with the head center.

P.P.S. After writing this, I realize this darkness can be understood in at least three ways. (a) As a metaphor for the unknown, finding God through recognizing all stories as stories only. (b) As a metaphor for difficult periods in life or life events that appear undesirable. Finding God even there, in what’s most painful and difficult for us. God appears as it all, including what our personalities has the most difficulty coming to terms with. Or (c) as the velvety smooth luminous blackness which is a facet of the Absolute, a facet of Big Belly. Finding God as also the velvety smooth luminous blackness.

P.P.P.S. I read more about St. Gregory of Nyssa, and yes – it seems that he used darkness to mean unknowing. For me, I like to think of his quote – he saw God in darkness – in all of the three ways.


I am – for once – not going to rewrite the original post, but will do a quick draft here to get it out of my system:

He saw God in the darkness.

For St. Gregory of Nyssa, darkness here most likely refers to unknowing. When we take stories as true, we feel we know something. And when we recognize that no story is absolutely true in an ordinary sense, and absolutely not true in an absolute sense, we find ourselves unknowing. We may even find ourselves as unknowing. And a metaphor for unknowing is darkness.

Another way to understand He saw God in darkness is to take darkness as darkness in our lives. The most difficult periods and experiences in our lives can be called dark. And God is there, even in what appears most dark in our human lives. Not only that, but those situations and experiences are as much God as anything else. It is all the play of God, even that which our personalities tends to dislike the most.

Finally, and this is the one I am most drawn to now, He saw God in darkness can refer to that facet of God (the Divine Mind, Buddha Mind, Big Mind) that we experience as the velvety smooth luminous blackness. It has all the qualities of Big Mind – it’s that which everything is made up of and there is no “I” to be found anywhere – and yet, it is luminous black, and deeply nurturing. It is luminous black in immediate experience, so this way of understanding the darkness from the quote is not – or much less – metaphorical.

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