A Light Hidden in a Cave

The soul is a breath of God,
and has suffered a mixture
of heavenly and earthly,
a light hidden in a cave,
but, all the same,
divine and imperishable.
–Gregory of Naziansus–

The soul is the light of God, Who sparks matter into Being within each individual. In his Theological Poems (1.1.8, De Anima), Gregory of Nazianzus likens the soul to a light hidden in a cave. Whether it be flesh or the world or sin or mere matter, that cave is what we deal with here in our lifes. That cave is our present reality. And that light is our only guide, and our only hope.

Some of us bury it very deeply, or hide it well. It took a long time and a lot of digging for me to find that little light and, with the help of the Church, blow it into a brighter flame. My cave is still pretty dank and deep, and prone to flooding and cave-ins, but the light shines in that darkness, and by the grace of God, I will not allow that darkness to overcome it. I’ve learned to treasure it.

We can wander in to the dark places without hardly even knowing it. In The Hobbit, the company hides in a cave. It seems to be shelter and safety and warmth. In truth, however, this particular cave is just an entry to a darker cave, full of the foul things that writhe and breed in the depths.

And yet further below, unknown to even the goblins, is an even deeper cave, where Gollum is consumed by the ring and the dark. The ring: a present, incarnate evil; the dark: an absence of the good that allows us to resist that evil.

All color is light. All vision is reflection. It’s telling that the ring renders the wearer invisible. Someone who is invisible is not reflecting light so he may be seen. The evil of the ring is so powerful that even the light of the material world is absorbed and snuffed out.

But it cannot wholly snuff out the light within, which, in the words of St. Gregory, is “divine and imperishable.” The most unexpected thing of all happens in that darkness. Just when Bilbo is invisible and may kill Gollum with ease, he pauses. Gollum has fallen as far as man can fall; to the very depths of sin and the world. But mercy stays Bilbo’s hand. The ring that swallows light can’t snuff out of the light of the soul, which shines forth most in the mercy we show to others.

That light can’t be destroyed by anything of our making. Nothing we see produces its own light. Even the flame consumes matter in order to illuminate, and when the matter is gone, so is the flame. The flame of the soul, like the light of Christ, creates its own light, and does not consume as it does so. In fact, it can kindle other flames and spread the fire of the Spirit over the world.

Life is an exploration of that cave, and the life of the Christian is a daily struggle to bring that light up from the deep places within ourselves and bring it to the dark places of the world.

For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

–2 Corinthians 4:6–

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • Maggie Goff

    Oh man, this just hit me right in my heart. I know about that darkness, and know how easily it can take over. This was beautiful. Thank you.


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