Thursday, January 16

Shadows and Perceptions of Reality

When examining works such as those from Plato (The Allegory of the Cave), John Milton (Book III of Paradise Lost) and Ursala LeGuin (Schrodinger’s Cat), we see the idea of Ultimate Reality - dealing with perception. C.S. Lewis is perhaps a good man to start the discussion. In his book Till We Have Faces, his central character asks the gods, “How can we see face to face until we have faces?” - the implication being: how can we truly perceive Ultimate Reality until we actually become a part of that Ultimate Reality? How can we truly begin to understand God (apart from analogy) until we see Him face to face, on His turf, in His own natural setting? A man trying to understand the spiritual is like a fish out of water trying to understand fire. These stories convey a clear message: regardless of our perception, there is something HIGHER. There is something BEYOND.

For example, in the Plato’s Allegory, the individuals have only known one view their whole life. They have never seen behind them, they do not know the true nature of the shadows that dance across the wall, and they do not know that they are in a cave and that outside of the cave is an entire world – including the Sun that shines down on the earth. In Milton’s work, God is speaking with his angels in a highly theological sense, where He can see and touch past, present and future all at once. God (the Other, the Ultimate Being) has all of human history laid out before Him. Unlike those in Plato’s work, He can see both the underground (with the cave) and above (with the Sun).

As God knows what will happen, He has an elevated view, and humanity is a step below Him so therefore God plays a passive role. Satan, however, plays an active and malicious role where he attempts to muddy, smear and mess up God’s plans, not knowing that God is already well aware of Satan’s plans and already has a plan to remedy the damage Satan causes. LeGuin’s characters go through the continued heating of everything on the planet… until the character meets a cat who is actually cool, in a cool place. When someone shows up and attempts to box in this cat, we find out that it is really those characters who are in the “box,” and that above them lie the stars.

The idea of shadows is something that deserves attention. In ancient times, shadows were thought to be an extension of your being, part of your whole. This is why we read that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” Mary, or that individuals would wait for Peter’s shadow to pass over them for healing, seeing it as having power. Humans are, in a way, shadows (or reflections) of God - made in His image yet not actually God. As a shadow is an extension of the self, perhaps the lesson here is this: as children of the Light, we are bearers of light and love to the world and are given the task of extending God to others. When we create something, we imbue our art, our music, and our writing with a part of us. When God created us, He imbued His creation with his mark, and it bears His fingerprint. When looking at your own shadow under a lamp - your hand, for example, the farther away from the ground it is, the blurrier and larger the shadow can be. Yet as it gets closer to the ground, the shadowy image becomes clearer and more defined. So it is with God. The closer we come to Him, the clearer and more defined we become.

This, along with the aforementioned considerations from Plato, Milton and LeGuin suggests that all of reality is not necessarily as we may perceive it. We may not be able to understand how an infinite, eternal, uncreated Being can exist – yet this does not negate His existence. We may not see the entire plan before us – but that does not mean a plan does not exist. Indeed, we may have escaped our former state and crawled out of the cave of ignorance into the light of knowledge and in doing so have become like Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve desired to become “like God,” just as Satan did, and in the process of this desire they gained wisdom… but lost their perfect state. But God had a plan, even when we could not perceive it. Adam and Eve were blinded from the spiritual realm so that angels and demons were rarely seen on this planet, and that the physical realms were veiled, so that we could no longer perceive the ultimate reality. But in this plan, the Godman was sent to redeem the fallen creation and in doing so, He allowed His people to open the box and discover that we are in one ourselves, or that God has a higher plan that has enabled us to come out of the cave and into marvelous light.

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