Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Uncreated Light of God

Orthodox believers are familiar with a movement in the last millennium in which Eastern monks claimed, after focused prayer, to be blessed with a vision of the "Uncreated Light of God" or the "Tabor Light."

St. Gregory Palamas (1296–1359) was the chief defender of this movement, which flowed from the monastic tradition known as Hesychasm, in which monks practiced rigorous inner reflection.

Now, far be it from me to state as fact that no one ever really did see the Uncreated Light of God. That said, I suggest that some of the monks may indeed have believed they were seeing something marvelous.

But what some of them were seeing was, perhaps, the natural phenomenon of the Migraine Headache Aura.

It can occur under stress. And the life of a monastic, not to mention the life of a monastic laboring under the desire to see the Uncreated Life of God, could have triggered the natural phenomenon from time to time of this vision.

I experienced it myself, at Church, a few year ago. It started as a spot in my vision which was a gray dead zone. As I puzzled over it, I saw the image spread and then around it I saw the classic zig-zag pattern of light around it. I thought at first I was having a stroke or something. But since I felt otherwise normal and I had no numbness anywhere, I watched as the zig-zag light pattern in my vision slowly widened, until it finally faded away into the periphery.

Here's a video that illustrates what it looks like This accurately depicts what I experienced:

When I got home, I googled "saw zig zag light" and I immediately learned, to my relief, that it was a known phenomenon. And I was under a lot of stress in those days, a new starting out teacher, writing a book for Wiley Publishing and under deadlines, also teaching two nights a week at a Community College.

What intrigues me about the possibility that the so-called "Uncreated Light of God" was connected to the Migraine Aura is that iconography of the Transfiguration, possibly informed by monks who reported seeing the "Tabor Light," matches the zig-zag phenomenon I saw.

Again, I'm not claiming that the fruits of Hesychasm were not true. But it is not unfaithful to reexamine the past in light of new information. Maybe some of these monks did in joy see something that was not so supernatural after all.

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