Domenikos Theotokopoulos was a famous painter in the late 1500s. He was better known as El Greco–“The Greek”. (And thank goodness. I’m sure art teachers everywhere are grateful.) There are many aspects of his art and personality that are hard to categorize. He didn’t fit in with anything in his time. But what stood out to me when I read about him was a story about his friend finding him on a summer day sitting in a darkened room, because, as he said, he found the darkness more conducive to thought than the light of the day, which disturbed his “inner light”.
I believe I know what El Greco was getting at. If you have lived any amount of time on this earth, you likely have faced (or will face) some sort of situation that makes you feel like you sit alone in darkness. Maybe El Greco had some sort of charmed life, but most of us don’t have to artificially manufacture darkness. It finds us. And at times, shuts us in with pressingly close walls. In total darkness you naturally look for light. It’s when we feel the dark that we truly understand how important it is to seek light. Any light. And even the smallest flame becomes enough simply because it’s all you have. When El Greco sat alone in darkness he was searching. He knew there was treasure to be found and he knew where to look: In the dark. Sometimes the greatest treasures are buried in the dark.
Sometimes the greatest treasures are buried in the dark.
What we focus on in times of darkness is critical. Times of intense trials break many people. They stumble aimlessly; groping at whatever gives stability. They resort to false forms of strength: anger, hostility, bitterness. But then there are others who refuse to accept the dark, and focus instead on finding the light. They are the ones who find true strength. They are the ones who stand. They learn lessons that give purpose to the heartache and in turn, help others. They fight the darkness. And they find they most definitely can win. They are not overcome. They are overcomers. By staring directly into the flame, the darkness quiets. If you are in the dark, realize there is a choice to be made and it can be quite literally life or death.
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
The quote above was originally written in Greek (possibly before that it was Aramaic but leave it be for now…lol) “Overcome” can be translated as “apprehend” or “comprehend”. The darkness doesn’t understand the light. Light is the darkness’ weakness. That’s why even a small flame is enough to dispel the blackest dark. In fact, sometimes it is because of the darkness that we even notice there is a flame.
We all have the light in us. We are all made in the image of God. This does not make us gods any more than a son who bears the image of his father would be his father. It does however, make us very much like him. God is light. And in him is no darkness. Our very DNA reflects the fingerprints of our maker. I believe our spirits know this and it is why we all strive to find the “inner light”.
Yes, we have a spirit. Actually, “You are a spirit. You have a body.” (Thank you C.S. Lewis.) Your spirit is the essence of who you are. It is your very breath. The Hebrew word for spirit is the same as wind or breath. This is also true in Greek. When the ancient prophet Ezekiel was told to prophesy over the old dry bones and make them live again, he did. They all came together (a trick many a paleontologist might envy!) Then sinews formed on them, and flesh, and skin covered them, “but there was no breath in them”. They were not alive. He was told then “prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, and say to them, Come from the four winds, O breath and breathe on these slain that they may live.” And it was only at that time that the breath came into them and they lived and stood on their feet. Our spirit gives us life. Let me show you now how our spirit also gives us light.
I like to dabble in philosophical science. Does that sound super smart? If it does then that’s awesome because I think I made it up. Stick with me though. Bioluminescence. It’s a big word. It’s actually pretty simple though: Bioluminescence is when living things emit light. The next time you see a firefly, comment to you friends about the beauty of its bioluminescence and they will be extremely impressed.“Lumen” means light and do you notice the suffix “escence”? It comes from the same Latin origin as our English word essence—both words refer to the true substance, being, or spirit of something. Bioluminescent animals are uniquely made to give off light. Much the same way we are made to give off light in a spiritual sense. The essence of who you and I are –our very breath in us- the DNA that makes us God’s children, is part of that light. We were made to shine. Not succumb to darkness.
And this is where it gets crazy. (Yeah, that other part? That was not crazy. This is crazy.) Did you know they are trying to use this bioluminescent light to fight cancer? And it’s working? It’s called Bioluminescent activated destruction or BLADe. Scientists inject cancer cells with the firefly juice, (I’m paraphrasing in case you didn’t notice) and it makes the cells more sensitive to light. “The cells essentially became miniature lamps, giving out light that could trigger their own destruction. After a photosensitizer was added, the cells produced toxic substances that forced them to commit suicide.” (Full story here.)
The cancer cells became so full of light, they dissipate. The light literally shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. The darkness doesn’t win. Cancer is never funny but picturing all those life destroying, heart shattering, family devastating cancer cells “committing suicide” is hilarious. And scientists are finding out all it takes is LIGHT? Light always fights the dark. Whether it is sickness and disease growing within or just plain “dis-ease” being pushed in from the outside. Refuse the dark. Find your bioluminescence and focus it.
But did you notice how it wasn’t just the light alone that actually killed the cancer cells? They needed a photosensitizer–something to make the cells more sensitive to the light. We can find our inner light, focus on it, and get by pretty good, but we are not able to truly conquer our dis-eases without that photosensitizing agent. It is not good enough to just illuminate our darkness, especially when we have the power to conquer it completely.
Did you ever hear of the four men who wrote four different books about a guy they all knew? They mainly did it to document all the crazy things that happened when they hung out together. The first three tell the story start to finish. But the last one was written by the guy’s best friend so the way he told the story was quite different. Not just facts and order. It focused more on who this man was. His essence. It is masterfully written poetic prose, and at the same time philosophical madness. In the beginning he describes his friend by saying “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Then he said his friend was the “true light who gives light to everyone.” He is saying his friend IS light. He truly believed his friend was God. And honestly I do too. I believe the inner light in all of us becomes a flood lamp when we tap into the original source. Think of him as the photosensitizing agent. If you never read anything else in the Bible, I’m telling you read John’s book about Jesus.
The world does not make it easy. There seems to be a cosmic battle for each of us. It is a fight to live this life and continue to choose to give back good instead of evil when the world is closing in on you with darkness. But we do in fact choose. When chaos confronts (and it will all of us) we choose light or dark. Will you seek the light and find the Light of the world? If you have the Light of the world, you have everything you need to get through any darkness you face.