The author Ursula Le Guin describes how she was once given a box by her young daughter. Without opening it, she asked her daughter what the box contained. ‘Darkness’, was the secretive reply!
If we think of God in terms of either light or darkness, then we are almost sure to think of God as light. But to the Gnostics, God was described by the term ‘Dazzling Darkness’. To us the term seems self-contradictory, for surely it is light which is ‘dazzling’? This description of the Gnostics seems to function partly in the same way as a Zen koan – a contradictory statement the contemplation of which pushes us towards new enlightened realities. ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ is perhaps the best-known koan.
For the Gnostics, God is not the Christian creator god - the ‘God the father’. God is beyond this, something truly immeasurable, unknowable. If we even describe what God is, then what God ‘is’, is already changed by our attempts at some sort of a description. To describe this unknowable form of God, this ‘God which is beyond’, we perhaps need one word only. That word is ‘potential’. Think of darkness. Like the box which Ursula Le Guin’s daughter presented to her, we cannot see what it might contain. It might contain anything – and everything. We can neither describe nor limit what we cannot see, what we cannot know. Now we can understand the way in which God can be described as ‘Darkness’.
But why is darkness - of all things! - ‘dazzling’? ‘Dazzling’ describes the limitless potential which the darkness of God contains. To the mystics, this ‘holy dark’ was truly perceived as dazzling: something scintillating with rich creative possibilities. The mystics witnessed this glittering darkness in their contemplations (we would use the term ‘meditations’). God is indeed a ‘dazzling darkness’ out of which all else flows. Our inability to imagine what that darkness is, and what it contains, says something about our own limitations. But we ourselves emerged from that darkness.
Glass perfume bottle 'Dans la Nuit' by René Jules Lalique