The second part of the bible begins with four stories of the life of Jesus, written by four men Matthew, Mark, Luke and John who all write to different groups of people on different occasions. John however is the only one to start his story with an exploration of the origins of time. At the start his book we’re introduced to the concept of ‘the word’, he writes:
”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
A word, defined as ‘a single, distinct meaningful element of speech or a command, a spoken pronouncement.’ I’m not sure who takes credit for the phrase ”words create new worlds”, it’s been attributed to philosophers including Heschel and Wittgenstein but in my experience, the more writing I do, it seems to be true and it also echoes of the opening chapter of the bible where the author writes ‘and God said’, right there at the beginning was the word, God used the word to speak. Whatever that looks like!
John, goes on to describe this word, this spoken phenomenon, or spirit, this undefinable origin of all things, as the ‘light and life of all of humanity’.
There’s something about the concept of life and light, a deep connection that we know exists and not just because of those days we spent studying GCSE or A level biology (or the equivalent!). Although, when I talk to my teenagers, they can both explain, in a round-about way, the need for sunlight to provide the energy for photosynthesis to take place, with that somewhat familiar formula 6CO2 + 6H2O + light energy = C6H12O6 + 6O2!. In words, the equation translates to the combining of water, carbon dioxide and light energy to produce glucose and oxygen. (Ironically oxygen is described as a waste product, released back into the air while glucose is the source of energy for the plant.)
Simply put though, light energy gives life.
How did John, a fisherman over 2000 years ago know that? I guess because we all sense the importance of light to our wellbeing, we see the effect of light on the world around us and we know it brings life. Maybe we didn’t need science to put it into a formula but as ever, science does help us make sense of it in a more logical fashion.
Light goes way further though than the visible rays that we see, there’s invisible light, infrared or ultraviolet light; wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum that are either too short or too long to be detected by the human eye. Scientists also talk of dark matter, which makes up around 80% of the universe matter that is unseen, made up of particles smaller than atoms, again something that we know exists but something that we can’t see.
Suddenly we’re into physics; wavelengths, spectrums, atoms, particles and all those other words that send a shudder of fear down my spine as I’m suddenly taken back to GCSE science exams not having a clue what to write! Yet there is something fascinating about those concepts, something intriguing about light that we can’t see, or invisible matter, or things that exist but are not visible to our eyes. In those things there’s awe and mystery and magic.
So when John talks about the light shining in the darkness, it seems that’s there is a multitude of levels on which the universe we live in is this beautiful dance between light and dark. In the scientific, the physical, the spiritual, the mental and emotional we all experience light and dark and we need both to really appreciate the other.
From these simple words that open up John’s understanding of the Jesus story we’ve found energy and light and life and matter, seen and unseen, visible and invisible, which is interesting because so far, other than direct bible quotes we haven’t used the word God. Yet what it all suggests is that there is a force at work, even before the beginning of time, that is creating and sustaining life and something that suggests even the darkness belongs and that what might seems dark can also offer light and energy and life.
Which links to the concept of words creating worlds. So often the word God has been held over us by those childhood stories, or the institutions to which we have belonged, both have in some way restricted our view of what and who ‘God’ is, and that word, has become a barrier to so many in exploring spirit, soul and meaning. So, what if, as Richard Rohr explains,
“John is actually describing a bigger life, a bigger light, from which we all draw. This is Consciousness—a pre-existent form that is the Eternal or One Light. This great Light or Consciousness is the source of our little piece of light, as it were.”
What if there’s something in rethinking possibilities in and around the word God and that as we explore what this might all be, we find more meaning and life and energy than we ever thought possible