Desert Light Draws Us into the Mystical

Light: Physical, Phenomenological, Transcendental, Onto-Theological

Just as the eyes are the most spiritual of the bodily organs, light is the most spiritual of physical phenomena. And there is no light like the lambent light of the desert. The low humidity, the sparseness of vegetation that even in its arboreal forms hugs the ground, the long, long vistas that draw the eye out to shimmering buttes and mesas — all of these contribute to the illusion that the light is alive.


Light as phenomenon, as appearance, is not something merely physical. It is as much mind as matter. Without its appearance to mind it would not be what it phenomenologically is. But the light that allows rocks and coyotes to appear, itself appears. This seen light is seen within a clearing, eine Lichtung (Heidegger), which is light in a transcendental sense. But this transcendental light in whose light both illuminated objects and physical light appear, points back to the onto-theological Source of this transcendental light. Heidegger would not approve of my last move, but so be it.

Augustine claims to have glimpsed this eternal Source Light upon entering into his "inmost being." Entering there, he saw with his soul's eye, "above that same eye of my soul, above my mind, an unchangeable light." He continues:

     It was not this common light, plain to all flesh, nor a greater
     light of the same kind . . . Not such was that light, but
     different, far different from all other lights. Nor was it above my
     mind, as oil is above water, or sky above earth. It was above my
     mind, because it made me, and I was beneath it, because I was made
     by it. He who knows the truth, knows that light, and he who knows
     it knows eternity. (Confessions, Book VII, Chapter 10)

'Light,' then, has several senses. There is the light of physics. There is physical light as we see it, whether in the form of illuminated things such as yonder mesa, or sources of illumination such as the sun, or the lambent space between them. There is the transcendental light of mind without which nothing at all would appear. There is, above this transcendental light, its Source.