The Sun

Of all the symbols of transcendence, at once the most evident and universal is the sun. With a power and brilliance capable of permanently blinding any eye that dares to gaze directly at its disc, even at a distance of 93 million miles and through a thick atmosphere, Earth’s local star is awesome to behold and contemplate. Understanding the sun through astrophysics as a stellar furnace fusing the nuclei of simpler elements into more complex ones through the colossal force of its gravity does nothing to diminish its grandeur. The sun releases so much energy every second that the tiny fraction intercepted by the earth (4.55*10-10) is sufficient to provide all the heat needed to run the atmosphere and the oceans and to provide for the flourishing of the biosphere. Like the national debt, we literally cannot conceive with any practical analogy the sun’s immensity and scope.

Many times and cultures have expressed the divine through a personification of the sun, Apollo and Helios in Greco-Roman culture or Ra and Aten in ancient Egypt being the most familiar. Saint Francis of Assisi expressed the same in this verse of his Canticle of the Sun:

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Plato also uses the analogy of the sun as well to express his ineffable concept of the Good, which in the mental realm permits intelligence and knowledge, just as in the physical realm the sun permits sight of visible things.

The sun is thus a fitting sign or signifier for the inexpressible in which this universe resides, beyond name and form, motionless, yet the ultimate ground or substance of everything. Others than Plato have called this substance Being, Existence, or Awareness. Personified as a divinity (God, Allah, etc.), the atheists deny its existence, yet even an atheist would not say “I am not”, as the fact that we exist is the most basic and undeniable of experiences. All of our activities take place in being or existence, just as all of our activities take place through the light and energy of the sun, although we but rarely stop to notice or acknowledge the primacy of either!

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