[A solar wax melter.]
In chapter 12 of the first century of his Chapters on Knowledge (as translated by George C. Berthold), St. Maximus the Confessor writes:
God is the sun of justice, as it is written, who shines rays of goodness on simply everyone. The soul develops according to its free will into either wax because of its love for God or into mud because of its love of matter. Thus just as by nature the mud is dried out by the sun and the wax is automatically softened, so also every soul which loves matter and the world and has fixed its mind far from God is hardened as mud according to its free will and by itself advances to its perdition, as did Pharaoh. However, every soul which loves God is softened as wax, and receiving divine impressions and characters it becomes “the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”
As Berthold points out in a footnote (his book, Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings, is worth it for the footnotes alone!), Maximus borrowed this image of wax, mud and Pharaoh’s heart from Origen, who got it from Philo.
This beautiful passage by Maximus causes me to reflect on something totally unrelated and incommensurate, but strangely edifying in its own way. One of my hobbies is reading about U. S. space exploration during the 1960’s and 70’s (the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs). This interest is not accidental, by the way. My father worked for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for over forty years as an engineer.
Anyway, I recall from my reading that during the design of the lunar rover (which was used for transportation on the moon by the astronauts during the last three Apollo missions) it was realized that an active thermal control system (with pumps and such) for the rover’s electronics (to prevent overheating) would weigh too much and put them over their “weight budget.” So the engineers designed a passive thermal control system using tanks that contained wax. Here’s how it worked:
While the rover was being driven on the moon, the wax tanks absorbed the heat given off by the electronics, which liquefied the wax, which kept the electronics at a more-or-less constant and safe temperature. Then, when the traverse was over and the rover was parked, the astronauts simply opened the wax tanks’ dust cover, which exposed thermal radiators on top of the wax tanks, which allowed the wax to release its stored heat and resolidify for reuse during the next traverse (the dust covers then automatically closed when the temperature of the rover’s battery dropped to 45 degrees F). It was not only a functional design, it was elegant.
And maybe this little “techy” story can be a metaphor for us to contemplate in our spiritual lives. God shines his rays of goodness on us all. And if we receive these rays like wax (and not mud) then we, as it were, “store up” this goodness within us. But we do not keep the goodness within us, i.e. we do not hoard it for ourselves. Rather, we “release it” to others, in acts of kindness and mercy.