Meister Eckhart on Art as Meditation

Eckhart insists that it is better to bear fruit than merely to receive God.  “It is good for a person to receive God into himself or herself, and in this receptivity he or she is a virgin.  But it is better for God to become fruitful within the person.”

Reiner Schurmann points out that Eckhart is playing with a word in this passage: empfagen in German can mean both to receive and to conceive.  Thus for Eckhart, our receptivity must also be an experience of giving birth.  We are not here to respond passively to a God experience but to respond fruitfully or creatively.  To bear fruit.  “In the supreme emptiness of detachment and letting go, man and God are united in fertility; one sole determination joins them together: that of giving birth.”*  

Hildegard’s Awakening: A Self Portrait – Hildegard of Bingen

Eckhart, in insisting that bearing fruit or being a “wife” is better than being receptive or being a virgin, is making a very strong statement about the contemplative as distinct from the active vocation.   To remain a virgin or a mere contemplative gazer is of no use, for he or she does not become through it a wife in full fertility.  Eckhart discards the traditional argument that was so bogged down in his day–as in our own–between contemplation vs. action.  Instead, he prefers a new category to action, namely that of bearing fruit and of birthing. 

It is a refreshing biblical category for prayer as “thank you” for the blessings of creation.  “Becoming fruitful as a result of the gift is the only gratitude for the gift” he insists.  Eckhart reiterates his spirituality of gratitude and thankfulness.  

There exists an imperative to journey from virginity (contemplation that does not bear fruit) to wifery (a spirituality that does bear fruit).  “The word ‘wife’ is the noblest term that we can attribute to the soul: it is far nobler than ‘virgin.’  A virgin has received God–and that is good; but it is better for God to become fruitful within the person.” 

Eckhart is saying that art as meditation is better than introvert meditation for it leads directly to birthing justice and compassion.

“Works of Mercy” by the Master of Alkmaar (possibly Cornelis Buys), 1504. Photo: Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, from the collection of Jim Forest, Flikr

* Reiner Schurmann, Meister Eckhart: Mystic and Philosopher (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1978) p. 19.    
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckahart, pp. 282, 283
Banner image: “Christ appears to Mary Magdalen as a_ gardener (Noli me tangere),” Peniarth MS 482D, 15th C English, National Library of Wales [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on ways of detachment and letting go that serve you.  How do they lead you to action for justice?  
Reflect on how you are bearing fruit in your life and how you can bear even more.  

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.

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2 thoughts on “Meister Eckhart on Art as Meditation”

  1. Avatar

    I just subscribed and hope to get inspiration from the daily meditations I wil share with our local christian community of progressive Christians.

    Just one suggestion: empfangen is the correction for the small omitted “n “.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Alex, Thank you for subscribing. It is good to have you with us. And thank you for noting the correct spelling of empfangen, to receive and conceive. Its a word that takes us to the center of Creation Spirituality. Since you are now a subscriber, I am sure there will be more receiving and conceiving in our shared future.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

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