On Naming Our Spiritual Journeys

We have been discussing our experiences of the Divine as we undergo our oneings, our breakthroughs, our ecstasies even on an everyday basis.  We have talked of  “natural ecstasies” and “tactical ecstasies,” the latter as methods that spiritual traditions offer us to cleans our perceptions and undergo the ecstatic experiences more deeply.  These everyday ecstasies render all of us mystics and if mystics or lovers then they also prepare us to become prophets or warriors to defend what we love.  Such contemplation leads to action.  Such mysticism leads to interference, the primary work of the prophet according to Rabbi Heschel.

Joy, awe and wonder: the Via Positiva. Photo by Asaf R on Unsplash

Now we want to turn to naming the spiritual journey.  To name the spiritual journey is very important both to understand our deepest journey and its diverse modes and directions and the moods we undergo along the way, but also to be able to understand others and the journeys they are on;  and also to be able to communicate more deeply with others, to create a common language around spiritual experience. 

Sorrow, suffering, loss: the Via Negativa.
Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

While the dominant religious tradition in the West has chosen to name the journey in three stages as 1) Purgation, 2) Illumination and 3) Union, I have rejected that naming from the get-go.  It leaves out joy; and creativity; and justice among other things.  It is decidedly not Biblical and not Jewish.  Where does it come from?  It comes from two philosophers, Plotinus (204-270) and Proclus (412-485), who were in no way Jewish, Christian or Biblical in their world view. It is strange that their naming of the spiritual path has so dominated in the West.  I suspect it has served political forces to name the journey that way.

Creatively flowing with the Divine: The Via Creativa.
Photo by Victor Freitas, Pexels

Instead, in the creation spirituality tradition we name the paths this way:

  1. Via Positiva.  Our experience of awe and wonder, delight and beauty, that results in Gratitude and Reverence and Joy.  One can see a direct link between the natural ecstasies we have been discussing in the recent Daily Meditations and these experiences of awe and wonder, delight and beauty.
  • Via Negativa.  The experience of Stillness and Silence and emptying.  And also our experience of suffering, loss and grief.  These result in letting go and letting be.  These too arose during our discussion of both natural and tactical ecstasies.
Speaking up for Justice and Compassion: The Via Transformativa. Photo by Alisdare Hickson on Flickr
  • Via Creativa.  Our experience of co-creating with the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Creativity.
  • Via Transformativa: Compassion and Justice-Making.  This gives direction to our creativity and also brings us back to the Via Positiva because, as we proposed in yesterday’s DM, Wisdom sets the table for the Awe and Delight and Joy that all are invited to participate in.

When I presented these about 37 years ago at the Lutheran School of Theology at the GTU near Berkeley, California, a rabbi from Switzerland who had studied with Gershom Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism came up to be afterwards and said: “You are the first Christian theologian I have heard who consciously threw out those three paths.  Those four paths you speak of are truly Jewish.  Now we have a common language with which we can travel together.” He is right.  They are Jewish and therefore Biblical.  They are also profoundly archetypal and human.  Many of us, not just Biblical people, can find common ground with these Four Paths as we shall see as we explore them more fully.

Lectio Divina Practice

Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading,”is the ancient practice of meditatively and prayerfully reading the words of Scripture or other sacred texts, asking Spirit what your proper response might be to the truths they lay bare.

In this spirit, take a phrase or word from this meditation and be still with it, letting it wash over you and through and through you.  Repeat it as a mantra.  Be with the silence that follows.  Be with, be with…. 

Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

In this book Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology). Here Fox lays out the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.

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4 thoughts on “On Naming Our Spiritual Journeys”

  1. Avatar

    Dear Matthew Fox I absolutely love you – you are a massive force for good in our world?

    In my own life you are helping me greatly to crystallise my thoughts and get a new sense of direction for my life-work.

    Today’s wonderfully clear DM cuts through so much cloudy confusion and old ties to redundant paths. A really beautiful breath of fresh air.

    With gratitude, blessings and love


    Helen Taylor
    Sufi-Quaker, Onespirit Minister
    Wife, mother and grandmother
    Zero Balancing Practitioner
    Facilitating groups with sacred chanting and poetry

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Helen,
      Thank you for your message. It is good to hear how these meditations are affecting your life. may they enhance all the good work you are doing!
      Gail Spfia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    Your habit of being so specific about naming various parts of the Journey are discouraging to me. They indicate a preference for control….let us do the naming ….or not. Be less controlling about what is Sprit and what various stages of the Journey should be named.
    Clifford Hill

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Clifford,
      Thank you for writing. You remind us that not all people approach their spiritual life in the same manner with the same language. For some, names and structures become a pathway. For others, they are roadblocks. We encourage you to follow your own way using the words that you discover and the experiences you name. We are all on the road together, but choosing different ways to get there.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

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