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