In a healthy environment, our first spiritual moments are moments of awe and wonder, and delight. The mystics call this the Via Positiva. When we allow these gifts to penetrate our souls the organic response includes: gratitude, reverence, and joy. We will look at each of these in turn.
Meister Eckhart says “If the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.” Thomas Aquinas says that the essence of real religion is: Gratitude. He puts religion in the context of the virtue of thankfulness or gratitude. Notice that in English the word is “thankful”—suggesting that there is no such thing as being half full of thanks. Also the word “Eucharist” which is often used for Christian worship means in Greek: to give thanks.
Also in Judaism, the Sabbath is a time for giving thanks. We need to remember the profound gift of existence, the gift of life, that is ours to cherish, to live fully, to pass on to others and to share. And worship is such a remembering.
Gratitude is an attitude toward life, a realization that we are all receivers, none of us gave ourselves our own existence or our own lungs or air to fill them or soil to walk on and to grow food on. It was there from the beginning, having evolved over a 13.8 billion year time of gestating and birthing on the part of the universe and countless beings and species and occasions.
There is a kind of reverence that is learned from an experience of joy and awe and gratitude, one comes to realize the depths of the Hindu practice of saluting another with a bow with hands folded saying, “Namaste,” which can be translated, “I salute the Divine in you.” (Or the Christ, or the Buddha, or the Image of God, or….) To revere is to acknowledge that there is holiness and greatness besides just ourselves. We honor the beauty and the sacred in others.
Joy is something we receive, it is a grace, not an accomplishment we attain by striving. That is why it is so big, it can even embrace sorrow and suffering, it is that big. Thomas Aquinas teaches that “Sheer Joy is God’s and this demands companionship.” In other words, joy is the very reason for the universe. The Divine joy spilled over and wanted to share itself. All joy is like that—it yearns to be shared.
See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 35-131.
Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas, pp. 57-188.
Banner Image: “Milky Way,” Photo by Steve Halama, Unsplash
Queries for Contemplation
Are you spending time with your experiences of Awe and Wonder, of Joy and Delight? Do you learn Thanks or Gratitude from this time well spent? Do you also experience Reverence? Does your Reverence grow as your time with Joy deepens?
And what about Joy? How primary is that “gift of the spirit” for you? Are you able to find it in hard times as well as blissful times?
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.
Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him. He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French). He gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. The result is exciting!