The Via Positiva: Getting Drunk on the Beauty of the Universe

For too long Westerners have been alienated from the universe, stuck in our human-centered world.  The new cosmic story can help us overcome that alienation.  Awe and delight return.  The psalmist wrote, “We get drunk on the beauty of thy house” and Aquinas notes, “the universe.”  

The universe is indeed a source of intoxication, but like any other source of inebriation, it requires discipline lest we be overcome by its power.  Following are some rules for living in the intoxicating universe and mirroring it. 

“Be Generous or Extravagant.”

“Leaf Pile” by Lecates, Flickr

Annie Dillard writes thus about the universe’s generosity, reminding us that “the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation.” She continues:

Nature is, above all, profligate. Don’t believe them when they tell you how economical and thrifty nature is, whose leaves return to the soil. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to leave then on the tree in the first place? This deciduous business alone is a radical scheme, the brainchild of a deranged manic-depressive with limitless capital. Extravagance! Nature will try anything once….This is a spendthrift economy; though nothing is lost, all is spent.

All the energy that the sun transmits to our planet represents one billionth of all the energy that the sun gives out!  Yes, nature is extravagant—but are we?….

“Thou Shalt Fall in Love at Least Three Times a Day”

At first glance, this commandment sounds threatening to our relationships, but that’s because our anthropocentric culture has taken the immensely mystical experience of “falling in love” and applied it exclusively to finding a mate. 

A monarch butterfly lights on a child’s hand before taking flight. Photo: Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office, Flickr

In fact, we could fall in love with a galaxy every day (there are two trillion of them) or we could fall in love with a star, of which there are hundreds of billions in our galaxy alone.  Or a species of wildflower, of which there are at least 10,000 on this planet.  Or a species of bird, fish, tree, plant.  Or with another human being—preferably one different from ourselves or suffering differently.  We could fall in love with music, poetry, painting, dance.  If we fell in love with one of Mozart’s works each week, we would have seven years of joy.  How could we ever be bored?

Yes, creation has much to do with falling in love.  The creation spirituality journey begins with awe, wonder, and falling in love.  The first commandment, the Via Positiva, calls forth praise that flows from beholding the awe of our being here.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts For the Peoples of the Earth, pp. 43f., 18f

Queries for Contemplation

Do you get drunk and intoxicated on God’s home, the universe?  How often?  Under what circumstances?  Does science assist you?  If not, what is hindering you, what is holding you back?

Might there be a relationship with not getting drunk on the universe and our species seeking other ways of drunkenness and intoxication such as alcohol or drugs?

Recommended Reading

Fox’s spirituality weds the healing and liberation found in North American Creation Spirituality and in South American Liberation Theology. Creation Spirituality challenges readers of every religious and political persuasion to unite in a new vision through which we learn to honor the earth and the people who inhabit it as the gift of a good and just Creator.

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.

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5 thoughts on “The Via Positiva: Getting Drunk on the Beauty of the Universe”

  1. Avatar

    The connection between failing to fall in love with the Universe and the proclivity to become intoxicated from drugs and alcohol feels spot on. The society we live in expects us to be focused, to be worker-bees—especially during our professional lives. We put ourselves in boxes and on conveyor belts. Life is serious business. Isn’t it?

    I am thinking about Robin Williams in “The Fisher King,” who in spite of his loss and pain is intoxicated by life, and of Murray in “A Thousand Clowns” who daily tries to awaken New York City to the beauty and playfulness of life. It’s easy to look at the response to life of these two characters as aberrant, insane even.

    Two friends and I were once standing in an hour-long line at Zion National Park, waiting for the shuttle bus. Everyone was serious, focused, a little annoyed at the wait. We started pounding out a rhythm with our walking sticks—smiling and laughing, eventually swaying rhythmically. Our enthusiasm built on one another’s. After some time, a few children (but no adults—I’m pretty sure they thought we were drunk) joined in. Both boys and girls showed us ballet moves they were learning.. We marveled at their fledgling prowess and danced together until the bus came. It was a joy. Why stand solemn-faced and impatient when God invites us to dance?

    1. Avatar
      Annette Fernholz

      Michele, what a marvelous story response to Matthew’s meditation. It put me in mind of all the bus stops in Seattle, where in plated cement are the footprint dance steps of a plethora of America’s favorite dances. So, while waiting for the bus one can learn to dance the dance of Divine Love.

      1. Gail Ransom

        Dear Annette.
        What a great image you give us; People ballroom dancing at the bus stops in Seattle. Michele and her friends playing rhythms and dancing in the long at Zion National Park/ What a celebration of human nature!
        Gail Sofia Ransom
        For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    John O’Donohue, in his book To Bless the Space Between Us writes: “Awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence…Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention. Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul, and may you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.” THAT’s what life is all about!

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