Pope Francis on the Via Positiva, Part 2

In his much acclaimed encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis constructs his argument for a healthy interaction with the Earth on the Via Positiva.  And rightly so.  The word “goodness” (the theological word for this is “blessing” as in “original blessing”) is used on at least eleven occasions in the encyclical including the following:

Pope Francis’ encyclical may be read, downloaded, or ordered here

“Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.”  The result?  “Rather than a problem to be solved the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” (12)

He cites Saint Basil who called God “goodness without measure” and we are encouraged to recognize creation as being more than a “system which can be studied, understood and controlled” but rather as “á gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all” which came about “not from chaos or change” but from love.  (77, 76)

“Mountain Spring” Photo by Nicholas Tonelli, Flickr

Pope Francis invokes the mystical experience of being struck by the awe and wonders of nature: “The mystic experiences the intimate connection between God and all beings, and thus feels that ‘all things are God.’ (a citation from St John of the Cross)  Standing awestruck before a mountain, he or she cannot separate this experience from God, and perceives that the interior awe being lived has to be entrusted to the Lord.” (234) 

Indeed, the words “awe” and “wonder” are employed at least fourteen times in the encyclical.  Echoing the teaching of Rabbi Heschel that without awe the universe becomes a marketplace for us, the pope teaches that “if we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder,…our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.”  He invokes Saint Francis who refused “to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.” (11)  Surely this object-fetish gets at the heart of the modern world’s abuse of nature. 

The Kayford mountaintop removal site, Kayford Mountain, WV. Photo by Kate Wellington, Flickr

In contrast, awe and wonder are a medicine and so long as we are in touch with “wonder and awe” we recognize a “continuing revelation of the divine” in the smallest and largest forms within nature. Thus we are called to “contemplation of nature.” (85)  Our wonder “takes us to a deeper understanding of life.” (225)

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Laudato Sí: The Pope’s Encyclical and the Coming of Age of Creation Spirituality: A Call to a Broader, Deeper Path of Hope and Challenge
Banner image: “Stillness and Freedom.” Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Are you a hunter-gatherer after goodness or blessing?  Can you see it all around you and within you?  If not, what is holding you back?

Are you learning to “contemplate nature” and find the Divinity within all things, taking the time to be with nature itself as a sacred book worthy of contemplation, a lectio divina?

Consider studying alone or with others the pope’s important encyclical on Praise for our Common Home.  Read, download, or order it here.

Recommended Reading

 In this extended commentary, Matthew Fox examines Pope Francis’ environmental encyclical, noting its  creation spirituality perspective and calling on readers to abandon doctrinal squabbles and unite in protecting “our common home” through the vias positiva, negativa, creativa and transformativa.

By Matthew Fox, Skylar Wilson, and Jen Listug
“The Order of the Sacred Earth not only calls us home to our true nature as Earth, but also offers us invaluable guidance and company on the way.” 
~~ Joanna Macy, environmental activist and author of Active Hope
“The creation of the Order of the Sacred Earth is a magnificent step forward for humanity.”  ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of Way of Passion and The Hope.

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