Science has a profound role to play in awakening us anew to the Via Positiva today.  (Of course it plays a primary role in the other three paths as well as we shall see.)  After all, Thomas Aquinas said in the thirteenth century that “a mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.”  Doesn’t it follow then that an insight about creation results in an insight about God?

Science feeds us awe daily with its revelations of the nature of the universe in which we live.  Howard Thurman surely considered cosmology essential for his spirituality and ours.  He writes:

“The most natural question that comes to mind therefore, whenever men reflect or try to rationalize their experiences of life is: How did life get started? What was the beginning of it all?…It is natural that man should concern himself with beginnings. This is a part of the curiosity of the mind. Without it there would be no exploration of the world and there would be no more growth…. Contemplation concerning origins is part of the curiosity of the trace…We want to know how the world began, where we came from, and what the meaning of life, and Life, is.”

 Mary Midgley in her book Beast and Man puts it this way:

“All religions start from experience, and spiritual practices are a way of connecting with a consciousness beyond the self…it’s well established scientifically that spiritual practices on the whole make people live longer and become happier and…healthier.”
– Rupert Sheldrake. Photo: Hanna-Katrina Jedrosz, from

We need a vast world, and it must be a world that does not need us; a world constantly capable of surprising us, a world we did not program, since only such a world is the proper object of wonder.”

Our wonder depends on a vast world that we do not control, one that can still surprise us. Awe requires cosmology.

To return to awe is to return to praise, and praise, as Rabbi Heschel points out, “precedes faith.” None of our faith traditions—no matter how many people we have killed or sent to hell in this life or the next in religion’s name—is anything without praise.

Don’t tell me what you believe or what your dogmas are. Tell me first what you praise and how you praise. That is the implication of Heschel’s teaching, and it could go a long way in eradicating our tired mindsets and in resuscitating our tired souls.  It confronts cynicism and pessimism head on.  It is the way of the Via Positiva.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (Revised Edition), pp. 48-49

Banner image: This image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the galaxy cluster MACSJ0717.5+3745. Hubble observations have taken advantage of gravitational lensing to reveal the largest sample of the faintest and earliest known galaxies in the universe. Some of these galaxies formed just 600 million years after the Big Bang. Credits: ESA/NASA

Lectio Divina

Take a word of a phrase in this meditation and allow the word or words to wash over you and through you as you relax…

The “proper object of wonder” is a world vaster than ourselves.  So says Mary Midgley. Do you agree?  What are the implications of this teaching?  Where do you find such a world?  Is science an ally in your searching?

Be with a “proper object of wonder.”  Be still.  Listen.  What is it saying to you?  What is it calling forth from you?

Recommended Reading

Fox makes the point that religion has so often oversold the concept of “sin” that it has left us without language or power to combat evil. Through comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them.

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake and theologian Matthew Fox show that not only is the synthesis of science and spirituality possible, it is to be celebrated when one considers the extraordinary insights they have come upon in their work. The chasm between science and religion has been a source of intellectual and spiritual tension for centuries, but in these ground breaking dialogues there is a remarkable resonance between these once opposing camps.

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4 thoughts on “Science and the Via Positiva”

  1. Avatar

    I begin every day by welcoming the sun, then sitting with Matthew’s words before I go into meditation; but this is an odd one. What a strange thing for Heschel to say and what a strange thing for Matthew to choose to quote. I would say that any faith tradition that kills people or “sends them to hell” (I presume he means to a hellish way of living in this life since I doubt Heschel believes in hell as a physical place) is not worth anything whether or not it engages in praise. There must be some interpretation of Heschel’s remarks that I’m missing. Could someone explain please.

      1. Gail Ransom

        Dear Loren,
        Yes, the quote “praise precedes faith” is a quote from Rabbi Heschel. You found Matt’s words following the quote to be abrupt. But, might I suggest that they describe an abrupt departure from Heschel’s affirmation of wonder and gratitude as the the basis for what we hold sacred. If we neglect to honor creation and instead rely on our own belief systems and ideas for our human sized religions, we disengage from our hearts and souls and quickly sink into the worst of human behaviors: judging, condemning, excluding and even killing (witness current and historical fundamentalism.) These behaviors are an abrupt departure from healthy human spirituality. You noticed it in this paragraph, but we rarely notice it in our own culture. Unfortunately, that shadow behavior has become the norm. The cure? Praise!
        Gail Sofia Ransom
        For the Daily Meditation Team

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Michele,
      Thank you for sharing your concern about today’s short quote of Rabbi Heschel at the end of this meditation. The quote “praise precedes faith” relates to the savoring, the awe, and the gratitude that we have explored in other meditations. Heschel is saying that what we cherish, what causes us to fall on our knees in wonder and praise becomes the foundation of our faith – not a series of rules or belief systems. Cerebral belief systems disconnected from the heart and soul create religions that start wars over ideas and condemn people to hell with empty words. Obviously Matthew had the shadow side of current and historical fundamentalism in mind when he wrote this. BUT don’t miss the Big Point from Rabbi Heschel: That Praise comes first, the Via Positiva and Thanks come first in any healthy religion.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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