Thomas Merton is very attuned to the Via Positiva. Consider this passage from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:
“I stepped out of the north wing of the monastery and looked out at the pasture where the calves usually are. It was empty of calves. Instead, there was a small white colt, running beautifully up the hill, and down, and around again, with a long smooth stride and with the ease of flight. Yet in the middle of it he would break into rough, delightful cavorting, hurling himself sideways at the wind and the hill and instantly sliding back into the smooth canter. How beautiful is life this spring!”
How keenly Merton observed the beauty of the spring morning in Kentucky on that day and how moved was he by the newborn colt.
Interestingly enough, Eckhart, too, offers a rich meditation on horses when he compares God’s joy at observing us—God “finds joy and rapture in us”–to our joy at observing a horse in a meadow. Just as the horse would want “to pour forth its whole strength in leaping about in the meadow, so too it is a joy to God to pour out the divine nature and being completely into his likeness, since he is the likeness himself.” Thus we delight Divinity by our beauty and godlikeness. Eckhart grew up in horse country in Germany, and his ancestors were knights and horsemen and women, and Merton, living in Kentucky, was surrounded by horse country….
Much science after Merton’s day—including that of Thomas Berry—has indeed brought in play and delight. I think of the scientists who faced the TV cameras after the toy-like rover vehicle Sojourner successfully landed on Mars in 1997 and started its journey on the red planet. They were giddy and laughing like schoolchildren. Play was everywhere in abundance. I think Merton would take delight in the postmodern science that makes way for surprise and for play and that moves beyond humorlessness.
Merton commented on the “end of conventional nineteenth-century materialism” and how science has superseded itself. “Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy is a very exciting book. The uncertainty principle is oddly like St. John of the Cross. As God in the highest eludes the grasp of concepts, being pure Act, so the ultimate constitution of matter cannot be reduced to conceptual terms. There is, logically speaking, nothing there that we can objectively know.” What we can know is beauty and joy, awe and wonder.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 50-51, 53. Merton’s Via Positiva is considered at length in chapter Four, pp. 47-63.
See also Kathleen Deignan, When the Trees Say Nothing: Thomas Merton Writings on Nature.
Banner image: “White Horse Running.” Photo by Lorenzo Pacifico on Pexels.
Meditations: Take a phrase or word from this meditation and be still with it, letting it wash over you and through you. Repeat it as a mantra. Be with the silence that follows. Be with, be with…
Meditation: Have animals and their beauty spoken to you of God and the Divine? How does that experience move you and deepen you?
In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.