Thomas Merton is very attuned to the Via Positiva.  Consider this passage from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander:

Thomas Merton. Photo from the Thomas Merton Center.

“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.

“Spring Frolic” Photo by Jan Laugesen from Pexels 

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….

Science Play: Community college students experience designing and developing miniature rovers for a simulated Mars mission at a hands-on workshop hosted by NASA’s National Community College Aerospace Scholars program. Photo: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Flickr

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Merton commented on the “end of conventional nineteenth-century materialism” and how science has superseded itself.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.

Lectio Divina

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?

Recommended Reading

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.

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10 thoughts on “Thomas Merton on the <br>Via Positiva”

  1. Avatar

    I was doing manual labor for a while this summer in my old friends business. I came upon two young horses who were behind a fence. The horses were like human children with no fear. They came right up to the fence to say hi to me. They had the most big beautiful friendly loving eyes . I could tell that they loved me. I have been transitioning off of meat to plant based protein. At this point I eat occasional fish but I am getting rid of that too. Matthew Fox and Richard Rohr are teaching me much about the Universal Essence. We are literally and intuitively decoding and absorbing the vibrations of the carrier waves that they are transmitting.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Gary,
      Thank you for writing, and than you for reminding us of our complicated relationship to animals. Yes, we find the horses in Merton’s writings inspirational, but you point out that we also rely on animals for food – and for companionship – and for warmth – and for the intricately balanced interconnectedness we share with them. I appreciate your asking us to consider the entire web of our relationship when we ta;l about animals. We hope that you continue to connect to the Universal Essence and continue to resonate with Matthew’s Daily Meditations.
      Gail SOfia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  2. Avatar

    The joy of being alive! I see it out my dining room window watching squirrels playing tag on the maple tree, taking turns “falling” off a branch, then running back up the tree to do it again. I see it in the red-tailed hawks that coast on the air current high above the highway I drive on. At first there is one, then another and maybe three or more are gliding, circling and letting the current lift them higher. A good day to fly!

    1. Gail Ransom

      It Dear Shell,
      Thank you for inviting us into your dining room and on your drive to observe your animal friends. You remind us there are animals at play all around us, inviting us to join them in their reverie of life. We have been taught that adults stick to business, but maybe we should let the animals teach us about living life in the Positiva. First step would be to notice – as you have.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  3. Avatar

    Thank you for these meditations, they have been a blessing to my morning routine. I especially like this one. I have always found Thomas Merton’s writings to be insightful and inspirational. I grew up on a small farm in Ohio and loved going out in the early morning to feed horses and cattle. I would watch the sun rise as I listened to the soft sounds of animals eating and that is where I found the inspiration to simply be. All life, all creation opens up when we stop and listen to many voices of the God.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Ruth,
      How wonderful that during your participation in these meditations, you have come across one that resonates with one of your seminal spiritual experiences. Your childhood morning spend feeding animals on your family’s farm could re-frame life for many of us. How fortunate that you discovered the writings of Thomas Merton, and now Matthew Fox, to give these experiences even more depth.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  4. Avatar

    I am a retired teacher and miss the interaction of spontaneous delight interacting with children each day. But I walk our beautiful Golden Labrador, Selkie, twice a day and often laugh out loud at her playful antics. She keeps the child in me alive.
    Thank you for your meditations, Mathew. They bring such joy amidst the sorrow of human greed and destruction.
    Jen-Beth Fulton

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Jen-Beth
      It seems that you have sought out playful relationships all your life. Your inner child is alive and well, cavorting through your days like the ponies in Merton’s story. May your spirit continue to celebrate life and thrive!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  5. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew! These Daily Mediations are a welcomed companion to Training for Modern Day Mystics, the 7 week course the Shift Network is producing. I can’t wait to be guided deeper into Thomas Merton’s four path journey. Also wanted to let folks know there is still time to register. Please visit the Shift Network to learn more. For me it’s a ‘boot camp ‘, an intensive training, to gather the tools and language needed for study and self reflection. These times are calling for modern day Prophets mystics and spiritual warriors, people of courage to speak and act in the name of love, compassion and justice. A deep bow to you Matthew Fox for this training.

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