Here and for a number of upcoming Daily Meditations we will consider the Silence of the Via Negativa.

“Eclipse” Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Consider our very real relationship to darkness and to its ever-present companion, mystery.  In meditation we learn to let go of all images, likenesses, projections,  naming–all contact with isness. The need for silence that Zen speaks of, that wisdom literature celebrates, that Eckhart praises, and that Merton calls for is not just about oral silence. Silence means the letting go of all images—whether oral ones or auditory ones or visual ones or inner ones or cognitive ones or imaginative ones. Whether of time or space, of inner or outer. It is a radical letting go of language. A letting language go. A concentration on what is non-language, non-music, non-self, non-God. It is being. A being still.

Eckhart puts it this way: “One should love God mindlessly, without mind or mental activities of images or representations. Bare your soul of all mind and stand there without mind.”  One senses Buddhism’s respect for silence in this teaching (though Eckhart never knew a Buddhist but came to the universal truths that Buddhism teaches by way of his Christian path).

In this sinking into silence and non-imaging we do not have to be afraid, for Darkness is a friend.  Eckhart teaches that “God is super-essential darkness,” and to make contact with the darkness is to make contact with the deepest side of the Godhead. “Love God as God is a not-God, a not-mind, a not-person, a not-image,” he counsels.  Embrace the Dark.

“Star Gives Birth to Possible Black Hole in Hubble and Spitzer Images” Still from video by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Katrina Jackson

Letting go of busyness and allowing silence to be silence means letting go of the busy work of projecting. As Eckhart says, “When you come to the point when you are no longer compelled to project yourself into any image or to entertain any images in yourself, and you let go of all that is within you, then you can be transported into emptiness, silence.”

We can let this letting go become our prayer. Thus Meister Eckhart confessed that he “prayed God to rid me of God.” One must recognize the importance of letting go in this radical way of no-images if one is to befriend the dark.  No symbols or images are allowed to hang around—not even our names and symbols for God. We pray even to let go of God. Here if anywhere lies “sheer abandon.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “The Apophatic Divinity: Meister Eckhart Meets Buddhism via Thich Nhat Hanh,” in Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Times, pp. 35-56.
See also Matthew Fox, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, p. 70
Banner Image: “Night Sky” Photo by guille pozzi on Unsplash

For Deeper Contemplation

Sit in a place where you can be as silent as possible. Close your eyes and allow yourself to become one with the silence and let the darkness of your closed eyes free you from all images.  Be.  Be. And Be some more.

Ask Silence: What do you have to teach me?  What do you have to teach us in today’s turbulent world?

Recommended Reading

 While Matthew Fox recognizes that Eckhart has influenced everyone from Julian of Norwich to Eckhart Tolle, Karl Marx to Carl Jung, and Annie Dillard to Anne Morrow Lindbergh, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.

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 “Silence and the Via Negativa”

  1. Avatar

    I’m loving these daily meditations. And this one is especially timely and helpful, an exquisitely beautiful reminder of the essential value of letting go into the experience of simply being. Underneath the thoughts and the stimulations through the 5 senses there is a field… ☺️

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Daniel,
      Thanks for writing. Your reference to the field beneath our thoughts and senses reminds me of the Rumi quote: “Out beyond ideas of right doing and wrong doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there”. Can we hope that awareness of this field is growing among us and we might actually meet there some day?
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    Dear Mathew
    This is the most challenging meditation I have ever read. To “pray God to rid me of God” seems to me the opposite of all I have learned of contemplation. My goal has always been to sink as deeply into God as possible. Certainly with no images of God, except as Love.
    I guess the closest I can come to understanding your suggestion is the Buddhist “non belief in God” yet surely there is still the the desire to be filled with compassion / Love (another word for God)
    Or the Hebrew G-d which forbids, I think, the naming of G-d, thus possibly the imaging of G-d. Yet never, I believed to sit without G-d. It fills me with terror to contemplate praying “God to rid me of God.” What if that prayer was answered and I am really left with no God?! Aah – maybe I’m still stuck in intellect?!
    With Love, I think, but certainly no joy, if I take you seriously.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Jen-Beth,
      As I understand Eckhart’s quote and Matthew’s meditation, you are not as far from its meaning as you might feel. When you “sink as deeply into God as possible – with no images, only love.” You are on the same path as Eckhart. He, too, was seeking an experience of God which cannot be named or grasped by our definitions- not human size, but the size of eternity. If we are able to rid ourselves of our names, labels, cultural expectations, images and definitions and are able to apprehend this presence, we become speechless, motionless, and wholly receptive.

      Eckhart is playing with us with his phrase “I pray God rid me of God.” He may use the same word to refer to God both times he uses the word, but they do not mean the same thing. The first reference to God is the God he is seeking, the nameless, image-free, awe-full experience of divine power and presence. The second reference to God is to God as Eckhart know God in the moment of his speaking, still shaped by teachings, cultural expectations, memories, and images. While he asks God for whom he yearns to rid him of the constricting definitions and expectations of the God he now knows, he realizes that he cannot approach the God of his yearning without the definitions of the God he has known. The joke is on him (and us). We cannot move towards the expansive cosmic compassion without these images and words. But to reach this unattainable goal, we must must “pray God to rid us of them” so that we may achieve a more authentic and intimate relationship to God-beyond-names.

      The joke continues. When Eckhart manages to get rid of enough definitions to experience the formless and unspeakable divine, he finds he cannot communicate about his experience except to use the words that others use to refer to and describe God – and he is back to the beginning of his journey, trying to release his experience of God from prescribed definitions so he might go deeper. Its a continuous cycle, spiraling down to the dark depths of divinity. I am not sure we can ever get to the bottom of it, but the search, as you known from your own experience, is its own reward. It is the true path of the mystic. Once you choose it, you can’t turn back and be spiritually satisfied. You must keep at it.

      From what you have written, you are already on the path and God is already ridding you of images and expectations of God so that you might come closer. You are loved. You have been invited to the dark feast. Keep Going.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

  3. Avatar

    I had always loved the dark. Even as a child I felt the dark was a comfort and a quiet closeness, especially after one of my many nightmares. Decades later, when my children were small, I would feel comfortable leaving them, most every evening, asleep in their darkened bedrooms, while I walked around our front pasture to say goodnight to the horses. The dark sky was like a blanket over us all… it was the “close and holy darkness.”

    But after my father died – very tragically, in the nighttime – I became very afraid of the dark. As a clinician, I could explain to myself about the traumatic effect I was experiencing, but the abandonment that my heart felt, by the darkness itself, was a different kind of pain. The dark became isolating… and, all of a sudden, way too quiet….

    I think I know, now, that I needed to let go of an ideal image of God, I think I had formed over years, that was just too naive and “starry-eyed” for the reality of being human. Though I certainly wasn’t praying for it to happen, that great silent void allowed me to know truth – truth about God’s presence in deep human suffering, truth of how to live with grief, and the truth I practice, now, as a sound therapist: that the most powerful healing happens when we listen to the silence in-between the sounds.?

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Sarah,
      I am thinking that there may always be there another layer of darkness surrounding every layer we experience – into infinity. The darkness that seemed to have failed you when your father died became the source of revelation about God’s compassion, and that took you to sound healing as a practice to encounter another, purer form of darkness, the silence between sounds. In this meditation, Matthew tells us there are more layers, non-verbal layers, layers with no images, layers without a sense of self. Might it be that the movement between layers, the trusting to move into a deeper layer, a darker darkness. an emptier void, that hones our souls? You are on the path of dark-trusting. ANd that is very promising!.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

      1. Avatar

        Oh, Gail, that is so very helpful, and even inviting… The purity of traveling through the layers… trusting more and more, as I keep letting go of needing to understand or explain… into the ineffable experience of God. Thank you for being on the path with me, and us!?

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