The time being spent sequestered these days might mean many things to different people. For some it is about challenging kids who are around the house to learn in ways different from school ways. To others it may offer more solitude for deeper reflection. For some it is planning for what comes next, though we are all very much in the dark about that. And for all it means trying to stay healthy wherever possible.
But one dimension that emerges strongly is to recover and deepen our spiritual lives—and to demand of our lineage—whatever it be—that it speak to us in a period like this of darkness and confusion, fear and chaos.
This the mystics have so often done. First, there is the Via Positiva—to keep the sense and memory of Original Blessing and Original Goodness (Aquinas’s favorite term) alive and well. The Via Positiva provides the matrix, the setting, the basis for keeping on. If it is weak our immune systems are quite literally weakened.
Times of trouble require more, not less, Via Positiva. Reach out to music or to the outdoors for a walk or to play with housemates, or just being in nature to find joy. Consider how every being is 13.8 billion years old and on the same journey as yourself.
The Via Negativa is of course where we find ourselves. The mystics help us to name this, “dark night,” this “golden zero,” this “place of Unkowing and of transformed knowledge,” “the time when the lantern went out and even the memory of the lantern went out”, “Nothingness.” The tasting of ashes.
All these deep experiences are named and understood by the mystics—they represent a new school of learning by subtraction and not by addition. Letting Go and Letting Be are the tools of such schooling. One can become “pregnant with Nothingness” as Eckhart puts it.
If we survive the Via Negativa the Via Creativa is on the horizon. An explosion of creativity from the human race can follow. A new life. A resurrected life. New beginnings that follow on loss and destruction.
The creativity leads naturally into the Via Transformativa where many changes need to happen in our culture. Think about how many illusions we might shed during the Via Negativa that in turn makes room for creativity and transformation—illusions about how perfect our health care system is. Or how fair it is (it has been pointed out that 84 NBA basketball players got tested for the virus while ordinary citizens were left waiting to get tested for days.)
Illusions of what capitalism really is—when the weather is pleasant it is about raw profits for the corporations (and many tax breaks); when weather gets rough, they are first to line up at the federal trough for handouts.
Among the hard lessons recovered at a time like ours is a rediscovery of lessons of interdependence. Which is, after all, the basis of compassion itself.
See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing.
And Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times.
Queries for Contemplation
What illusions do you see yourself letting go of at this Via Negativa time?
The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times
A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book! Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit