In our previous two meditations we have considered Thomas Aquinas’s teaching that we resurrect when we become mystics again. 

“Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb” Fresco by Fra Angelico. From the Museum of San Marco; on Wikimedia Commons.

On Easter Sunday I invoked the teaching of Jewish cultural historian and psychologist, Otto Rank, who taught that the resurrection, as taught by Jesus and Paul, was the “most revolutionary idea in human history” because it democratized immortality and addressed the number one preoccupation of our species, one that detours our living our lives fully, namely the fear of death. 

The immortality projects that preoccupy us and addict us and appeal to our insecurities prevent us from living fully.  And the promise of resurrection cuts through these fears and allow us to live fuller lives.

Rank, who being Jewish did not believe in original sin, does talk however about an “original wound” with which we are all born, that wound being the experience of separation from our mother after nine at-home months in the womb. 

The shock of separation from the womb. Photo by Paul Hart, on Flickr

He believes that most if not all of our neuroses derive from that trauma of separation at birth and that the bell of that separation is rung every time we go through a difficult time in our lives—separation is the key to our anxiety. 

This might prove to be especially useful information at a time of distancing and separation that the coronavirus has forced on us all.

What, to Rank, is the cure for this separation syndrome?  In his words, the unio mystica, the mystical union we have with the cosmos itself and through “love and art.”  Premodern and ancient peoples saw physics (i.e. nature and macrocosm) and psychology (human nature and microcosm) as one. 

“Starry Night Over the Rhone” by Vincent van Gogh: about which he wrote of a “tremendous need for, shall I say the word—for religion—so I go outside at night to paint the stars.” (Naifeh, Steven and Gregory White Smith, Van Gogh: The Life. New York: Random House, 2011) Photo on Wikimedia Commons.

All of life was a celebration of this union of psyche and cosmos.  This was a source of great wonder and admiration for Rank who believes people still seek “an identity with the cosmic process” and waking up to cosmology will provide the surest healing for our deepest woes of our separation from the cosmos. 

This unio mystica, our “being one with the All” and our being “in tune with” the cosmos,  the earliest humans knew intimately.  Says Rank: “This identification is the echo of an original identity, not merely of child and mother, but of everything living—witness the reverence of the [indigenous peoples] for animals. 

The image of the Celtic god Cernunnos on the Gundestrop Cauldron recalls a day when shamans took on the spirit of the animals invoked in the hunt. Photo by Kern8 on Wikimedia Commons.

In man, identification  aims at re-establishing a lost identity with the cosmic process, which has to be surrendered and continuously re-established in the course of self-development.”  Are we capable of recovering this same reverence

It is our powers of will and choosing, our ethics and our creativity, which make us truly human and bring meaning to life. 

Rank invokes our capacity for the unio mystica as the ultimate healer for our souls.  We will be exploring in greater depth some of the teachings of the great mystics in subsequent Daily Meditations. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank as Mystic and Prophet in the Creation Spirituality Tradition

Banner Image: “Michaels Light.” Photo by Paean Ng on Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

Do you experience this “lost identity with the cosmic process” that rank is talking about?  Do you see this loss in our culture also?  How so?  What can we do about it?

Recommended Reading

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

Conversations on Aquinas: Andrew Harvey

As Matthew Fox’s travels have been curtailed due to the Coronavirus, he is sharing a series of conversations with revolutionary thinkers and spiritual teachers on the topics explored in his latest book, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times. In this video, he and Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guidebook to Sacred Activism and Turn Me to Gold, discuss one of the greatest theological minds of all time: What does Thomas Aquinas have to say to us today?

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

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6 thoughts on “Otto Rank and the Unio Mystica”

  1. Avatar

    Thanks for cropping the photo of the newborn baby boy. I’d been incensed about it most of the day and couldn’t imagine any parent would have allowed it to be shown that way.

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Thanks, Deli – the photo was cropped on the website, but the cropping didn’t carry through in the automatic transfer to email….one of the many issues with that email. We’re back to manual setup for the time being; hopefully we’ll get this straightened out soon.

  2. Avatar
    Alex Suarez Ph.D.

    Thank you for your wise reminders. Unio mystica as the basis of comfort and love and art explains and clarifies so much!

  3. Avatar

    Thank you again for this beautiful meditation I’ve been contemplating all day. It reminds me of the changing seasons, of the leaves as they let go of the branches, separated from the tree spiraling on a journey, sometimes far far away and sometimes not far from the tree, but right down by the roots, back where it all began. Sometimes we must take a step back to see the big picture. Sometimes we must fall before we fly. Sometimes you just have to let go. and trust. Trust has been lost in the World, for many valid reasons, and some say trust can never be rebuilt, but each new season brings a second chance, to this new season, may it rebuild stronger than before. See you tomorrow.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Alura,
      Thank you for your affirmation of the wholeness of life. Your examples bring in the themes of Creation Spirituality, interconnectivity, the Four Paths, and the Cosmic Christ as branch, leaf, loss, decay, and rebirth in the spring!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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