Gaining a Perspective to Counterbalance Despair during Pandemic

Yesterday we ended our meditation remembering that the spiritual journey boasts four and not just one stage.  Action (the Via Transformativa) does not stand alone but draws from the wisdom, energy and perspective of the other three paths.  We have seen how bravely Julian of Norwich spoke up on behalf of the Via Positiva during the pandemic of her time.

Surrendered to despair. Photo by Dexter Fernandes on Unsplash

Aquinas warns us that “despair is the most dangerous of all sins.”  (Not the worst—that is injustice—but the most dangerous.)  He warns that the “worst thing a person can do is to teach despair.”  This includes teaching despair to oneself. 

When the media overwhelms us with only dark news, that is teaching despair.  And we can overindulge ourselves in dark news.  Humans cannot live without hope. 

Our first task then is to stretch our perspective and see our history in the framework of the universe itself.  This is where cosmology comes in—it calls us to get a bigger perspective on things.  Hope comes from within a larger context. 

Thomas Aquinas teaches this in a deep way when he reminds us that To those who judge things not by their nature, but by the good they themselves can derive from them, everything that is harmful to themselves seems simply evil.  But they do not reflect on the fact that what is in some way injurious to one person is beneficial to another, and that even to themselves the same things may be evil in some respects, but good in others. 

George Monbiot narrates a clip from the documentary on how the Yellowstone ecosystem was revitalized when wolves were reintroduced. From Sustainable Human.

He is telling us that if we live in too small a world, one determined largely by our own ego, we cannot deal with life’s struggles. 

In fact, he points out: The judgment on the goodness of anything does not depend upon its order to any particular thing, but rather upon what it is in itself and on its order to the whole universe, wherein every part has its own perfectly ordered place….the wolf, though in its own kind is a good of nature, is nevertheless evil to the sheep.  A lot of the struggle in life is relative.

“Data sourced from the United Nations World Population Prospects 2019. The projected range of population after 2020 are between the UN’s “low” and “high” population growth projections.” Graphic by Bdm25 on Wikimedia Commons.

Another example of a larger perspective comes when we listen to science about the causes of the current pandemic.  For example, why is COVID-19 here?  Because humans have taken over the planet so totally that other species are being driven from their habitats and interacting with us too closely.  Climate change and COVID-19 are directly related.

Physicist Fritjof Capra believes that humans have so “fractured the web of life” and destroyed so many animal habitats that viruses are now jumping from species to species more readily and then to humans, where they become highly toxic and deadly.  This pattern caused the AIDS crisis when the virus in a rare species of monkeys jumped from West Africa to humans as a whole.  The result? HIV virus and the AIDS epidemic killed an estimated 39 million people worldwide. 

Today’s coronavirus jumped from a species of bats to humans in China and then around the world.  We are learning the hard way that “biology trumps politics and economics.” 

To be continued

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy!  Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, p. 169.

For Capra’s article, see:

Banner Image: Looking up to the sky between high-rise apartment buildings, Hong Kong. Photo by Rikki Chan on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Aquinas underscores how when humans become the whole center for judgment about what is good and evil, we distort reality.  We easily miss the whole for the part.  Capra is saying a parallel thing when he decries how readily humans “fracture the web of life.”  The results can be deadly.  What follows from these insights?

Are we learning that “biology trumps politics and economics”?  What follows from this?

Recommended Reading

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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