We are discussing how recovering a sense of our place in the universe is part and parcel of recovering what it is to be human. Cosmology tells the story of the unfolding of the universe to which we belong. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that “the most excellent thing in the universe is not the human, the most excellent thing in the universe is the universe itself” and that all creatures are here to serve the universe.
The universe is our primary mother and father—it conceived us and birthed us and provided the nurture we need to survive—the sun and moon, the oceans and land, the tides and the seasons that furnish our food, water, heat and sunshine, all the beauty and wonder of the many animals, birds, fishes, whales, forests, grasses, with whom we share the Earth. “Ecology is functional cosmology,” teaches Thomas Berry. To awaken to the cosmos is to awaken to the Earth and vice versa; and to work for the earth is the Great Work of loving the cosmos.
The modern age instructed us for knowledge and knowledge skills, and that is no mean accomplishment. We can erect bridges, build airplanes, launch rockets that take us to the moon, explore Mars, even send objects beyond our solar system. And those are wonderful accomplishments!
But the pre-modern world was far better at meaning than is the modern world. Its education was geared toward meaning because it did not begin with the human, but began with the universe itself. Even the story in Genesis begins not with the human but with light; and then all the other beings; and lastly humans. And it was called as a whole, “very good.” A blessing. An original blessing. Or in Thomas Aquinas’s words, a “primal goodness” or “original goodness.”
The deepest human response to encountering the universe is wonder and awe. As Rabbi Heschel puts it, “The beginning of our happiness lies in the understanding that life without wonder is not worth living. What we lack is not a will to believe but a will to wonder.” And he reminds us that “awe is the beginning of wisdom” (as distinct from knowledge alone). When we lose awe, we lose wisdom.
There is something feminine about wisdom (her name in Greek, Latin, Hebrew and most other languages is feminine, not masculine). When patriarchy banishes wisdom (for example, from education), it banishes awe and wonder. One more reason we need to recover the Divine Feminine is not to erase the Masculine but to balance it and thereby purify and detoxify it.
Ernest Becker reminds us that humans “need nothing less than a full world picture; and ancient man—unlike modern man—had not yet lost his awe of nature and being.” Yes, our pre-modern ancestors, indigenous peoples everywhere, as well as medieval thinkers like Hildegard of Bingen and Thomas Aquinas, began their explorations with the Universe wherein lies the sacred. We can too.
Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, pp. 38f.
Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 76-80, 158f.
Banner image: Our beautiful blue planet, floating in space. Photo by SUMITKUMAR SAHARE on Pixabay
Do you find the pre-modern consciousness of indigenous peoples and also the medieval mystics like Hildegard, Francis, Aquinas, Eckhart more empowering because they don’t dwell on the human but lead with the universe itself? What follows from that?
The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human
The A.W.E. Project reminds us that awe is the appropriate response to the unfathomable wonder that is creation… A.W.E. is also the acronym for Fox’s proposed style of learning – an approach to balance the three R’s. This approach to learning, eldering, and mentoring is intelligent enough to honor the teachings of the Ancestors, to nurture Wisdom in addition to imparting knowledge, and to Educate through Fox’s 10 C’s. The 10 C’s are the core of the A.W.E. philosophy and process of education, and include: compassion, contemplation, and creativity. The A.W.E. Project does for the vast subject of “learning” what Fox’s Reinvention of Work did for vocation and Original Blessing did for theology. Included in the book is a dvd of the 10 C’s put to 10 video raps created and performed by Professor Pitt.
“An awe-based vision of educational renewal.” — Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.
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