What is the opposite of thanks or gratitude? Taking for granted. Forgetfulness. Taking and not giving back. Receiving and refusing to give or give back. Taking but not returning blessing for blessing and goodness for goodness.  Taking, not care-taking.

The Green Man, spirit of the wild, appears in a rock formation in Bretagne, France. Photo by Erwan Mirabeau on Wikimedia Commons.

Earth is a place of goodness that requires our tending and caring for and not taking for granted.  That is why climate change is so demanding a spiritual challenge and requires the best of all of us to respond to it. 

Julian of Norwich celebrates caring for the earth when she urges us to

Be a gardener, dig and ditch, toil and sweat, and turn the earth upside down and seek the deepness and water the plants in time. Continue this labor and make sweet floods to run and noble and abundant fruits to spring.

Short video honoring the legacy of Nobel Laureate, Dr. Wangari Maathai, founder of Kenya’s Green Belt Movement, planting trees to restore the water cycle and help marginalized people to stand up for their human and environmental rights. Produced and uploaded to YouTube by Green Belt Movement partner, search engine Ecosia.

In this thrilling teaching Julian returns us to the joy of working in and with nature, the outer work becomes the inner work and the inner the outer. Indeed, this work of gardening is not only a holy inner work with the soil but also with our soul, our inner beings, but it becomes our worship as well. “Take this food and drink and carry it to God as your true worship.”

We cannot sit idly by while suffering happens to ourselves or others; we must dig deeper to find the treasure that lies hidden within life and within ourselves. Julian urges us to recognize that “there is a treasure in the earth that is a food tasty and pleasing to the Lord.”

Sierra Robinson interviews author/activist/educator Starhawk on the sacred, earth-regenerating work of permaculture at the Bioneers 2017 conference. Uploaded to YouTube by Chasing Change.

The via positiva receives a hearty practice from Julian; indeed, she endorses it as the grounding that sees us through the darkness of times of pandemic and other dark nights of soul, society, and species. It is the medicine that gives us strength to carry on; it reunites us to the Source.

Deep acts of responding to goodness, joy, and awe—the via positiva—are the medicine to combat the distress and despair that pandemics and other hard times can elicit. Thus we must work to follow the via positiva and our powers of goodness, joy, and awe. The sum result of the via positiva is a recovery of reverence and gratitude for existence—no matter the suffering involved. Struggle and unknowing cleanse our souls so that we learn not to take for granted.

A cinematographic compilation of drone flights documenting our planet’s might and fragile magic. Produced and uploaded to YouTube by Pedro F Rodríguez.

Julian, like Aquinas and Eckhart before her, also invokes gratitude or thankfulness as the bottom line of spirituality when she writes: “This is the holiest prayer—the loving prayer of thanksgiving in his sight.” There is no substitute for thanksgiving or gratitude—it is the holiest of prayers. While the via positiva provides the medicine in hard times, sometimes we must stretch our memories to recall those gifts that we may forget under stress—such as the gift of existence itself, life itself, breathing, seeing, hearing, and all the ways of being-with in this world of wonder and surprise and possibilities.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 32f.

See also Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life

Banner Image: Earth in our hands. Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

Do you agree with Julian that Thanksgiving is the “holiest prayer”?  What follows from that?

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer

Upcoming Events

Mirabai Starr and Matthew Fox teach a 7-week course: Julian of Norwich: A Bold Gentle Visionary on Living in a Time of Pandemic. Beginning Wednesday, December 2, 2020 and running through January. On The Shift Network, Wednesdays at 8pm ET and 5pm PT (GMT/UTC-8). Registration is open until December 15: enroll HERE.

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3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving, 2020”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you, so much, Matt for sharing this wonderful video of the incredible Wangari Maathai.
    Here’s something else amazing I’d like to share about her…
    When I was working in Kenya, I met some people of the Green Belt Movement who told me this story:
    There was a beautiful park in the middle of Nairobi which president Moi (who had imprisoned Wangari numerous times) wanted to turn into a commercial center. Wangari organized a protest and they took over and occupied the park. After some time, Moi lost his patience and sent in the police to arrest the protesters, mostly women. As the police approached them, they ripped off their blouses! No Kenya man would ever arrest a bare breasted woman so they left! Wangari won and the park was saved!! ??
    Kristal Parks

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