We have considered how central the experience of goodness is to Julian who lived through the severest pandemic of European history. How the search for goodness is a way to the divine. Goodness in nature, including in human nature. Look for it, forge for it, pay attention to it. Learn not to take it for granted. For Julian, the search for goodness constitutes a veritable spiritual practice that starts with love and culminates with love.
In many respects, the word goodness for Julian comes to mean sacred as well. That is why she so ties together nature and God, nature and goodness. She rarely uses the word “sacred,”—but she runs with the words good and goodness. In old English the words “god” and “good” were closely related. Julian seems to be drawing on that parallel. Recently I received a book in the mail from a poet and one of her poems speaks to how only one vowel separates “good” and “God.”
Of course Julian is not alone. The entire creation spirituality lineage celebrates the goodness and godliness of creation beginning with Genesis one that says nothing about evil or sin. Instead, it offers a cosmic story of the unfolding of the universe in various stages, all of them “good” and culminating (after humanity’s creation) with “very good.” Thomas Aquinas often speaks of “original goodness” and refers when doing so to Genesis one. He develops a philosophy of politics whose purpose is the common good—a term he picked up from Aristotle but since Aquinas’s day has been adapted in many efforts to articulate political philosophy. It is for this reason surely that Aquinas tells us that the primary meaning of religion is “supreme thankfulness or gratitude.” Doesn’t the good news of existence provoke us to thanks and gratitude? And praise?
Meister Eckhart, a disciple of his Dominican brother Aquinas, says that “whenever we are talking about God the Creator we are talking about goodness.” For him too, creation and goodness go together. He also asks, “Who is a good person?” His answer: “A good person praises good people.” Good people are on the lookout for goodness and are not threatened by it or in envy about it, but fall into praise for it. For him too, gratitude is primary, as when he tells us that “if the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank you,’ that would suffice.”
I swear that those preachers and theologians who begin religion with sin and redemption have had the first page of their Bible ripped out. How did that happen? Where did the goodness go? Can there be love without goodness? Can there be love of earth and her creatures without seeing them as good? Perhaps the denial of the climate emergency which seems so prevalent in fundamentalist church circles and political circles today is based on the neglect to hear the goodness in Genesis one and/or to experience the goodness in nature—including (sometimes) human nature.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic, pp. 20-33.
See also:Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 98ff.
Are we on the hunt for goodness? Are we hunter-gatherers for goodness? How do we create a spiritual practice of hunting for goodness?
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.
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