People who have been abused and undergone trauma often need to work hard to rediscover the goodness of existence. One person I know was contemplating suicide after being raped when she came upon my book Original Blessing (“blessing” is another word for “goodness”). She reported that the book turned her life around.
This to me underscores the power and importance of following up on a dark time or period–such as a pandemic—with more reflection on and immersion into goodness itself. Mary Oliver put it this way: “Do you need a prod? Do you need a little darkness to get you going?”
Sometimes, especially when times are tough (pandemic is such a time), we have to go back to the fundamentals, the first things, such as the goodness of existence itself, the goodness of being here in this vast and ancient (13.8 billion year) and beautiful drama we call the universe with its children, the earth and all her creatures.
Sometimes, as Mary Oliver reminds us, the via negativa, loss and darkness are necessary to wake us up to a deeper path in our lives.
A former student of mine who was a therapist told me that when a client walks into her office for the first time, at the end of their discussion, she gives that person a copy of my book Original Blessing—”90% don’t come back again,” she told me. “Why?” I asked her, “is my book that off-putting?” She replied: “My experience tells me that 90% of people with psychological problems can trace them back to bad religion. One that does not begin with blessing but with sin.”
This would suggest that Julian’s message about goodness and Thomas Aquinas’s message about “original goodness” could play a very healing role in our society.
I recall befriending a professional baseball player years ago who had contacted AIDS through a rather lascivious life style (he was heterosexual) and he knew at that time that it was a death sentence. He used the last year of his life to give talks in high schools to alert kids not to be promiscuous and to follow a better path in life than he had chosen. He told me, as he was nearing his premature death (he was about 28 years old):
AIDS is God’s way of getting my attention. I guess pain was the only way God could get through to me….As much as I wish I could have learned another way, I have to admit that AIDS has taught me some important lessons. I wouldn’t trade AIDS with anything else I’ve experienced in life, for it has taught me what life is all about.
Today, other events are, hopefully, getting our attention–wildfires and hurricanes and the Australian continent burning (where over one billion animals died), seas rising and now coronavirus—all are calling us to cease our denial about climate change and the anthropocentrism behind it and our taking for granted the goodness/blessing that life is.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, “AIDS and the Quest for an Authentic Spirituality,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life, pp. 267-288.
Banner Image: “Desert Sunrise, Erg Chebbi, Morocco.” Photo by Andreas Kind on Unsplash
Do you remember via negativa experiences in your life that led to greater wisdom or breakthroughs or Oneings? Prods to get you moving again in a deeper way? Might this apply to culture at large and not just to individuals?
Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life
In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.