Rainer Maria Rilke, whom Robert Bly used to call “the greatest poet of the last 500 years,” gives us useful and profound advice for living in a fraught time like ours in this one sentence: “Walk your walk of lament on a path of praise.”
This sentence summarizes the essence of what mysticism is. It marries the Via Positiva and the Via Negativa: the joy and wonder, reverence and gratitude along with the suffering and grief. It tells us to hold the grief in an embrace of Joy.
It echoes what Julian of Norwich wrote when she talks of learning to live with both “mirth and mourning” and how “we live with a wondrous mixture of well and woe” and how “the mingling of both well-being and distress in us is so astonishing that we can hardly tell which state we or our neighbor are in. That’s how astonishing it is!”
And a promise from God. God does not say, “You will not be tempted; you will not be troubled; you will not be distressed.” What God said was, “You shall not be overcome.” Again, “Listen to these words and be strong in absolute trust, in both well and woe.” Aren’t these lessons we learn from Martin Luther King Jr, Fred Shuttlesworth, Nelson Mandela, Dorothy Stang, John Lewis and President VolodymyrZelenskyy for their trust that gave birth to courage?
Isn’t this what Mary Oliver, the “praise poet” is also writing about when she insists that we pray by paying deep attention to the beauty that is in nature all around us? Oliver, who had been raped by her father as a child, knew about the “the dark river of grief,” and spent a lifetime healing herself–and the rest of us–through her prayer of “paying attention” to the wonders and gifts of Mother Earth.
We need to dive deeper into the beauty of existence itself while humanity’s sins and Putin’s war rages on—in order to survive.
Let us learn not to shut our eyes to the suffering that is so in our faces today, but also to wrap it all in a song of praise and thanksgiving for what is deeper than human maleficence: The miracle of our existence and Earth’s hospitality and the Universe’s 13.8 billion years of gestation that have brought us this far.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, p. 144.
And Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic…and Beyond, pp. 101, 103f.
To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
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Queries for Contemplation
What does Rilke’s teaching to “walk your walk of lament on a path of praise” say to you?
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.