The late Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement, used to say that “there’s more good than evil in the world—but not by much.”
I appreciate how real and down to earth his observation is especially with the current news from Ukraine.
Reb Zalman’s words feel like the Sufi poet Hafiz who says “it is a naïve person who thinks we are not engaged in a fierce battle” and he goes on to examine the difference between a soldier and a warrior (hint: the warrior is a God-lover, a mystic therefore, as well as a fighter).
In my Musical, Mystical Bear book, now called Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, I point out that prayer, or our radical, i.e. deep, response to life, consists of our deep “Yes” to Life; and our Deep “No,” to the killing of Life.
Indeed, William James, in his classic work on mysticism, Varieties of Religious Experience, calls mysticism our “Yes faculty.”
Mysticism constitutes our Yes to Life; and prophecy constitutes our No to Life’s enemies that lurk both within each of us and within human societies and institutions.
The Via Positiva and the Via Negativa in turn energize us to launch into our creativity, the Via Creativa that serves the Via Transformativa (Justice and Compassion).
Thus our Yes and our No and the Creativity that flow from it constitute a new understanding of the Trinity: Our Yes to existence and creation and Creator; our No to injustice such as Christ and other Liberators/Redeemers remind us of; and our Creativity or our birthing with Spirit which is born of our deepest Yeses and deepest Nos.
When it comes to Evil, mystics both East and West, prefer to speak of the Good News and therefore ways to go beyond evil. Indeed their basic message is that our Yes predominates and while the No is important and we need to fight evil both within and without, ultimately even the No comes wrapped up inside our Yes.
In a time like today when a horrendous war is being live streamed and humanity’s capacity for Evil is playing out in our living rooms nightly, we want to shout “No!” to out television sets. It is hard to watch and of course much harder to live through on the ground.
I am reminded of what Thomas Aquinas teaches: That one human being can do more evil than all the other species taken together.
Can humanity move to its next evolutionary stage? When Love, Justice and Compassion take over? When Yes triumphs?
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, pp. 153-156, 77-116.
And Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image; Monument to Archangel Michael, patron of Kyiv, Ukraine, atop the historic Lach Gate in Independence Square. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Statue_archange_Saint-Michel_en_Ukraine.jpg
Queries for Contemplation
Do you agree with Reb Zalman that there is more good than evil in the world—but not by much? What follows from that reality? How does your “No” come wrapped up in a “Yes”?
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 Style, Prayer 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