Rank on the Marvel of Creation vs. a Culture of Rationality

Otto Rank, the Austrian psychoanalyst and mystic, praises religion “because it admits the Unknown, indeed recognizes it as the chief factor instead of pretending an omniscience that we do not possess.”

“Exploring the Cave.” Photo by Ivana Cajina on Unsplash

I am reminded of the day I met with the farmer and Macarthur Genius Award winner Wes Jackson who, sitting in a rocking chair on his front porch, said to me, “we humans should acknowledge and lead with what we are best at—our ignorance–instead of pretending we know everything.”

While acknowledging and respecting mystery or the Unknown, Rank—like other mystics—does not find it easy to talk about.  One effort Rank makes to name the mystical is his often employed term, the “irrational.”  It may be better to speak in English of the “other-than-rational” or the “more-than-rational” or the “intuitive” (Einstein) or the “mystical.”  It is the experience that matters most.

In invoking the “irrational,” Rank is calling our attention to the excessive rationality of the modern era, of modern science, of mechanism, of reductionism, of Freud, of Newtonian causality, indeed of patriarchy itself and of the dominant culture and educational foundations of the West.

Wise-looking Leopard. Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

Why else is Rank so enamored with the “irrational” or “more than rational”?  Because the animals are irrational, and the winds and the sea and the tigers and the stars and the planets and the rocks.  

Yet they all speak to us.  And often of the Unknown and the mystery behind all things.  As Eckhart says: “All creatures are gladly doing their best to speak of God.”

What else does Rank intend with his willfully chosen term “irrational?”  He says: “The epitome of the irrational is the marvel of creation itself.”

Wonder is irrational, not rational.  And marveling is everything. This Jewish spiritual consciousness is echoed in Heschel when he speaks of “radical amazement” and reminds us that “awe is the beginning of wisdom.”

Millions of Monarch butterflies migrate to the mountains of Mexico annually. Photo essay by CGTN America.

The rational gives us knowledge but wonder gives us wisdom.  Rank sought wisdom, he had seen enough of knowledge. (Body counts are rational for military minds; and “bottom lines” are rational for business.)  They have their place.

But the big picture is always the marvel of creation itself, the miracle of our existence from which we derive wisdom and our reasons for living.  

See Matthew Fox, “Otto Rank as Mystic and Prophet in the Creation Spirituality Tradition,” on MatthewFox.org

To read a transcript of Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Nebula. Photo by NASA on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Are you committed to the “marvel of creation itself”?  How might that commitment save the planet as we know it?  How might that commitment elevate humanity beyond making wars against one another?

Recommended Reading

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.

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11 thoughts on “Rank on the Marvel of Creation vs. a Culture of Rationality”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Your questions for us today are:
    1. “Are you committed to the ‘marvel of creation itself’?” Yes, I am committed to the marvel of creation–and I am fascinated by your insight that the word “miracle” means marvel, or marvelous.
    2. “How might that commitment save the planet as we know it?” I have written a book titled, THE WAY OF THE EARTH which is a re-writing of the Gospels and the book of Revelation, with a female Christ figure, who teaches the gospel of the way of the earth, rather than the gospel of the kingdom of heaven. And I have also written a book titled, LITURGIES OF THE EARTH which was written on the premise of; in addition to the Church calendar of holy days which are days which honor people, I provide liturgies that follow the cycle of the solstices and equinoxes and the quarter days that fall between them (the earth’s holy days). In both cases this is how I am exercising my commitment to save the planet by attempting to instill a sense of sacredness to the earth.
    3. “How might that commitment elevate humanity beyond making wars against one another? I believe that if all had the vision that Matthew has, in terms of Creation Spirituality, and that I have in my books, it would truly elevate humanity…

  2. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Within today’s DM, there are two statements that I really resonate with. The first one is Eckhart’s words, “All creatures are gladly doing their best to speak of God. The second is Heshel’s words, “Awe is the beginning of wisdom.” These words are so beautiful and so very true.

    One of the ways that I am committed to the marvel of creation, ties into these two statements. By simply spending time with creation and the many creatures… observing, seeing, listening… each in its own unique way does indeed speak to me of God… and in this intimacey of relationship, I do indeed receive the blessing of intuited wisdom offered, as a gift.

    How might this commitment save the planet as we know it? Earth is a living being… and any living being desires relationship, not just humans. Acknowledging, responding to and engaging in this relationship is experiencing a mutual commitment to one another, one that is built on mutual respect and love of the sacred within all. This may be perceived as something small and insignificant to some, but to those whom experience being and living in the mystery of this reality discover what a treasure this really is. Grandmother Earth, and the all and the everything of creation has many stories to tell and much wisdom that She desires to share…

    How might this commitment elevate humanity beyond making wars against one another. Its an invitation open to all… and as each one within humanity awakens to seeing, understanding, acknowledging and responding to just how committed the Sacred Grandmother Earth and the all and the everything of creation has been for billions of years in sustaining and maintaining all that exists… the mantle of Her all embracing Webb of life that interconnects the mystery and beauty of diversity within the unity of Oneness and Wholeness… and just how interreliant and interdependent everything is, within this unfolding relationship… then perhaps like the seeds of a dandilion… this consciousness will spread, and more of humanity will truly begin to evolve from making war, moving towards reconciliation and healing this mutual commitment of right relationship with.

    How I commit myself to being and living in this beautiful reality is through facilitating and participating with others in rituals and ceremonies that honor this relationship… through sharing my photography and my writing… through spending time in nature, engaging in this relationship with others… going green, choosing to be environmentally friendly… doing my best to be and live in right relationship in my daily life with all those creatures whom I encounter, including humans, which is the most challenging… showing gratitude, compassion and mercy in whatever way I can… being still, listening, seeing, hearing, being present to the sacred presence of God within the all and the everything… treasuring the small things that really matter, not wanting to take any of it for granted.

  3. Avatar

    Two statements I hold in my heart. The first, since I was a child in the Baptist Church

    “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then, face to face.” 1 Corinthians 13:12a

    “When we are looking for the link between the ape and the human, maybe we are it.” — Stan Smith, Pastor, First Christian Church of Orange (CA, Disciples of Christ)

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, Thank you for your comment. I used to attend First Christian Church of Orange, CA as a retired UCC minister who was brought up in First Christian Church of Santa Ana (which is now just a parking lot). Keep looking through the dark glass–its just another part of the Via Negativa…

  4. Avatar

    I admired the statement that what we do best is ignorance. The farmer’s take is right. In the movie Kiss the Ground, (2020) his point is beautifully illustrated and shows how regenerative agriculture works.
    As far as human ignorance goes
    I’ve been listening to the lyrics of rapper Tupac Shakur, who wrote “ even the genius asks questions.“

  5. Avatar

    Otto Rank calls the mystical irrational. In my ebook on comparative mysticism I use the term suprarational, beyond reason, logic and images.
    Spiritual knowing, mystical gnosis, is complete intuitive insight. It combines the very definition of all three words. Complete: “The entirety needed for realization; consummate.” Intuitive: “Knowing something without rational processes; the immediate cognition of it.” Insight: “Discernment of the true nature of a situation; the penetration beyond the reach of the senses.” Complete intuitive insight precedes divine unity and usually follows it. It is suprarational.

  6. Avatar

    Yes! Matthew reminds us again of the sacred transformative process, vision, and evolution of our mystical/contemplative spiritual journeys/consciousness towards awareness of our Being Loving Oneness with-in All of God’s ongoing Creation in the Universe/Cosmos…. It’s a Beautiful Mystery!

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