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.”
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.
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.”
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?
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.