Exploring Nothingness: Teachings from the Mystics, continued

There is such a thing as political nothingness and today, with a politicized SCOTUS, a supreme court nothingness. 

PBS NewsHour‘s John Yang and The National Law Journal’s Marcia Coyle unpack the recent SCOTUS decisions and what we’ve learned about the court.

A Supreme Court reducing American jurisprudence to nothing, pulverizing the doctrines of church/state separation; of peaceful transfer of power; of women having rights over their own bodies (not unlike in slave times and as articulated in the 13th and 14th amendments); of gays and lesbians having the right to marry whom they love (an effort is now afoot to kill it from Clarence Thomas, the loudest voice on the court); and defending the planet so that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has a chance.

Catholic monk Thomas Merton wrote that “our true self is not easy to find.  It is hidden in obscurity and ‘nothingness,’ at the center where we are in direct dependence on God.”  He tells us that 

one reason why our meditation never gets started is perhaps that we never make this real, serious return to the center of our own nothingness before God.  …We do not begin by seeking to ‘find our heart,’ that is to sink into a deep awareness of the ground of our identity before God and in God.

Nothingness before God. Photo by Ruel Calitis on Unsplash.

It is interesting that Meister Eckhart sometimes calls the “spark of the soul” a nothing or nothingness.  It is hidden, it is deep, it is mysterious and often needs a powerful spark to ignite it.  He also says that “God is nothing….And yet God is something.”

Feminist and naturalist Susan Griffin writes that “Nothingness spreads around us.  But in this nothing we find what we did not know existed.” 

Beguine Mechtild of Magdeburg tells us to “Love the nothing, flee the self.”  A sort of purifying of selfhood and ego happens when we embrace the nothing. 

Meister Eckhart reminds us that 

all creatures are a mere nothing.  I do not say that they are something very slight or even something, but that they are a mere nothing.  All creatures have been drawn from nothingness and that is why their origin is nothingness.  

This is not as esoteric as it may sound.  Consider this meditation: Add one year to your current age and think back to that time.  In that year and for billions of years previous, you were nothing.  You did not yet exist.  Our origin is indeed nothingness.

“Sea and Sky Boundlessness” Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash

John of the Cross also speaks to Nothing in this poem:

To reach satisfaction in all
Desire its possession in nothing.
To come to possess all
Desire the possession of nothing.
To arrive at being all
Desire to be nothing.
To come to the knowledge of all
Desire the knowledge of nothing.

Meister Eckhart had a wild dream about nothingness from which he drew an even wilder conclusion: I once dreamt that I, even though a man, was pregnant, pregnant with nothingness.  And out of this nothingness, God was born. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 148-156.  

And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 315.

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

Banner Image: Traveling through nothingness. Image by Chen Yichun on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Are you experiencing Supreme Court Nothingness?  Do the mystics cited here assist you to grasp what you are undergoing?  Is the nothingness we are tasting a prelude to a great breakthrough, a great birth, a “new creation,” and birth of God that our nothingness and our moral outrage will give birth to and that Eckhart names? 

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14 thoughts on “Exploring Nothingness: Teachings from the Mystics, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today our Queries for Contemplation are as follows: “Are you experiencing Supreme Court Nothingness?” Yes, with a Supreme Court that is destroying the doctrines of church/state separation; of peaceful transfer of power; of women having rights over their own bodies, and of gays and lesbians having the right to marry whom they love, there’s a whole lot of something going on, and yet it would be better if they did nothing.
    “Do the mystics cited here assist you to grasp what you are undergoing?” Meister Eckhart says: “God is nothing….And yet God is something” and we, though something, are feeling anomie and nothingness. As Eckhart again says, “All creatures have been drawn from nothingness and that is why their origin is nothingness.”
    “Is the nothingness we are tasting a prelude to a great breakthrough, a great birth, a ‘new creation,’ and birth of God that our nothingness and our moral outrage will give birth to and that Eckhart names?” Let’s hope so! The question is will we give birth to what Eckhart said he gave birth to: “I once dreamt that I, even though a man, was pregnant, pregnant with nothingness. And out of this nothingness, God was born.” So, let us give birth to the nothingness that is God.

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    Jeanette Metler

    I have hope, that out of all of this chaos of the collective Dark Night of the Soul… and the emptying… that process of kenosis… of letting go and letting be… and the pain and suffering that this entails… that there will be breakthrough… the birthing of Conscious Love. Cynthia Bourgeault, a Benedicton mystic of our times, speaks of this emptying, this letting go and letting be… this painful process of kenosis… as the breakthrough of birthing Conscious Love as “love in the service of inner transformation or inner transformation in the service of love.” Either way, she states… this breaking through into the abundant blessings of birthing Conscious Love, is exactly what Jesus was about.

    What also rises to the surface as I contemplate all that we’ve been deeply pondering over the past few days, within these DM’s… is the biblical story of new wine, needing new wine skins. What I sense, is that we are all in the painful process of emptying the old wine… of completely letting go of the old wine skin… that through this season of the Dark Night of the Soul and surrendering all… within this womb of nothingness, and letting this be… that we are actually experiencing the gestation of the new creation, the new wine skin… taking on substance, shape and form… and that through this inner transformation, the new wine of Conscious Love will breakthrough… pouring out this new wine… in service to the greater good of the whole… a Oneing With the true nature of Divine Love… unfolding, evolving and emerging from within the collective heart, mind and soul of humanity. This is why, like the 0 card in the Tarot… we have taken this soul journey… as the Fool, for Christ… whom is the embodiment of this Cosmic Conscious Love… which we are a part of.

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      I like your reference to Wine and Wineskins. The process of replacing one wine skin with another is painful. It requires disposing of wine gone rancid because of its container. We live in a time of replacement. Hopefully
      we will enter a new age of the Common Good and dispose of the present age of Self Interest. Thanks Jeanette

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Another mystic of our times, the Franciscan Richard Rhor, speaks of this journey into nothingness and the silence herein as follows, which I’ve paraphrased.

    “Those who fall into the safety net of silence, of nothingness… find that it is not at all a fall into individualism… but rather it is a leap into communion, commonality and community… which we are here to become. We are on the fools journey, an Odysseus with Potentiality… and we know we have been preordained to make humanity more humane. Each one of us, is only one part of the reflection of the Great Mystery of God. Each one is essentially connected with one another. Each one, intricately interwoven within the pattern of the universe… all living cells within the webb of the Great mind, heart, soul and spirit of Conscious Love.”

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    Thank you so much for these essays on nothingness, Matthew. We who have benefited from democracy (or perceived democracy)–no matter how much we thought we cared about, mourned with, and worked for the people in this country who have always been disenfranchised)–we have maintained the belief that ultimately there was a modicum of justice here in the U.S.–that the system was mostly working. That fallacy has now been ripped from us by the current un-Supreme Court. For me, as a white woman–a woman who has spent her life since 1984 as a mother, a peace and justice and anti-war activist, an activist-playwright–I finally feel devastated. It’s about time. It’s about time that we white folk understand what indigenous people, black people, brown people, LGBTQ+ people, and other disenfranchised people have always known. And so, the dark night has hit us too. Thank you, Matthew, for framing our current time in history in a way we can understand and grow from.

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    Yes Matthew, our faith/hope/trust/prayer is that the personal and social darkness that we are all going through is a prelude to the healing, death, rebirth, and transformation personally and in society/humanity of the Divine Spark~Love~Presence in our inner/outer lives with one another, with Mother Earth and all Her creatures/abundance, with-in our spiritual multidimensions (including our spirit guides, saints, ancestors, and Angels), and with-in All our multiverse Living Loving Oneness co-Creation-Evolving Cosmos… our Beloved Cosmic Christ Consciousness….

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    Clarence Thomas speaks out on his passion about which he is unknowing. His usual silence is now broken but his unremarkable performance as a Justice doesn’t go unnoticed.

    The hawk sees a field mouse from great height but when we observe from the same height we are unable to see it because our eye structure is not capable of seeing the mouse or anything that small from such height. We might say that “we see nothing” but the mouse is still there.

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    I don’t believe this is a court nothing. I do believe that this global corporate elitists agenda is constructed to continue to divide and manufacture chaos. Think about the impacts on the working and poor class of human beings. Biopower (Foucault) agendas to maintain wealth, usurp land and Earth’s resources, and to disempower over half of the world’s mothers. Patriarchy isn’t a nothing.

    It’s not nothing. Look at what the wealth class has in common and the actions/values they embody to maintain their wealth.

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      Val Plett Reimer

      I have had the same questions and would love it if Matthew Fox might address why he uses the word “Nothingness” when talking about the supreme court. If we are to strive for “Nothingness & Letting Go” as a starting point to a recognition of our groundedness and thus growth, how is it that he also refers to the actions in the supreme court (evil actions toward women, toward LGBTQ community, toward Mother Earth…) using the same word, “Nothingness”?

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Anonymous, I too do not believe that this court is “literally” a nothing court. It is something–it is in my estimate evil in the sense that it is working towards taking away the rights of women and people of different sexual orientations in the areas of a woman’s right to choose what is done to her body, and the rights of same-sex people to love and marry like everyone else. And the reason that this court is opposed to these things is based purely on their religious beliefs, and according to our law, no laws are to be based on religion–that’s what separation of church and state is all about.

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    However you choose to define or discover the “true self,” it must include notions of being far away from the din of the maddening crowd, politics, legislators, lawmakers, technology, institutional religion, discursive thought, and commercial interests. Otherwise, the mystics and Merton wouldn’t have sought it there. Not sure why anyone would expect, or be disappointed, or even outraged when it fails to come from there. Being appointed to the Supreme Court entitles one to nothing but the top legal job in the nation, a fat salary, and a cushy job for life with lots of time off. Last I checked, lawyers were among the least trusted of the professions. By contrast, the kingdom of God, whether on earth, or as it is in heaven, is as far as east from west, almost totally countercultural from even the most “civilized” and “law-abiding” of societies. Human goodness, equality, and justice are as far removed from their divine counterparts as rhinestones are from diamonds. Their distinguishing differences are less differences in degree, than difference in kind. In differentiating same you’re not comparing apples to apples, or even apples to oranges. No, you’re comparing apples to stainless steel tools, if you get my drift. If you want to look for diamonds, don’t look in a scrap heap or a dollar store. Likewise, don’t look for the good, the true, just and beautiful where it’s almost never to be found.

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      Look within. The nothingness we came from and to which we will return has been manipulated by the magician whose tricks could turn the river Nile red as blood did but could not restore life to the pharaoh’s son nor any other Egyptian father. Yet, the Israelite families who lived in the daily nothingness of slavery were given hope through each day’s “unleavened bread” when they asked!

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    I wonder if we are called to sit with this teaching and see what we individually learn from it over time? I felt that I could not put into words my thoughts and reactions straightaway. It also seemed to early to reason – in any case “nothingness” challenges our rational thinking. So I am going to try to sit with what nothingness can teach me in silence.

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