Ecstasy, Drunkenness on the Universe, Idolatry on Earth

I was struck a few days ago when a scientist on television said that they were poring over the first pictures from the Webb telescope and were crying while examining them.

“NASA scientists claim Webb telescope images nearly moved them to tears.” NASA Space News.

I am glad scientists cry and cry tears of joy at their accomplishments and humanity’s accomplishments and the sharing of the universe’s wonders.

Surely humanity of late has had much to cry about—mass shootings of children, mass destruction and death in war in Ukraine to feed the ego of a wannabe tzar in the 21st century, unsupreme courts that seek to lord over all of us and who feel anointed to tell American women what they can and cannot do with their bodies, ignoring the wishes of the vast number of Americans who don’t want Roe to be expunged . 

And of course the Extinction thing otherwise known as climate change.  And the denial of climate change and the lifting up of fossil fuel oligarchs who have remade our legal system and political system to serve their corporate capitalist gods because they have the money to do so.  Fascism fashionable again and on the rise.  Idolatry on the run just as Thomas Merton predicted when he warned us that the combination of fundamentalist religion and empire building will grant us “the greatest orgy of idolatry the world has ever known.”

The history of nature from the Big Bang to the present day, shown graphically in a spiral with notable events annotated. Every billion years (Ga) is represented by 90 degrees of rotation of the spiral. Image by Pablo Carlos Budassi with the help of the evolutionary biology researcher Professor Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther, on Wikimedia Commons.

In the midst of our tears of sadness and moral outrage, there appears the Universe as we have never seen it before.  All 13.8 billion years of it.  Our history.  Our Story. Earth’s Story. Cosmogenesis—the universe birthing and at work.

How wonderful is that?  What difference can ecstasy make?

Thomas Aquinas takes one sentence by the psalmist—”They shall be drunk with the beauty of thy house,” and adds, “that is, the Universe.”

The psalmist invites us to ecstasy and inebriation on the beauty of God’s house. But Aquinas explains the origin of our spiritual intoxication with one word: the universe. Yes, the universe exists to get us drunk. The universe exists to make us joyful beyond measure.

Dance of Earth and Sky. Photo by Ameer Basheer on Unsplash

The universe does not just exist, it has brought us into existence. It invites us to inebriation. Rabbi Heschel declares that the universe “shocks us into amazement”—indeed, “the existence of the world is the most unlikely, the most unbelievable fact. . . . the existence of the universe is contrary to all reasonable expectations.”

Aquinas proposes that being drunk means our “desires will be filled beyond all measurement of merit. For intoxication is a kind of excess, as the Song of Songs says, ‘my beloved, you are drunk with love.’”

Love of the universe renders us drunk. Is that happening and is that good news?  JWST increases our drunkenness. Ecstasy is another term for being drunk, as Aquinas points out, for “those who are drunk are not inside of themselves but outside of themselves.”

Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 9-11.  

And Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 203-224.

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

Banner Image: This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Queries for Contemplation

Can you find yourself getting drunk on the universe?  What difference can that make on Earth?

Recommended Reading

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart

Matthew Fox’s comprehensive translation of Meister Eckhart’s sermons is a meeting of true prophets across centuries, resulting in a spirituality for the new millennium. The holiness of creation, the divine life in each person and the divine power of our creativity, our call to do justice and practice compassion–these are among Eckhart’s themes, brilliantly interpreted and explained for today’s reader.
“The most important book on mysticism in 500 years.”  — Madonna Kolbenschlag, author of Kissing Sleeping Beauty Goodbye.  

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19 thoughts on “Ecstasy, Drunkenness on the Universe, Idolatry on Earth”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    The Litany of Bad news which is ever before us:
    Mass shootings of children,
    Mass destruction and death in war in Ukraine,
    Unsupreme Courts that seek to lord over all of us and who feel anointed to tell American women what they can and cannot do with their bodies,
    The Extinction thing otherwise known as climate change,
    The lifting up of fossil fuel oligarchs who have remade our legal system and political system to serve their corporate capitalist gods because they have the money to do so.
    “Can you find yourself getting drunk on the universe?” I think I could if the litany wasn’t put in front of my face every day. There was a time when Judas was upset because the woman anointing Jesus’ feet could have sold the precious oil, and given the money to the poor. What did Jesus say? “The poor you have always.” And he also said we will always hear of “wars and rumors of wars,” and that people would betray each other, and their “unsupreme court” was even guilty of the death of Jesus himself. Is that what we need to dwell on? Or on the resurrection story and the hope that it brought. I want to pause without wallowing in the Litany of bad things and get drunk on the wonder of the universe. Too much time on the Via Negativa is not good for anyone–it makes one out of balance. The discoveries that the James Webb Space Telescope have sent us should cause us to pause and fill ourselves with the wonder of the Via Positiva, but trying to hold both the litany and the wonder in my head at the same time is like making love with a “Charlie Horse!” it ruins everything…

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    “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork . . . day after day it utters his speech, and night after night displays his knowledge” (Ps 19). Such has always been so in nature (natural revelation) and in his Word (special revelation), with or without the accelerating advancements of telescopic, microscopic, and photographic technology. As with the ancients, persons needn’t go beyond their own backyard and night sky to view, affirm, and enjoy same with the naked eye. And so, we take a momentary respite from the preoccupation with and theological reactivity to the deluge of dark (negativa) content in the daily DM’s of late to come up for a few welcome (positiva) breaths of fresh air, and praise to our Maker. All well and good. I’m with you . . . but not in the same degree. Truth to told, only those who have not been obtuse to seeing divinity in same will remain further awed by his handiwork before the welter of new scientific magnifications. And, like viewers in an art gallery nodding in collective agreement, will linger for a spell to discuss and revel in such visual beauty, even allowing themselves to get “drunk” on it. Such collective visual imbibing among the redeemed, like sharing a few social drinks, is indeed joyful. Yet at the same time, it’s also a collective reveling of the choir in its own music. Perfectly innocent in itself. But let’s not kid ourselves, those impervious to same may indeed be curious, even appreciative of the novel pics (natural revelation), yet remain unfazed by the Word (special revelation) and dense to a salvific knowledge of the One responsible for it all. Point being, evidence for the wholesale resistance to spiritually seeing and realizing same is even more compelling, awesome, and convicting than the overwhelming evidence that speaks to the likelihood of its ever becoming realized in most human souls. “If they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, neither shall they believe if one rise again from the dead” (Lk. 16:31). Like fine art, or for that matter, Scripture itself (special revelation), the majority will have no idea that such alluring beauty and magnificence stand in judgement of them, not the reverse. To wit, even the Nazis “appreciated” the sheer volume of fine art and items of antiquity they acquired — stolen during WWII, clueless as to its sacred value and significance. Ditto those who “steal” a glance of the hem of God’s tunic on magnified display in the heavens, at his written Word, and in backyards or on streetcorners everywhere, with little desire to look beyond or beneath the veneer of what they see, meant to be a transparency to a regenerative miracle to something beyond itself. The primary magnification God looks for is that presence and enlargement of himself fully realized, not in the reflections of himself in the created order, or in human technology, but in awakened human hearts (love) and minds (enlightenment). Short of that, his glories and displays in creation, enjoyable at face value, are essentially meant to be a means to that end “so they have no excuse for not knowing” (Rm. 1:20). Something worthy of sober consideration while getting drunk on the visuals.

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      I agree with most of what you say, but would prefer not to give God any gender. God to me is she/he/they and beyond. Don’t mean to be picky. As Richard Rohr and others have said, Creation is the first Bible.

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    I call on poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning to express the above more simply. (Coleridge defined prose as “the right words in the right order,” and poetry as “the best words in the best order”). Said Browning, “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush aflame with God. But only he who sees takes off his shoes, the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” There are far and away more blackberry pluckers than those who reverently remove their shoes in holy awe before the unseen created wonders before them — in true, heartfelt spiritual seeing. Now that, I can drink to.

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    Matthew, I also have faith in the vision/ecstasy of the mystics throughout human history about the beauty and Loving Oneness of our ongoing co-Creation~Evolution of our multidimensional and multiverse Cosmos, Mother Earth, and our eternal souls… However, there are also many prophetic voices like yourself that are realistic about the collapse of our modern civilization, the
    destruction of our planet earth, and the possible eminent extinction of much of our human species… Michael Dowd is a prominent Christian minister and environmentalist who has a website ( where for the last three years he has interviewed about 85 prominent environmentalists, scientists, and spiritual leaders about the emotional and social consequences of the realistic ending of our modern Western civilization and the destruction of our environment.
    This is a quote from the home page: “Those with a post-doom mind and heart haven’t given up. Empathy follows naturally in the wake of realizing what is underway and unstoppable… What shifts in perception, understanding, relating, and identity become possible when we walk through a post-doom doorway? How do priorities, life-ways, and outer-world involvements shift and clarify on the other side? And how can such changes call forth genuine equanimity, even joy?” Richard Rohr was the first interview I saw this morning and I’m looking forward to the interview with Joanna Macy, prominent environmentalist, and others.

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      Thank you for the reference. I will look forward to what Richard Rohr has to say. For me, in my old age, I have come to think that all that we are here on earth to do is bear each others’ burdens and walk each other home. The dangerous and toxic environment, political and physical, can bring us to have more compassion.

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    Mathew I was impressed with the Spiral Illustration showing the evolution of events since the Big Bang. I was also dismayed. This Volute leads the viewer
    to the evolution of the human species as if “we” are the purpose of this cosmic process and conjures images of the creation story in Genesis. A pity because it teaches a difunctional Story.
    It did expose the question: what happens outside of this volute? Does it suggest “ Nothing”? I concede that illustrations have limitations but they do teach. Michelangelo illustrated concepts of God, Heaven and Creation. These were teaching devices of a Church that wanted viewers to believe accordingly.
    We might consider more closely the messages behind what we view.

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    From wikipedia: “Greek mythology, Apollo and Dionysus are both sons of Zeus. Apollo, son of Leto, is the god of the sun, of rational thinking and order, and appeals to logic, prudence and purity and stands for reason. Dionysus, son of Semele, is the god of wine and dance, of irrationality and chaos, representing passion, emotions and instincts. The Ancient Greeks did not consider the two gods to be opposites or rivals, although they were often entwined by nature.” Both paths, if honestly followed may lead to the same experience of God.

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    Jeanette Metler

    The Great Mystery, has a special way of uttering sacred sound… which creates patterns… a rhythm that synthesizes the all and the everything of creation. Each tone, a spectrum of light… swelling with song – all in tune with one another… all beautifully orchestrated and consecrated as something sacrosanct… supremely good… uncorrupted by the world in which we temporarily find ourselves living in.

    Memories of this ancient mysterious tune, hold a sacred place in our hearts… deeper than speech or scripture. The meaning of what is being sounded, we recognize… and we are intuitively inspired to emanate and express our sacred given tone… the Light of the Spirit of holiness within our souls… that unassailable original blessing of goodness… coming into resonance and harmony with the universal transcendent song of magnificent beauty.

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    Jeanette Metler

    I was reading about some of the lessons that the scientists are learning for the James Webb telescope on Big Think today. The Universe is teaching us more than we thought… offering the intonation of wisdom… when intuited in a mystical kind of way. Two things struck me profoundly.

    First, galaxies within galactic groups and clusters evolve differently, than galaxies that are more isolated. Many of the properties of individual galaxies in isolation, are less successful at modifying their behavior of rotation in evolving, over cosmic time. Now, use your imagination and think about this in terms of humanity and community vs isolation, in the context of our souls unfolding, evolving emergence.

    Secondly, the scientists discovered that there is a thing called neutral matter, which is a major ingredient for star formation… in addition to dark and light matter. Once again, use your imagination and think about this in terms of human conscious perception… light, dark and neutral. Seems to me that a major ingredient to our own star formation is not attached to, nor judgmental or critical of either the dark or the light of reality… but rather is naturally nondualistic and neutrally accepting of both.

    A mystic listens to the intonation of the divine and sacred universe… intuiting imaginatively, how to big think!

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    As you say, these photos can give us perspective and also joy. If we drink in the glory and the beauty, we are enlarged in our hearts and souls. I suspect that every generation has faced the fear of extinction for various reasons–imagine what it must have been like for people during the plagues. For those caught in war, extinction of individuals and communities is imminent. The threat of nuclear power destroying everything and everybody in sight has hung over us since 1945. I do no mean to diminish our truly dire situation at this time, but I suspect we are not the first to feel so threatened.
    But what these awesome photos remind me of also is that lovely Navajo prayer about beauty being all around us :

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    I too am in awe of the wonder and mystery of God’s universe, and ‘drunk’ on the beauties of creation! We need to take care of it and remember the 3 ‘loves’ that we are commanded to do (love God, love our neighbours and love the world God created). But I do also recall some of the more ruthless parts of nature (nature ‘red in tooth and claw’ – animal predation and the competitive hunt for food). I remember seeing pictures of tiny baby turtles running for the sea whilst being chased by racer snakes, who caught some of them. I find that side of nature disturbing and wonder if it is nevertheless part of God’s creation? I hope not, because in fostering my desire for a close personal relationship with God, I find that I have to ignore that side of nature. Has anyone any ideas about this?

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