In recent DMs, we meditated on the rendering of nothingness that humans are capable of such as Hiroshima and climate change and the once Supreme Court.
There are many ways in which we taste Nothingness and we will consider some of them here:
Metaphysical nothingness of non-being or of our pre-existence.
Psychological nothingness of feeling oneself to be a nobody or forgotten or utterly ignored.
Political nothingness of being subjected to less than human circumstances by decisions of the powerful decision makers.
Being a woman in a patriarchal world.
Being a person of color in a world where white supremacy reigns.
Being a gay or trans person in a world of homophobia and heterosexism.
Being poor or homeless when possessions are the test of a human being.
Sometimes “Nothingness” names the darkness of the Via Negativa as the darkness of loss, grief and suffering, the darkness of the cross, the darkness of the dark night.
When Thomas Merton was sick in the hospital, he wrote from his hospital bed of “a flat impersonal song” and of “bleeding in a numbered bed/…all my veins run/with Christ and with the stars’ plasm.”
I have no more sweet home
I doubt the bed here and the road there
And WKLO I most abhor
My head is rotten with the town’s song.
He experiences within himself “man’s enormous want”—
Until the want itself is gone
Nameless bloodless and alone
The Cross comes and Eckhart’s scandal
The Holy Supper and the precise wrong.
And the accurate little spark
In emptiness in the jet stream
A lost spark in Eckhart’s Castle….
Only the spark is now true
Dancing in the empty room
All around overhead
While the frail body of Christ
Sweats in a technical bed
I am Christ’s lost cell
His childhood and desert age
His descent into hell….
And the spark without identity
Circles the empty ceiling.
It is significant that he invokes one of Eckhart’s favorite images, that of the spark of the soul where the Christ is born in all of us and where the Holy Spirit’s fire never goes out, to name what was left of him when he was stripped of so much in his hospital sojourn. Sister Lentfoehr calls this poem Merton’s “most poignant and anguished poem.” A return to nothingness where only the spark remains.*
*See Sister Therese Lentfoehr, Words and Silence: On the Poetry of Thomas Merton (NY: New Directions, 1979), pp. 68f.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 74f.
To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.
Banner Image: Art installation inspired by Métis artist Jaime Black, at Seaforth Peace Park, Vancouver, 10/3/16, National Day for Vigils for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Photo by Edna Winti, #REDressProject. Wikimedia Commons.
Queries for Contemplation
Which of the instances of Nothingness have you encountered personally or in society? How does Merton’s “most anguished poem” speak to you and your experience of the Via Negativa?
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