The poet Rainer Maria Rilke underwent a very painful childhood.  He was locked in the attic by his mother for long periods of time and was sent to a military school even though he was a sensitive child. 

Visual interpretation of “I Am Much Too Alone in This World, Yet Not Alone” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Video by illneas.

Yet he learned something of praise and pleasure from this journey with suffering.  The Via Negativa did not triumph one might say.

Says he about his vocation as a poet:

Oh, tell us poet, what do you do?
                                                         I praise.
But the deadly and the violent days,
how do you undergo them, take them in?
                                                         I praise.
But the namelessness—how do you raise
that, invoke the unnameable? 

With a grand piano on a floating platform in front of a glacier on the Arctic Ocean, Ludovico Einaudi performs an original piece “Elegy for the Arctic,” to call for its protection. Ludovico Einaudi via Greenpeace, 2016.

           I praise.
What right have you, through every phase,
in every mask, to remain true?
        I praise.
–and that both stillness and the wild affray
know you, like star and storm?
        Because I praise.*

For the very same reasons, Meister Eckhart can say that “Everything praises God.  Darkness, privations, defects, evil too praise God and bless God.”

*Translation by Denise Levertov in Denis Levertov, Light Up the Cave (NY: 1981), pp. 98f.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, pp. 144, 345.  

And Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckart, p. 56.

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

Banner Image: “Star Reflection.” Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

What do Rilke and Eckhart in this meditation teach you about praise and grief and how they travel together?

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13 thoughts on “Speaking of Praise, Rilke Again”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today, after telling us about the hardships of Rilke’s childhood, you share a poem where he sees only praises despite appearances. Notice these words: “… the deadly and the violent days / how do you undergo them, take them in? / I praise.” And even Meister Eckhart can say: “Everything praises God. Darkness, privations, defects, evil too praise God and bless God.” “Rejoice ALWAYS, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thess. 5:16-18)–do you think they are saying the same thing in different ways ??? You ask us: “What do Rilke and Eckhart in this meditation teach you about praise and grief and how they travel together?” They don’t teach it here, but I know unless we have a change in our way of thinking (metanoia) we will never feel its right for them to travel together.

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    The great ones are those who discover that life flows from and flies between the wings of opposites (positiva and negativa), the result of their successful reconciliation and union. Positiva eternalizes, negativa personalizes. The greater their tension, the greater one’s potential for reconciliatory greatness. We are to be the bridge, the rope, the current between them that flows over the abyss of their extremes. As with Rilke, poetry is the current (consciousness) that flows between the eternal and prosaic, the Yes and No of life. An alchemical symbol, a whole (holy) person is solid yet liquid, matter yet spirit, cold yet fiery, toxic yet healing. Thus, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”, and likewise “gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Recall, the Latin word for priest (pontifex) means “bridge builder.”

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    There is a mysterious something, that is greater than ourselves, that draws us onward. This mysterious something we dimly glimpse, amidst all the paradoxal uncertanties… for it radiates with meaning. This mysterious something can steady us in stillness, during seasons of chaos, that tempt to fragment us into pieces. Throughout this transformational process, somehow mysteriously all the parts… the sorrows and the joys, the lamentations and the praise, the dark and the light, the negative and the positive, creatively come together into wholeness. Some call this GRACE. This is what I hear in today’s DM.

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    For me, Praise in the poem of Rilke can also be synonymous with Faith… Faith is a grace I’m thankful for that helps me in my sadness and grief process for the destruction of Mother Earth, All Her creatures and beautiful decreasing abundance, and the suffering and extinction of many species, possibly even our own… Contemplative faith allows me to continue my daily silent centering/meditative prayer and being thankful for each day of compassionate Presence and prayers for loved ones, all humanity, and sacred Mother Nature in God ‘s Spirit of Diverse Loving Oneness….

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    Just heart opening again and again. It’s as though the one soul, the soul of God, the Universe, Meister Eckhart, Rainer Maria Rilke, all are singing the one note of divine and sacred love. For how can it be anything other? Praise and grief, awe and deep sorrow. The beauty of Einaudi’s Elegy to nature and nature answering in ever increasing tears. What a need and a hunger we have for both….and always it starts with appreciation. Thank you.

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    How much richer and longer my life would be if I praised each moment for the treasures within it instead of not noticing the blessings of each moment and just walking through them as if there was no substance to each one.

  7. Matthew Fox

    I am moved both by Rilke’s ability to praise in the midst of so much suffering, as well as that absolutely exquisite and moving piece about saving the Arctic. Very, very powerful.

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    Many of the psalms of lamentation begin with grief and also end with praise and hope—wise people have always known that they go together. It takes the depth and breadth of honest experience to know that truth, to be able to accept the pain and integrate it—a lifelong process.

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    Seems the pianist amid crumbling glaciers was the “icon of the week,” out-picturing the bitter-sweet theme of the weekly DM and planetary life. Though the latter is slipping away, its sacredness merits being reflected upon, celebrated, and lamented for what might have been – a sad farewell to a life well-lived, while it lasts. So composed, this elegy is a pause between earth’s thriving life and accelerating death, reconciling each, mournfully reflecting upon same. It differs from a dirge or eulogy, usually composed upon the finality of death. Given recent DM themes, it too seems an elegy for other things — democracy as we’ve known it, insensitivity to indigenization, genocide, and the vaunted arc of history, which some argue bends toward justice. In reality, it bends in the direction humanity, as a whole, values and invests in.

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    Barbara McGurran

    I look forward every day to Matthew’s dm to be the best way to have a focus and meaning for my day. Both dm and comments have been a real help in the growth of my spiritual life.

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