Cataclysms and the Good Fruit They Bear

In the face of climate change and profound challenges to the survival of Mother Earth as we know her, and to the survival of democracy as we have known it, there is an observation from French playwright Antonin Artaud that seems fitting for our times.  He says: “It is good that from time to time cataclysms occur that compel us to return to nature, i.e., to rediscover life.”

Remembering what’s most important. Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash

We are not in short supply regarding cataclysms today.  There are plenty to go around, but the two that most stand out to me are 1) climate change or global warming and 2) the rise of authoritarianism and fascism eager to displace democracy.  Both are surely on the ballot in American elections next month.

Behind the rise of both are systemic lies and denial (a way of lying preferred by many politicians).  And megaphones, such as social and public media, committed to promulgating lies and the chaos that accompanies lies.

How is it that global warming and fascism “compel us to return to nature or rediscover life”?  I think it is because they compel us to go deeper into our own hearts and souls and that of our societies to ask deeper questions: What is lost if a demagogue takes over American politics and government and media? 

The Immanence of God. Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash.

What is lost when the seas rise and great cities around the world become inundated, and elsewhere fire storms rage due to droughts, and/or floods and hurricanes rampage through our neighborhoods? Are we being “compelled to return to nature and rediscover life?”  Might that make creation mystic-prophets of us all?

Often the mystics talk about God as “Life.” Aquinas says “God is the cause of all life” and “Divine life is per se alive, …supereminently alive… and ineffable.”

Howard Thurman tells us the “most wonderful fact of all” is that “life is alive!” Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, and Julian of Norwich all celebrate God as Life.

In my first book, written forty-five years ago, I defined prayer as a “radical response to life.” I still abide by that understanding of prayer. It has worked meaningful results in my own life and in many others that I have witnessed.

The “radical” or root or deep response to life is a Yes (this is called mysticism); or a No (this is called prophecy— or standing up to injustice). We are all mystics and prophets called to respond to Life deeply and along the way of deep living.  That is creation spirituality.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God;

Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, (originally On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American Style), pp. 49-76, 153-156; Matthew Fox, 

Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, p. 302.

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

Banner image: Wind tossed trees. Photo by JD Designs on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What do you derive from Antonin Artaud’s observation commented on here?  Do you see it relevant to today’s struggles?

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

Prayer: A Radical Response to Life
How do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? Fox defines prayer as a radical response to life that includes our “Yes” to life (mysticism) and our “No” to forces that combat life (prophecy). How do we define adult prayer? And how—if at all—do prayer and mysticism relate to the struggle for social and ecological justice? One of Matthew Fox’s earliest books, originally published under the title On Becoming a Musical, Mystical Bear: Spirituality American StylePrayer introduces a mystical/prophetic spirituality and a mature conception of how to pray. Called a “classic” when it first appeared, it lays out the difference between the creation spirituality tradition and the fall/redemption tradition that has so dominated Western theology since Augustine. A practical and theoretical book, it lays the groundwork for Fox’s later works.
“One of the finest books I have read on contemporary spirituality.” – Rabbi Sholom A. Singer

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14 thoughts on “Cataclysms and the Good Fruit They Bear”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Today you share that French playwright Antonin Artaud said: “It is good that from time to time cataclysms occur that compel us to return to nature, i.e., to rediscover life.” You say, “There are plenty of cataclysms to go around, but the two that most stand out to me are 1) climate change or global warming and 2) the rise of authoritarianism and fascism eager to displace democracy. Both are surely on the ballot in American elections next month.” And that is why I say it is so important to vote, and vote intelligently. If we do not vote, we are in effect saying that we are fine with the way things are going. You ask, “How is it that global warming and fascism ‘compel us to return to nature or rediscover life’?” I think it is because they compel us to go deeper into our own hearts and souls, and that of our societies, to ask deeper questions: ‘What is lost if a demagogue takes over American politics and government and media?'” Are we being “compelled to return to nature and rediscover life?” I sure hope so !!! And you tell us that you define prayer as a “radical response to life.” And you close with these powerful words: “We are all mystics and prophets called to respond to Life deeply and along the way of deep living. That is creation spirituality.”

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    Cataclysm is a cyclic spiraling movement of descent into the dark fertile ground of a life lived soulfully. Through this descending journey into chaos, the outer casing of hardened amouring begins to fall away, as death begins to unfold, making way for change and transformation to evolve, emerge and break open from within in the depths of our soul’s nature. We do not see, the yet to come, therefore we must sense intuitively our pathway through the darkness, reaching out, rooting ourselves in a surrendered trust to that which nurtures and sustains the slow progression of our gestation. Held in the womb of the Divine Mother, our heartbeat joins to her rhythmic pulsations, as She shares the wisdom of Her creativity. Awakened our souls converge, as we begin to mystically and prophetically dream a new dream, together as One. Choose not to be afraid and fearful, resisting and denying this cataclysmic, chaotic movement but rather let go of all that must be cast off, all that must die away. Choose to surrender in trust, that throughout this process of the collective dark night of the soul, that there is creative change and transformation unfolding, evolving and emerging within the depths of your true nature, coming into being.

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      What you just articulated define the images an artist friend of mine has been compelled to create. She called the swirls her Dance series, I saw them as the Coriolis effect. I will share your words with her. We all help one another connect the dots and bread crumbs to deep truth. Thank you, Jeanette for making the time to write out your thoughts.

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    The benefits of cataclysms are only bestowed on the living, not on those whose lives are lost to them. To the many species who have gone extinct, I apologize for calling nature wise.

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    I have also wondered recently about the deeper spiritual meaning of the existential cataclysm of climate/environmental catastrophe that our planet earth and humanity is going through. Spiritually sensitive people and teachers, light workers, aware of deeper spiritual dimensions, seem to be saying that Mother Earth and humanity are going through a time of deep spiritual
    transition and transformation that involves, like most cycles in Life, a process of death, suffering, and rebirth to New Life. As we’re open to this spiritual process with faith in our hearts through this painful, grieving process together, may our Creator’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~Truth~Strength~Peace~Justice~Healing~Compassion~Creativity~Oneness… give us His~Her Divine Love/Wisdom/Compassionate Strength in our hearts, with one another, and with-in Sacred Mother Nature/Creation so that our eternal souls continue evolving here on earth and within All of God’s spiritual realms on our Creator’s ongoing Creation/Evolution of Loving Diverse Oneness….
    ?❤️??

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    Question:

    If we truly believe that we are one with Creation, why do we call the transformational forces of Creation interesting when we are unaffected, and cataclysmic only when we, our loved ones and our interests are impacted?

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    In meditating on Artaud’s observation, what drew my attention was the phrase “return to nature.” It’s a common phrase that is used much these days, quite casually, and it usually brings to mind the idea that we are here and nature is there and we should go over there to get closer to nature. But this morning I heard it loudly as “return to our nature,” our natural state of being. And that natural state of being is not having excessive money and possessions. Cataclysms can and do violently shake us loose from our fixation on these things.

    Lately I have been particularly struck by the TV ads that seem jarringly out of touch still peddling luxury as the ultimate goal in life and showing every person living like a king. I looked up the definition of luxury: The state of great comfort and extravagant living. The selling of this dream of luxury has hypnotized us into a stupor. Luxury is not normal or necessary. Earth is being poisoned by pretending luxury is a necessity.

    The real luxury is Life. As Matthew says, “… to respond to Life deeply and along the way of deep living.” In that way of living there is great spiritual comfort. Discovering the cosmic love in everything – that is extravagant living!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Claudia, You are very perceptive in your comments to day. You wrote: “Lately I have been particularly struck by the TV ads that seem jarringly out of touch still peddling luxury as the ultimate goal in life and showing every person living like a king. I looked up the definition of luxury: The state of great comfort and extravagant living. The selling of this dream of luxury has hypnotized us into a stupor.” This is Capitalism–American dream !!! And this is also advertising that is all about getting you to do things and buy things that they want you to do and buy. I don’t like it either, but this country was built on capitalism, and I doubt that it will change, given human nature–that seems to be all about selfishness…

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        Richard, don’t hold out too much hope of capitalism holding the population in an addictive state to materialism much longer. I believe we will see the youth of the world now, very enlightened to the truth of our misguided goals for comfort and what is considered an abundant prosperous life. What is true wealth the intangible, spiritual wealth, is speaking louder than ever in music, poetryeven I many movies, not to mention documentaries.
        Even the pope is calling attention to the health of our planet. Scientists as well are rising up and speaking the truth about what is killing life on mother earth.

  7. Cynthia Greb

    I have a friend in Alaska, a writer and wise woman named Chantelle Pence. She tells of a time a couple years ago when the ground shook and the buildings rocked. She said that when something like this happens, suddenly priorities become crystal clear. It is our families and those we love that matter most.

    Of course the same thing happened repeatedly during the 911 catastrophes. People, in the face of imminent death, called their loved ones to say, “I love you.”

    Having lived out West during several raging wildfires, I have a theory about a possible metaphysical reason for them. I think we, as a culture, have become too consumed with materialism. We work so that we can buy and accumulate ever more things. And when our life comes to a close, none of those things will have any meaning. What will matter most is what we have learned, what we have given, and how well we have loved.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Cynthia, Thank you for your comment. You write today, “I think we, as a culture, have become too consumed with materialism. We work so that we can buy and accumulate ever more things. And when our life comes to a close, none of those things will have any meaning.” What you say is true and becomes glaringly apparent when someone dies. Recently my step-mother and father died within just a few months of each other. My siblings and me had to go about cleaning out their house and garage, and they had sooo much stuff that we had to deal with getting rid of it. Now that they are dead, what good is it to them ??? Even when it meant so much to them during life. I guess that why all of the saints gave away what they had to the poor…

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    Crisis is always an opportunity either to grow or to regress. As Matthew points out, there is a pattern of life, death, and resurrection–or order, disorder, reorder. I agree with Claudia that to return to nature is to turn to our own nature, our true self, stripped of all the outer falsities and devotion to materialism or other isms. Disasters bring out the best–and the worst–in people, but most are driven by love and concern for others, and those who have lost all their possessions are forced to the most basic needs and the realization that only love really matters.

    Will this country rise to the occasion? As I have said before, we simply may not deserve democracy, if not enough come out to vote in overwhelming numbers so that even all the efforts to suppress voting and the accurate counting of votes cannot succeed. We shall soon know.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, You write today, “As I have said before, we simply may not deserve democracy, if not enough come out to vote in overwhelming numbers so that even all the efforts to suppress voting and the accurate counting of votes cannot succeed.” I am glad you have said this again, and I hope that you keep on saying it. Because in our present situation it seems like the only way we can win our country back !!!

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