The Mystic, the Best in Us, Tackles Despair, the Worst in Us

T. S. Eliot says this about the mystics: “Mystics are the only hope—or else despair.”  The mystic offers medicine for despair and confronts it–despair in oneself, despair as it wafts through a culture in a particular historical period. 

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch (1893). Wikimedia Commons.

There is a lot of despair in the air these days, in fact people are writing books, offering workshops, and making a good living selling and organizing despair.  There are gatherings (“churches”?) where people come together to talk about how they have given up on life and society and are giving in because humanity is doomed.

Despair is one reason for the rise of fascism, authoritarianism and conspiracy theories of our day.  Not only because social media platforms readily distribute despair, but because despair and giving up is easier than the kind of arduous inner journey of wisdom that Hildegard for example describes and paints for us in a recent DM.

The reality of climate change and the refusal of many adults to admit that reality understandably throws many young people into despair.

Despair builds on despair, and it is far easier to tear things down than to build things up or renew things damaged by neglect, distortion or outright denial. 

Greta Thunberg and journalist/author/ activist George Monbiot join in a call to action to protect, restore and fund #NaturalClimateSolutions. WWF International.

Aquinas warns that despair is the “most dangerous” of all sins—not the worst, that would be injustice.  But dangerous because when one is in despair one does not care about either self or others.

Medicine for despair that the mystics offer is the delight we undergo taking in the wonders and beauties and goodness of being in this vast two-trillion- galaxies-big-and-expanding universe.  Poet Rilke says simply, “existence is a miracle.” 

The Via Positiva recognizes the truth of Rilke’s observation.  “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy,” comments Rabbi Heschel.  To be invited to join this 13.8-billion-year journey of the universe and to wonder at it and learn about it and participate in it—all that is marvelous, all that is a miracle.

Julia Butterfly Hill describes the lessons she received while surviving a terrible storm as she lived in a 2000 year old redwood to save it from the chainsaws of a logging company. louangelola1

Existence is the ultimate gift, for without it we cannot enjoy or participate in any of the other gifts life offers. There is a lot more non-being than being in the universe.

The mystic has an eye for goodness and where it manifests itself.  The mystic is a hunter-gatherer after goodness.  The mystic is a lover attuned to goodness.


See Matthew Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality.

And Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 191-195, 343-346 (on despair).

And Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations.

Banner Image: Maurice Denis (1870-1943) “La Solitude du Christ” From “Beyond the Stars. The Mystical Landscape from Monet to Kandinsky – A Special Exhibition at the Musee D’Orsay” – Paris, May 2017. Photo by JRP on Flickr.


Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree with T. S. Eliot?  Do you find hope in praying the mystics?  And in exploring the mystic in yourself?  And the goodness and beauty in nature or creation?


Recommended Reading

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society

Visionary theologian and best-selling author Matthew Fox offers a new theology of evil that fundamentally changes the traditional perception of good and evil and points the way to a more enlightened treatment of ourselves, one another, and all of nature. In comparing the Eastern tradition of the 7 chakras to the Western tradition of the 7 capital sins, Fox allows us to think creatively about our capacity for personal and institutional evil and what we can do about them. 
“A scholarly masterpiece embodying a better vision and depth of perception far beyond the grasp of any one single science.  A breath-taking analysis.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, author of Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations

As Matthew Fox notes, when an aging Albert Einstein was asked if he had any regrets, he replied, “I wish I had read more of the mystics earlier in my life.” The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.
“Our world is in crisis, and we need road maps that can ground us in wisdom, inspire us to action, and help us gather our talents in service of compassion and justice.  This revolutionary book does just that.  Matthew Fox takes some of the most profound spiritual teachings of the West and translates them into practical daily mediations.  Study and practice these teachings.  Take what’s in this book and teach it to the youth because the new generation cannot afford to suffer the spirit and ethical illiteracy of the past.” — Adam Bucko, spiritual activist and co-founder of the Reciprocity Foundation for Homeless Youth.


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5 thoughts on “The Mystic, the Best in Us, Tackles Despair, the Worst in Us”

  1. Avatar

    Our ‘radical resilience’ builds as our ‘radical faith’ develops, deepens and intensifies with our obedient and humble devotion. We are not the answer, but we are part of the answer. Unbeknownst to us we are ‘all knowledge’ set within the Mystery. ‘Our will’ in Christ is strong, and not a meek will. No, we are strong and powerful in Christ.
    ‘Radical resilience’ lets us have a say when we look to chart our course. ‘Radical resilience’ takes us to places where we have never gone before. The path of ‘radical resilience’ has its own ‘bucket list’, but how fun, scary or transformative would it be if we knew of it in advance. ‘Radical resilience’ thrives and deepens in the dark night of the soul, so let’s go there.
    A ‘radial faith’ reveals and gives us ‘the roadmap’ in the moment, no matter how much we thought of it or how well prepared we think we are in advance. That is why a ‘radical faith’ hears, embraces and holds near and dear to the heart, ‘Do not worry. I will be with you until the end of time.’ And ‘so be it’ is our full and ‘radical acceptance’ of Jesus’ promise to us, as it is. ‘So be it’ knows that Jesus is always our trusting partner. ‘So be it’ becomes our ‘radical’ 24/7 acceptance, obedience and devotion to communion with our loving Partner. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    Yes, there seems to be a lot to despair about in our modern life — the suffering of many of our sisters and brothers around the world due to poverty, war, and injustices, and the destruction and suffering of our beautiful Sacred Mother Earth and Her living creatures with All of Us being at risk of extinction… It’s very challenging to maintain Faith and continue struggling each of us in our own way for Peace & Justice within ourselves and together… However, we are inspired in our Faith within ourselves and interpersonally by the examples of the Mystics and Peace/Justice Spiritual Warriors among Us —-Faith in Our Source~Creator’s Spirit of Divine Love~Wisdom~Truth~Strength~Healing~Transformation~Creativity~Joy~Beauty~Compassion ~Loving Diverse Oneness Always Present within and Flowing among Us and All our Spiritual Realms….

  3. Avatar
    Mary (Josie) Cuda

    Hi Matthew,
    I’m new to the Daily Meditations, though I did see the series you did with Brian Swimme and really enjoyed it. I read In The Beginning this week. I liked most of it, but I wish you had not used gender identifying words. The two suns could have been friends and instead of boys and girls, you could have used “children”. Just my two cents worth. Thank you for sharing your thoughts in this newsletter.

  4. Avatar

    I find hope in all those things. But as a pragmatist, I also find that hope can come out of a sense of perspective. In my old age, it seems more and more to me that we live in biblical times in that we meet the same kinds of injustices and cruelty that the psalms of lamentation and the book of Lamentation address. There are periods of history when people surely felt the world was ending. What is new is the 24/7 alarmist media that politicians use because they know that despair makes people afraid and more inclined to authoritarianism. But we can be ourselves–and teach others to be–the lovers attuned to goodness that you describe mystics to be.

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