From Despair to Cosmic Beauty, Awe, Celebration & Gratitude  

Thomas Aquinas teaches that despair is the “most dangerous” of all sins.  It is not the worst—injustice is—but it is the most dangerous.  Why?  Because when a person or a society is in despair it does not care about itself and certainly not about others.  Despair kills compassion.

Despair on the streets. Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash.

Many politicians are preaching despair today and are not interested in governing but in power for power’s sake and in creating chaos to make room for authoritarian agendas. 

Aquinas warns that “the worst thing a person can do is to teach despair.”  He also alerts us to how evil people are afraid of goodness and afraid of good people.  “A tyrant is more afraid of good people than of evil people,” he observes.

Check it out.  Is he right?  Do tyrants and aspiring tyrants surround themselves with good people?  Or with evil people?  Listen to the language of tyrants and wannabe tyrants, how they describe others as “the other” and are busy calling others names that are derogatory, even dismissing others as “animals” or “venom”, etc.  Others as objects.

Wonders of the world: the 2008 trailer to the 1992 movie Baraka, a “kaleidoscopic compilation of natural events, life, human activities and technological phenomena shot in 24 countries on six continents over a 14-month period.” wocomoTRAVEL

The term “original blessing” celebrates both goodness (“blessing”) and “originality.” How many originals there are among us, original humans (no two humans are entirely the same after all) and originals among species.  Who could have invented an orangutang or elephant, parrot or whale?   Or a rainforest or bee or a wonder fest of flowers or…or…or…?   

Times of despair require an immense dose of the Via Positiva, an awakening and reawakening to the beauty of things, the beauty of existence, how God is “Beauty Itself” and the “Source of all beauty” as Aquinas puts it.

The new discoveries about the cosmos and new stories and pictures of our home, the universe, from Webb Telescope can rejuvenate our souls and move us beyond despair and sadness to wonder, joy and gratitude—which is after all the true meaning of religion.  

“Giving thanks.” Photo by Laela Sequoia on Unsplash

As Aquinas puts it, “religion is supreme thankfulness or gratitude.”  Or should be.

The name for the Christian liturgy after all is Eucharist which is the Greek word for “Thank You”. 

As Thomas Berry puts it “In the end the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration.  It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.”  

Indeed, both Berry and Teilhard de Chardin talk of the universe itself as a “Liturgy.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 41-44.

And Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings & Meditations, p. 365.

And Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp. 357-360.

And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Banner Image: An explosion of flowers. Photo by Hugo Kruip on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Is it your experience that the essence of authentic religion is Gratitude?  What follows from that?

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

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.

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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

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7 thoughts on “From Despair to Cosmic Beauty, Awe, Celebration & Gratitude  ”

  1. Avatar

    Separation from God mindedness and ‘indifference’ to the suffering of others is the most dangerous ‘sin’. Someone in ‘noticeable despair’ can at least be seen and helped by others. Despair seen in others, is no different (other than in amount and intensity) of the despair that we experience in ourselves. That, in and by itself, should invoke compassion and compassionate acts on our part for others’ well-being. Despair is a cause for ‘lament’, and that is our reaching out to a greater power, where we believe ourselves to be powerless.

    ‘Indifference’ to despair and the suffering of others and hiding our own despair is the great ‘sin’. We just don’t act or act appropriately if we are indifferent. Nor do we have cause to make ‘a difference’ when and where we can. — BB.

  2. Avatar

    This discussion on despair is timely for me and surprising in its calling out despair as being a sin! But I get it! And am already determined to take steps against indulging, possibly, in anything less that joy! Thank you!

  3. Avatar

    Yes! Grateful to Matthew and the DM Team for today’s beautiful DM that along with the movie “Baraka” (1992; have to see the stream version again), these DM thoughts are very true:

    “ Times of despair require an immense dose of the Via Positiva, an awakening and reawakening to the beauty of things, the beauty of existence, how God is “Beauty Itself” and the “Source of all beauty” as Aquinas puts it.”

    Divine Love~Wisdom~Creativity~Beauty~Compassion~Diverse Oneness… IS ALWAYS PRESENT within our unique human-Eternal SOULS and ongoing Co-Creation of Our Sacred Mother Earth, Our Sacred multidimensional-multiverse COSMOS, and All Her Spiritual Beings….

  4. Avatar

    Part of despair, though, is seeing beauty in the world, but not feeling a part of it, like “that has nothing to do with me. I’m just a miserable and defective sinner/loser”. So then religion steps in and shows me a way to realize I share in the wonders of the world. And that’s when I feel great gratitude for religion! It first reveals me as worthwhile, then I can appreciate beauty. Religion shows me a path to my true self when I am lost.
    Although as a child/teen, I spent more time in nature and felt happier than now, living in a city/’burb. I experienced nature then as the best place to be, the most worthwhile environment. In school I learned low self esteem, but after school, healed, by our yard at home. There is beauty and harmony and other things in nature that are inexpressible. So if nature and the cosmos aren’t considered a religion, they should be.

  5. Avatar

    This week, David and I drove to Texas to experience the eclipse. It took four days. Out of concern for the planet, we’d purchased an EV. This was our first long trip. Every 150 miles we stopped to recharge. Twice we spent 2 hours searching for a compatible station. Others failed to work. More than once, I was beyond frustration.

    This morning I caught up on a week of meditations. I watched Julia in the redwood tree and people addressing climate change. I think about the minor annoyances of driving an EV across country and my own weakness in the face of difficulty.

    We watched the eclipse from a roadside field southwest of Fort Worth outside a state park filled to capacity. A double-booked Airbnb and the grace of God got us to that perfect place.

    Before leaving we’d acknowledged the possibilities of rain, but David (a Buddhist) believes it’s the effort that matters. The journey regardless of result. Clouds ebbed and flowed as we set up our chairs, then shifted just as the eclipse occurred in a perfectly blue sky. I didn’t experience the thin space I expected. David did. Why? Along the journey I was not experiencing gratitude. So. Note to self: Whatever the situation, brim with gratitude.

  6. Avatar
    Martina Nicholson

    Living with bullies and fascists can teach us a lot about why it is easier for a tyrant to live with “evil” instead of “good”. Looking for a way to control or manipulate people because of their flaws, their weaknesses, is how they get the power. There is so much being written about narcissism, gaslighting, and ways of co-opting the victim. Looking at tyrants, they all seem to be narcissists. What is the difference between healthy self-esteem, self-care, and narcissism and self-indulgence? We constantly come up against the limits, as we try to figure out where the boundaries are, between ourselves and others, and how to find healthier interactions which respect those boundaries. I feel that the empathic people have very thin and flexible skin, and we too easily want to take care of the people who seem to be both at risk and causing trauma. As we grow in community, we do better in finding what healthy interdependence and love are about. I love that you said Teilhard called the universe “liturgy.”
    And also Thomas Berry! Recognizing the images from the Webb, and moving past despair, we can find the true and right connections to the universe around us, and also penetrating through us in all our atoms and molecules, and complicated physiological systems! It is possible to learn to focus not on being victims and flawed beings, but connected to the infinite source of love and beauty!

  7. Avatar

    The Catholic tradition has a special name for despair: “the Dark night of the Soul,” and they’re avid proponents of its “heroic, character-building nature,” (e.g., Saint John of the Cross). It’s praised as a virtue and celebrated as a “required” (thus, good and saintly) phase of any aspiring mystic-to-be. Centuries of Church tradition have reinforced the “virtues” of patient, martyr-worthy suffering, sometimes (too often) leading to negligence, indifference, and even a silent approval of the pain felt by victims, and despair in mentally ill sufferers, as being “good for their souls,”
    Hell is the ultimate manifestation of this “virtuous” cruelty and “God-ordained” despair, amplified and projected onto “others” and enshrined in Christianity.

    The Church took the sacred Mystical Teachings entrusted to it by Jesus and twisted them into a dualistic message that calcified and glorified the very sicknesses they were meant to heal.

    Jesus was a healer. A man who loved, empathized with, and cared deeply about people. He walked within Mystical non-duality (egalitarian, non-patriarchal, non-exclusive Awareness), trying to bring EVERY-one into that Loving, joyous Embrace of GODLOVE. That MYSTICAL LOVE IN ACTION is worship, in us, in God, in Christ.

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