“Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said,
“Here are my mother and my brothers.
For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father
is my brother, and sister, and mother.” – Matthew 12.49 – 50
Relationality. It is easy to divide the world up. It is more difficult to live from within our connected wholeness. I find that looking at the image of our beloved planet earth from space helps me to remember relationality – especially when those I am inhabiting earth, continent, country, city, home provide opportunities to react to their behavior or way of being. What keeps us separate is fear, mostly. And also the way fear kicks into high gear biochemically in our brains in a cascade of emotions that psychologists call “flooding.” When flooding occurs, it is nearly impossible to remember relationality or love. Our reptilian brains kick in and we often become angry, defensive and irrationally reactive. In this state, we forget the wisdom of Jesus and the invitation to see everyone as a sister/brother, co-member of the human family dwelling on the same sphere in space.
To help me remember this relationality and the mystery of reality, this summer I’ve been enjoying reading a new author I recently discovered in my study of Christian asceticism and apophatic theology. Her name is Katherine Keller and she is Professor of Constructive Theology at the Theological School of Drew University, New Jersey.
Keller’s book title is inspired by Nicholas of Cusa (1401 – 1464 CE), a Christian mystical theologian and astronomer who grew up along the Mosel River in Germany, just south of my own birth city of Traben-Trarbach. Cusa is the latinized version of Kues, which is today known as the enchanting village of Bernkastel-Kues. Here is the quotation that inspires the book’s theme. Cusa writes, “And the more that cloud of impossibility is recognized as obscure and impossible, the more truly the necessity shines forth.”
Commenting on this, Keller notes that Nicholas of Cusa “offered as a nickname for God: posse ipsum, possibility itself…Thus Cusa, speaking of the cloud, precipitates a fresh event of the speech that unspeaks itself, of what had been called negative or apophatic theology…Such a theology performs its negations for the sake of the most positive relations possible. This nonknowing is to its alternative knowing as im/possibility – the most impossible possible – is to its possibility…And what becomes possible, let alone knowable, except what comes into relation? Entangling us in whatever we do know and much of what we don’t know, the cloud of our relations – or is it a crowd? – seems to offer itself as the condition of our every possibility. We know nothing beyond our relations…So we hope here not for complete knowledge but for an incomplete ignorance. Such an ignorance does not close in on itself in defeat or exhaustion. It finds in the limits, ruptures, and fogbanks of consciousness new relations to – anything that matters.”
There is so much goodness and wisdom in this passage it’s hard to know where to begin. It certainly conveys hope amidst the difficulties and impossible situations we seem to be confronted with as a civilization and species. When I zoom into our cities around the earth, I see far too much pollution and poverty for it to be a healthy model of future well-being. So much of our progress and development is based upon the destruction and tearing apart of resources – whether that is trees or atoms or coal. The transformation of one resource for the sake of another is part of the process of life – and yet can we hear the wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi, who wrote the canticle of creation, a mystical hymn of the possibilities in awakening to our relationality:
O Most High, all-powerful, good Lord God,
to you belong praise, glory,
honour and all blessing.
Be praised, my Lord, for all your creation
and especially for our Brother Sun,
who brings us the day and the light;
he is strong and shines magnificently.
O Lord, we think of you when we look at him.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon,
and for the stars
which you have set shining and lovely
in the heavens.
Be praised, my Lord,
for our Brothers Wind and Air
and every kind of weather
by which you, Lord,
uphold life in all your creatures.
Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water,
who is very useful to us,
and humble and precious and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire,
through whom you give us light in the darkness:
he is bright and lively and strong.
Be praised, my Lord,
for Sister Earth, our Mother,
who nourishes us and sustains us,
fruits and vegetables of many kinds
and flowers of many colours.
Be praised, my Lord,
for those who forgive for love of you;
and for those
who bear sickness and weakness
in peace and patience
– you will grant them a crown.
Be praised, my Lord, for our Sister Death,
whom we must all face.
I praise and bless you, Lord,
and I give thanks to you,
and I will serve you in all humility.
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A Resource of ContemplativeChristians.com
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