Nothing

Today, I have nothing to write about. It has been my experience over the past six weeks that over the course of the weekend, a word or idea rises— in discussion, worship, or reading, and when I sit down to write on Monday, a message comes together. This weekend I expended some of my writing energy by composing letters to the president and Alaska’s congress people, urging them to support action on climate change in Paris in a couple of weeks.

As I was walking the dog this morning, wrapped in my warmest clothes (it is 17 degrees below zero), enjoying the low slant of the sun reflected off the snow-laden trees, I pondered “nothing.” During my years in Japan I learned the value of MU, which can be translated as “nothingness,” an important concept in Buddhism. Like the empty spaces in traditional Chinese and Japanese art, there is value in emptiness. For me, this means clearing space within where I can experience the Divine.

I first encountered the term “via negativa” in my reading for the School of the Spirit’s On Being a Spiritual Nurturer program.   What I took away from that (so to speak) was a way of talking about my experience of God. In apophatic theology, most clearly articulated by the Celtic philosopher Duns Scotus Erigena (810-877), God is known only by what God is not. Karen Armstrong writes, “In Erigena’s paradoxical theology, God is both Everything and Nothing; the two terms balance one another and are held in a creative tension to suggest the mystery which our word “God” can only symbolize.” [1]

As I write this today I picture myself as a younger adult sitting outdoors with my Dad in Cottonwood, Arizona (a much warmer place!), trying to figure out what he meant when he said, “As soon as you say something is, it is not.” He was a Baptist minister who thrived on the works of Meister Eckhart (another mystic) among others. He loved mind-bending statements. “God is no thing. God is isness,” he would say. My mother had no patience for this kind of talk; she thought Dad was losing his grip. I loved arguing with him, honing my own perspectives as I challenged his. It was a kind of Talmudic exercise. I loved it that he could fully accept my embracing the Quaker way, recognizing George Fox’s message as an example of via negativa, a mystical approach. He understood the paradox inherent in any theology and the danger in thinking we know who or what God is. He often had a difficult time, as George Fox did, in trying to convey this understanding to other Christians.

Now here I am writing a blog about nothing. He would have loved it.

 

[1] Karen Armstrong, A History of God: The 4,000 Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam (Random House, 1993).

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2 thoughts on “Nothing

  1. Sharon Baring

    Love it, Charley. It ties in with my conversation with Teri Vierick Saturday night about paradox – the true nature of things.

    Sent from my iPhone

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