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Center for Action and Contemplation

Irreplaceable “Thisness”

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Thisness

Irreplaceable “Thisness”
Sunday, March 18, 2018

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying what I do is me: for that I came.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins [1]

Franciscan philosopher-theologian Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) taught extensively on the absolute uniqueness of each act of creation. His doctrine of haecceity is derived from haec, the Latin word for “this.” Duns Scotus said the absolute freedom of God allows God to create, or not to create, each creature. Its existence means God has positively chosen to create that creature, precisely as it is.

Each creature is thus not merely one member of a genus and species, but a unique aspect of the infinite Mystery of God. God is continuously choosing each created thing specifically to exist, moment by moment. This teaching alone made Duns Scotus a favorite of mystics and poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Merton, who both considered themselves “Scotists”—as do I. I studied this largely unknown genius for four years in college, which is why I quote him so often.

Duns Scotus taught that you cannot know something spiritually by saying it is a not-that, by negation or distinguishing it from something else. You can only know anything by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. Each individual act of creation is a once-in-eternity choice on God’s part. The direct implication of this truth is that love must precede all true knowledge, which was at the heart of all Franciscan-based philosophy.

In a word, this is contemplation: to look at reality with a primary gaze of love. Contemplation has been described as “a long, loving look at the Real.” [2] Nondual consciousness is learning how to be present to what is right in front of me, to the Now, exactly as it is, without splitting or dividing it, without judgment, analysis, or resistance. We must say yes before we offer any no!

In other words, our mind, heart, soul, and senses are open and receptive to the moment, just as it is. This allows us to say, “Just this,” and love things in themselves, as themselves, and by themselves, regardless of how they benefit or make demands on us. Is there any other way to truly love anything?

Spiritual knowledge is to know things subject to subject (I-Thou), whereas rational knowing is to know things subject to object (I-it). There is, of course, a place for both; but most people have never been taught how to see in this deeper, nondual way, center to center and subject to subject—and that is the seeing that changes our lives.

References:
[1] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics: 1985), 51.

[2] William McNamara as quoted by Walter J. Burghardt, “Contemplation: A Long, Loving Look at the Real,” Church, No. 5 (Winter 1989), 14-17.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2017), 27, 30-31.

You can only know anything by meeting it in its precise and irreplaceable thisness and honoring it there. Each individual act of creation is a once-in-eternity choice on God’s part. —Richard Rohr
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