A Guide to the New Sensual Spirituality
Review by Steven B. Herrmann, Ph.D. MFT
For anyone who has been interested in the evolution of Matthew Fox’s views on Creation Spirituality and may have been wondering about the antecedents of his thoughts Whee! We Wee All The Way Home: A Guide to Sensual Prophetic Spirituality is a must read. One might initially be put off by the title as sounding somewhat puerile, yet as Fox explains in his autobiography Confessions, he chose the title from the well known nursery rhyme to serve a useful function: it kept the inquisitional minds off his trail for many years.
First published in 1976, Whee! begins with a look at C. G. Jung’s masterful overview of the 2,000 year transitional history in the evolution of the archetype of the Self, as seen through the astrological transition from the Age of Pisces, the fishes (which Matthew dates 1 A.D.-1997 A.D.). This era was dominated by the central figure of Christ but in a dualistic context (fishes swimming in opposite directions). The new Age of Aquarius we have recently entered into is meant to heal that basic dualism. Fox’s aim in writing such a simple handbook was to offer practical guidance to readers and to begin his personal search for a definition of a path to connote genuine renewal in the Age of Aquarius.
Taking Jung’s insights into the domain of theology, Fox distinguishes between what he calls natural and tactical ecstasies—differences between, for example, experiences in nature on the one hand and meditation techniques on the other to bring about altered states of consciousness. Here Fox is tapping into what I have termed the “shamanic archetype” in previous essays and books, for as Mircea Eliade cogently defined it: shamanism=technique of ecstasy. So the basic thrust of Whee! as I experience it is American as it sounds deeply into the tradition of American spirituality. It breaks through to the archetype and opens up new ground in the history of religious ideas. Following is a brief overview of Whee!’s contents.
In Part 1, Fox asserts the book’s central thesis: every person is a bearer of ecstasy and therefore of God. He means the New God-image that Jung calls the archetype of wholeness, or completeness, and therefore, his call for a sensual-spirituality includes by necessity the body, bisexuality, and the bierotic. Part 2 suggests that in the new Age of Aquarius one must make room for passing from a literal, ego or “I” consciousness to a symbolic “We” consciousness, i.e. that spirituality is not just personal but political in the sense of community-centered. Part 3 suggests that to set things right, politically and spiritually, we need to assert ourselves in relation to repressive institutions (or “dragons”).
This is a quick read, and one that it is filled with wisdom and compassion from some of the best passages in the Hebrew and Christian dispensations, yet, I would especially like to highlight the sequencing of several seed-notions we can see emerging as anticipatory kernels of Matthew’s mature thoughts, prior to his defining of what he is now famous for: the four paths of Creation Spirituality, seeded in his first two works on Meister Eckhart: an essay on Eckhart and the Four Paths in Western Spirituality and Breakthrough (now called Passion for Creation).
These seed-notions that anticipate the future growth of his spirituality in Whee! are: 1) “Ecstasy,” which anticipates his work at ICCS with Indigenous healers and more recently, his interest in North American shamanism; 2) “Spiritual democracy,” his prospective glimmer into what he would later call “deep ecumenism” in One River, Many Wells; and 3) “Prophetic re-incarnation,” which is, in my view, a prospective glimpse into what he would later outline for us in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ.
In Chapter 9, “God as a Panentheistic God and Ourselves in that Image” Fox gets to the heart of the book by asserting the God within each of us is a “truly democratic God… That is spiritual democracy… (Whee, 121). Note that this was written in the second centennial of these States, 1976! Fox actually names the God of Ecstasy that was also Walt Whitman’s God, transcendent of all cultures, and all religions of the world, a democratic God of spiritual democracy.
This, along with his use of the term “prophetic re-incarnation” reveals the seed-nature of his thoughts: his theological tendency to find useful metaphors during his quest for a language that can revolutionize and reform Christianity, and prospectively: foresee its developments. (I use the Jungian term “prospective” in outlining my sketch of Fox’s intellectual evolution because he does not so much predict, prophetically his path ahead, as to anticipate it; this is his intuition working).
Whee! may surprise readers who expect a Christian theologian to neglect the senses, but Fox actually liberates them by becoming far more Jewish than Augustinian in his celebrations of sublimation via Freud, Marcuse, and perhaps especially Normon O. Brown on the “resurrection of the body.” Fox reminds us that we are all bearers of ecstasies and therefore carriers of a New God-image in the Age of Aquarius; he highlights the obstacles (or dragons) we may meet along the way; and he does not neglect to mention the suffering such encounters may initiate whether through chance, necessity, destiny or Fate: Thus Fox succeeds in opening the doors to a compassionate spirituality that is alive and meaningful and ready to be enjoyed by anyone.