Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest
By Steven B. Herrmann, PhD, MFT
Fox speaks of his “story about the coming of age spirituality in the latter half of the twentieth century” (2) in the form of a “cultural autobiography” (3). In reading this book, one gets a sense that Fox is contextualizing his life-story in the “larger story of our coming of age” (3). In a Journal entry from Fox’s approach to his fifty-third year, he writes about his decision to become an Anglican priest in vocational terms; by narrowing the vocation-question down to how he might serve the younger generation, and young one’s to come, given his remaining “powers” (6), Fox says his becoming an Episcopalian was his answer to a call to assist young people to “reinvent forms of religion/spirituality” and “help creation spirituality come alive again” (12). By creation spirituality he means amongst other things, the fourfold path he discovered in his reading of our biblical tradition and the Christian mystics: 1) Via Positiva, delight, awe, wonder, revelry, 2) Via Negativa, darkness, silence, suffering, letting go, 3) Via Creativa, birthing, creativity, and 4) Via Transformativia, compassion, justice, healing, celebration (283). The early chapters of the book tell his story of coming of age.
While writing his first book Fox says he had a dream of a dancing, musical, mystical bear, and he later learned that worship of the bear is one of the oldest forms of worship in North America; the bear is said by indigenous peoples to have redemptive and healing powers. In reflecting on this dream, Fox thought: “What a perfect Christ-image for North American spirituality!” (93). But the story heats up after the writing of his book Original Blessing. The source of the controversy that eventually led to his bear-fight with the Vatican began with a talk he gave to “Dignity,” an organization of gay and lesbian lay Catholics in Seattle. Little did Fox know, in giving this talk, what the reverberations would be in Rome and how the rumblings from our current Pope would send shock waves to Chicago to California and eventually be felt in his life. Fox’s calling to penetrate the roots of the creation-spirituality tradition in America led him into a direct confrontation with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) spearheaded by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Complaints reached the inquisitional Cardinal in Rome from Seattle following Fox’s keynote address for the gay and lesbian Catholic group Dignity and it was not long after he set up shop at Holy Names in Oakland that Ratzinger began his condemnation of the central thesis of Original Blessing, and Fox’s treatment of homosexuality in that text aroused all of the Cardinal’s anxiety, as he complained to the Father General, it “is neither inspired by Scriptures, nor by the Doctrine of the Church” (168).
Part of Fox’s vocation as an Episcopal priest, has been to restore into creation spirituality the erotic mysticism that the Church has been lacking, including a warm embrace of feminism and homosexuality. For surely, a central part of the evolution of Western spirituality, Fox asserts, has been not only to make it more ecumenical, but to make final “peace” with our sexuality (237). This battle is part and parcel of America’s fight for spiritual democracy, as instanced by the poetry and prose of Whitman. Perhaps, because Ratzinger’s complaints to the Magisterium were not completely unfounded, as there is no evidence in Scripture for the divinity of homosexuality, Fox found himself in the middle of a quarrel within the Catholic Church itself that had no apparent solution in sight, short of a possible end of the tyranny of the Roman Catholic era, in preparation for a rebirth of something entirely new. Such an end does not appear to be in sight, and being a visionary by nature, Fox was far ahead of his times.
There is something, I believe, in his Bear-fight with the Vatican that is sure to please, or outrage readers, and it is this very involvement with issues that are in question today that can lift our spirits and deepen us down into a more feminine earth-based wisdom: Gaia as our Mother-wisdom. By moving us to listen to the ancient wisdom and voices of the Goddess (Godhead) and Native peoples of the earth (shamans and medicine people), we will hopefully open our ears to God’s cosmic music of the spheres, and learn how to dance together, before it is too late. Fox’s vision of the Bear and the Cosmic Christ instills hope in the future direction of religion. Only through the transformation of religion as we have known it, will a new birth in spirituality come about. Confessions gives me hope that spiritual democracy may indeed prove to be the way of the future.