Articles by Matthew Fox

Italian Newspaper Reviews Original Blessing

The following interview appeared in the Italian Newspaper, Corriere della Sera , on Feb 17, 2011, the day that Matthew Fox’s Original Blessing appeared in Italy in Italian.  It begins with a brief paragraph.  The Italian interview was shortened so here, for English-speaking readers, is the fuller interview (the bracket signs are for parts left out in the Italian version).  Photos included in the newspaper included Fox nailing 95 theses at the door in Wittenburg church.

“I Challenge the Church Like Luther”

Matthew Fox: Stop the obsession with sin: Rediscover St. Thomas

Not original sin, not fallen humanity, wounded and then redeemed by Jesus Christ.  But a panentheistic (in everything and in everybody), creative God.  Death as natural factor, part of the vital cycle and not a consequence of Adam’s sin.  The “original blessing” of the creation precedes the Redemption.

These are theses expressed in the book by Matthew Fox entitled precisely Original Blessing, that came out in American in 1983 and is now translated by Fazi in Italy with the title, “At the Beginning there was Joy.”  A text in which the Catholic and apostolic tradition is transformed in wisdom religious consciousness that is feminist, ecological, sensual with a strong vitalistic and new age vein.

You are strongly against St. Augustine.  Cardinal Ratzinger who had condemned you, is a follower of Augustine, and now is the Pope of the Catholic Church.  What was your reaction to his election? My reaction to Ratzinger's becoming Pope was to go to Wittenberg, Germany that year at Pentecost time and pound 95 theses at the door there as Luther had done.  This seemed especially appropriate because Ratzinger is of course the first German pope in hundreds of years but also to highlight the need for a profound reformation in the church of our day. I think my 95 theses point to appropriate directions we must move.  Events since his being made pope including the tsunami of revelations about priestly pedophilia and its cover-up at the Congregation of Doctrine of Faith which he headed indicate that my actions were justified.  [So also the continued shut-down of theological thinking and debate in the church and the backing of anti-intellectual and obedience-driven sects such as Legion of Christ and Opus Dei.]

The great English convert Chesterton says in an unpublished until now work written in 1910 that : “The good of the world, is the world like so God created it.” It seems very similar to your “original blessing.”  But Chesterton argued as well that the Catholic Church is the only “place where all the truths meet each other.” Do you agree or not?

Chesterton was indeed in many ways a celebrant of a theology of "original blessing" or goodness.  In his book on Thomas Aquinas (which I read as a teen-ager and which influenced my desire to become a Dominican), [he says the basis of Aquinas' philosophy "is entirely the praise of Life, the praise of Being, the praise of God as the Creator of the world."]  And he talks about the "old Augustinian Puritanism" and pessimism that Aquinas fought so stoutly. As for Chesterton's ecclesiology, our knowledge of the world has grown since the early part of the twentieth century when Chesterton wrote, we are learning what the Second Vatican Council taught: That the Holy Spirit works through all traditions and all cultures.  And the institutional church is "semper reformanda"--always need to be reformed and today more than ever.   [There is, unfortunately, an ever-growing gap between the "kingdom of God" that Jesus preached and the church institution as it now operates.]  Chesterton wrote about evil that occurs both in the church and in the world.

The “Credo” was established  under the Emperor  Constatine in 325 A.C..  And there was written: Ὁμολογοῦμεν ἓν βάπτισμα εἰς ἄφεσιν ἁμαρτιῶν. Id est: Profiteor unum  baptisma  in remissionem  peccatorum. It was established thirty years before St. Augustine was born…. Then, what’s to be done with your theory? This credo speaks of "the remission of sins" (plural)--not the remission of one sin (original sin).  Adult baptism cleanses people of past sins and welcomes them into a new life in Christ.  Infant baptism welcomes children into the community of faith and into the world and into a full life with Christ.  Contrary to Ratzinger's false characterization of my book, I do not deny original sin. I question what we mean by it.  The term "sin" is very problematic and the term [“original sin”] is nowhere to be found in Jewish (i.e, Jesus') consciousness.  It is not Biblical.  [I very much like Otto Rank's language of an "original wound" that we all are born into--that wound being the separation from mother that occurs at birth and whose bell is rung every time we experience other separations such as death or sickness or divorce, etc.  He says the only cure is the "unio mystica."

Today's scholars are also questioning the Nicene Creed and the Council called by the Emperor and how it often reflects the political/philosophical/religious battles of the Roman Empire of the fourth century more accurately than it does the teachings of Jesus and the early church as found in our Scriptures.]

Your book was written 5 years after JPII  was elected.  What do you think about Pope Wojtyla that is announced to be declared “Blessed”  on next May 1?  His point of view was not, positive, creative, blessing? As for being declared "blessed" on May 1, one has to question [what his papacy did to the whole tradition of canonization by removing the role of the devil's advocate and rushing through canonization of someone like] Fr Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, who was a violent man who abused women in his order and who admired Hitler and was rushed into canonization faster than any one in modern history  The entire canonization process has been tainted under JPII's reign.]

Some of JPII's writings are admirable but overall I believe history will show that his eradication of liberation theology and base communities throughout Latin America, his complete disregard for the courage and holiness of lay and clergy in Latin America, thousands of whom were tortured and murdered to defend the poor and proclaim Good News of Justice in a concrete way (the saintly Oscar Romero being just one such person), [his denunciations of theologians world-wide which has effectively shut down theology and reduced it to blind obedience, his dumbing down therefore of the church,] his appointment of right-wing extreme hierarchy (often opus dei), his refusal to honor the principle of collegiality established in Vatican II, his support of Fr Maciel and Legion of Christ even after revelations about his pedophilia ways were made public, his put-down of women, his refusal to even consider married clergy or women clergy even when the sacraments are being denied many people from shortage of clergy, his support of fanatical right wing "lay movements" that in fact are not lay led at all such as Communion and Liberation and Opus Dei and Legion of Christ, his deeply homophobic denunciations, [his killing of vital liturgical experiences such as in Holland and in Brazil,] his bringing back the inquisition contrary to the teachings and spirit of Vatican II—[all this history will not admire.]

You left Dominican Order in 1993, during GPII papacy: Didn’t  you realize  the great renewal of the Church in such period, testified by the crowds that followed the Pope’s world pilgrimage? I did not leave the Dominican Order.  I was expelled.  I fought for 12 years to stay and I had the support of many Dominicans especially in Holland. [The Vatican received over 10,000 letters of support for me from readers of my work around the world urging that I be allowed to stay in the Order.] [I do not believe that a cult of the papacy or large crowds necessarily speaks to a renewal of the church. Papalolotry is not a virtue. The Second Vatican Council was all about church renewal but most of the declarations of it have been denied under the papacy of JPII and Ratzinger.]  That is why many church thinkers today who know something about history believe that the present and past papacies are in schism.


A pope and his curia (no matter how many dozens are made cardinals and how many are made busy canonizing one another), does not trump a Council.  In the great schism of the 14th century in which three persons laid claim to the papacy, it took the Council of Constance to fire all three popes and elect a new one.  I think it is time for a post-Vatican Catholicism, a truly catholic Christianity. Jesus taught that leadership in his name was a leadership of love and service, not of power and dictatorship.  Maybe Vatican City has something to learn from Cairo about dethroning dictators and cleaning up a corrupt system that has wandered so far from Jesus' teachings.  I suspect Jesus himself would re-enact his turning over of money lenders in the temple [(basilica)] if he were to arrive on the current ecclesial scene.

[Diocese of Oakland – where you now lives - was at center of sex abuse of children in Catholic Church,  what’s your opinion about that? The diocese of Oakland was not at the center of priestly pedophilia in the United States.  That dubious honor belongs to the Boston diocese where Cardinal Law passed one pedophile priest who abused 150 boys from parish to parish.  The greatest scandal occurred when, about to be subpoened by the Attorney General, he fled to Rome where he now oversees the ancient Basilica of Maria Maggiore and where he works in numerous curial offices including that which appoints bishops around the world!  Many in Boston believe he should be in jail but of course in the Vatican he has friends in very high places who, among other things, appreciate his support of Communion and Liberation of which he was a champion in the United States.

As for the Oakland scandal, Bishop Cummins is to be commended insofar as when he found out about an abusive priest he wrote the CDF several times and he went to Rome to have him removed.  He did not, however, report the priest to the civil authorities.  Ratzinger and JPII refused to do so for six years during which he abused still more victims!  The priest eventually went to jail for six years and the diocese paid millions of dollars to five of his victims.  The Oakland story parallels many other stories worldwide that demonstrate that Ratzinger did not do his job but rather put the interests of the church institution ahead of defending youth from pedophile clergy.  Perhaps Ratzinger should have spent a little less time chasing down theologians a la Torquemada and a little more time chasing down pedophile clergy in his reign at CDF.]

[You had often written in your book of sexual pleasure as always a good thing, meanwhile the destructive charge of eros had been studied since Freud  as well as dialectic between eros and thanatos ….

I do not believe that anything humans do is "always a good thing" and indeed, "corruptio optimi est pessima.(corruption of the best is the worst.)"  What I do say is that too much manichean and platonically-based theology (Augustine is a good example) only moralize about sexuality and does not celebrate the divine theophany or mystical experience that sexuality can be and often is for people (cf. the "Song of Songs" in the Bible).  I celebrate the mysticism of sexuality but also the responsibility that goes with it.  Sexuality has both a mystical and a moral dimension to it and Western religion too often ignores the former.  Benedictine monk Fr Bede Griffith, who lived in India for over 50 years, put it this way: "Everything is sacred...we have lost that awareness...There is this sacramentality of the universe.  The whole creation is pervaded by God."

Of course another issue regarding sexuality is gender justice.  Sexism is a sin.  In his condemning my work, Ratzinger's first objections were 1) I call God "Mother" (yet the Bible and most medieval mystics called God "Mother") and 2) I am a feminist theologian.  Yes, I am.  Women's wisdom and women's rights and the respect for the Divine Feminine is absolutely essential for our survival as a species.  Patriarchy is unfair to women, men and the Earth herself.  It is the source of so much destruction on the planet.  To forbid the balance of the masculine and feminine in God-talk, as Ratzinger and JPII have done, is to invite degradation of women.]

At the end of his life, St Thomas Aquinas is told to have said: All I’ve written is straw.” You are a best selling writer. Do you endorse what he said? As an avid reader of Thomas Aquinas, I am glad that his works were preserved and did not go the way of straw.  [In my major book on his spirituality, "Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality," I was moved when I translated his many works that were never before put into English, French or German such as his first and most mystical work, his Commentary on Denys the Areapogyte as well as many of his Biblical works.  I find so much there that is moving and relevant to today's debates.]

Aquinas' mystical experience in which he saw all his work "as straw" in comparison to the light of God is a profound experience that we all should meditate on.  All our best efforts whether in our work worlds or our family lives or our citizenship seem as straw in the great scheme of history [and the unfolding of history.]  But that does not mean we are not here to work hard, play hard, and love generously.  It just means that we are mere instruments of a 13.7 billion year drama we call the universe [and that is so much bigger than us but that has invited each of us on board to participate as fully as we can.  We all have work to do--Aquinas surely did his to the utmost.  Spirit will make something of our straw-like efforts.  We have only to do our best.]

Today (Feb 17), a presentation in Rome.

The event is scheduled for this morning.  Date and time could not be more evocative.  Piazza Campo dei Fiori in Rome, just before the statue of Giordano Bruno, the monk who was burned alive at the stake of Catholic Inquisition on 17th February, 1600, that is exactly 411 years ago.  The publisher Elido Fazi and theologian Vito Mancuso will introduce a new series of books called “Campo dei Fiori” that promote spirituality as freedom, faith in life, critical skills, personal evaluation, love of beauty, communion with nature and with human beings.  The first volume that is coming to the bookshops is titled “In the Beginning was the Joy” (432 pages) by Matthew Fox, an Italian translation of Original Blessing which created a shock when it was published in 1983.

Global Warming, Global Warning: Time to put Original Blessing Before Original Sin

Global Warming, Global Warning: Time to put Original Blessing Before Original Sin Spring 2009

A time of global warming is a time of global warning.  It is time for humans to wake up and to grow up.  And our religions and governments along with us. The paradigm shift from Original Sin to Original Blessing offers profound implications for our struggles for a healthy earth and for eco-justice.  Allow me to articulate a few of those implications in this essay.

  1. First is the awareness—lost in great part during the ‘modern era’ which was so centered on the human agenda—that we humans are only a part of the great drama that creation is revealing itself to be.  (And has always so revealed itself but we shut our eyes to much of it and committed what Thomas Berry called “autism” in cutting ourselves off from nature during the modern era.)  The gift of creation, whether we are talking about clean and abundant water (the governor of California has just declared an official “drought” in the state where I live), healthy soil, vibrant forests, happy trees, abundant and thriving species of animals, fishes, insects (the bees are disappearing) and birds—all these are original blessings.  Like everything original and everything good (“blessing” is the theological word for “goodness”), they deserve not to be taken for granted.  Will we miss them only after they are gone?  Will polar bears matter and elephants, tigers and lions, only after they have gone extinct?  What can prevent their extinction from happening?  A sense of gratitude.  A sense of reverence.  All this comes from awe, from an awesome encounter with the beauty of nature’s diverse giftedness.  An awakening to the original blessing that all creation has been and continues to be to all of us.

Not only has creation blessed us abundantly with its beauty and diversity and necessary constituents such as healthy soil and seeds, rainfall and ozone, sunshine and clouds, trees and animals, but nature must be wondering where our gratitude lies.  Is our gratitude showing?  A perspective of original blessing awakens such gratitude and moves us to both defend the blessing that nature is and to not take it for granted.

In mystical traditions both East and West, nature is presented to us as the incarnation of the divine.  The word “incarnation” means to take on flesh.  The Divine takes on flesh in the orange, in the rainforest, in the tiger, in the wheat, in the human also.  In the East they might talk of the “Buddha nature” in all beings and in the West we might talk of the “Christ in all things” or Wisdom in all things.  The name is not what counts.  What counts is the immediate experience we have of the divine in nature.  Mahatma Gandhi said: Gandhi: “All embodied life is in reality an incarnation of God, but it is not usual to consider every living being an incarnation.”  It may not be usual but maybe it ought to be.

Most people experience the Divine through deep experiences in nature.  Most people are nature mystics.  Nature of course includes human nature.  What humans give birth to in art and poetry, music and ritual, books and children, love making and healing, architecture and insight—all this too is the “word made flesh” or Divinity incarnated.

Silly are those who complain that “this is worshipping nature and not God.”  Silly because such people presume God is outside of nature.  They deny the immanence of Divinity, set God outside the sky and above all of nature.  Above and beyond.  Perfect for one’s projections.  “Christ without creation is pure projections” warned the Dutch theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, a number of years ago.  Christ is in all things.  God is in all things.  Spirit blows through all things.  God is not only transcendent but also immanent.  God is the “one in whom we live, move and have our being” says the Book of Acts.  This is panentheism which means God in all things and all things in God.  Projecting God beyond and outside of nature is theism and theism gives birth to atheism and is a weak theology indeed.  The great fourteenth century mystic Meister Eckhart said that “only ignorant people” deny that God is in all things.

  1. If we understood all creation as original blessing instead of original sin life would be much more peaceful than it often is.  Less competition.  More at-home-ness with what is. More gratitude.  More joy.  Less greed, less drivenness, less gobbling up of the earth’s resources.  Simpler living.  Just yesterday I was talking with a young man who told me he had wanted to take a vacation but did not have the money to travel.  So he decided to volunteer at a center for AIDS patients and to offer massage there which is his chosen profession.  So instead of spending money and fuel on vacation he is finding a kind of vacation and recreation by serving others and by offering his gifts for free to those who especially need them, the gift of touch.  He sees in these ill people the original blessing that we do not see if we avoid the places where they congregate or find ourselves in fast track lifestyles that prefer spending money to being-with, rushing around to being in touch with others, gossiping to listening, making money to practicing compassion, being served to service and serving.
  1. What grows and grows in the context of original blessing is a deeper and renewed sense of community.  How important is that?  The modern era left us estranged, lonely, cosmically alone in the universe.  Being taught as we were that the universe is a machine was another way of saying: “You are on your own.  Find your own meaning.  Find your own connections.  Inflate your ego.  It’s okay.  It’s the survival of the fittest.  Even the tiny atoms are waging war for space and do not inter connect.  Competition is all there is.”  The universe became a lonely place under this modern cosmology and the results were vast and sad in the human soul.  Violence, loneliness, ego-mania, all flourished.  And there was no where to pour out our grief at all we were losing so from this bottled up grief our creativity became blocked and an inability to connect to the whole was rampant.

This is why community is so important in our time.  Because we have been cut off from it for so long.  But today’s science is the mirror opposite of the modern consciousness of individuality and rugged survival of the fittest.  Today’s science is rediscovering how our interdependence is the most foundational of our relationships.  My breath and yours interpenetrate thirty minutes after being in the same room.  Your breath and mine contain molecules from all over the planet.  Community already is.  We are breathing in one another’s water vapor after all.

What we need to do is to celebrate community anew and in forms that are elastic enough to allow for all the creativity that wants to express itself, all the creativity that is waiting to come alive.  A recent movement that calls itself the Creation Spirituality Community movement is trying to do just that: To honor the need for community today in forms that are elastic enough to welcome great diversity but focused enough to make sense and make a difference in one’s life.  This group is gathering July 31-August 3 at De Pauw University near Indianapolis and can be reached online at

A new and deeper sense of community will itself be an original blessing, it will inspire and support creativity in all its needed dimensions today—the remaking of economics, politics, religion, education, media, work itself—that are so needed if our species is to be sustainable.

Original sin and the many ideologies spawned by it (such as consumerism and advertising) creates great havoc in the human soul and in human community.  Original sin ideologies feed pessimism and self-doubt and often lead to self-hatred and despair and depression.  In the year 2004 American doctors wrote over 147 million prescriptions for anti-depressents.  Maybe original sin ideologies are contributing to such a wave of sadness and acedia (the capitol sin our medieval ancestors named “the lack of energy to begin new things”).  Acedia is despair, depression, apathy, couchpotatoitis.  It has sometimes been defined as ‘sloth.’  It is a spiritual sadness.  It is eating our culture up.  It is behind our compulsion to buy things and so many addictions, all of which easily take over one’s soul whether they be addictions to shopping , drinking, drugs, what have you.  Original sin ideologies set pessimism in motion.

Original blessing consciousness, on the other hand, sets creativity in motion.  It ignites  growth and curiosity, learning and wonder, possibility and creativity back into our souls.  The great psychologist Otto Rank observed that “pessimism comes from a repression of creativity.”  Original blessing theology is not pessimistic; it spawns hope.  It connects us to the deep down goodness in things and in all our relations and renders us awestruck just to be here, just to be part of the history and wonder of our universe, our amazing planet, our varied communities.  It drives one not to wallow in regret or victimhood but to rejoice, to sing, to thank, to praise.  And if we have praised deeply enough, then the warrior in us who is called to defend the earth and even to change our ways of living on the earth, can and will emerge.

Recently I was speaking of these things and of the need for masculine spirituality that awakens men and gets them acting deeply out of their deepest values and a middle aged man came up to me and said: “You are right. I am watching far too much television and sports on TV.  I am going to get my life back.”  Yes, we can get our lives back.  Biophilia—love of life—is offered to all of us.  Pessimism, anthropocentrism, and original sin ideologies not withstanding, we can move to original blessing and the world will be better for it.  And we will be better for it.  Compassion and justice flow from this renewed passion for living and gratitude for life. For it is natural to defend what one cherishes and a lover, one who has tasted original blessing, is deeply in love with life. That is what original blessing teaches: To love life at all costs and with all your passion. Interestingly, St Thomas Aquinas the great medieval theologian observed that the solution to acedia and its many brothers and sisters is falling in love.  For he said that zeal (which is the opposite of acedia) comes from an “intense experience of the beauty of things.”  That is original blessing—an intense experience of the beauty and gratuity of things.  This triggers our falling in love again--it is our medicine, the antidote to pessimism and despair.

The late Ernest Becker put is bluntly when he wrote: “Modern man’s meaninglessness is a problem of what to do with life, what to do with it beyond simply living it out in a completely fetishized way…. This is why modern man whines so pitifully with the burden of life—he has nothing ultimate to dedicate it to; nothing infinite to assume responsible for; nothing self-transcending to be truly courageous about.  He has only himself, his dazzling and diverting little consumer objects; his few closely huddled loved ones; his lifespan; his life-insurance his place in a merely biological and financial chain of things.”  (Awe pp. 24f).  Here surely we have an epitaph on the modern Western soul,  on what happens when a whole culture succumbs to the pessimism of an original sin ideology and strives to fill the hole in the soul with consumer goodies and fetishes.

All biblical scholars worthy of the name acknowledge that neither Jesus nor any Jew before Jesus ever heard of original sin.  Original sin is not a biblical concept.  It was first uttered as a term by the fourth century theologian, St. Augustine, who lived in a time of great pessimism and who did not understand the Jewish story of the Fall told in the Book of Genesis.  Jesus did understand original blessing however and all the gifts that have come from the hands and heart of the Creator.

Clearly an original blessing consciousness represents a whole new (and ancient) way to go, a direction not only of joy and promise and creativity, but of responsibility as well.  The earth as we know it is waiting to see if humans will respond to the challenge.  Whether we will stand up not only for our own survival but for the sustainability of the rest of creation as we know it.  We will not survive without all of creation surviving.  For all our relations are blessed and revelatory.  All our relations inspire us to community, compassion and beyond.  They are all original for we did not make them.  They were here long before we arrived on the scene.

The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times or How the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century

The Return of the Black Madonna: A Sign of Our Times orHow the Black Madonna Is Shaking Us Up for the Twenty-First Century

Rev. Matthew Fox, Ph.D © 2006 Matthew Fox

Every archetype has its seasons. They come and go according to the deepest, often unconscious, needs of the psyche both personal and collective. Today the Black Madonna is returning.[1] She is coming, not going, and she is calling us to something new (and very ancient as well). The last time the Black Madonna played a major role in western culture and psyche was the twelfth century renaissance, a renaissance that the great historian M.D. Chenu said was the “only renaissance that worked in the West.” [2] It worked because it was grass roots. And from this renaissance was birthed the University, the Cathedral, the city itself. She brought with her a resacralization of culture and a vision that awakened the young. In short, it was the last time the goddess entered western culture in a major way. In this essay I want to address what the Black Madonna archetype awakens in us and why she is so important for the twenty-first century. But before I do that, I want to tell a personal story of my first encounter with the Black Madonna. That encounter occurred in the Spring of 1968 when I was a student in Paris and took a brief trip—my first—to Chartres Cathedral located about thirty five miles from Paris. While all of Chartres was an amazing eye-opener for me, its sense of cosmology and humor and human dignity and inclusion of all of life, I stood before the statue of the black Madonna and was quite mesmerized. “What is this? Who is this?” I asked myself. A French woman came by and I quizzed her about it. The answer was as follows. “Oh, this is a statue that turned black over the years because of the number of candles burning around it,” she declared. I didn’t believe her. It made no sense. I looked carefully and saw no excessive candle power around the statue. The story is an old one, one of ignorance and of racism. Even the French, at their most central holy spot, have lost the meaning and the story of the Black Madonna. And racism has contributed to this neglect. The Black Madonna is found all over Europe—in Sicily, Spain, Switzerland, France, Poland, Chechoslavakia—as well as in Turkey and in Africa and in Asia as Tara in China and as Kali in India. She is also named by Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico. (Sometimes called the “brown Madonna.”) What is she about and why is interest returning in her today? An archetype by definition is not about just one thing. No metaphor, no symbol, is a literal mathematical formula. The Black Madonna meant different things in different historical periods and different cultural settings. What I want to explore is why she is re-emerging in our time and what powers she brings with her. Why do we need the Black Madonna today? I detect twelve gifts that the Black Madonna archetype brings to our time. They are more than gifts, they are challenges. She comes to shake us up which, as we shall see, is an ancient work of Isis, the Black Madonna.

1. The Black Madonna is Dark and calls us to the darkness.. Darkness is something we need to get used to again—the “Enlightenment” has deceived us into being afraid of the dark and distant from it. Light switches are illusory. They feed the notion that we can “master nature” (Descartes’ false promise) and overcome all darkness with a flick of our finger. Meister Eckhart observes that “the ground of the soul is dark.”[3] Thus to avoid the darkness is to live superficially, cut off from one’s ground, one’s depth. The Black Madonna invites us into the dark and therefore into our depths. This is what the mystics call the “inside” of things, the essence of things. This is where Divinity lies. It is where the true self lies. It is where illusions are broken apart and the truth lies. Andrew Harvey puts it this way: “The Black Madonna is the transcendent Kali-Mother, the black womb of light out of which all of the worlds are always arising and into which they fall, the presence behind all things, the darkness of love and the loving unknowing into which the child of the Mother goes when his or her illumination is perfect.” [4] She calls us to that darkness which is mystery itself. She encourages us to be at home there, in the presence of deep, black, unsolveable mystery. She is, in Harvey’s words, “the blackness of divine mystery, that mystery celebrated by the great Aphophatic mystics, such as Dionysisus Areopagite, who see the divine as forever unknowable, mysterious, beyond all our concepts, hidden from all our senses in a light so dazzling it registers on them as darkness.” [5] Eckhart calls God’s darkness a “superessential darkness, a mystery behind mystery, a mystery within mystery that no light has penetrated.”[6] To honor darkness is to honor the experience of people of color. [7] Its opposite is racism. The Black Madonna invites us to get over racial stereotypes and racial fears and projections and to go for the dark.

2. The Black Madonna calls us to cosmology, a sense of the whole of space and time. Because she is dark and leads us into the dark, the Black Madonna is also cosmic. She is the great cosmic Mother on whose lap all creation exists. The universe itself is embraced and mothered by her. She yanks us out of our anthropocentrism and back into a state of honoring all our relations. She ushers in an era of cosmology, of our relationship to the whole (“kosmos” means whole in Greek) instead of just parts, be they nation parts or ethnic parts or religious parts or private parts. She pulls us out of the Newtonian parts-based relation to self and the world—out of our tribalism—into a relationship to the whole again. Since we are indeed inheriting a new cosmology in our time, a new “Universe Story”, the timing of the Black Madonna’s return could not be more fortuituous. She brings a blessing of the new cosmology, a sense of the sacred, to the task of educating our species in a new universe story. [8]

3. The Black Madonna calls us down to honor our lower charkas. One of the most dangerous aspects of western culture is its constant flight upwards, its race to the upper charkas (Descartes: “truth is clear and distinct ideas”) and its flight from the lower charkas. The Black Madonna takes us down, down to the first charkas including our relationship to the whole (first chakra, as I have explained elsewhere is about picking up the vibrations for sounds from the whole cosmos), our sexuality (second chakra) and our anger and moral outrage (third chakra). European culture in the modern era especially has tried to flee from all these elements both in religion and in education. The Black Madonna will not tolerate such flights from the earth, flights from the depths. [9]

4. Because she honors the direction of down and the lower charkas that take us there, the Madonna honors the earth and represents ecology and environmental concerns. Mother Earth is named by her very presence. Mother Earth is dark and fecund and busy birthing. So is the Black Madonna. Andrew Harvey says: “The Black Madonna is also the Queen of Nature, the blesser and agent of all rich fertile transformations in external and inner nature, in the outside world and in the psyche.” [10] Mother Earth nurtures her children and feeds the world and the Black Madonna welcomes them home when they die. She recycles all things. The Black Madonna calls us to the environmental revolution, to seeing the world in terms of our interconnectedness with all things and not our standing off to master or rule over nature (as if we could even if we tried). She is an affront to efforts of capitalist exploitation of the resources of the earth including the exploitation of the indigenous peoples who have been longest on the earth interacting with her in the most nuanced of ways. The Black Madonna sees things in terms of the whole and therefore does not countenance the abuse, oppression or exploitation of the many for the sake of financial aggrandizement of the few. She has always stood for justice for the oppressed and lower classes (as distinct from the lawyer classes). She urges us to stand up to those powers that, if they had their way, would exploit her beauty for short term gain at the expense of the experience of beauty that future generations will be deprived of. She is a conservationist, one who conserves beauty and health and diversity. Furthermore, if Thomas Berry is correct that “ecology is functional cosmology,” then to be called to cosmology is to be called to its local expression of ecology. One cannot love the universe and not love the earth. And, vice versa, one cannot love the earth and ignore its temporal and spatial matrix, the universe.

5. The Black Madonna calls us to our depths, to living spiritually and radically on this planet and not superficially and unthinkingly and oblivious to the grace that has begotten us in so many ways. The depths to which we are called include the depths of awe, wonder and delight—joy itself is a depth experience we need to re-entertain in the name of the Black Madonna. She calls us to enter into the depths of our pain, suffering and shared grief—not to run from it or cover it up with a myriad of addictions ranging from shopping to drugs and alcohol and sport and superficial religion. She calls us to the depths of our creativity and to entertain the images that are born in and through us. And she calls us to the depths of transformation, of social, economic, gender, racial and eco justice and the struggle that must be maintained to carry on solidarity with the oppressed of any kind. She calls us to the depths of our psyche which, as Meister Eckhart says, are “dark” and to the depths of the earth, which are surely dark and to the depths of the sky that have also been rediscovered for all their darkness. Black holes abound in space as well as in the mysterious breadth of our souls. We need to explore them. They too are fecund. They have much to teach us.

6. The Black Madonna calls us to our Divinity which is also our Creativity. First, our Divinity. Because she is a goddess, the Black Madonna resides in all beings. She is the divine presence inside of creation. She calls us inside, into the “kingdom/queendom of God” where we can co-create with Divinity and feel the rush of Divinity’s holy breath or spirit. But to call us to Divinity is to call us to our responsibility to give birth. If Carl Jung is correct when he says that creativity comes “from the realm of the mothers” then the Black Madonna, who is surely a realm of the mothers, calls us to creativity. She expects nothing less from us than creativity. Hers is a call to create, a call to ignite the imagination. What but our collective imaginations can succeed in moving us beyond our energy dependence on fossil fuels to an era of self-sustaining energy based on solar and renewable, clean fuels? What but an education in creativity can reinvent learning so that the joy and wonder and enticement of learning displaces our failing and boring educational systems? What but moral imagination can move us beyond the growing divide between materially impoverished nations and materially sated but spiritually impoverished nations? The Black Madonna would usher in an era where more and more artists will get good work and thrive on good work and reawaken the human soul by way of moral and political imagination. [11]

7. The Black Madonna calls us to Diversity. There is no imagination without diversity—imagination is about inviting disparate elements into soul and culture so that new combinations can make love together and new beings can be birthed. Because the Black Madonna is black, she addresses the fundamental phobia around race and differences of color and culture that come with race and ethnic diversity. Meister Eckhart says: “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves.” [12] To give God the name “Black Madonna” is to honor blackness and all people of color and to get over an excessive whiteness of soul and culture. It is also to honor the feminine. Divinity is diverse. Diverse in color and diverse in traditions and diverse in gender. God as Mother, not just Father. God as Birther, not just Begetter. Gender diversity is honored by the Black Madonna and so too is gender preference. The Black Madonna, the Great Mother, is not homophobic. She welcomes the diversity of sexual preferences that are also part of creation, human and more than human. (We have now counted fifty four species of birds and mammals that have significant homosexual populations. The medieval notion that homosexuality is “against nature” has been disproven: A homosexual minority is very much part of nature.) John Boswell, in his ground-breaking scholarly work entitled Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality has demonstrated that the twelfth century, that century that birthed the great renaissance and the Black Madonna in France, rejected homophobia. For a period of 125 years—years that were the most creative years in western civilization—diversity was welcomed at all levels of society. [13] Creativity thrives on diversity.

8. The Black Madonna calls us to Grieve. The Black Madonna is the sorrowful mother, the mother who weeps tears for the suffering in the universe, the suffering in the world, the brokenness of our very vulnerable hearts. In the Christian tradition she holds the dying Christ in her lap but this Christ represents all beings—it is the cosmic Christ and not just the historical Jesus that she is embracing, for all beings suffer and the Black Madonna, the Great Mother, knows this and empathizes with us in our pain. She embraces us like a tender mother, for compassion is her special gift to the world. She invites us to enter into our grief and name it and be there to learn what suffering has to teach us. Creativity cannot happen, birthing cannot happen, unless the grieving heart is paid attention to. Only by passing through grief can creativity burst forth anew. Grieving is an emptying, it is making the womb open again for new birth to happen. A culture that would substitute addictions for grieving is a culture that has lost its soul and its womb. It will birth nothing but more pain and abuse and misuse of resources. It will be a place where waste reigns and where Divinity itself wastes away unused in the hearts and imaginations of the people. Andrew Harvey writes of how the Black Madonna provides “an immense force of protection, an immense alchemical power of transformation through both grief and joy, and an immense inspiration to compassionate service and action in the world.” She is also “queen of hell,” or “queen of the underworld,…that force of pure suffering mystical love that annihilates evil at its root and engenders the Christ-child in the ground of the soul even as the world burns.” [14] She holds both creative and destructive aspects within her. To grieve is to enter what John of the Cross in the sixteenth century called the “dark night of the soul.” We are instructed not to run from this dark night but to stay there to learn what darkness has to teach us. The Dark Madonna does not run from the darkness of spirit and soul that sometimes encompasses us. She invites us not to flee from pain and suffering. Mechtild of Magdeburg in the thirteenth century wrote of this darkness in the following manner: “There comes a time when both body and soul enter into such a vast darkness that one loses light and consciousness and knows nothing more of God’s intimacy. At such a time when the light in the lantern burns out the beauty of the lantern can no longer be seen. With longing and distress we are reminded of our nothingness….I am hunted, captured, bound, wounded so terribly that I can never be healed. God has wounded be close unto death.” [15] Mechtild does not run from the darkness but stays and learns. “God replied: ‘I wish always to be your physician, bringing healing anointment for all your wounds. If it is I who allow you to be wounded so badly, do you not believe that I will heal you most lovingly in the very same hour?” [16] What is it we learn in this darkness of soul and spirit? “From suffering I have learned this: That whoever is sore wounded by love will never be made whole unless he embrace the very same love which wounded her.” [17]

9.The Black Madonna calls us to Celebrate and to Dance. The Black Madonna, while she weeps tears for the world, as the sorrowful mother, does not wallow in her grief, does not stay there forever. Rather, she is a joyful mother, a mother happy to have being and to have shared it with so many other creatures. She expects joy in return. Celebration of life and its pleasures lie at the core of her reason for being. She expects us to take joy in her many pleasures, joy in her fruits. Sophia or Wisdom in the Scriptures sings to this element of pleasure and eros, deep and passionate love of life and all its gifts.

I have exhaled a perfume like cinnamon and acacia, I have breathed out a scent like choice myrrh…. Approach me, you who desire me, And take your fill of my fruits, For memories of me are sweeter than honey, Inheriting me is sweeter than the honeycomb. They who eat me will hunger for more, They who drink me will thirst for more. Whoever listens to me will never have to blush….(Eccl. 24.15, 19-22)

Celebration is part of compassion. As Meister Eckhart puts it: “What happens to another be it a joy or a sorrow happens to me.” Celebration is the exercise of our common joy. Praise is the noise that joy makes. Joy, praise and celebration are intrinsic to community and to the presence of the Black Madonna. She did not birth her Divine Child by whatever name in vain. She opts in favor of children, in favor of life, in favor of eros and in favor of biophilia. She is a lover of life par excellence. She expects us, her children, to be the same.

10. The Black Madonna calls us to our Divinity which is Compassion. Compassion is the best of which our species is capable. It is also the secret name for Divinity. There is no spiritual tradition East or West, North or South, that does not exist to instruct its people in how to be compassionate. “Maat” is the name for justice, harmony, balance and compassion among the African peoples. The Black Madonna calls us to Maat. To balance, harmony, justice and compassion. Grieving and Celebrating and Acting Justly are all parts of compassion. In both Arabic and Hebrew, the word for compassion comes from the word for “womb.” A Patriarchal period does not teach compassion, it ignores the womb-like energies of our world and our species. If it mentions compassion at all it trivializes it and renders it sissy. (For example, Webster’s dictionary declares that the idea that compassion is about a relationship among equals is “obsolete.”) Patriarchy neglects what Meister Eckhart knew and taught: “Compassion means justice.” [18] Compassion has a hard side, it is not about sentiment but about relationships of justice and interdependence. Because the Black Madonna is the goddess that dwells deeply and darkly within all beings, ourselves included, she brings with her our capacity for compassion. We are not whole—we are not ourselves—until we partake in the carrying on of compassion. Meister Eckhart taught that the name of the human soul properly is “Compassion” and that until we are engaged in compassion we do not yet have soul. [19] Compassion knows when enough is enough; compassion does not overindulge; compassion does not hoard and does not run its life on addictions of insecurity and pyramid-building to overcome these addictions. Compassion trusts life and the universe ultimately to provide what is necessary for our being. But compassion works hard as a co-creator with the universe to see that a balance and basic fairness is achieved among beings. Compassion is present in the Black Madonna in her very essence for “the first outburst of everything God (and Goddess) does is compassion.” (Eckhart) To return to compassion is to return to the Goddess. Cultural historian and feminist Henry Adams writes about the role of Mary at Chartres Cathedral in the twelfth century. “The convulsive hold which Mary to this day maintains over human imagination—as you can see at Lourdes—was due much less to her power of saving soul or body than to her sympathy with people who suffered under law—justly or unjustly, by accident or design, by decree of God or by guile of Devil.” [20] Adams understood Mary as the Buddhist element in Christianity for with her as with Buddha, compassion is the first of all the virtues. “To Kwannon the Compassionate One and to Mary the Mother of God, compassion included the idea of sorrowful contemplation.” [21] Only the Great Mother could provide the compassion needed by the sorrowful human condition.

The Mother alone was human, imperfect, and could love; she alone was Favour, Duality, Diversity. Under any conceivable form of religion, this duality must find embodiment somewhere, and the Middle Ages logically insisted that, as it could not be in the Trinity, either separately or together, it must be in the Mother. If the Trinity was in its essence Unity, the Mother alone could represent whatever was not Unity; whatever was irregular, exceptional, outlawed; and this was the whole human race.[22]

She was beyond the law, a friend of the outlaws who appealed to the masses who “longed for a power above law—or above the contorted mass of ignorance and absurdity bearing the name of law.”[23] This power had to be more than human. It required the goddess. The Black Madonna, the goddess, provides the womb of the universe as the cosmic lap where all creatures gather. An ancient hymn dedicated to Isis underscores her cosmic role as sovereign over all of nature and queen of all the gods and goddesses.

I am Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements, primordial child of time, sovereign of all things spiritual, queen of the dead, queen also of the immortals, the single manifestation of all gods and goddesses that are. My nod governs the shining heights of Heaven, the wholesome sea-breezes, the lamentable silences of the world below.[24]

How like a twelfth century poem to the Christian goddess Mary is this ancient hymn to Isis. Alan of Lille wrote the following poem about Nature in the twelfth century:

O child of God and Mother of things, Bond of the world, its firm-tied knot, Jewel set among things of earth, and mirror to all that passes away Morning star of our sphere; Peace, love, power, regimen and strength, Order, law, end, pathway, captain and source, Life, light, glory, beauty and shape, O Rule of our world! [25]

Interestingly, Alan of Lille speaks of the “Mother of things” as a “firm-tied knot” and the Thet which is an important symbol of Isis is also understood to be a knot.[26] We play in her cosmic lap, we bump up against one another there, and we work for balance, Maat, and justice there. The Black Madonna is the Throne of Compassion, the Divine lap. That is the meaning of the name “Isis” and Isis is the African goddess who gave us the Black Madonna both in Ephesus, Turkey and through Spain and Sicily directly into Western Europe. Indeed, certain passages of the Christian Gospels such as the birth narratives, which are clearly not historical but are stories of the Cosmic Christ, are passages taken from stories about Isis and her son, Horus. Sir Ernest A. Wallis Budge, the late keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities at the British Museum, writes:

The pictures and sculptures wherein she is represented in the act of suckling Horus formed the foundation for the Christian paintings of the Madonna and Child. Several of the incidents of the wanderings of the Virgin with the Child in Egypt as recorded in the Apochryphal Gospels reflect scenes in the life of Isis…and many of the attributes of Isis, the God-mother, the mother of Horus…are identical with those of Mary the Mother of Christ.[27]

11. The Black Madonna Calls us to a renaissance of culture, religion and the city. Isis often wears a regal headdress that symbolizes her name as meaning “throne” or “queen.” Erich Neumann has written about Isis as “Throne.”

As mother and earth woman, the Great Mother is the ‘throne’ pure and simple, and, characteristically, the woman’s motherliness resides not only in the womb but also in the seated woman’s broad expanse of thigh, her lap on which the newborn child sits enthroned. To be taken on the lap is, like being taken to the breast, a symbolic expression for adoption of the child, and also for the man, by the Feminine. It is no accident that the greatest Mother Goddess of the early cults was named Isis, the ‘seat,’ ‘the throne,’ the symbol of which she bears on her head; and the king who ‘takes possession’ of the earth, the Mother Goddess, does so by sitting on her in the literal sense of the word.[28]

The twelfth century renaissance was especially conscious of the role of “throne” and the goddess. In Latin the word for “throne” is “cathedra.” The medieval church gave birth to cathedrals—over 125 were built the size of Chartres—and every single one was dedicated to Mary with such titles as Notre Dame de Chartres, Notre Dame de Lyons, Notre Dame de Paris, etc. Over 375 other churches the size of these cathedrals were built dedicated to Mary also. In many of these cathedrals a statue to the Black Madonna can be found even to this day. A cathedral by definition meant the throne where the goddess sits ruling the universe with compassion and justice for the poor. Anthropocentrism, clericalism and sexism have co-opted the invention of cathedral to mean the “place where the bishop has his (usually his) throne.” This is false. The cathedral is designed to be the center of the city, it is bringing the goddess to the center of the city to bring the city alive with goddess energies and values. Cities were birthed in the twelfth century with the breakup of the land-based economy and religious and political system of the feudal era. The youth fled to the cities where religion reinvented itself apart from the monastic establishment that ruled for eight centuries and where education invented itself apart from the rural monastic educational system in the form of universities. Worship reinvented itself in the Cathedral in the city and apart from the monastic liturgical practice in the countryside. Today for the first time in human history more than 50% of humans are living in cities; By 2015, over two-thirds of humans—a great proportion of them young people—will be living in cities. The Black Madonna and the “throne as goddess” motif contribute to the resurrection of our cities. They give us a center, a cosmic center, a synthesis and unity and a life-energy by which we can redeem our cities and take them back from lifelessness and thanatos. Artists gather in a city. Celebration and ritual happen in a city. Nature and human nature congregate in a city. No wonder Meister Eckhart and other medieval mystics celebrated the human soul as city and the city as soul. It is the task of a renaissance to bring soul back to city. We might even define renaissance as a “rebirth of cities based on a spiritual initiative.”

12. The Black Madonna calls us to reinvent education and art. The goddess also ruled at the university—she was “Queen of the sciences” and “mistress of all the arts and sciences” who was “afraid of none of them, and did nothing, ever, to stunt any of them.”[29] All learning was to culminate in her. She was about wisdom not just knowledge. The renaissance that the Madonna represented was both religious and educational. Often the headdress of Isis depicts the full moon between curved horns and has the shape of the musical instrument that the Egyptians played in her honor called the sistrum. Plutarch stated that the purpose of the sistrum which is a kind of rattle was that “all things in existence need to be shaken, or rattled about…to be agitated when they grow drowsy and torpid.” [30] The Black Madonna shakes things up. Is this not an archetype for our times? Is she not a forebearer of a renaissance, one who comes to give new birth to a civilization, a birth based on a new sense of spirituality and cosmology and learning—a learning that reawakens us to our place in the universe? How will work in the world become wise as opposed to exploitive without wisdom? How will the human soul move from knowledge to wisdom without the kind of effort the goddess can bring? Without a balance of male/female, heart/head, body/spirit truly happening at all levels of education from childhood to professional degrees? How will a renaissance happen if education is left behind? What role will art play when the artist too lets go of the internalized oppression of the modern era and recommits himself/herself to serving the community and to serving the larger community of ecological sustainability? [31] These are some of the questions raised by the return of the Black Madonna in our time. They beg for response. They beg for listening ears and attentive institutions. They beg for self criticism of nation-states, governments, corporations, academia, religion, law, professions of all kinds which are called to something new (and very ancient): a new relationship between earth and humans. One of mutuality, not mastering. One of joy and wonder, not boredom. One that honors all our relations. For this to come about some rattling of our modern cages and mindsets is in order. The Black Madonna provides such a shake-up. Still. After all these centuries.


[1] See, for example, China Galland, Longing for Darkness: Tara and the Black Madonna (New York: Viking, 1990). [2] See M. D. Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1957), chapter one. [3] Matthew Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart (Santa Fe: Bear & Co., 1982), 42. [4] Andrew Harvey, The Return of the Mother (Berkeley, Frog, Ltd. 1995), 371. [5] Ibid. [6] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 43. [7] See Eulalio R. Baltazar, The Dark Center: A Process Theology of Blackness (New York: Paulist, 1973). [8] See Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992) and Brian Swimme, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996). [9] For a fuller development of the charkas see Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh (New York: Harmony, 1999), 94-116; 167-327. [10] Harvey, 371. [11] Cf. Suzi Gablik, The Reenchantment of Art (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991). [12] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 42. [13] John Boswell, Christianity, Tolerance and Homosexuality (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1980). [14] Harvey, The Return of the Mother, 372f. [15] Sue Woodruff, Meditations with Mechtild of Magdeburg (Sante Fe, Bear & Co., 1982), 60f., 64f. [16] Ibid., 68. [17] Ibid., 69. [18] Fox, Meditations with Meister Eckhart, 103. [19] Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 2000), 442. [20] R. P. Blackmur, Henry Adams (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980), 203. [21] Ibid. [22] Ibid., 204. [23] Ibid., 203. [24] Eloise McKinney-Johnson, “Egypt’s Isis: The Original Black Madonna” Journal of African Civilizations, April, 1984, 66. [25] Chenu, Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century, 19. [26] See McKinney-Johnson, 71. [27] Ibid., 67. [28] Ibid., 68. [29] Blackmur, Henry Adams, 206. [30] See McKinney-Johnson, 71. [31] See Gablik, The Reenchantment of Art.

Original Blessing Twenty Five Years Later

Original Blessing Twenty Five Year Later

Easter 2008

Matthew Fox

I am grateful to Matt Henry for his ambition and imagination in drawing together so many writers and thinkers for a celebration of twenty-five years of Original Blessing.  Because this project has been undertaken under a strict deadline, I have not read any of the essays contained herein—though I certainly look forward to reading them when the book appears.  What I write therefore is not in the context of what the authors gathered here have given birth to.  I do notice, however, that in my original Introduction, penned at Easter, 1983, I point out that each chapter or theme in this book is merely “an unfinished meditation that is only briefly sketched out” and invite the reader to develop the theology and the theme.  Thus, a challenge was laid out twenty-five years ago that Matt Henry has taken up along with each of his writers and artists in this volume.  Thank you, Matt, thank you fellow writers and artists.

As I look back on twenty-five years of this book and the experiences teaching and lecturing and writing and battling that have followed upon it a number of lessons arise and come to mind.  There is the lesson from my mentor, the late French Dominican pere Marie Dominic Chenu, who used to say: “I do not do theology from a comfortable armchair.”  (Chenu, who worked with the worker priest movement in France after WW II and became the grandfather of Liberation Theology as well as Creation Spirituality was silenced by Pope Pius XII and forbidden to publish for twelve years until he was himself liberated by the Second Vatican Council where he was the principal author of the document on “The Church in the Modern World.”  An activist and a theologian, he died at ninety-five the day Nelson Mandela was released from jail.)

I too and creation spirituality as a movement have not been doing theology from a comfortable armchair.  A theology of Original Blessing is a theology of action as much as of ideas.  Its ideas lead to action.  The Via Transformativa is about transformative action that grows from the actions that derive from Creativity (the Via Creativa) and which in turn derive from the levels of being and surrender and awe-filling and facing down injustice that derive from the Via Negativa and the Via Positiva.

I was reminded of the price one pays for living out the Four Paths recently when I was in Omaha, Nebraska to conduct workshops and also to be part of a Cosmic Mass that students of creation spirituality were sponsoring (and which was both well attended and well received).  A woman in her young forties approached me and told me this story: She had been enrolled in a master’s course in religion at Gonzaga University, a Jesuit college in Omaha, and she had cited my work in a footnote in a paper she did for class.  The paper was returned with a red pen x-ing out the entire page where there was a reference to my work.  A sentence said: “We do not cite this author in our religion department.”  The woman subsequently left the school.

I tell this story because it is recent and it is true.  The transformation of consciousness and ideology that an Original Blessing theology requires is still a fierce threat to powers that support the status quo in religion and society and education.  People do have to choose—and their institutions have to choose—whether to go with original sin and all that entails or with original blessing and all that encompasses.  There are those who have sat on the sidelines long enough, mouthing praise but never voting with their feet.  They are like those Dante warns will be in the lower realms of hell because they have not stood up in a time of crisis when choices were called for.  They are mere armchair theologians or armchair scientists comfortable with their privileges but unwilling to challenge religious or secular power structures.

Like Chenu, I am not just a theologian but also an activist.  My activism has been invested primarily in attempting to alter the forms of education and worship.  In education, by establishing ICCS with its right brain/left brain pedagogy at Mundelein College in Chicago (an eight year run), then on to Holy Names College in Oakland (a twelve year run) and then, when then Cardinal and Chief Inquisitor Ratzinger won his ten year battle against us and I was expelled, I established my own University of Creation Spirituality in downtown Oakland (where we had a superb nine year run before it was emasculated by a new president and effectively ended).  Twenty-nine years for an alternative educational institution for adult graduate students was a great blessing.  Many of our faculty and students, including Matt Henry and other writers here, are busy doing great work in the world bringing Original Blessing alive in many and various communities.  It was not easy financing and staffing and recruiting and teaching all those years—but it was a very great adventure and a deep joy.

The late activist and business woman of conscience, Anita Roddick, who appreciated and supported creation spirituality and many alternative movements, said she was an activist “because being an activist makes me feel alive.”  She defined activism this way: “Activism is being a voice for the voiceless, standing up for the weak and the frail, engaging the human spirit.  It’s putting your head above the parapet.  Being heard.  Being seen.  Being counted.”  This strikes me as a twenty-first century definition of justice and compassion.  The Via Transformativa come to life.  And to call it “feeling alive” is to call it one’s spirituality.  For spirituality is about living one’s life in fullness and in depth.

Part of my activism the past nine years and Via Creativa and Via Transformativa has been to bring the body, dance, post-modern language of vj’s, dj’s, rap, world music into western liturgy in what we call the “Cosmic Mass.”  We have celebrated over ninety of these Masses under the auspices of the Episcopal church and trained over a hundred students to do them in various part of North America.  I believe that a revival of ritual and worship is as important as a revival of education and learning if our species is to wake up to its potential and out of its denial and couchpotatoitis.  When the pope fired me as a Catholic priest I met young Anglicans form England who were bringing rave to liturgy with impressive results so I went to the Episcopal Bishop of San Francisco who welcomed me to carry on my work and to attempt a liturgical renewal.  I remain grateful to Bishop Swing.

Now my activism has led me to work with “Professor Pitt,” a gifted rapper and film maker from the inner city as together we attempt to bring to inner city youth lessons learned from the pedagogy of ICCS and UCS over 29 years with adults.  Our YELLAWE program, based on the philosophy of education I lay out in my recent book, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, is an effort to reinvent education from the inner city out and the bottom up.  We are doing this program in Oakland and other cities are approaching us for possible alliances as well.  The results are encouraging as we see youth regaining a sense of their own dignity and finding their voice as they drum, make rap and videos and theater based on the “ten C’s” which are my latest way to teach and tell about the creation spirituality tradition.  I believe the “ten C’s” are needed to balance the “3 R’s” of education:  They are: Cosmology, Contemplation (or meditation), Chaos, Creativity, Compassion, Community, Ceremony and Celebration, Critical Thinking, Courage, Character and Chakra Development.

Recently I was invited to speak on the Black Madonna and on YELLAWE at Morehouse College in Atlanta which is the alma mater of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr. and the occasion was the fortieth anniversary of his assassination.  Morehouse is also where Dr. Howard Thurman taught and where he and his wife, whom I was privileged to know in the last years of her life, are buried.  They are the ones who visited Gandhi in 1935 and brought back his non-violence strategy to America.

I was reminded of how, early in our sejour at Holy Names College in Oakland, we had invited a very prominent black pastor, Rev. Alfred Smith Senior to speak to our ICCS class and he began this way: He held up a copy of Original Blessing and he said: “Our people need this more than they need jobs.  Because what was ultimately taken away from us by slavery was the sense of our own dignity.”  I am struck by the bluntness and truthfulness of this observation: That, as I point out in the original Introduction to this book, empire builders (and slave masters) have an investment in original sin ideologies—and still do.  This explains more than any thing else the fierce opposition to this book by the Vatican and other purveyors of fundamentalism in our day.  A few years after visiting us, Rev. Smith was interviewed by BBC about my work and he told them: “Matt Fox is so ahead of the church that the church confused him with the enemy.”  There is a sense of political awareness in the black church that one finds refreshing.

As I pointed out in the Introduction twenty-five years ago, the search for wisdom requires a new alliance between religion and science.  Science after all is meant to be studying nature for the rest of us.  As I pointed out then the ecological crisis was a major moral issue of our time.  This is why a creation-centered spirituality and not a psychologically oriented (still more anthropomorphism) is so needed. Now, with global warming finally squeezing its way into the media along side the latest antics of the Paris Hiltons and sexual peccadilloes of our politicians, there might actually be some action that gets humans (including religious believers) into action on this, the number one moral issue of our time.  Though we who preach creation spirituality have been dismissed as “tree worshippers” and “pagans” (I take this as a compliment since a paganus is a peasant or rural person and the historical Jesus himself was a peasant) and heretics, the tide may be shifting.  Reality may finally be setting in and cutting through religious ideologies.

Amazing to tell, the Southern Baptists (sic) just produced a document entitled “A Southern Baptist Declaration of the Environment and Climate Change” in which they confess that they believe “our current denominational resolutions and engagement with these issues have often been too timid.  Our cautious response to these issues in the face of mounting evidence may be seen by the world as uncaring reckless and ill-informed.  We can do better.”  This was signed by the current president of the Conference and two former presidents among others.  In 1993 the Evangelical Environmental Network produced a document on “Evangelical Declaration of the Care of Creation.”  While still arousing opposition within these denominations, at least the word creation is back on the front pages of their theologies.

This past week the states of California (where I live) and Oregon have announced the suspension of all commercial salmon fishing.  The salmon are fished out.  Four countries from Egypt to Haiti and southeast Asia have had food riots this past week.  Food shortages are just beginning to make the news.  One is reminded of the warning from Hildegard of Bingen: If humans tamper with the “web of justice” that all creation is, God will allow creation to punish humanity.  A new word for “justice” has emerged in the past twenty years: Sustainability.  What is just is sustainable; what is unjust is not.  Injustice leads to chaos and insustainability.

At this time we are also experiencing a new awareness of cosmology and our amazing place in the universe.  Hubble Telescope and other technologies orbiting in space since this book was written assist us marvelously in seeing and understanding the wonders of our universe.  In The View from the Center of the Universe by astrophysicist Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams we are treated to a telling of the new creation story with metaphors and story but also to a search for the deeper meaning of this new story.  I am very grateful for their work and for their willingness and indeed eagerness to teach their findings to our inner city youth in the YELLAWE program.  I keep in my pocket a wonderful saying from the Native American tradition: “To be human one must make room in one’s heart for the wonders of the universe.”

Dialogs I have had with Rupert Sheldrake and with Ralph Abraham, one of the founders of chaos theory and author of Chaos, Gaia and Eros, have also helped me and others to explore in deeper richness the implications of a healthy via negativa and the mysteries of darkness and of disorder that we experience in our lives and in the creative richness of nature.  Professor Abraham has also volunteered to share his findings on chaos with our inner city teen agers and to great effect.

Recent Biblical scholarship has also been turning in the direction of a creation spirituality in so many instances.  It is striking, for example, that scholars like Markus Borg, Bruce Chilton and Dominic Crossan are rediscovering the wisdom origins and nature-centered spirituality of the historical Jesus.  In addition, Chilton and Crossan are coming to grips with the cosmic origins of the Christian story not unlike what I outline in this Original Blessing and reinforced in a subsequent book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ (published twenty years ago this year).

Christianity flies on two wings, that of the historical Jesus and that of the cosmic Christ.  By lumping the two together we have done a great disservice to both.  We have put Jesus up for sentimentalization and robbed the Christ dimension of its power and its universality restricting it only to Jesus.  This is especially so in a context that is strictly psychological and anthropocentric (“am I saved?”  “Will my ego live for ever after death?”).  Consider what these two authors say about Paul, who after all is the first writer in the Christian Scriptures and the first Christian theologian.  Says Chilton:  “No Christian thinker before or since has thought on so cosmic a scale, linking God’s Spirit to humanity’s and both to the transformation of the world.  The picture he conveyed of what it meant for even small groups of believers to meet together involved them in a literal reshaping of the universe…The range of Paul’s thinking was literally cosmic, and metacosmic, because the viscera of Christ, the mind of Christ, wove all things into the primordial whole that had been their source.”[1]

John Dominic Crossan underscores the role of mysticism in the earliest Christian teaching when he asks: “Does Paul think, therefore, that only mystics can be Christians or that all Christians must be mystics?  In a  word, yes….For Paul being “in Christ” [a phrase he uses 164 times in his letters] is not just metaphorical trope, but mystical identity.  It determines everything in his theology….That in is the beating heart of Paul’s theology, and everything else flows from it in life and in death.”[2] The historical Jesus is being recognized again for the nature mystic, the creation-centered mystic, that he was. First, because he lived in the “green” area of Palestine, Galilee, but also because he comes from the wisdom tradition (the feminist, creation-centered, cosmic and earth based tradition) of Israel.  The wisdom tradition is deeply imbued with the prophetic tradition of Israel—Wisdom is said to be a “friend of the prophets.”  She (and wisdom is always a “she” the world over including in the Bible) interferes with injustice and lack of compassion. Just as Jesus did.  The Christ of John’s Gospel is presented practically as the incarnation of Wisdom.  Wisdom speaks and acts through Jesus in the synoptic gospels as well.  The reader will note that from the first pages of Original Blessing Wisdom played a major role in creation theology more than twenty-five years ago.  I welcome the Biblical scholars back to that table that so nurtured the historical Jesus.  For wisdom theology is the creation spirituality of the Bible.

Deep Ecumenism lifts the veil on the Western church’s preoccupation and investment in original sin when it inherited the empire in the fourth century.  Eastern Orthodox Christians are not so invested and neither are Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or native peoples.  The late psychologist Otto Rank talked about “original wound” and I think that language is far more accurate and helpful than the convoluted theologies of original sin, a concept that the advertising mania of a consumer-driven economic system has, quite literally, cashed in on.[3]

A number of theological seminaries are closing in the West.  I do not see this as an unabated tragedy.  Academia including theological academia has been far too slow, lazy and busy protecting its privileges to apply activism to its own backyard. The pedagogical lessons learned from my twenty-nine years of teaching graduate programs in creation spirituality (and Original Blessing was the primer for those programs) have been for the most part ignored by mainstream seminary educators, lessons like the importance of the body, of art and creativity, of meditation both bodily and artistic, of awakening the mystical or right hemisphere of the brain, etc.  Why is it that we had over 400 students in our doctor of ministry program three years after opening the doors and a D Min program at GTU in Berkeley had 4 students in it after 15 years in business?  GTU never bothered to investigate.  Our students have gone on to accomplish such things as launching Engineers Without Borders which sends engineers to places like Haiti and the Amazon and Africa to assist in eco-conscious and solar generated irrigation systems, etc.  Others are involved now in launching creation-centered base communities.

One reason for the storm raised by my book is that it represents a deconstruction of religion and theology and with it a reconstruction as well.  This is seen as a threat to the status quo.  Which it is.  The book, by emphasizing creation again as integral to a faith journey, is calling for a Green Christianity and a reminder of how green the historical Jesus truly was.

It is not easy to propose a new paradigm for religion (even though we can prove intellectually that it was the original one).  Many factors go into people’s complacency or feeling threatened by the new that is really the ancient.  Not least of these factors is that personally and psychologically speaking, there is much in our upbringing that does not teach us we are blessings at all.  We wrestle with our own self-doubts and qualms about our worthiness often on a daily basis. But that is what the good news of original blessing is about.  That goodness precedes all failures and all imperfections and it comes not from our achievements but from our existence itself.  “Isness is God” as Meister Eckhart put it.  We are here.  By the great groaning of the universe in labor for fourteen billion years, we have arrived.  We don’t have to prove ourselves so much as be ourselves.  For deep down we all carry goodness, we all carry our original blessing.  Can religion teach these things once again?  Is religion up to it?  Or can we travel more lightly with spirituality alone? That is part of the human drama unfolding in our time.

Religion itself needs a heavy dose of activism, indeed a New Reformation as I wrote about in my book on that topic and which I made an effort to draw attention to by going to Wittenburg and pounding 95 contemporary theses of protest at the church door there.  One person has remarked how those 95 theses are themselves another summary of the creation spirituality tradition outlined in this book.

The scandal of opus dei bishops and canonization of their Hitler-admiring founder, the silencing of over 109 Catholic theologians by the present pope when he was employed as Chief Inquisitor, the support of pedophile priests including the founder of right-wing seminaries known as Father Marcel will not go away in the Catholic church.  And the scandal of Protestants turning the name of Jesus over to Fundamentalists preaching a crackpot Christianity wedded to a pursuit of an American Empire will not be erased by history’s judgments.  Where are the religious activists?  Who has the courage to apply the Via Transformativa to religion itself?  One waits.  And one must act.

For all these reason I welcome this celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of Original Blessing and I look forward to reading the essays contained herein and to continuing to entertain stories from people who tell me their “lives were changed” and “religion transformed” by reading this book.  And of course I want to ask as well: “And how has your activism profited from reading it?  What are you doing as a result of this theological shift to make a difference in the world we live in and that is suffering so much at this time?”

Until we meet again,

Matthew Fox

Oakland, California Easter 2008

[1] Bruce Chilton, Rabbi Paul: An Intellectual Biography (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 207, 249.

[2] John Dominic Crossan, Jonathan L. Reed,  In Search of Paul (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), 280, 278.

[3] You can see this understanding of “original wound” developed in my article on Otto Rank available on my website,

BP vs. Original Blessing

BP vs. Original Blessing June 2010

Every pelican we see in the Gulf coated with oil is an Original Blessing.

Every turtle we see drenched in gook is an Original Blessing.

All the shrimp beds and oyster hatcheries being poisoned by BP tar is an Original Blessing.

The sea itself, home to so many marvelous creatures large and small, is an Original Blessing.

“Blessing” is the theological word for “goodness.”  The sea and its creatures are very good, full of blessing, and they bless us with livelihoods, with food for our table, with delight for our children and the child in each of us as they conspicuously display their beauty and their skills of flying, swimming, diving, parenting, surviving.  We are surrounded by blessing and by goodness.  The fishermen know about the gratuitous blessing, i.e. grace, that healthy fisheries extend to them, assuring them their livelihood.

A tragedy like the BP oil spill is so radical an awakening about what we take for granted: The Original Blessing that nature so often extends to us.   Nature is a bountiful bestower of grace and we are capable of taking grace for granted.

No one can deny that it is human greed and human denial that has turned this blessing and this sea of grace into a scene of ugly destruction and wanton misery.

A theology of Original Blessing ceases the taking for granted of health and nature’s wealth and bountiful gifts to us.  Such a moment as this, tragic as it is, is a wake-up call to us all:

--About our life styles and our addiction to poisonous energy sources.

--About the need for clean energy, a need that can no longer be put off and delayed.

--About a government corrupted by corporate powers that have their way in making laws, deregulating overseers, and ignoring the health and wealth of nature in favor of the idolatrous version of wealth as their bottom line and their shareholders profits.

--About the takeover of governments by corporations.

All this has to change if Original Blessing is to shine.  Original Blessing is the doxa, the divine “glory” and numinosity and sheen that glistens in every creature.  It deserves to be preserved.  It is what we mean by the word “sacred.”  It is precious and great and not to be destroyed in our pursuit of false gods of power, wealth, cheap grace.  Indeed, it is our responsibility to see that it shines seven generations from now in all its beauty and healthy and earth-based wealth.

When Jesus said that what we do “to the least of my brethren you do to me” he was speaking profound wisdom that echoes in the hearts of all who witness this current tragedy.  Every creature we see coated with oil and gook and close to death, and those thousands we do not see because they are under the poisoned sea, is another Christ being crucified at the hands of the current empire of cold-hearted multi-national corporations that prefer profits to people including the finned people and the winged people as well as the two-legged ones out of work and out of luck.  The sacredness of the earth and her creatures ought not be compromised.  Original Blessing says it all.

Mel Gibson’s Passion and Fascism’s Piety of Pain

Many years ago, after finishing doctoral studies in Paris, I spent a semester at the University of Munster in Germany. While there I lived in a Dominican convent which housed about six other Dominicans, one of whom was old and very strange and never appeared during the day time at meals or for any other reason. He seemed only to go out at night. One day I was asked to go in his room to fetch a book and I was amazed to see the books on his bookshelf (including Mein Kampf). I was especially amazed by a “holy card” on his prie dieu (a place where one kneels to pray). This “holy card” was the most gory I had ever seen, with Jesus depicted as thoroughly bloodied, beaten, abused and victimized. I later learned that this Dominican priest with the gory holy card was a self-appointed “chaplain to the Nazi’s of Munster”.  The year was 1970. As I sat and watched Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” with its unrelenting emphasis on blood and gore I had a déjà vu experience as I vividly recalled this Dominican priest and his particular form of piety. Gibson set out his intentions for his film in an interview: “I want to push you over the edge, push you right over the edge, so you can stay there and hang out with and get to a higher plane… through the pain.” Piety as pain, pain as piety. This movie opens a door on fascist piety which is pain-driven.

The piety of fascism is inevitably a piety of pain and suffering (thus the complete fascination with redemption and total refusal to entertain grace and original blessing) and it manifests itself in full bloody form in this movie. Gibson is allegedly a member of Opus Dei, a secretive Catholic sect of wealthy men whose spirituality is deeply fascistic. Its founder, a Spanish priest named Escriva, whom the Pope rushed into canonization two years ago in record time, was a card carrying fascist who actually praised Adolph Hitler and who was also deeply sexist. Two of his Opus Dei members served on Franco’s cabinet. The present pope has taken this religious order under his wing (his own press secretary is a member of Opus Dei) and has appointed many Opus Dei bishops and cardinals (especially in Latin America after decimating the liberation theology and base communities there). They have constructed an $81 million edifice in Manhattan and are ensconced in the financial capitals of Europe, especially in Frankfurt, which is replacing Switzerland as the financial capital of Europe.

One Peruvian I met told about growing up in an Opus Dei household and how his father forbade him to be alone at any time with his mother and sisters. Thus as a boy he lived on the streets and never went home before 8pm, when his father would most likely be home from work. (Boys could not be alone in the house with females of any age—so much for sexual common sense.) In addition, the family prayed the rosary on their knees on upturned bottle caps and were expected to bleed. Piety of pain indeed. Not, alas, the pain of the world—the suffering of others that can be relieved by acts of compassion—but self-inflicted pain.

In many ways the film is a monument to sadomasochism. By emphasizing the worst eighteen hours of Jesus’ life and leaving most of his teachings out of the movie, Gibson makes Jesus a victim rather than a martyr while removing Jesus’ passion for justice and substituting the term “passion” to mean passive victim.

Our culture is deeply engaged in sadomasochism—understood here as the haves lording over the have-nots. How so? Let’s take contemporary capitalism and the world distribution of wealth and power as an example: In the 1960s, the overall income of the richest 20 percent of the world’s population was thirty times that of the poorest 20 percent. Today, it is 224 times larger! In the 1960s, the richest 20 percent held 70 percent of the world’s revenues; in 1999 it was 85 percent. Today the income of the richest 225 people in the world is equal to the income of 3 billion poor people. The income of the three richest people in the world is equal to the collective national incomes of the poorest forty-nine countries! It would take no more than 5 per cent of the overall annual sales of arms in the world to feed all the starving children, to protect them from dying of preventable diseases, and to make basic education accessible to all.

Yet Gibson’s Jesus shows none of the passion for justice that served as a corrective to the sadomasochistic tendencies of his own culture and times, and barely opens the door to issues of soul and society that could serve as correctives to our culture and times. Where is the compassion, human dignity, and love that lie at the very heart of Christ’s teachings? You don’t cure sadomasochism with more sadomasochism and by legitimizing it with religious sentiment.

Gibson’s rejection of Vatican II (which, among other things, apologized for the church’s long and sorry history of blaming Jesus’ death on the Jews and its primary role in fueling anti-Semitism over the centuries), gives one a sense of where his piety lies.  I lived for one year, unknowingly, in Paris with a family that was “integriste” or extreme right wing Catholics who like Gibson would only attend Mass in Latin and who like Gibson rejected Vatican II.  They said that “Vatican II was a Jewish and Freemason conspiracy.”  Thoroughly anti-Semite, they denied that Jesus was Jewish.

Gibson tells us that people who object to his movie are actually objecting to the Gospels, but in fact the movie owes much more to the medieval practice of the Stations of the Cross which is a practice of meditating on Jesus’ trial, his carrying of the cross to his crucifixion and a nineteenth century nun’s visions named Anne Catherine Emmerich than it does to the Gospels. It is in the Stations of the Cross practice that we are told Jesus fell three times; that Veronica wiped his face with a veil; etc.—all scenes graphically depicted in the film. Mixing all of the gospels into one narrative, as Gibson does, is artistic license but it is not history. The gospels themselves lack historicity, as in their muddling of the Pharisees and Sadducees, and their bias against Judaism stems from the fact that they were written after the fall of the Temple, long after Jesus’ death.  They also let Pontius Pilate off the hook (which this movie does in spades).

Religious imagery is not a private matter; it is a profoundly public matter. Medieval mystic Meister Eckhart said that “all the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves.” If we apply this insight to this film, we learn that the images Gibson gives to Christ reveal much about himself. As one viewer said, they reveal a tough childhood supposedly when his father must have taken him to the woodshed with a belt and a whipping. The point being that the God represented in this film is not a God whom I would want to worship in any form whatsoever or whom I could recommend others worship.

It is no wonder, then, that this film is being seen by so many Christian groups whose piety is built more on fear than it is on love and hope, more on sin than on blessing, more on victimization than on liberation. It provides a logical haven for fall/redemption religious world views.  No wonder Gibson leaves out so much of the message of Jesus: It is not compatible with fascism which is about control and not justice, about power-over, not power-with (compassion).

It is one of the signs of our times that new generations born since the defeat of fascism in World War II (and the attempt to throw off fascism in the Catholic Church in the Second Vatican Council), know very little about fascism.  I recently met a twenty-six year old college graduate who did not know what fascism was.  It is a scandal that our Congress appropriates millions of dollars to build monuments to the heroes of World War II but apparently very little to educate youth (or itself?) about the lessons to be learned from the purpose of that war: To defeat fascism.

Susan Sontag has defined fascism as “institutionalized violence.”  I would define it as authoritarianism, an authoritarianism that swamps all else--conscience, community, human rights, justice—and that in the process legitimizes violence.  Fascism is a philosophy of disempowerment based on fear, power over (sadism), power under (masochism), victimhood, and scapegoating.   Fascism seems to need religion and even religious piety to wrap around itself and render feelings of pious sentiment and self-righteousness.  Its God is the God of Authoritarianism. Cardinal Ratzinger, the present pope’s right hand man and current inquisitor general, is a devote of authoritarianism. It is in this context that the late theologian Dorothy Soelle wrote of a new “Christofascism” coming to the fore in our day.

Recently a political scientist, Dr. Lawrence Britt, wrote an article naming fourteen characteristics of fascism.  He based his study on an examination of the regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto and Pinochet.  (For the record, we need to remind ourselves that four of these men were Roman Catholics never excommunicated by their church—all except Suharto.)  A summary of Britt’s points follow.

1. Powerful and continuing nationalism employing constant use of patriotic slogans, symbols, songs, flags. 2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights because security needs outweigh human rights which can be ignored. 3. Using enemies as scapegoats for a unifying cause. 4. Supremacy of the military. 5. Rampant sexism including more rigid gender roles and anti-gay legislation. 6. Controlled mass media. 7. Obsession with national security driven by a politics of fear. 8. Religion and Government are intertwined especially in rhetoric employed by its leaders. 9. Corporate power is protected—industrial and business aristocracies put government leaders into power and keep them there creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite. 10. Labor power, which represents one of the few threats to fascism, is suppressed. 11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts and hostility to higher education along with censorship of arts or refusal to support the arts. 12. Obsession with crime and punishment. 13. Rampant cronyism and corruption. 14. Fraudulent Elections.

One does not have to be a paranoid to see these elements alive and well in the USA in 2004.  To encourage this through pious film-making underscores the danger.  Perhaps we can thank Mel Gibson for opening up possibilities to discuss fascism once again including its strange mix of politics and very strange religious notions.  One wonders who will be the beneficiary of Mr. Gibson’s billion dollar profit on the crucifixion of Jesus?  Will it lead to more Opus Dei bishops in North America?  More mixing of right-wing politics and right-wing religion and right-wing media?  Stay tuned.

In the multi million dollar campaign to get churches to support this movie, a four-color flyer was sent to most churches in the country that boasted the following headline: “Dying was Jesus’ Reason For Living.”  It is difficult to imagine a slogan more contradictory to the facts of Jesus’ life or his teaching or indeed of that of the Christ who in John’s gospel says: “I have come that you may have life and have it in abundance.” Mel Gibson ought to read the great spiritual genius Ernest Holmes who writes: “The will of God is never toward suffering.  Man must constantly reaffirm his belief in the Infinite Goodness if he expects to exclude the idea of evil from his thought….God’s Will is always toward Life and more Life…the life within you is God”.  Holmes got Jesus’ message right.  But the slogan Gibson invokes, “Dying was Jesus’ reason for living,” sick as it is, tells the true story about this film and the piety behind it.   What we have here is a clear case of religion as necrophilia.  From this movie we learn that necrophilia (love of death) is more important than biophilia (love of life).

Here lies the ultimate scare of the movie and its success.  It speaks to and elicits from people in our culture a desire to wallow in necrophilia at the expense of biophilia.  (I do not recall an ounce of biophilia much less humor in the movie.)  I am reminded of the wise warning from Erich Fromm in his brilliant study on evil, An Anatomy of Human Destructiveness. He writes: “Necrophilia grows when biophilia is stunted.” And this is how evil is unleashed in the world.  (Remember that the opposite of evil is not good; it is the Sacred.)

Russian Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev warned about a “decadent humility” that “keeps humanity in a condition of repression and oppression, chaining its creative power.”  And Rabbi Abraham Heschel reminded us that prophets do not become such from a life of asceticism but from passion for life.  Clearly, a movie like this kills creativity and the prophetic spirit in its appeal to pain and gore.

The question of “who killed Jesus?” is a silly question in the sense that it was done 2000 years ago.  NO ONE alive today killed Jesus.  How could we?  We were not there.  We are fully capable of killing the Christ, however, that is the God-self (or Buddha nature) in all beings.  We do this when we destroy rainforests, render species extinct, starve the children, refuse health care to the people, allow starvation and unjust distribution of the earth’s resources—in short when we ignore the teachings of Isaiah and Jesus and others about the need for justice and compassionate works.  What a shame that Mel Gibson, with all his potential access to decent theologians and today’s contemporary scholarship about the healthy Jewish roots of the historical Jesus, chose to make a film based on false history, contradicting Gospels, anti-Semitic overtones, fascist piety and necrophilia.  Hopefully, prophetic forces of biophilia will resist.

The Good News from Egypt

The Good News from Egypt Isn't the news on Egypt great? I am sure I was not the only observer with tears in his or her eyes all day yesterday hearing and watching the good news of the Egyptian uprising. How moving it is to see the young being brave and standing up for their rights and those of their country’s brothers and sisters!

Among other lessons the events reveal the healthy and sane side of Islam which so rarely makes the news: the fact that the young people were so disciplined and committed to non violence moves me deeply. What a great moment! The Arab world will never be the same again. And it came 'from below,' from the young whose parents went through so much agony. Yet it was wisely intergenerational as was clear from the crowds of professionals and parents that washed into the streets. I wish them well with a government of the people, for the people and by the people. (Us too, but that is another story!)

The uprising was spiritual in the deepest sense of the word for it was based on courage—as the participants said—“to conquer fear”—and once that was accomplished everything else flowed. All spirituality begins with courage. That is why, sad to say, when courage is lacking (as it is in many church circles today), there is no spirituality. Only hiding so as not to be noticed, not to be abused one more time. It was Martin Luther King, jr. who also praised courage when he remarked that one must “love something more than the fear of death if one is to live fully” and to stand up for justice.

It was also marked by community, not by ego and violence or power for power sake or ego sake. This was so clear in the many commentaries of the organizers of the event who did not want to call themselves or anyone else “heroes” other than those who gave their lives to the great cause of social justice that was at stake. There was respect all around. That happens when ego is checked at the door for the sake of a greater cause, namely the good of community. The role of community was also on display because both Muslims and Christians marched together on behalf of their common cause of freedom and justice. (The Christians had to march in spite of the Coptic pope’s siding with the regime—but march they did.) A common brotherhood and sisterhood was engaged in by this common quest for justice.

What will come of the new Egypt? What forms will it take? Of course we do not know but the first step has been taken with grace and courage and a deep sense of community. And that makes the next steps more likely to be positive.

What concerns me the most is that unemployment is so thoroughly a human problem world-wide today. How can Egypt employ her many unemployed and especially the young? America is now part of that unemployment picture and we are feeling it up close and personal. I know many people in America who cannot find work at this time. It is the primal issue all around the globe. When humans don’t have work they don’t feel good about themselves. Boredom sets in. Resentment and self-hatred or despair can easily take hold.

As a species we have to reinvent work and economics so that the work that needs to get done gets done and the workers who can work can find work. As I pointed out in my book on The Reinvention of Work, humans are the only species out of work. The plants and trees, the fishes and stars, all have work. Why do we insist on inventing unemployment when we should be inventing employment? Are we misdefining work? Is art work? Music and theater and film and dance? The art of protest? If so, can one make a living doing such things? How closely is unemployment related to the kind of economic injustice where a man like Maburak and his family amass up to 50 billion dollars while his people starve and have no work? Is economic justice possible in the USA and in Egypt?

These are questions we need to pursue. But first we celebrate the courage and grace of the Egyptian people, especially the young people.

Retirement or Refirement?

Retirement or Refirement?

Matthew Fox

December 2005

This month I reached my sixty fifth birthday.  I made the requisite pilgrimage to the Social Security Office in downtown Oakland, California where I have been living for the last twenty-two years to sign up for medicare and for a social security check.  So much done.

But what is the bigger picture?  What do I and the 79 million baby boomers who are rapidly closing in on their sixties really to make of our so-called ‘retirement’ years?

My own feeling is that baby boomers are not going to go quietly into that ‘sweet night’ called retirement.  I think we still have too much unfinished business from the sixties (or the seventies if you will) that is urging us along.  And we’ve got energy, lots of energy still.  And I think we want to tap into that unfinished business and the ideals that drove us then as we look at our lives today.

Okay, so most of us have raised our children and look forward to holidays with our grandchildren and don’t have to sweat putting food on the table any longer.  What next?  Is this all there is?

I think it is time to retire the word retirement.  There is a tiredness in the word itself that frankly I do not feel in myself or in many of my colleagues.  Whatever I am these days, being tired is not at the top of the list. I’m eager and sometimes I’m a bit despairing, I’m angry and I’m frustrated, but tired does not name where I find myself at sixty five.  Maybe it’s because I’m basically healthy (type 2 diabetes is my worst affliction so far, knock on wood), I try to watch my diet, swim a few days a week, walk a lot, do some yoga daily.  Still, ‘retirement’ doesn’t speak to me.  Does it speak to you?

What speaks to me is refirement.  My best hunch is that the years that follow our daily tripping off to a job to put bread on the table are better named by refirement than retirement.  I’m looking to get fired up all over again.  Re-fired.  That’s what I want to do with my remaining years.  More fire.  More focused fire.  More passion, not less.  More compassion, not less.  Does this speak to your experience too?

At our age we have a greater variety of options than we did when we were young when it comes to becoming fired up and refired.  They may range from planting trees to helping out in soup kitchens; from working with young people to visiting the sick or those in prison; from joining Habitat for Humanity with a hammer in one’s hands to going back to school; from taking up gardening, painting or a musical instrument to involving ourselves in political organizing; from traveling to reading.

There’s no one way to become fired up.  But the key, I sense, is to tend to the fire itself.  Keeping it alive, reigniting it if it has waned, digging deep for the fuel and the flame; reaching down to find where it lurks.

I think it’s altogether natural that a lot of the fire in us is attracted to the younger generation who themselves possess a lot of fire.  Grandparents and grandchildren hold a special attraction to each other.  (Addiction to watching sports on television can be a distortion of this attraction.)  The fire of the elders mixing with the fire of the youth—now that’s a conflagration we would all look forward to see happen.  The young people I meet today are more eager than any generation I have run across (certainly more than my generation was) to mix their wisdom with that of elders.  The natural affinity between young and elders is re-emerging in our time.

For example, I recently met a thirty-one year old African American rapper and video maker who goes by the name “Professor Pitt.”  We are linking up to create an after-school “edutainment” program in downtown Oakland called YELLAWE (Youth and Elders Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education).  We are both fired up by the failure of the current educational establishment to reach the needs especially of inner city youth.  Pitt speaks with the stunning post-modern language of rap and video and he has done his inner work via martial arts. I bring to the table thirty years of teaching adults in an alternative pedagogical model that emphasizes the new cosmology, creativity and meditation.

Together we want to reach the young people especially those 50% of youngsters who are not graduating from high school because they are bored and are yearning for forms of education and learning that can motivate them, that is, that can light a fire of learning in them.  I think we will be very successful; and I’m sure we’ll have fun trying.

Pitt is taking what I call the “10 C’s of Education to balance out the 3 R’s” and is putting them into rap and video.  This is the language that the younger generation gets fired up about.

The content I can coach “Professor Pitt” on guarantees that the message spread through rap and hip hop can be positive even in the midst of the chaos and negativity of our times.  (The “ten C’s include cosmology, contemplation, creativity, chaos, compassion, courage, critical consciousness, community, ceremony (celebration and ritual) and character and chakra development.)  Once we arouse creativity and get the message of awe and amazement that derives from the new cosmology going among the young they ought to be able to pass it on to others.  Learning is that way: If, like a good meal, it is offered in delicious form, it will catch on swiftly.  There is a natural appetite for it.

I of course will be undergoing a lot of learning in this mutual process. The younger generation today, being the first “post-modern” generation, has a lot to teach us older folk that includes but is not restricted to how to use the cyber technological inventions so easy for them and so…challenging for us.

But I must confess that I am fired up about this.  About taking the pedagogy that I developed with adults whom I taught at the master’s and doctoral level to a new level, to the streets and to the young as a precursor to an educational revolution.  The Dali Lama says that education “is in crisis the world over.”  What an opportunity! To work with young people to light new fire into education, a fire that might have worldwide implications.  Elders are invited to join us, not only to experience what all the excitement is about, but to work with the youth.

I am reminded of what Yeats said: “Education is not about filling a pail but about lighting a fire.”  And what Rabbi Abraham Heschel meant when he insisted that  “learning is not for life, learning is life.” Learning, whether it be mine at sixty-five or Pitt’s at thirty-one or our after-school students at fifteen, is not for life.  It is life.  It is our living.  Our being alive.  Our being on fire.

You can sense why I prefer refirement to retirement.  It’s a lot more fun.  And hopefully, more useful.

The Spanish poet John of the Cross attempted to reform society and religion in the sixteenth century.  For his efforts, his brother Carmelites imprisoned and tortured him mercilessly.  He effected a daring escape from their prison in the middle of the night and later he reported in a poem what drove him on, even though he “had no guide, it was the fire, the fire inside.”

We all live in our own prisons.  Our whole species has painted itself into prisons of poverty in the midst of luxury, of ecological disaster and urban blight, of boredom and addiction, of youth despair and ineffective educational forms, of couchpotatoitis and excessive religious zeal.  Can we find the “fire inside” to make our escapes?  Is this part of what being an elder means in our time—to tap into the fire in order to make some escapes?  Maybe we sixties folk ought to lead the way.

Refirement, indeed!

[I see this as a blocked out area:]  Some examples of places to look for refirement, the fire inside and actions that follow::

1.     What is getting you angry and stirring you up? Is it education?  Ecology? Homelessness?  Low voter turnout? Organize or join others in the struggle.

2.     What do you most cherish in life (not counting your grandchildren—that is a given)?  How can you get another generation excited about that and involved?

3.     What fire do you sense in the young people you know?  How can you join forces and contribute to their passion and concern?

4.     What books do you read or speakers do you listen to who stir some fire inside you?  How can you share that fire with others?

5.     Some fire is cool (blue) and some fire is hot (orange, red).  What are the cool fires burning in you?  How can you stoke them to a fuller heat and involve others in your interest?

6.     Creativity is a fire.  How are you being creative?  What art forms are you expressing yourself through these days?

7.     What are your talents and what is your experience in life that might be

valuable to others, especially the young?  How can you take this to them and

join them in their journey of self discovery and community building?

8.     In what ways are you an elder and not just a ‘retired person’?

9.     Have you found a young person (or persons) to mentor lately?  Go for it!

10. Should the AARP change its name to the American Association of Refired People?


The author is an educator and theologian who has written 28 books of which the latest are Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet and The A.W.E. Project: An Educational Manifesto where he lays out the theory and plans for the YELLAWE project (Youth and Elders’ Learning Laboratory for Ancestral Wisdom Education) he is launching with youth and elders working together to reinvent education in downtown Oakland, California..

On the Future of Religion

On the Future of Religion

Matthew Fox

When one looks at the wars and rumors of wars abounding around the world—and the number that are religion-based or religion-fed—one cannot be optimistic about religion as we know it or the future of religion as we know it.  I think the words of John the Baptist applied to the Christ in John’s gospel may apply here: “I must decrease and he must increase.”  Religion may have to decrease in order that spirituality can increase.  That is how I see the future of religion playing out.

So much religion has taken on an air of Institutional Ego, an air of Institutional Entitlement.  One of the first acts of the new pope, the former inquisitor general, Cardinal Ratzinger, who gave up his theological career to become a theological policeman and expelled over 100 Catholic theologians from their work and livelihood, was to go to Prado, the Italian exclusive boutique clothes designer to get all the papal outfits remade and redesigned. He did this after his first words on being made pope (or making himself pope since he appointed 112 of the 115 cardinals who voted in the election) were that he was a “humble man.”  Indeed.

So much for any hopes of the Vatican wing of Roman Catholicism returning to the spirit of Jesus or the spirit of liberation theology which was a “preferential option for the poor.”  I guess we can expect Catholicism to offer a “preferential option for the well dressed (cleric).”  I guess this story tells us something of the direction some religion is headed.  (Ratzinger is the same person who did the last pope’s dirty work by rushing into canonization Father Escriva, the founder of opus dei.  Escriva was a fascist who admired Hitler.)

In my recent book, A New Reformation, I call for the reformation and transformation of religion, a reinvention that takes into account the profound sociological and psychological shifts from the modern to the post-modern era, and one that honors pre-modern wisdom as well as post-modern awareness.  (No one could accuse modern conscious of honoring the pre-modern awareness—ask the 80 million indigenous peoples of the Americas who lost their lives when the Europeans landed here about that.)  The fundamentalist craze that is circumventing the globe in the name of fierce religion, whether Islamic style or Jewish or Vatican or Protestant or Hindu or whatever does not augur well for the future of healthy religion.  Which is the only kind worth having a future.  As I put it in a poem I wrote recently, “religion can be sin.”  Religious people can come in sheep’s clothing.

Healthy religion does not kill innocent victims in the name of its God or gods or idols.

Healthy religion struggles to practice compassion and to learn what the God of compassion means and desires of us.

Healthy religion respects the healthy religion of other traditions and welcomes shared wisdom and grace.

Healthy religion teaches a healthy relationship to the body and to the earth body and to sexuality (Cardinal Ratzinger and Co. flunk this test.  As one recent priest theologian said, the official church is as much consumed by sex as are pornographers).

Healthy religion cares passionately about keeping the earth healthy for future generations to come.

Healthy religion does not preach war.

Healthy religion recognizes the motherhood as well as the fatherhood of God, sees the Divine as feminine as well as masculine and does not make an idolatry of punitive Patriarchal Deity.

In short, healthy religion is not religion at all.  It is not about institutional ego.  It is about spirituality, about living fully and deeply, about taming the reptilian brain through spiritual practices such as meditation so that the crocodile brain—which we all carry inside of us—does not take over the planet.  Or our corporations.  Or our governments.  Or our religions.

Healthy religion teaches spirituality.  That means it brings alive the mystical capacities of all of us—our capacity to celebrate Awe and Wonder; to undergo darkens and silence (when I heard recently that 83% of the clergy of the United Church of Canada are on anti-depressants I was reminded of how far religion is from spirituality—it has failed to teach us how to grieve, how to navigate the dark night of the soul, how to be mystics on bad days as well as good days).

Healthy religion also arouses creativity, the image of God the Artist comes alive in people practicing healthy religion or spirituality.  The Holy Spirit is the Creative Spirit.  How are we doing?

Healthy religion is a powerful source for social justice (it was good to see some Catholic priests marching with their people in the demonstrations of Latinos against immigration laws that would have made felons of all illegal immigrants and those who fed them or sheltered them or treated them like human beings); for economic justice; gender justice; gender-preference justice and eco-justice.  How are we doing?

The fact that so much homophobia is wrapping itself in religious sentiment is telling.  Did God not make gays and lesbians?  Does God and nature not want sexual diversity?  It would seem they do since 8-10% of any given human population is homosexual—even though most come from heterosexual parents!  Of course we have now counted 464 other species that have gay and lesbian populations so nature, which is God’s work, is obviously biased in favor of diversity.  What other diversity is the religion of homophobia against?

The shibboleth that homosexuality is “against nature” has been proven by those who study nature—scientists!—to be a lie.  Homosexuality is altogether natural to a minority of human population.  To force gays and lesbians into heterosexual marriage is unnatural and unfair to all parties concerned.  The issue of homosexuality is not a theological issue any more than the issue of whether the earth travels around the sun or the sun around the earth is a theological issue.  It is science’s job to answer these questions and science has spoken.

Sinclair Lewis once said: “When fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”  Healthy religion stands up to fascism.  It stands up to control compulsions.  It does not welcome fascism or run from the room when it enters (often in fancy clothes and garments).  Like Jesus did, it stands up to power.  Healthy religion is in touch with moral outrage and anger and uses it to fuel the struggle for justice.

Healthy religion celebrates the insight of the great African American mystic, Howard Thurman, who understood well the call to Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism.  Thurman wrote: “It is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Moslem, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.”

Of course the Dali Lama warns us that the number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship with one’s own faith tradition.  This is critical.  I think many Taliban-like fundamentalist Muslims have strayed very, very far from the prophetic words of Mohammad who, among other things, broke many taboos in his treatment of women and his insistence on the equality of women.  The same wandering has occurred in fundamentalist Christianity where the Vatican and the Pat Robinsons and Jerry Falwells are so far from Jesus’ teachings as to be unrecognizable.

Healthy Christianity, one that is aligned with its own faith tradition, will fly on two wings—that of the historical Jesus who was a prophet interfering with false religion and false empire building and that of the Cosmic Christ who represents the mystical tradition of the Christ or the Light or the Divine presence present in all beings in the universe.  The historical Jesus comes from the wisdom tradition which is the creation-based spiritual tradition of Israel.  This is agreed upon by all scholars today.

As for the cosmic Christ, one Biblical scholar, John Dominic Crossan, has recently written in a major volume on St. Paul that for Paul “only mystics can be Christians and that all Christians must be mystics.” (p. 280)  Paul after all was the first writer in the Christian Bible—and he was a mystic!  Regarding Paul himself, Crossan write, “as far as we can tell, Paul was both an ecstatic and a mystic.  And no matter how one explains or interprets ecstatic mysticism, it is absolutely fundamental for an understanding of Paul.”

Furthermore, Paul was a cosmic mystic!  As another recent biblical scholar, Bruce Chilton, has put it: “No Christian thinker before or since has thought on so cosmic a scale, linking God’s Spirit to humanity’s and both to the transformation of the world.  The picture he conveyed of what it meant for even small groups of believers to meet together involved them in a literal reshaping of the universe….The range of Paul’s thinking was literally cosmic, and metacosmic, because the viscera of Christ, the mind of Christ, wove all things into the primordial whole that had been their source.”  (207, 249)

How well are the churches doing in turning out mystics and prophets?  How well are the seminaries doing?  My advice?  Don’t hold your breath!  Start a Reformation.  Now.

Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

Leadership as a Spiritual Practice

Matthew Fox

The failures of leadership are everywhere to be seen in the globe today.  Whether one speaks of the failure of Wall Street tycoons or its awol government regulators, or the failure of BP and its awol government regulators, or the failure of Catholic hierarchy (including the Vatican) in the pedophile priest scandal, or the failure of legislators to free themselves of ideologies and marriages to uncritical power brokers, it seems that we are living through a colossal failure of leadership in these early years of the twenty-first century.

Perhaps one underlying reason for all these failures is that we have secularized, that is to say, de-sacralized, the very meaning of leadership.  We seem to be living through the shadow side of leadership just as, with the Gulf oil disaster, we lived through months of gushing of oil twenty-four hours a day seven days per week.  The darkness of this excessive yang energy (isn’t oil all about powering our industries and transportation, thus yang and fire energy) has damaged our yin resource (the Gulf waters and their teeming hatcheries and living systems and countless species of once living beings).  Bad leadership despoils Mother Earth and her creatures.  Bad leadership kills life.  Bad leadership enhances necrophilia.  Good leadership enhances life or biophilia.

In this essay I intend to explore the spiritual or sacred side of leadership.  In my book, The Reinvention of Work, I put forth the argument that all work worthy of the name, that is to say all authentically human work, work that brings joy, healing, justice or celebration to others, is priestly work.  I talk of the priesthood of all workers, how when we do our work (as opposed to just our jobs), we are midwives of grace, therefore we are all priests.  Work is sacred.  I draw on spiritual teachings East and West, North and South, to make my point for in speaking of the sacredness of work I am speaking in universal or archetypal language.[i] All healthy societies celebrate the sacredness of work.

They often do this through the emphasizing of vocation. Work as a sacred calling (“vocare” is the Latin word for call).  Call and Response.  That is work.  That is leadership.  Leadership is one’s own response to a call and it always includes making possible to call and response of other workers.  No one is called alone.  A vocation is not an ego thing; it is the opposite of an ego thing.  It is a call from history, the ancestors and those not yet born, to be thoughtful, just, caring, courageous, imaginative, creative, that is, alive.  Work and leadership are our radical response to life itself, therefore, as I argue in my book on the nature of prayer, work is our very prayer.[ii] It is the best of ourselves that we invest so much time preparing for (we call that education), recovering from (we usually call that weekends and holidays) and struggling at (these are our 40 to 60 hour work weeks).

In this essay I will first consider the role of Vocation and leadership; then how archetypes of the healthy masculine can infuse our work as leader/workers; and lastly how

leadership as a spiritual journey follows the pattern of the four paths of creation spiritual journeying.  In defining leadership I find myself agreeing with Deidre Combs, author of the Way of Conflict and Worst Enemy, Best Teacher and a consultant to many profit and non-profit organizations, that, as Margaret Wheatley puts it, “leadership is anyone who wants to help at this time” and with John Quincy Adams that “if your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”[iii] There may be a leader in all of us.  Watch out!

Leadership and Vocation

The late poet, essayist and teacher Bill Everson (also known as “Brother Antoninus” for his years as a Dominican friar), was so taken with the archetype of vocation that he taught a course on it at the University of Santa Cruz for years that proved to be one of the most popular courses on campus.  He had much to say about the archetype of vocation that is highly relevant to a discussion of spirituality and leadership.  Thanks to interviews conducted with him by a former student in his class, Steven Herrmann, we have access to his deep thoughts in a book called William Everson: The Shaman’s Call: Interviews, Introduction, and Commentaries. Following are some of Everson’s thoughts about vocation.

Everson notes that “Every vocation is controlled by a symbol, and that symbol comes not from the individual but from the race.  The human race cannot go forward unless vocations arise to constellate the collective energies into true realization.  It is the race which creates the vocation. All an individual can do is answer the call.”[iv] The answer we give to the invitation to be a leader is everything.  But the Call comes from some deep place.  We might call it Destiny; or the Collective; or the Future; or God; or Source.  A call implies a Caller.  We are merely the responder.  So a leader is essentially humble—Moses said to God, Don’t send me; I stutter.  No prophet wants to play so visible a role.  Humility is key to leadership because the Responder knows he or she is not also the Caller.

Everson also teaches that the vocational symbols are both personal and collective in nature, pointing to the conscious and unconscious motivations inhering in the life span of the unique individual.  The Call bridges at least two worlds, that of the conscious and that of the unconscious.  This is what makes it deep.  This is what makes it worth heeding.  This is what makes it daring and an adventure.  All leadership (as opposed to bureaucratic top-of-the-ladder hegemony) is an adventure, an exploration of the deep.

Everson defines vocation as a ‘disposition,’ a ‘calling,’ which holds the key to a person’s identity.  The vocational summons may come from a book, an outer situation, a relationship, or the laying on of hands by a master figure.  Its primary means for summoning us, he believes, is via a dream.   For himself, his calling was encountering Jeffers’ poetry that “ruptured” his psyche with a Divine impulsion that in turn led him to accept his vocation as a nature poet of the San Joaquin valley. (41)  I have a habit of asking scientists whom I meet when they first knew they wanted to be a scientist.  Invariably I hear stories such as, “I fell in love with the stars when I was five years old” or, “I fell in love with this bush when I was four years old,” or, “I fell in love with a worm when I was six years old.”  Their vocations are old (they germinate in childhood) and they are about falling in love.  One feels called; one feels the need to respond; one feels joyful.

In an Interview, Everson is asked “What is it that makes the discovery of vocation through the dream life a certainty?”  He replies: “The splitting of a veil, defloration, the splitting of a maidenhead, a hymen, gratitude, joy, complete joy to end the having to discover oneself, or make oneself worthy.  You see it in the religious life, in the form of conversion.  In Christianity, it’s the Christ.  In Buddhistic belief, it’s the Buddha.  I think that these models indicate that, in the arts, it should be the Master that’s there….You see it in marriage too, where the beloved becomes a symbol of vocation; the anima, for instance. Or sometimes the anima becomes a symbol for the poetic vocation, as in the case of Dante.” (52)  Notice how Everson is equating one’s vocation as a leader and worker with the religious experience of conversion (“metanoia” in the Gospels, a change of life).  Indeed, for him it is Christ doing the calling or Buddha doing the calling.  Or the “Master” doing the calling in one’s calling as an artist—one is reminded of how, on his deathbed, Gustav Mahler’s last words were “Mozart.”  Mozart, his master, came to him when he died.  Notice too the role that joy plays in this call.  What the mystics call the Via Positiva is not to be denied.

Another word that Everson equates with our true call as workers and leaders is violence.  For Everson, “specificity or individuation is attained only at the cost violence…individuation can proceed only in a situation of rupture.”  The experience of awe that the child underwent that led him or her to become a scientist is an experience of violence.  The vocational archetype is the rupture point of identity as in. Jung’s model of the Self as a creative-destructive God-image and a self-abnegation of the ego in order for consciousness to evolve.  “Without exposure to violence, in Everson’s understanding, there can be no transformation of consciousness, no creative breakthrough, no ‘divinization’ of the human ego.”  No doubt this is one reason that rites of passage were so important and so effective among indigenous peoples.  Vocation was being elicited through fasting and demanding practices.  Today’s rites of passage that we witness among gangs and in prisons where young people congregate with no invitation to vocation is a sorry imitation of leaderless (and elderless) rites of passage.  They are the shadow side of the vocational archetype that is so missing in our culture.  Herrmann observes that “by ‘violence’ Everson means the creative ‘life force’ that is inborn within the individual. If this force of vitality is lacking in the individual, in Everson’s view, one cannot be truly alive.”[v]

Perhaps a synonym for “violence” would be “wild” as in Thomas Berry’s use of that term or Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ use of that term. Berry writes: “Wildness….is that wellspring of creativity whence comes the instinctive activities that enable all living beings to obtain their food, to find shelter, to bring forth their young: to sing and dance and fly through the air and swim through the depths of the sea.  This is the same inner tendency that evokes the insight of the poet, the skill of the artist and the power of the shaman.”  Estes writes: “The Wild Woman is patroness to all painters, writers, sculptors, dancers, thinkers, prayermakers, seekers, finders—for they are all busy with the work of inventions and that is the Wild Woman’s main occupation.  As in all art, she resides in the guts, not in the head….She is the one who thunders after injustice.”[vi]

In the mystical tradition, this violence or rupture or wildness is experienced both in the Via Positiva—falling in love, tasting awe and gratitude and joy—and in the Via Negativa—crashing, falling, breaking, grieving.  In each case, the traveler is taken deep, or as Meister Eckhart put it, “if you want the kernel you must break the shell.”  A breakthrough happens.  In Everson’s language, a surrender occurs.  “There has to be ‘surrender’ to ‘violence’ in order for a true experience of vocation—individuation of the Self—to take place.”  A sacrifice follows.  Generosity follows.  As D. H. Lawrence put it: “In New Mexico the heart is sacrificed to the sun and the human being is left stark, heartless but undauntedly religious.”  For Everson “this experience of being burned pure, with the brilliant shaft of the sun, was equivalent to an experience of being struck internally by lightning.”  (43)  Everson cites from Jesus in the Gospels that “heaven is taken by violence, and the violent will carry it away” (76) and observes that “for the Christian, Christ mounted the Cross, accepted violence into Himself, to place the crucial point precisely where it obtains, the point of convergence between the higher and lower octaves of existence, solving its problem once and for all…” (73)  But this is what every leader does—incorporates the violence of opposition into herself or himself and transforms it into something useful.  Indeed, it is the power of vocation itself that sees us through such times of trial.  We must see “Vocation as an archetypal force.  Vocation as a power.  It creates wholeness because it effects a focal point of both mental and physical energies.  It gives you the channel through which your drives and energies can pour.  It gives you the sustaining symbol of your wholeness, which enables you to survive the conflict of forces around you.”  (47)

Another element to vocation is synchronicity.  Vocation is too sacred to occur just in linear time.  Nor is it about chance alone.  Says Everson: “whatever occurs in the unfoldment of vocation is based on synchronicity.  Chance could never account for it. Life is too coherent for it to be chance.” (50)  Nor is leadership primarily about career.  It cannot be, for vocation and career are not synonymous. One can occur without the other or long after the other.  Says Everson: “I distinguish between vocation and career. Vocation is the disposition, where your faculties are ordered.  It has to do with your sense of identity; career is the impact of your vocation on your life, and on the world around you.  A person may have a supreme vocation and no career at all.  For some people, their careers don’t occur until after they are dead.  Gerard Manley Hopkins is an example of that.  Emily Dickinson is another.  Neither one published in their own lifetime; yet their work is as good as any.  Neither Gerard nor Emily struggled with career; they ignored it; Emily more than Gerard.” (52f)

Everson greatly admires the indigenous cultures’ commitment to vocation as evidenced in the ceremony of the Vision Quest.  Indeed, he sees the Vision Quest as the basis of all vocational callings.  “The dawning of vocation is the end to the confines of the ego….In the vision quest the seeker goes out into the wilderness, disconnecting his ego supports from the tribe, and this is what makes him vulnerable.  This vulnerability exposes him to the unconscious, the collective unconscious and there the great Animal Presences make themselves known….We evolved from the previous Animal forms.  It’s by maintaining contact with those Animal Powers, I believe, that the psyche activates its wholeness, because the human ego is formed by repression of the Animal Powers.”  (85)  Thus a true leader is not afraid to take retreats away from the crowd, to go into the wilderness and to face vulnerability and with it the great Animal Powers.  Everson recognizes how Jesus did exactly that.  According to Mark’s gospel, after his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness alone and wrestled with wild beasts and angels.  Everson believes that Christ followed the archetype of the vision quest which is patterned by shamanism.  In aboriginal culture, initiations often entailed some kind of a sacrifice “but the greatest paradigm for initiation in the West, in Everson’s view, is the image of Christ carrying His Cross.”  (74f)

There is a kind of violence in the separation of a leader from the crowd as there is for the vision seeker in a vision quest.  Everson shows how the underlying pattern of vocation in America is the vision quest.  The vision quest, in his view, is structured by the principle of ‘violence.’  Everson sees violence as a primal force in the Universe out of which all life evolves (after all, the original fireball was violent as was the supernova explosion that birthed so many atoms in our bodies).  “Like love, it is a force that thrusts all beings into activity and transcends all individual and collective values.  It is the prime mover of vocations.”  The word violence derives from vis, which means force, pure and simple.  (73)

There is pain involved in being a leader.  The pain of loneliness and the pain of projection and being misunderstood and playing the role of others’ projections, especially in a culture that has few authentic leaders or fathers and thus produces many people wounded by negative leadership.  After writing his first fully realized poem, tears flowed for Everson, as Herrmann puts it, “because you had found your master.  What is it that makes the bond with the Master so deep, so emotional; so deeply painful?”  Everson replies: “It’s like the ache of expansion: the expansion of consciousness   The best analogy is in love.  When we fall in love, we surrender to it—to the mystery of it—the mystery of the unconscious, the mystery of the shadow.  The pain is the shadow side of the archetype….I think it’s the pain that’s the confirming factor in the finding of your vocation.  As long as there is no pain, there is no real progression.  It’s the pain that accompanies the realization that lets you know the breakthrough is true.”  (68f)  This is a testimony to the role of the Via Negativa in the leader’s living out of his or her vocation.

Everson compares East and West around the subject of vocation and he feels that the archetype of vocation hold greater primacy in the West than in the East.  The West he sees as more activist and the East as more contemplative.  Here is how he puts it.  “The finding of vocation is more important in the West than it is in the East, because the controlling symbol in the East, which is essentially a contemplative society, is the mandala; while the controlling symbol in the West, which lays its accent on action, is vocation.  I think vocation is to us what the mandala is to them.  It’s vocation that integrates us, gives us our wholeness, and takes our acts from the linear world to the cyclical, collective world.”  (51)  How important is that, to take our acts of leadership beyond the linear world to the cyclical world?   Herrmann observes that “in The Myth of the Eternal Return, Mircea Eliade developed the idea that only those acts that are patterned after an archetype can be viewed as sacred and therefore real, occurring in cyclical time.”  (88)

In reflecting with Steven Herrmann and William Everson on the archetype of vocation we can summarize our findings in this way:  A true vocation is always a call from the Sacred (a secular culture destroys vocation and crushes the young because it has no authentic rites of passage calling them into their vocation).  A leader is called to humility because he or she knows that they did not invent their position of power but are called to employ it for the common good.  The call is a deep call, bridging the worlds of the conscious and the unconscious but also of the deep personal identity and the needs of the entire species.  This call evokes joy and it evokes pain. It brings about breakthrough or conversion or metanoia.  Thus it includes violence or wildness.  It is not for sissies.  It requires surrender and with it courage, maturity, magnanimity and generous individuation.  It also requires sacrifice and solitude and leaving the masses at times.

Leadership is not ego-driven but is about service and helping those yet to be born as well as one’s co-workers.  It calls on the strength and wisdom of the ancestors as well for it operates as a cyclical, not a linear, process.  It requires spiritual practices of course and among these vision quests and associations with animal powers are among the most ancient rites of passage to invoke.  Leadership is itself a school, a deep way of learning the most important lessons of life including wisdom which always means embracing the feminine aspects of life.  It means balancing the yin and yang, the feminine and the masculine.  It announces and proclaims therefore the Sacred Marriage of the two in practice as well as theory.[vii]

Leadership and the Archetypes of the Sacred Masculine

Another way to consider the sacred dimension of the leadership archetype is to hold it up to healthy archetypes of the Sacred masculine.  There is a kind of masculine energy to leadership whether we be male or female—but we must clean up our understanding of masculine if we are to become healthy and useful leaders.  I have gathered ten  archetypes of the Sacred Masculine in a recent study called The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors for Awakening the Sacred Masculine and I would like to apply those archetypes to the issue of leadership here in a basic and brief manner.

Leadership invokes the archetype of the Blue Man who is about expansion (the blue sky is expansive) and also about compassion, healing and creativity.  The Blue Man, who emerges from a blue pearl, also represents the violent aspect of becoming a leader.  Just as the currents and sands of the ocean transform a defect in an oyster into a gem that we call a pearl, so too the stridency of leadership can morph us into authentic Blue Men.  Leadership invokes the archetype of the spiritual warrior and in our day in particular of the Green Man who is the spiritual warrior working to defend Mother Earth from all that harms her.  The warrior, unlike the soldier, has taken time to do inner work on one’s heart and one’s inheritance.  Fear (the future) and sorrow (the past) do not deter the leader from standing fully in the present.

A leader learns from the Icarus/Daedellus archetype by emphasizing communication between generations (also a necessary ingredient of the Elder or grandfather archetype).  In many ways, the leader, whether female or male, is playing out the healthy father archetype whose task is to guide, protect, and instruct but also to artfully construct wings of adventure and challenge for the young.  The leader is also a hunter/gatherer, hunting not just for brilliant talent and arranging potential for co-workers but also setting values of what it is we invest our hunting/gathering instincts for.  Why are we doing what we are doing?  Where are we going?  Whom does it serve?  How does our work bring joy to others?

A leader is deeply creative and values imagination for how else can we anticipate or honor the future?  The archetype of Father Sky is also deeply imaginative and generative (as is the Green Man whose fifth chakra is constantly birthing new and living branches) since the Sky, we now know from today’s science, could hardly be more alive and generative—a star is being born every 15 seconds and the fourteen billion years of the universe have been years of constant birthing, dying and resurrecting.  A leader is bodily aware, takes care of his or her bodily health knowing that the hard work demanded of leaders requires a healthy body.  A leader is sexually vital, not stuck in dualisms that pit spirit against sexuality, but one who integrates sexual passion and passion for life itself.

The Four Paths of Creation Spirituality and Leadership

Another way to name Leadership as a Spiritual Practice is to recognize how authentic leadership follows the in-depth naming of our spiritual journeys that the creation spiritual tradition lays out for us.  We see that this in-depth journey is quite opposed to what Everson identifies as the current “cultural climate [which] is not hospitable to charismatic vocation of any depth—the world wants entertainment.  The linear time of performers and athletes are the folk heroes of the day.”[viii] Of course embedded in this linear time/entertainment obsession of our current culture is a strike-it-rich-immediately compulsion of many so-called business “leaders” (who are the shadow side of leadership) who do not care about tomorrow but only about pleasing their stockholders and their own fat prerogatives today.  Such practices are the opposite of spirituality.  They are the shadow of authentic leadership.  They exercise profane careers, not sacred vocations.

The first of the paths of creation spirituality is the Via Positiva, the way of delight, awe, wonder and joy.[ix] As a leader, what makes us happy?  What calls us from joy to joy?  How do we assist others in their journey to wonder, awe and joy?  How is our work affecting that result?  Thomas Aquinas taught that “joy is the human’s noblest act.”  Are we and our work and our leadership style engaged in humankind’s noblest act?  Does our leadership reflect the truth of joy as a bottom line?  If not, why not?  Aquinas also taught that people are changed more by delight than by argument.  Is our leadership that kind of leadership?  What joy do we derive from our role as leaders?  Can we nourish more deeply?  Give it more time and space?

Ultimately, leadership is a joy because it is a tremendous opportunity to serve, to bring truth and compassion into the world.  Aquinas says the proper objects of the heart are truth and justice.  Our work, our service, is to bring truth and justice into others’ hearts.  What is more joyful a vocation than that?

The second path on our spiritual journeys is named the Via Negativa.  This is the path of darkness and silence, of letting go and letting be, of grief and bottoming out.   As Everson insisted pain is a necessary part of the archetype of vocation.  Pain carries us deep.  Grief does that too if we allow it to.  Grief can open us up, stir things up, and bring the best out of us.  If we fail to grieve we become bottled up and our creativity cannot flow properly.

Because the Via Negativa is also about silence, it is about letting go of all input and all projections.  It is what we do when we meditate, however we choose to do so. It is calming the reptilian brain—a leader who cannot calm his or her reptilian brain and assist those around them to do the same is no leader at all but a carrier of an action/reaction virus that can kill us all and is killing the planet at this time.  A leader must find practices for letting go and letting be, for finding stillness and courting solitude.  This is how one develops one’s mammal brain from which we derive the powerful force so underutilized that we call Compassion.  By being in touch with one’s own pain one can share solidarity with others in pain—but only if one has learned to let go and let be.

An emptying occurs in the Via Negativa.  A deep power of listening emerges therefore.  A leader who cannot listen is a crippled leader indeed.  Deep listening is required of authentic leadership.  A listening that encompasses both heart and head.

The third path on the spiritual journey is the Via Creativa.  This is the path of imagination and creativity.  Creativity flows ever so easily and organically from the first two paths: Those “ruptures” (Everson’s word) that awe and love trigger and that silence and pain trigger give way to new birth.  We are made for creativity.  This is, after all, what distinguishes us as a species.  Anthropologists define our species as distinct from our near relatives as bi-peds that make things.  We are makers.  Authors. Creators. That is where the word “authority” comes from: Our powers of authorship or creativity.  Only a leader who is creative and respectful of creativity, a hunter-gatherer of creativity so to speak—can truly lead.  This is especially true today when so much in the world is new and requires new solutions.  New networks.  New alliances.  New ideas.  New directions for energy needs and for global interaction.  New work.  New healing.  Newly understood connections with our ancestors and past efforts to live fully and peacefully on the earth.

Part of creativity is honoring the child, the puer or puella in oneself, being able to see the world newly, with freshness.  There is no creativity without fantasy and play, as Jung observed.  Playfulness, youthfulness, are essential modes for survival and surely for leadership today.  To honor the child within.  To heal the child within.  To unleash the child within.  To welcome the child within.  Play.  Work “without a why” Meister Eckhart advised.  Then and only then do we enter the world of regeneration and renewal.

The fourth path on the spiritual journey is the Via Transformativa, the way of transformation and therefore the way of compassion, celebrating, healing and justice.  Every leader worthy of the name strives for compassion.  To teach it, to live it, to bring it alive.  Compassion is, after all, as we hinted at above, the way of the mammal.  There is a reason why both the Hebraic word for compassion and the Arabic word for compassion come from the word for “womb.”  The mammals, the womb people, bring compassion to the planet in a special way.  There is a reason why all deep spiritual leaders—Buddha and Isaiah, Jesus and Mohammad, Black Elk and Martin Luther King, jr, Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, call us to Compassion.  The Dali Lama confesses that compassion is his religion and we can do away with all religion but not with compassion.  Jesus said: “Be you compassionate like your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”  In Islam, “The Compassionate One” is by far the most used name for Allah in the Koran.  Compassion is the “secret name for God” in Judaism.

Compassion is about solidarity, “passion-with.”  It is about our shared joy and our shared sorrow.  It is all about our interdependence.  Living it out as celebration (our shared joy) and as healing (our shared pain).  All true leaders work on their powers of compassion and their decision-making is to derive from that place deep inside oneself.  In my book, A Spirituality Named Compassion, written a number of years ago, I point out that authentic leadership today is more about “Dancing Sara’s Circle” than about “Climbing Jacob’s Ladder.”  Ladder climbing is rarely joyful, it is elitest and vertical, it separates one from earth and others.  Circle dancing on the other hand is eye-to-eye, curved, embracing of others, close to the earth and joy-filled, playful.  We did it as children. Which path of leadership is compassionate?  Which is elitest?  Which do we strive for?[x] Eckhart warns that “compassion begins at home with one’s own body and one’s own soul.”  The leader must be compassionate toward oneself.  Must find time and space for one’s own inner life and one’s physical well being.  A leader is not superman or superwoman.  A leader needs co-workers, co-helpers, colleagues.  Friendships.  Mentors.

Knowing that leadership itself carries one through the four paths of creation spirituality is to know that the call and work of leadership is itself a spiritual practice, a yoga, a discipline for one’s inner work and one’s outer work, for oneself and for the collective, a work that taps into conscious and unconscious, personal and communal.  To be a leader is to journey through these four paths on a regular basis.  The challenges of leadership, whether positive or negative, break us open and we are reminded of Eckhart’s promise, “the outward work can never be small if the inward work is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth.  The inward work always includes in itself all size, all breadth and all length.”[xi] Psyche and cosmos marry.  The personal journey becomes the community’s journey and all is part of the cosmic journey.  We are on a true and deep journey.

What a noble journey we are on.  What a noble calling.  What generosity is called for.  What an opportunity.  To inspire others to the greatness of their work, both inner and outer.  And to show the way.  Such a vocation tastes like milk and honey.  It ushers us to the promised land.   We are grateful.  The leader in us is grateful.  Perhaps it is in this context that Meister Eckhart exclaims, “if the only prayer you say in your whole life is ‘Thank You,’ that would suffice.”  Gratitude reigns.  This is evidence that our work is sacred, not profane. Spiritual, not secular.  Meaningful, not meaningless.

Chip Conley, an Exemplar of Spiritual Leadership

The day after I finished writing this essay there was a front page story in the San Francisco Chronicle about Chip Conley, founder and CEO of Joie de Vivre Hospitality, California’s largest boutique hotel company.  This business leader is author of The Rebel Rules, Marketing That Matters and Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow.[xii] I contacted him and we had a healthy sit-down together.  I find in his story and in his writings considerable confirmation of the themes of this essay—the role that vocation plays, the role that humility plays, the role that joy plays (thus the name of his company), the role that darkness plays (he wrote his “Peak” book at the time of the bust that was so severe on his business in the Bay Area), the role that meditation plays, the role that creativity and transformation play (he points out that 94% of business leaders believe the “intangibles” are important but only 5% know how to measure them.)  He summarizes Maslow’s work: “The characteristics of these self-actualized people included creativity, flexibility, courage, willingness to make mistakes openness, collegiality, and humility.”[xiii]

Conley visited Bhuton to learn more about a Gross National Happiness measurement because it makes so much more sense than a Gross National Product index.  How do we measure what makes life worthwhile?  Why did we not include these kinds of questions in our recent national census?  Value the intangible.  Measure meaning.  Make joy count and relationships.

It was moving and hopeful and more than mere synchronicity to discover a leader who is practicing what I am writing about in this essay and who has found and practiced many of these principles of leadership in the rough and tumble world of his business milieu.  I am sure there are many other leaders out there (and in all of us) who share the same values.  These are the elders and father (and mother) figures that our young people need to see in action.  Here lies authentic leadership, a true walking of a spiritual path.

[i] Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994).

[ii] Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam), 2001.

[iii] Deidre Combs, “Defining Leadership” in

[iv] Steven Herrmann, William Everson: The Shaman’s Call (New York: Eloquent Books, 2009), 40.

[v] Ibid., 42, note 63.

[vi] See Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002), 42, 152.

[vii] See Matthew Fox, The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine (Novato, California: New World Library, 2008), 221-276.

[viii] Herrmann, op. cit., 53.

[ix] The Four Paths are laid out in fuller detail in Matthew Fox, Original Blessing (New York: Jeremy Tarcher/Putnam, 2000).

[x] Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1999), chapter Two.

[xi] Fox, The Reinvention of Work, 58.

[xii] See Chip Conley, Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007).

[xiii] Ibid., 10.

Kid Spirit. Deep Ecumenism or Interfaith

Kid Spirit. Deep Ecumenism or Interfaith

Matthew Fox

It is an honor to be asked to address the important topic of “Deep Ecumenism” or Interfaith in this primal issue of Kid Spirit magazine.  Let me say that it is so important that young people be treating the “big ideas” and showing “their colors and share each others’ belief systems, cultures, art, traditions, ideas and values” as the Mission Statement of Kid Spirit so wisely articulates.  Without a new and deeper appreciation of one another’s traditions and diverse ancestors, our species will not survive for it will choose war instead of peace; ignorance instead of understanding.  It is wonderful that the young people of Kid Spirit are taking initiative and leadership in this important work of sharing and learning.

Among these big ideas and sharing of colors is the sharing of the wisdom traditions of the world.  So often adults get hung up on the differences between religions—then they fight and go to war over whether “my god can beat up your god” or “my god beat up your goddess.”  Enough of that!  The world is too small today for such petty posturing, such little ideas.  Bravo to Kid Spirit for going for the big ideas!  It is universally taught in all the world’s religions that NO NAME for the Divine Creator suffices for so great a mystery.  And thus every name says something; but no name says everything.

And all religions, at their deepest level, honor the wisdom of other faith traditions.  For example, Howard Thurman, the great African American mystic who was close to both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., declared that “it is my belief that in the Presence of God there is neither male nor female, white nor black, Gentile nor Jew, Protestant nor Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist, nor Moslem, but a human spirit stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.”  While these words were published in the 1950’s, they echo what many young people are experiencing today as the Internet and travel and immigration bring us all together rubbing elbows with people of a variety of faith traditions.

The key is what Thurman warns us about: “our spirit being stripped to the literal substance of itself before God.”  It is that bare honesty that counts the most.  We all have much to learn from one another but most of all from looking to the naked truth within our own spirit and our own selves and the best in our own traditions.  The Dali Lama warns us that the number one obstacle to interfaith is a bad relationship with one’s own faith tradition.  What a warning this is!

All traditions honor the sacredness of creation.  How important is this at this time when global warming and the destruction of other species is proceeding at unstoppable rates?  Dostoyevsky, writing from his tradition as a Russian Orthodox Christian, wrote in the nineteenth century: “Love all creation.  The whole and every grain of sand in it.  Love every leaf, and every ray of light.  Love the plants.  Love the animals.  Love everything.  If you love everything you will perceive the Divine Mystery in all things…and you will come, at last, to love the whole world with an all embracing love.”  Isn’t this good advice for all of us?  Won’t the plants and whales, the elephants and the polar bears, the soil and the waters, rejoice if we humans were to live this way?

Thich Naht Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, writes how “all beings in the animal, plant, and mineral world are potential Buddhas.”  Speaking as a Christian, I can say this: All beings are other Christs, they are the Cosmic Christ that John’s Gospel writes about when it says Christ is the light in all beings (today’s science teaches that photons or light waves exist in every atom in the universe).  To destroy rain forests or other species is to crucify the Christ all over again.

Black Elk, speaking form the Native American tradition, declares that we should know that “the Great Spirit is within all things: the trees, the grasses, the rivers, the mountains and all the four-legged animals and the winged people.”  But God is also “above all these things and peoples” as well.

All world traditions call us to our capacity for service and compassion.  The Jewish teaching is that Compassion is the secret name for God.  In the Koran the most used name for God is “the compassionate one” and Jesus taught his followers to “be compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”  Buddha calls his disciples to compassion as well.  The Dali Lama says that we can do away with all religion and all ideology, “but we cannot escape the necessity of love and compassion.”  How are we doing?  Have we learned much, taught much, practiced much compassion lately?

All spiritual traditions honor our likeness to Divinity that is found in our imaginations and creativity.  An ancient meso-American poem, for instance, honors creativity this way: “The true artist, capable, practicing, skillful, maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with her mind.  The true artist draws out all from his heart.  The good painter is wise, God is in her heart.  She puts divinity into things; he converses with his own heart.”  The Hebrew Bible talks about humans being the “imago dei,” the image and likeness of God the Creator.  Hafiz, the Sufi Muslim mystic, writes: “All the talents of God are within you.  How could this be otherwise when your soul derived from His genes!”

The Hindu Upanishads declare: “Where there is creating, there is progress.  Where there is no creating, there is no progress: Know the nature of creating.  Where there is joy, there is creating.  Know the nature of joy.  Where there is the Infinite, there is joy.”  Joy and creativity go together!  Meister Eckhart, the Christian mystic, says that the only work worthy of human beings, the only work that satisfies, is creative work.

Dona Marimba Richards writes about African spirituality when she says: “Few have understood what music is to us.  Black music is sacred music.  It is the expression of the divine within us….Our music manifests our relationship with the whole as it puts us in tune with the universe.  It explains to us the mysterious workings of the universe and ourselves as cosmic beings….As in ritual, in music the human and the Divine meet….Dance, for us, is a religious expression.”

The world religions teach about the multiple names for Divinity.  For example, the ancient Baghavad Gita of India proclaims that “God has a million faces” and the Rg Veda declares that “The one Being the wise call by many names.”  In the Muslim tradition there is a beautiful prayer that recites the “100 most beautiful names for God”—names that range from “The Great One” to “The Alive” and “The Witness” and “The Forgiver.”  Thomas Aquinas, writing from the Christian tradition, says that every being in the universe is a name for God—and yet none of them are.

The names of Wisdom and Sophia in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles honor the feminine side of God as does the title of “Tara our mother” in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and the Tao in Taoism.  The Tao is “The Great Mother, Mother of the Universe.”  An ancient prayer to Isis in Africa calls her “Nature, the universal Mother, mistress of all the elements.”  Medieval Christians appropriated Isis as the Black Madonna and more recently as the Brown Madonna of Guadalupe.  Benedictine abbess and Christian mystic, musician, artist and healer of the twelfth century, Hildegard of Bingen honors Mary as the “ground of all being, mother of all joy, glowing, most green and verdant sprout.”

Another common teaching among world spiritual teachings is that of quieting the mind, of calming down, of making silence.  We call it meditation or contemplation.  Given today’s science, we might say such practices are about calming the reptilian brain which, being 420 million years old, plays a dominant role in our lives.  But reptiles are not good bonders as a rule; they like solitude.  Crocodiles lie alone in the sun.  Solitude is what we all encounter in meditation.  So solitude befriends our reptilian brains. How important is that?  Well, the reptile is win/lose.  The reptilian brain offers an action/reaction response.  Our species can’t run on that brain’s energy any longer.  It is killing us all and killing the planet.  We have to learn to meditate in order to calm the reptilian brain and allow the more recent brain, our mammal and compassionate brain, its proper space.  So the teachings to calm the mind, to find that stillness where we face God and Nothingness directly, these are especially valuable in our time.  “Be still and know that I am God,” say the Hebrew Scriptures.

Thich Nhat Hanh says: “Meditation is stopping, calming, and looking deeply.”  Breathing exercises help with this and so too does doing art.  Meditation is about focusing and centering.  We can do that by sitting but also by walking or by painting or writing poetry or composing music.  We can learn to let go, at least for a while, of the past and of our future worries and live fully in the present, fully in the Now.  The Tao te ching puts it this way: “Empty your mind of all thoughts.  Let your heart be at peace….Each separate being in the universe returns to the common source.  Returning to the source is serenity.”

We have treated about seven  themes that all the spiritual traditions teach in common.  There are many more as well.  Though diverse in their expression, these traditions share the same common wisdom.  It is important at this time in human and planetary history, when so much is in jeopardy, that we pay attention to what our traditions share in common instead of focusing on their differences.  As Rumi, the Sufi and Islamic mystic put it seven centuries ago: “All religions, all this singing, is one song.  The differences are just illusion and vanity. The sun’s light looks a little different on this wall than it does on that wall…but it’s still one light.”


All citations can be found in Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths (New York: Tarcher, 2000).

Kudos to Steven Hermann and Walt Whitman

Kudos to Steven Hermann and Walt Whitman: A Review of “Walt Whitman: Shamanism, Spiritual Democracy, and the World Soul” by Steven B. Herrmann By Matthew Fox

Thanks to Walt Whitman and to Carl Jung and to William Everson, mentors to the author whose in-depth probing of Whitman’s work unveils a treasure house of profound building blocks toward forging a post-modern spirituality.  Just as Whitman has been credited with re-inventing poetry through free verse, so with this study we get a feel for how authentically he also accomplished a reinvention of religion.  He and Hartmann are to be praised.  As Whitman put it, “The people, especially the young men and women of America, must begin to learn that religion, (like poetry), is something far, far different from what they supposed.  It is indeed too important to the power and perpetuity of the new world to be consign’d any longer to the churches, old or new, Catholic or Protestant—Saint this, or Saint that.  It must be consign’d henceforth to democracy en masse, and to literature.  It must enter into the poems of the nation.  It must make the nation.”  (p. 287)

Whitman’s spiritual genius breaks out everywhere in this profound study.  Consider his position on spiritual democracy that is so inclusive of women’s wisdom and experience.  “Democracy, in silence, biding its time, ponders its own ideals, not in literature and art only—not of men only, but of women.  The idea of the women of America, (extricated from this daze, this fossil and unhealthy air which hangs about the word lady,)  develop’d, raised to become robust equals, workers, and, it may be, even practical and political deciders with the men—greater than man, we may admit, through their divine maternity, as always their towering, emblematical attribute—but great, at any rate, as man, in all departments.” (250)  These words written multiple decades before women even had the right to vote!

Consider his position on deep ecumenism—and how it begins with the lower chakras (“throbbings”) in dance, where all shamanism begins, with our connection to the earth, and is cosmic because it embraces “all the voices of the universe.”

I hear the dance music of all nations…bathing me in bliss.

Give me to hold all sounds, (I madly struggling to cry,)

Fill me with all the voices of the universe,

Endow me with their throbbings, Natures also,

The tempests, waters, winds, operas and chants, marches and dances,

Utter, pour in, for I would take them all!  (p. 250)

Consider his 150 year ahead-of-his-time inclusion of same-sex marriage as part of spiritual democracy.  And consider his call for a truly cosmic and universal creation-based “spiritual democracy.”  All his songs resonate with the labor groans of an emerging post-denominational, ecumenical, eco-based and justice-based spirituality yearning to be born in our time.

To entertain the themes that emerge from this in-depth study of Walt Whitman is like standing underneath a refreshing waterfall on a hot summer day.  Here are some of them: vocation; work; joy; ecstasy; sacred body; mystical sexuality; evolution of consciousness; nature—trees!; animals (green man); conscience, justice; religion’s failure; Europe’s failures; chant and spiritual praxis; mysticism; prophecy; evil; “vocalism,” i.e., art as meditation; the return of the feminine; native American wisdom; democratizing of spirituality including ecstasy, prophecy and conscience; ecology; earth consciousness; deep ecumenism; symbolic existence, metaphor; throat chakra; drum, ecstatic dance and ritual.

As institutional religion continues to embarrass itself and lost its grip and interest and moral legitimacy with ever new revelations of hypocrisy, priestly pedophilia, hierarchical privilege and cover-up, heresy-hunting, denunciations of science, homophobia, sexism, power addictions, fear, selling of cheap guilt, conniving with empire-builders and just plain boredom masquerading as worship, Whitman’s invitation to an ecumenical, earth-based spirituality calls all the louder to souls hungry for solid, sane and intelligent spirituality.  This book serves up many deep and tasty dishes.  Wisdom food abounds.  We are famished.  We are ready!

Let Walt Whitman speak:

“If anything is sacred the human body is sacred.”  (205)

“Why, who makes much of a miracle?

As to me, I know nothing else but miracles.” (288)

“Comradeship, uniting closer and closer not only the American States, but all nations, and all humanity. That, O poets! Is that not the theme worth chanting, striving for? Why not fix your verses henceforth to the gauge of the round globe?  The whole race...contributed by every nation, each after its distinctive kind.” (287)

Hartmann comments: “The idea of a new post-Judaic, post-Christian, post-Islamic, post-Hindu, post-Taoist, post-Buddhist religion is unique to America and the multi-culturalism that Whitman achieves in ‘Passage to India’ and “Democratic vistas’ is what makes him so unique among the poet-shamans of the world.”  Indeed.  His time has come.  So has ours.  This book opens needed doors for all of us.  Dare we enter them?  Dare we leave behind what we must to travel more lightly through these opened doors?    Time will tell.  And time is running out.

Ernest Holmes as a Creation Spirituality Mystic

Ernest Holmes as a Creation Spirituality Mystic Dr. Matthew Fox

If Jesus is correct when he says “by their fruits you shall know them,” then Ernest Holmes is a mystic to be admired because of the many fine practitioners and followers of his work that even I have encountered in the and Church of Religious Science over the years. I have often felt a deep connection with persons who live out Homes’ teachings and so I would like here to draw some parallels between his teaching and the tradition of Creation Spirituality which he is clearly a part of and which has occupied me for some thirty-five years of work and research.

1.First is Holmes’ understanding of the spirituality/cosmology connection. His very definition of spirituality is as follows: “Spirituality is a word too often misused. From our viewpoint spirituality is one’s recognition of the Universe as a living Presence of Good, Truth, Beauty, Peace, Power, and Love.” (p.33) Notice how the universe itself plays a central role in his understanding of spirituality. That is creation centered spirituality indeed. And ours is not a neutral universe but a loving one full of goodness (i.e. blessing), truth, beauty and more.

It follows that Holmes demonstrates a keen interest in cosmology as when he says: “The Science of Mind does not deny the physical universe. The objective universe is the Body of God. That body includes our physical being.” (p. 4.) The universe is how we name the divine in the human for “Every man becomes a unique manifestation of the Whole, a microcosm within the Macrocosm; rooted in the Infinite, he personifies it….God incarnate in man.” (p.31) Not only humans manifest Divinity but “everything that exists is a manifestation of the Divine Mind; but the Divine Mind, being inexhaustible and limitless, is never caught in any form; It is merely expressed by that Form. The manifest universe, then, is the Body of God.” (p.87)

Consciousness is a universal phenomenon. “It is enough for the intelligent person to know that the entire planetary system manifests intelligence and organization; that is, it manifests intelligence plus direction, and intelligence plus direction means consciousness.” (108) Another word for such consciousness would be Wisdom!

2. For Holmes, spirituality is about practice, not just theory. He says: “For every science there must be a technique or a way of proving its truth. …We must lay even more stress on the use of the Science of Mind than we do on seeking to establish its Principle….The first thing that any student of this science should do is determine to make daily use of it. In this, as in all other things, we should be practical. Too much study of any principle without making conscious use of it will lead to mere theorizing, and I am sure we all wish practical results.” (pp5f.)

3.Religion and Spirituality are not necessarily identical. Holmes writes: “People are more interested in God than they are in religion, because religion has been more or less mixed up with superstition, theology, and ecclesiasticism”. Holmes criticizes religion for being too small at times, too committed to its tribal gods. “When we use the word “God” or “Spirit” we do not mean a tribal God, but the Supreme Mind and Power back of all created form, the Intelligence which responds to us, the Intelligence which rises through the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, and blossoms in the human mind as it approaches the conscious recognition that is it one with the Oversoul….The nature of man’s being is God.” (107) Furthermore, religion sometimes succumbs to Bibleolotry and Homes warns us: “The real Bible is inscribed on the walls of our own consciousness which by pure intuition knows that the Universal Intelligence that we call God exits.” (p. 108) And so he instructs his followers that “when people say “that they are not interested in a new religion, be sure to explain to them that you are not offering them a new religion you are merely seeking to give them an interpretation of life.” (110) He believed Science of Mind “does not necessarily create a new religion or sect, for it may be added to any spiritual system of thought since it is a complement to all”. (p.5)

4.Holmes prefers original blessing (goodness) over original sin when he writes: “The Will of God is never toward suffering ….Man must constantly reaffirm his belief in the Infinite Goodness if he expects to exclude the idea of evil from his thought.” (137f.) This is like Julian of Norwich saying “God is goodness” and Meister Eckhart teaching that “whenever we speak of the God of creation we are talking about Goodness.”

Holmes says: “God’s Will is always toward Life and more Life….The Life within you is God; whatever is true of God is true of your Life, since your Life and the Life of God are not two but One…. This Life within you, being God, did not begin and it cannot end; hence you are immortal and eternal…. The God that is within you is Truth, Beauty, Harmony, and Wholeness. Every apparent imperfection from which you suffer is a result of ignorance.” (116f.) Hildegard of Bingen agrees for she wrote: “God is Life” and Thomas Aquinas said: “God is Life, per se Life.” Holmes adds: “I know there is a Power for Good which is responding to me and bringing into my experience everything that is necessary to my unfoldment….I know there is a Power for Good that enables me to help others and to bless the whole world.” (434)

5. Holmes understands the distinction between Jesus and Christ and teaches the Cosmic Christ when he writes: “The reference to Christ is not to the man Jesus but to the Divine Incarnation in all people.” (154) And again, “every man is an incarnation of God….each man is an individualized center of the Consciousness of the one God….”(90f). Religious Science is dedicated to teaching “an absolute union of man with his Source….The whole process of evolution is a continual process of awakening. It is an understanding of this indwelling union which constitutes the spirit of God.” (p. 96) “Every man is an incarnation of God”—and a unique incarnation.

Holmes cites the “I am” sayings that are attributable to the Christ as being applicable to all of us when he writes: “I am the Christ dwelling at the center of every soul: human, yet Divine; Infinite, yet flowing through that which is apparently finite…I am the abundance within you….I am the Creativeness within you….I am the Sustainer within you. In the heart of each I live; at the center of all creation I dwell. I fill all space. I am All-in-all, over all, and through all. From the mightiest form to the smallest atom, my presence covers all, pervades all, and animates all.” (131-135) It follows that the Kingdom of Heaven means the kingdom of Harmony, of Peace, of Joy and of Wholeness. It is an inward Kingdom. “Heaven is not a place but an inward state of consciousness….The Kingdom is not external but within….within the mind.” (92) It follows that “there is a great difference in believing God to be within you or outside you.” (117)

6. Holmes works continually from a perspective of Deep Ecumenism. He cites from that Tao te Ching, the Gita, the Upanishads, Talmud, Koran, Bible, Hermetic philosophy, and more. He says: “All Scriptures declare that man is the spiritual image and likeness of God.” (p. 89) He cites Professor Max Muller affirmatively when he says: “The true religion of the future will be the fulfillment of all the religions of the past….love and embrace what is good in each.” (p. 105) Holmes believes that “All sacred scriptures have proclaimed the Unity of Life; that every man is a center of God Consciousness. This is the meaning of the mystical marriage, or the union of the soul with its Source. Jesus boldly proclaimed that he was One with the Father. This is the basis of all New Thought teaching, the Spiritual Union of all life.” (95)

Curiously, the name of my book on Deep Ecumenism is One River, Many Wells and Holmes invokes a similar imagery when he writes: “In the Colorado Rockies there is a beautiful valley form which many fountains gush forth. Each fountain is different, more water comes from some than from others, but there is only one body of water at a deep, subterranean level which flows through each one of them…. We as individuals each have our own thoughts, feelings, hopes, aspirations, and desires and each is directly and intimately connected with the one Divine Life, energy, and Power. Each of us is a fountain of Life. There is a God-pressure back of each one of us, a Life-force seeking outlet though our thoughts and acts. There are many fountains, many individuals, but only One God-pressure back of all.” (23)

Holmes sees water imagery everywhere. “Throughout the Bible we have this simile of water, typifying the flowing Power of pure Spirit. It is impossible to think of Spirit as being anything solid. It is always fluid….We can hasten the advent of this Good by definitely clarifying our thought and by daily meditating upon the invisible Source, the wellspring of Life within each one of us.” (166) Meister Eckhart also wrote about the Holy Spirit as a “rushing and violent river.”

7. Part of the fluidity of the spirit in us is our Creativity as I point out in my recent book, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet. Holmes also underscores the power of our creativity when he writes: “The real creative power of the mind is deeper than the intellect. It passes into the realm of feeling and acceptance…. you will frequently find people who have splendid intellects, whose logic is almost perfect, but who seem never to penetrate the deeper mind where the creativity resides…There must be added this deep feeling and conviction that enable one to commune with the Invisible. As I have so frequently said, the best comparison I can think of is the feeling that an artist has toward beauty, for beauty is an invisible essence, an all-pervading, all-penetrating something that cannot be adequately expressed in words but only in thoughts. It is an inward emotion of the mind which reaches out until it strikes some corresponding chord emanating from the Universe Itself….This is what an artist feels….Perhaps this is the real and true meaning of communion; something beyond prayer as ordinarily thought of; something which cannot be described but can be felt. God does speak to the heart more than to the intellect….” (164f) Holmes connects creativity to Spirit: “We do affirm the Spirit as transcendent, having the ability to create new thoughts while new thoughts create new situations.” (321)

8. Holmes acknowledges our role in combating Evil and how our creativity can contribute to evil or to good. “The whole Divine nature is reproduced in us, but we are ignorant of the fact. Our thought is creative, but in our ignorance we use it destructively. Theology has called this the problem of evil. We call it a misuse of that which is Good….To learn to think in the right manner is to learn to create that which is Good, and which gives complete expression to the self without ever containing anything destructive or negative.” (201) How do we choose to use our creativity? “These same laws, wrongly used, impose suffering upon us. We can use our minds to be happy or unhappy; we can think peace or confusion; we can be loving and kind, or disagreeable, because we are free. If we were so created that we did not have this freedom, we should be eternally bound. Life would have no meaning. Everywhere we look in our own lives and the lives of others we see the use and the abuse of this power. For instance, the atomic bomb could destroy civilization, yet atomic energy could run the machinery in the world…We are finally discovering that the very power that makes us sick can heal us, the very things that bind us can free us, and that the imagination we use to destroy our happiness rightly used, could create situations that would make everyone happy. Well, this is the meaning of the serpent and the savior and the great symbol which runs throughout the Bible depicting the right and the wrong way to use the Power which is within us; the Power that is greater than we are.”

Evil is not to be projected onto any particular person or place. “In spiritual mind practice evil is never treated as an entity but as an operation of thought. The practitioner never deals with evil as though it were big or little, and he must be careful not to locate it anywhere, in any person, or any group of persons. It is easy enough to see that the mentality of a practitioner must be kept free from the belief in evil, which unfortunately obsesses most persons’ thoughts much of the time.” (167)

Love overcomes evil. “To understand that Love overcomes both hate and fear is one of the chief requisites of a scientific mental practitioner. Love does not overcome hate and fear by argument or force, but by some subtle Power of transformation, transmutation, sublimation, invisible in its essence but apparent through its act….Love is the victor in every case…. Love sets the captive free.” (331?) At the same time we should not flatter ourselves that we can overcome goodness. “It appears that we have the ability, at least temporarily, to pollute this Stream of Life with the consciousness of hate, despair, or any negative thought which denies its purity. But of course we do not really have the power to destroy, only to mold and remold.” (166)

Much of the cause of evil is fear. “Fear is the great enemy of man”. (376) It is possible for us to catch fear from others “much as we world catch a cold, for we are all unconscious mental, emotional, and spiritual broadcasting stations.” (This is a lot like Rupert Sheldrake’s teachings on morphic resonance.) Holmes continues: “This takes us back to a thought in the Bible which says that a man’s enemies shall be those of his own household, for our real enemies are our fears and phobias, our doubts and uncertainties, our anxieties and our inner conflicts.” (359) Holmes recommends that we learn to “tune in to the Mind of God, which is free from fear and doubt.” We do this by prayer and meditation. “Mental fear is resisted by a whole and happy mind….The quickest and most effective method to get rid of fear is to get quiet and lift up the whole thought in confidence and faith to something bigger than we are. (360f) Ultimately, God should be loved and trusted rather than feared. (364)

9. Celebration of life, wonder and youthfulness are signs of the spirit. Holmes believes that “Youth is not a time of life—it is state of mind. Nobody grows old by merely living a number of years. People grow old only by deserting their ideals. Whether seventy or sixteen, there should be in every man the love of wonder, the sweet amazement at the stars and the star-like things and thoughts, the undaunted challenge of events, the unfailing childlike appetite for What next?, and joy in the game of life. You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your confidence, as old as your fear; as young as your hopes, as old as your despair.” (177) Meister Eckhart taught that God is “the newest thing in the universe” and therefore the youngest spirit of all. To be God-like is to be young in spirit.

In all these nine ways—and many others—Holmes’ spiritual genius is on a parallel with great creation mystics of the past from Jesus to Hildegard to Aquinas to Eckhart to Julian of Norwich and more. We are blessed to be drinking from his wisdom today and today that wisdom is needed more than ever.

It's about Love!

It’s about Love, Stupid!  A word about Religion & Gay Marriage from a theologian  

Dr. Matthew Fox

When I read churches pontificating about what God says against homosexuals, my stomach gets knots in it.  The “God says” argument doesn’t hold water because the Bible is filled with “God says” items that do not cut the mustard any longer.  Consider for example the following admonitions from the Bible: Ex 35.2 says a person working on the Sabbath should be put to death.  Leviticus 11:10 says eating shellfish is an “abomination” (just like homosexuality).  Leviticus 25.44 says you may buy slaves from the nations that are around us.  Do you think Canadians would mind?  Or Mexicans?

Like anything else in life, one has to use the brains God gave us to determine priorities even and especially when reading Scriptures. Which of the priority teachings might apply to gay marriage in the Bible?  I would propose three.

One is the admonition that “God is Love.”  That is quite startling and still, after centuries and centuries, quite fresh.  God is Love.  Where we give love and receive love there is God.  Love is the better part of ourselves as human beings.  And it is God showing through our giving and receiving in good times and bad, in sickness and in health.

My Bible does not say “God is heterosexual love.”  (Does yours?)  But that God is love.  Marriage is supposed to build on love, develop it, nurture it and celebrate it.  A good argument for gay marriage.  Marriage celebrates and protects love.  Of whatever stripe.

The second Biblical teaching that honors gay marriage is Jesus’ teaching to put justice first, to support the anawim, those without a voice, the outcasts, the oppressed ones.  Gay and lesbian people have clearly been oppressed.  Some were arrested, some were put in mental hospitals and given lobotomies, some were beat up, some were murdered (such as the late Matthew Shepherd), most have had to hide and pretend—even from their families (I know one gay man who, as a child of ten, was sat down by his father with his four brothers and told: “If I ever found out that one of my sons was gay I would hang him from a lamp post and pull his guts out.”  I know a Philipino man who, thanks to the Roman Catholic hierarchy, felt so ashamed of his sexuality that he went to live in Africa for nine years rather than shame his family.  (And, since I am on the subject of the pope, why not be honest and say pedophilia is a sin but human love is not so please, sir, clean up your own house and put it in order before you pontificate about the “sickness” and “sinfulness” of gay love.)  Clearly, then, Jesus’ teaching to stand by the oppressed applies to a sexual minority as it does to any other minorities.

Lastly, the religious rhetoric against gay love is always buttressed by the famous line, “it’s not natural.  It’s against nature.”  But Science, whose job it is to explore nature, has found just the opposite.  That there are gay couples among at least 464 other species ranging from dolphins to birds, from dogs to seals.  So it is natural…. for a minority.  (It is not natural for a heterosexual but neither is heterosexuality natural for a homosexual.)

Religious people have to study creation as well as Bibles, just as St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the thirteenth century when he said: “A mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.”  (He did not have the scientific evidence at that time that we have today about the naturalness of homosexuality for 8 to 10 % of a given human population.)  Homophobia makes a very big mistake about God, the author of nature’s immense diversity.  Including sexual diversity.  God is author of nature and that means that God is author…yes, of gay as well as straight passions.

The love that is celebrated in gay marriage is society’s love, not just that of man to man or woman to woman.  We all profit from faithful love whether such joy be lived out in heterosexual or homosexual contexts.  Indeed, rather than “threatening” heterosexual marriage, I would predict that gay marriage will help resuscitate a dying institution because it is bringing joy back and gratitude for love from a segment of the population that has been denied it for so long.  All marriage will prosper from gay marriage.

So let us all rejoice that notions of God is Love; and Justice Matters; and Nature is God’s Doing are happening in a fresh way in the state of California.  And let us move on to other topics of pressing and genuine moral concern such as the fate of the Earth.

Matthew Fox is an Episcopal priest and author of 28 books on spirituality and culture including Original Blessing and One River, Many Wells..  See

Advancing from the Modern Quest for Miracles to a Post Modern Science of the Miraculous

Opening Address This paper is based on Matthew Fox’s Opening Address presented at the Seventeenth Annual ISSSEEM Conference, The Science of the Miraculous (June 21-27, 2006).

by Matthew Fox


The mechanical model of the Universe that so dominated the modern era effectively banished the deep wondrous and miraculous to a distant realm outside daily existence and experience of psyche and creation.  Modern religion responded by defining miracles as essentially “divine interventions contradicting nature’s laws.” But what if existence itself is miraculous and wondrous and our capacity for awe, reverence, gratitude and “isness” itself were the true meaning of the miraculous? Is this not what the mystics teach and what post-modern science is destined to teach us as well?

Approached with an appropriate sense of wonder, we can see the depth of the miraculous within nature and within human nature in particular. Modern science removed the fantasy that we and our earth occupy the physical center of the universe, but post-modern science has demonstrated that we do live right in the middle of the scale of things, and we have the creative powers to discover our place in the scheme of things. Reawakening awareness of the sacredness of being, the sacredness of existence, enlivens our sciences to recognize the light of the multitude of divine sparks. Awakening wonder  empowers compassion, and sparks our creativity to heal the damage we have done by believing we were masters of the world, when we are actually embedded in the web of creation.

We will explore these and other questions about the miraculous within nature in general and within human nature in particular.

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We are thinking together this evening

about the topic of miracles and I

have chosen as a framework: “Advancing

from the modern quest for miracles to a

postmodern science of the miraculous.” I

want to begin with a few peoples' thoughts

about what a miracle is or isn't.

I am sure you all know Einstein's statement

that there are only two ways to live your

life. One is as if nothing is a miracle and

the other is as if everything is a miracle.

That observation is profound. In fact it will

form a kind of substrate of much of what I

have to say this evening. It is expressed, I

think, in the words of Meister Eckhart in

the Fourteenth century when he said “isness

is God.” The miracle of existence is

the substrate of any other miracles we may

encounter. Another insight comes from one

of the truly authentic saints walking on the

planet at this time, and that is our brother

Thich Nhat Hahn, our Vietnamese

Buddhist brother. He says, “Our true home

is the present moment. The miracle is not

to walk on water. The miracle is to walk

on the green Earth in the present moment.”

To me, coming from the Western tradition,

this is an exact echo of what Jesus said, when

he said, “The Kingdom and Queendom of

God is among you.” So, walking on the

green Earth and being fully present to the

moment of walking on the Earth is itself a

miracle far greater than walking on water.

Implications of this are the real profound

moral dilemmas of our time, such as the

suffering of Mother Earth and her creatures;

the implications of this are profound. We

should be careful of rushing into extraordinary

versions of the miraculous, when in

fact what we think is ordinary is already


I would like to begin with some reflections

on what is a miracle after all. The word

“miracle” etymologically comes from the

word mirari which means to wonder at and

also to smile. They go together nicely. To

wonder deeply is to smile. It is to break

into joy, gratitude, and release. I would

propose that the modern era was not real

good at smiling. It was very serious about

things like “torturing Mother Earth for her

secrets.” (Francis Bacon). Development of

our powers of smile, wonder and awe were

seriously diminished in Western civilization

in the modern era. We were about more

serious stuff as we know, serious stuff that

has culminated in nuclear bombs,

submarines to deliver them and the ability

to tear down a rain forest in a day, that it

has taken God and nature 10,000 years to

give birth to and will not occur again on

this planet and perhaps not anywhere in the

universe. Webster's dictionary says, and you

must understand, I do not live by Webster's

dictionary, but it reveals a lot, when it

defines miracle this way: “an extremely

extraordinary event manifesting divine

intervention in human affairs.” A second

definition: “an extremely outstanding or

unusual event, thing or accomplishment.”

Of course Webster's dictionary comes out of

the modern era, and the whole idea that a

miracle is some kind of Zazam effect, that

is, God intervening with nature's course is

peculiarly modern.

I think it comes from this, in the modern

age, Westerners were taught that the

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Universe was a machine, which is a pretty

done thing, a finished thing. We made up

this idea that a miracle is breaking through

the machine rigidity, the absolute laws of

this Universe as we have been taught about

it. But as you move from modern to postmodern

science and modern to postmodern

consciousness and also welcome in

pre-modern consciousness, (which has the

much fuller experience of the awe of nature

and existence); as we make that move, we

shift profoundly our understanding of


What then does miracle really mean?

Here are some antonyms, the

opposite of miracle, because one of the best

ways to negotiate a spiritual concept is to

go to its opposite first. For example, if you

want to know what justice is, take in

injustice, feel the kick in your gut at what

is unjust and you will begin to taste what

justice is. Let's first go to antonyms,

opposites of miracle: mundane, dull,

ordinary, routine, everyday, commonplace,

boring, unexciting, humdrum, dreary,

monotonous, unremarkable, tedious,

mechanistic, repetitive, predictable. It all

makes you tired, doesn't it? This is stuff

that feeds the old cynics, the old goat in all

of us. It feeds cynicism. This is not what

the miraculous is about. There is a lot of

this feeling in the air today. Wherever there

is cynicism there is this wallowing in what

I call the opposite of the miraculous.

Now, let's look at what the miraculous

means. What are synonyms for miraculous?

Amazing, astounding, astonishing, incredible,

unbelievable, phenomenal, marvelous,

extraordinary, mind blowing, inextirpable,

wonderful, wondrous, remarkable,

surprising, awesome. That is what miraculous

means, to be struck by awe. How

present then is the miraculous in our daily

life, in our work, in our citizenship on this

blessed planet?

The Beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti several

decades ago said, “I am waiting for a rebirth

of wonder.” This is where science comes in

today to really feed us with the authentic

meaning of miraculous. What we are

learning when we are hearing the stories of

creation, the 14 billion years that brought

all of us here, and the kinship we have with

all of the beings of this Universe as we know

it: All of this is enough to pump awe to a

whole new level, never before and perhaps

rarely experienced certainly in recent

Western history. I want to look at the

subject of awakening our studying of

miraculous nature, studying miraculous

nature. I want to begin with this observation,

it is very important for scientists and

other serious people to recall, that to study

is a form of yoga. Study is a spiritual

practice. Study is a prayer. This is the

Jewish tradition for sure, where, to study

Torah is to enter into prayer, so long as you

bring your heart into the study. It was also

part of my tradition as a Dominican. We

were taught that the hours you spent

studying are just as prayerful as the hours

you spend chanting the psalms, or any other

kind of prayer. In fact there is a classical

story of Thomas Aquinas, who was a

Dominican. He was visiting a monastery

and writing a book. A brother came up and

said, “We are chanting the offices

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me that the playwright Antonin Artaud

wrote something very appropriate for this

critical moment in our history when he

said, “It is good that from time to time

cataclysms occur that compel us to return

to nature, that is, to rediscover life.”

Cataclysms occur to get us to return to the

fuller understanding of nature, which is the

rediscovery of life itself. What I am saying

then is that life is a miracle. Our being

here to study life is a miracle. I propose

that every breath you take and I take is a

miracle. The fact that the flowers over 100

million years ago fine tuned the oxygen on

our behalf and other animals' behalf is a

miracle; because the atmosphere at that time

was not appropriate for our lungs and

would have not allowed our presence on this

planet. I would say that all of these

accommodations to our presence are

wondrous, amazing, awesome and therefore


Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize after

his death for his book The Denial of Death.

He has another book and there is this

amazing sentence that speaks to what I am

talking about. He says, “Ancient people,

unlike modern people, had not yet lost their

awe of nature and of being.” He says it all

in this one sentence. The indigenous and

pre-modern people, unlike modern people,

had not yet lost their sense of awe at nature

and being. That is what we need to recover.

That sense of awe is the miraculous. Our

ancestors had this for tens of thousands of

years and we have pretty much erased it in

the last few centuries. When we recover this

sense of awe of nature and the awe of being,

we will be in a whole new place. We will

downstairs. You should come down.”

Aquinas said, “I am busy. Leave me alone.

I am studying.” Then the guy came up

again and said, “You have got to be down

here. We are praying.” Aquinas slammed

his hand on the table and said, “I am

praying! Get out of my room!” So the

whole idea is that to study is to pray, if you

bring your heart to it. That is the point.

Acertain amount of the Western quest

for knowledge has not brought its

heart to it. It has not been an interaction

with wisdom. It has just been an interaction

with knowledge and that is not

enough, because that is not human.

Knowledge by itself is raw power. Do you

remember the teaching from the Celtic

people, that says, “Never give a loaded gun

to a young man who has not first learned

to dance”? Knowledge in itself is a loaded

gun. It needs to find receptors who have

hearts. The mind is not a disembodied

reality. The mind is meant to connect to

the heart. The whole teaching then from

the Celtic people is that a person who has

not learned to dance, has not learned to first

celebrate life, is in no place to be taking life.

At this time in history, people who have

been studying nature must recover their

capacity for heart knowledge and bring that

into the project. That of course it seems

to me is what your entire organization is

about, reconnecting heart and mind.

Indeed, this reconnection is the very

struggle we face as a species today, a struggle

of whether we are even sustainable or not.

It is a struggle of how we are treating the

rest of nature, which of course will result in

our own capacity for survival. It seems to

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was told that I may never walk again. At

thirteen I was able to walk again. It was

an overwhelming blessing. I said to

myself, “I will never take my legs for

granted again.” This taking for granted

is what our civilization has to get over.

David here, the gentleman who I was

eating dinner with, was telling me how he

and his wife are working as medical people

in Uganda for one month a year. I was

asking what he learned from it. One of

the points he stressed was how much we

take for granted in our lives here. The

basics, including the stress of living in

drought in Africa, in living with AIDS in

Africa and so forth, we just don't know;

we are out of touch with how miraculous

our very existence is on a daily basis.

Iwill put out some questions. These are

for you to answer more than me. You

people have more scientific degrees than I

do. I ask: Is light a miracle? Is enfleshed

light or matter, what David Bohm calls

“frozen light,” a miracle? It's one in a

billion form of light. Is water a miracle?

Is breath a miracle? And the lungs with

which we process breath? Is the human

brain a miracle? Is the eye a miracle? It's

all wondrous. It's all amazing. We make

a huge mistake if we wait until our

deathbed to say thank you for it. As

Meister Eckhart said, “If the only prayer

you say in your whole life is thank you,

that will suffice.” But he didn't say, “And

wait until your last breath to say it.”

Are rainforests miracles? Are elephant's

miracles? Whales? Dogs? Polar bears?

How surrounded are we by miracles? What

no longer be beating up on nature,

including our own, and we will no longer

be neglecting the gift and the preciousness

of existence. We will not be taking

existence for granted.

One of the exciting people here this

evening, and you are all exciting, but

I ran into one fellow I haven't seen in years,

Courtney Milne sitting over here. He is a

photographer and a mystic who has done

some brilliant photographic books on the

wonders of the world. He has traveled all

over the world to get photos on the sacred

sites of the world, from Ayers Rock to

Machu Picchu and others. He had tremendous

mystical and other kinds of experiences

all around the world including having

his camera stolen in one sacred place. He

just came up to me before dinner and told

me this amazing story. He said, “I did all

of these books about these sacred spaces,

places all over the world. For the last seven

years I have been taking photographs of one

place--my back yard, the pond in my back

yard. I have 35,000 photographs if you

want to see them. Each one is more

revealing of the beauty, depths and sacredness

of this one place, which rivals Ayers

Rock and Machu Picchu.”

That, my friends, is exactly what I am

talking about. It is what Thich Nhat Hahn

was talking about. We are walking on

miracles everyday. You don't have to get on

a jet plane and fly to Machu Picchu to

know those things. Mother Earth is

blessing us everyday. If you have feet to

walk, that alone is a miracle. I know that

because when I was twelve I got polio and

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 6

Baudelaire was saying. It is a story about

the yearning of the rest of creation to see

our hearts and a reminder that we are kin

with the rest of creation. To really grasp

the depths of this we have to rediscover this

sense that Einstein talked about that the

miraculous is a daily event. We must not

take life for granted.

As Rabbi Hessel says, “Life without wonder

is not worth living. What we lack is not a

will to believe, but a will to wonder.” The

will to wonder, the will to be open to awe,

that is the miraculous that can come alive

in our time and it must, because it is in

that context that we become warriors on

behalf of health and well-being of the other

creatures on this planet.

Let me give you one example of where

I find today's science reminding us of

how miraculous our lives are. We all know

the story about how Moses went to the top

of the mountain and found God in a

burning bush, took his shoes off out of

reverence and so forth. Mt. Sinai. You can

spend several thousand dollars and make

that pigrimage yourself to Mt. Sinai if you

care to. However, given today's physics, the

truth is that every bush, we now know, is

a burning bush. Protons and light waves

are in every atom in the universe. And

those beings that are green, who have taught

the rest of us how to eat, because they have

learned how to eat the sun with photosynthesis,

these beings are especially burning.

You don't have to take a trip to Mt. Sinai.

You can step right outside this hall, pick up

a leaf and you are encountering a burning


are we doing about it? How are we allowing

this wonder and this awe to seep into our

souls, our minds, our bodies and our

educational systems? Our political systems?

Our economic systems? Our worship

systems? Have we created armored suits so

that none of this is really received by us at

the depth at which it is coming at us?

There is a beautiful statement by

Baudelaire, the nineteenth century French

poet and art critic. He says, “We walk

through forests of physical things which are

also spiritual things that look on us with

affectionate looks. “We are continuously

being blessed by the beings of the world.

But are we preoccupied with our agendas so

strongly that we are not receiving?”

There is a beautiful story that happened last

year near where I live in San Francisco on

the ocean outside of San Francisco Bay. A

whale got stuck tied up in ropes. She had

a rope right through her mouth and she was

thrashing around and getting tighter,

beginning to drown. Five men went out in

rubber suits with machetes to try to release

her. It was a very dangerous task. One flip

of her tail and they would have been done

for, but she remained very still for the hour

and a half of this operation. One of them

was working on the rope in her mouth, eye

to eye with her for over an hour. They

succeeded and undid the ropes. This is

what happened then. The whale took three

laps, three circles. You would do that too

if you had just been liberated from prison.

Then she went up to each of the five men

and nudged them. A thank you. For me

that is a profound story. It is just as

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 7

ago. It is all wondrous. It is all amazing.

It is all, therefore, miraculous. It was

Aquinas who said, “Revelation comes in two

volumes, nature and the bible.” This is what

religion in the West has been missing for

centuries. It has put all its eggs into the bible

basket. The bible is only 2,500 years old.

The universe is over thirteen billion, and this

contains the sacred writings of divinity. It is

in all of our bodies. Our bodies are much

older than the bible. Our bodies are cosmic

bodies. We must be paying more attention

to the revelation of nature.

For that task, we of course call upon the

sacred vocation of the scientist, because the

scientist unpacks, unveils, therefore helps

reveal the grace that nature is, the presence

of the divine that nature is, the sacred

throne on which the Goddess sits. Again,

Aquinas said this in the thirteenth century

and of course his whole effort was to bring

science into Christianity and he paid a price

for it. He was condemned three times

before they canonized him as a Saint. Keep

that in mind. He said, “A mistake about

creation results in a mistake about God.”

That ennobles the scientific quest as much

as any one sentence can ennoble it. Turn

it around and it means this: an insight into

creation is a revelation of God. It adds to

our understanding of God. To take the

example of the photographer who has spent

so much serious time taking pictures of just

his backyard pond, as he tells me he is going

deeper and deeper into the wonder, the

miracle of that one place. This is true of

you people who spend hours and hours,

years and years, months and months in your

sacred study, which is your prayer, in your

Today's physics has democratized the

theophany that was the launching pad of

the entire Western spiritual tradition. Be

with that for a minute folks. This is

stunning. That is just one tiny example.

Take another example in the Christian

tradition. John's gospel says, “Christ is the

light in all things.” We now know there is

light; there are photons in every atom in the

universe. This means that the Christ

presence is in every atom in the universe,

which parallels exactly the Buddhist

teaching that the Buddha nature is present

in all beings in the universe. All of this is

about awakening our awareness of the

sacredness of being, the sacredness of

existence. It is becoming simpler for us to

realize these things. We don't need all of

the paraphernalia of organized religions and

churches to get to the heart of the matter.

As a species we have to travel much lighter

at this time. We need a deeper spirituality,

but not necessarily more religious institutions.

Meister Eckhart put it this way in the

Fourteenth century. He said, “Every creature

is a word of God and a book about God.”

In other words, every creature is a bible. He

said, “If I spend enough time with a

caterpillar, I will never have to prepare a

sermon, because one caterpillar is so full of

the divine.” What we know from science is

that every caterpillar has a fourteen billion

year history, as do every one of us. The

caterpillar carries the carbon, nitrogen and

magnesium from the supernova explosions

from five and one half billion years ago, but

also the hydrogen and the helium from the

original fireball of thirteen plus billion years

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 8

hunting/gathering exercise and it takes the

same spiritual warrior-hood that any other

spiritual practice takes. It takes strength. It

takes integrity. And it takes caring. Many

of you have invested many years into this

kind of hunting and I want to acknowledge

that. Let's now turn to one of the most remarkable

sentences about miracles that I have

ever read. This comes from my brother

Thomas Aquinas. He says, “The greatest

miracle of all is a virtuous life.” The greatest

miracle of all is a life lived virtuously. Now

we are talking about the miracle in the

human. I alluded to the miracle of the

burning bush, the miracle of the light in all

things and the miracles of the fourteen

billion years that got us here. Now let's look

at human nature. This is an astounding

statement that blows me away, that human

virtue is the greatest miracle we have got

going for us. Think about it. Is what

Gandhi did a miracle? Taking on the British

Empire, not firing a shot, and winning? Is

what Martin Luther King did a miracle?

Filling the jails and bringing about some

basic civil rights legislation and turning

segregation, at least at many levels, around.

Is what Malcolm X did a miracle? Including

his own conversion in Mecca where he got

over his own reverse racism and accepted

every human being as a child of God? Is

what Oscar Romero did--standing up to the

military in El Salvador, and to his own

church, because the Vatican was attacking

him for standing up to the military in El

Salvador--a miracle? Is what Dorothy Day

did--working and living among the poorest

of the poor in urban areas and starting houses

laboratories or at your computer examining

the miraculous that is the wonder and awe,

whether it is in the microcosm or the

macrocosm or in between in this sacred

place we call nature.

I am doing a book currently on the recovery

of the sacred masculine because it is obvious

that the divine feminine is back, the

Goddess is back. She's pissed, but she is

back. The Black Madonna is back and she

is whipping things up. The sacred

masculine has to step up to the plate. The

divine feminine needs a partner. I am keen

on that. One of the archetypes I am trying

to arouse for men to get going again is the

archetype of the hunter/gatherer. Certainly

for 95% of our species we were

hunting/gathering. I am asking now, how

have we taken this energy of

hunting/gathering? Which was certainly a

survival mechanism among other things.

How have we translated that into our world

today? I look around and I say, “Oh, it's

hunting for a shopping deal, a sale.” Is that

hunting/gathering in today's version?

Hunting for a parking place, is that

hunting/gathering? When I get into the

depth of it the first thing that comes to my

mind is the scientist. What is the other side

of Mars? What is at the extreme of these

expanding galaxies? Everyday in the paper

there is evidence that scientists are hunting

and gathering. It is a beautiful thing that

we converted that energy into something so

powerful and significant as learning the

story of how we got here. The story of

where here is, therefore, hopefully of where

we might be going and how we can get

there. The quest for truth is a

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 9

to say we are half way through the life of

the Earth. At 8-10 billion years the sun is

going to gobble the Earth up. It's going to

go away. So we are in the middle. If we

had come a lot sooner or if we had come

a lot later, we would not be in a position

to be examining, to be studying the kind

of holy lessons, holy beings that we are

living with and studying today.

Furthermore they say that in terms of the

history of the universe, being fourteen

billion years old nevertheless, that we are

here at this time, we are still able to pick

up the receding galaxies, and that before too

long future generations are not going to be

able to pick up the receding galaxies. And

we are able to pick up the sound of the

original fireball and the radiation and light

from the original fireball, and that too will

not be so visible in future time. We are at

the right place to be here. Like Goldilocks

and the Three Bears, this mattress is too

soft, this one is too hard, this one is just

right. We are at a miraculous place, just

like where Goldilocks found herself to be.

Furthermore they say the size of our bodies

is so interesting. They believe, having done

the counting on this, that if you look at all

the beings in the universe, the macrocosmic

beings, the big ones and the microcosmic,

humans lie right in the middle. And they

say that our bodies are the right size to be

studying the universe because if we were

much larger, if our heads were larger our

brain would have to put all its energy into

processing our body and not into looking

through telescopes or whatnot to the rest of

the universe. This is stunning and

astounding and therefore miraculous

of hospitality in the poorest places and

bringing a lot of young people into that arena

of service, a base community that stood up

to the dictatorial rulers in Latin America for

decades, even amidst great persecution--is

that a miracle? Is what Mozart accomplished

a miracle? And Mother Theresa? And

Hildegard of Bingen?

Our admiration, that is what miraculous is

about, admiration for the greatness of

human courage and integrity, what we

honor and those we honor the most and

praise the most. This supports Aquinas's

thesis that to live a virtuous life is

profoundly miraculous and admirable. It

comes home to all of us because every one

of us is called to live a life of integrity and

courage that is wondrous.

Every one of us is unique and every one

of us is in a unique place today. Also,

all of us are living at a very unique time in

planetary history, human history and even

cosmic history. In their recent book, View

from the Center of the Universe, two very

fine cosmological thinkers, Joel Primack (a

very active NASA astrophysicist) and his

wife Nancy Abrams have put together this

wonderful book essentially on what we have

learned in the last five years from the

Hubble telescope about our universe and

our place in it. They have come to some

amazing conclusions. Of course we are not

the center of the universe like pre-

Copernican thought. There is something

peculiar going on with us and here are some

of their findings. First of all, the Earth is

going to live 8-10 billion years and we are

at the 4.5 billion year mark, which means

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 10

archeologist's interest has focused on art

work, such as the paintings in caves 40,000

years ago. That is when they have found

our immediate ancestors. Just recently,

archeologists found human tools and beads

from the beaches of Morocco, in cave strata

that have been dated to 82,000 years ago.

These are the oldest ancestors we have

found to this moment. We know they are

our ancestors because they were busy

making beads for artistic ornamentation. If

for the anthropologist the working definition

of a human being is a biped who makes

artistic things, I don't know why our

education systems don't catch on.

Where is creativity in, “no child left

behind?” This is why the most creative

youngsters in our country, which are inner

city kids, are dropping out like flies, because

there is absolutely no acknowledgement of

their humanness, i.e. their creativity, in the

classroom. It is not just the young who are

dropping out. I was in Napa a few months

ago and a woman said, “I am a teacher. I'm

a great teacher. I love teaching and I'm

quitting. Every good teacher I know around

here is quitting. We never felt it was our

job to give an infinite amount of exams to

kids. We think it is our job to educe from

the kids their curiosity, their creativity and

their mindfulness. This is no longer the

agenda in education in this country.” I've

been working lately with an African

American, a thirty-two year old poet, rapper

and filmmaker. We are trying to reinvent

education from the inner city out.

Beginning with an after school program

from 3:00 to 6:00. It is built around several

elements; one is a spiritual practice with the

information. This is why they talk about

the view from the center of the universe.

We are not centered as they thought before

Copernicus, but there is something going

on. We are in the middle of something.

We have the chops to relate to it. We have

the intelligence. We have the creativity.

And we have the hearts, if we put ourselves

to the task. What this underscores is, on

the one hand, our dignity as a species, and

also our responsibility, and those go

together. What Eckhart called our nobility

is also our responsibility.

What are some of these virtues that are

calling us today to our miraculous

life of being virtuous human beings? One

of them that does not get nearly the press

that it deserves is curiosity. Curiosity is one

of the most holy enticers and forces of

allurement in the entire universe.

Unfortunately I have never had a class in

Curiosity 101 or much less Curiosity 303.

I wonder if we shouldn't be teaching

curiosity or at least encouraging it and

awakening it much more fully than we do

in the processes we call education. We

should be rewarding curiosity because

without it we truly withdraw, take for

granted, grow stale and freeze--truly freeze.

Another virtue that I think is appropriate

for our time is the virtue of creativity.

Remember the word virtue, virtus in Latin,

means power. We are talking about our

powers. Our species is precisely defined by

our creativity. When anthropologists go out

looking for our ancestors, they just don't

look for biped's bones, they look for biped

bones with artifacts next to them. Some tool

makers are considered to be pre-human, so

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 11

They will be the viruses to change education;

we won't have to work through school

boards. Life is too short for that. As an

example of what these kids can do, Professor

Pitt has made a four minute DVD, a video

about the subject and spirit of meditation.

What is refreshing for me about this is several

things, one is you can see that Pitt is

presenting a spiritual practice he has been

doing since he was ten, for over twenty years,

this is serious teaching here. He's teaching

it with the new art forms of rap and video

making. What I find when I see this is a

great load off my shoulders. The new generation

can step up to the plate. They are ready

to step up to the plate. They have whole

new languages, whole new art forms to tell

the important stories today. They do need

us elders for content. Pitt has told me he

has been waiting twenty years for me to show

up because he knew he needed the content.

Meanwhile, he has been preparing. He has

become a crafts person, a filmmaker and he's

done his inner work. Now he's ready to do

his warrior work. In this four minute video,

you can get a feel for the new languages of

creativity that are at the finger tips of our

young people today.

Does that give you hope like it gives me

hope? There is a whole new thing

happening. I spoke on Fathers' Day at

Howard Thurman's church in San

Francisco, and afterwards this young

African American man came up to me. He

said, “You're the first adult I've heard who

understands my generation.” This is exactly

where we are at, we know that we have new

tools, we know we are powerful. But we

don't feel that our parents know it; we don't

body. That is to say he will be teaching you

Kung Fu or the marriage of heaven and

earth, which are things he learned when he

was ten years old in the ghetto in the inner

city and it literally saved his life. We are

both convinced that it is this awareness of

our power through our bodies and creating

boundaries with our bodies that is so

essential for young people to hold for

themselves. He has taught these same

practices in juvenile detention homes with

profound results. For the first time in these

kid's lives they have learned to calm the

reptilian brain and to get in touch with their

own powers of silence and self-inner

discipline. A big part of our program is also

a thirty minute teaching each day, which will

be about the new cosmology, the wonders

of our body, the genius of Howard

Thurman, or some other worth while topic.

Then the last hour and a half of their

afternoon is going to be spent making

movies, making rap, poetry, theater about

these topics, the new cosmology, the

wonders of our body, Howard Thurman's

spiritual philosophy of community, or some

other worthwhile topic. We are very excited

about this. We see a way here--without

arguing about it, without going to school

boards and all the politics--of just bringing

it forward. The kids will be viruses because

they go to school the next morning, they are

going to go to school and say hey this

learning thing can be fun. We are making

movies, making rap about our place in the


We have learned that the universe has

set it up for us for fourteen billion

years. No one is teaching us this in school.

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 12

break loose, can finally emerge. This is what

the Buddha calls for, what Isaiah called for,

what Mohammad called for and what Jesus

called for. Our capacity for compassion,

where has it been? It has been swamped

lately with the reptilian brain. We can find

a way to quiet that reptilian brain. This is

what meditation does. Because reptiles like

solitude, to lie in the sun alone, they are

monks. You befriend your reptile brain by

taking care of the solitude needs that are in

you. Then the mammal brain can flourish.

No other virtue is as all-important,

according to every spiritual teacher that has

ever walked this earth or worked it.

Compassion can finally begin to happen.

The middle brain, the mammal brain can

finally emerge. Remember that the reptilian

brain is four hundred and twenty million

years old. The mammals compassionate

brain is two hundred ten million years old-

-half as old--but it does not get the

attention, especially in the modern era, that

it clearly deserves. Then igniting creativity

and putting it to the service of compassion

is where it's at today regarding our virtuous

work on this planet. This is service; all of

us are called to participate in the healing of

this planet in some way.

It is so clear that our creativity is our way

out of problems, i.e., clean fuel, clean energy

and so forth. Recently there was this article

in the paper, something I've never thought

about before, about scientists hunting,

gathering for some problem solving.

Scientists are eyeing the jet stream, an

energy source that rages night and day, 365

days a year, just a few miles above our heads.

feel that the school system knows it. We

know Dick Cheney and George Bush don't

know it. The media doesn't know it.

Mother earth in her suffering today is not

passive, she's active and she is awakening a

lot of young people, and a lot of creativity

everywhere. That is why the virtue, the

power of creativity needs to be tapped into

everywhere. These young people need

intergenerational wisdom. They need elders

who can help them with the content. They

need what scientists and explorers of human

nature and more can help them with. Not

because you want to make some kind of

esoteric fancy, get out-of-your-body experiences.

No, we like to stay in our bodies,

on this healthy body of mother earth.

Because currently it's not healthy--it's

unhealthy--because humans have been

taking a lot of weird trips lately. It is very

important, our invitation from the young,

though they may not articulate it always

very clearly. They want us in on the

picture. It's going to be a joint project, the

marriage of elderly wisdom with youth

wisdom. With these new art forms there is

no telling what can happen. I presented

Dr. Pitt's video at one place, and an older

gentlemen came up to me and said, “I can't

imagine any young person seeing that and

not being curious about meditation.” Isn't

it about time that we are curious about

meditation? What makes meditation so

important today? It can calm the reptilian

brain. When you can calm the reptilian brain

then that mammal brain, which is

our capacity for compassion, can finally

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 13

compassion is the whole ballgame, the whole

law. Compassion being the most used name

for God in the Koran by far. Is God the

compassionate one? We have a wonderful

marriage here of science and its teaching

interdependence and our spiritual traditions

and our capacity for compassion. So

compassion then becomes a virtue that will

be the hallmark of our generation. We are

talking about the next evolutionary step of

our species. We don't have 500 years for it

or even 100 years. This has to happen

swiftly, time is running out on us. Time is

running out, and also we are adversely

affecting the other species.

Compassion is not about sentimentally,

feeling sorry or pity for one another. This

again is Webster's dictionary mistake.

Webster's dictionary says the idea that

compassion is about a relationship between

equals is obsolete. In fact, I propose that

Webster's dictionary is obsolete. “Passion

means justice,” says Meister Eckhart, calling

from the Jewish tradition. Justice is about

finding the balance. David was telling me

that one thing he's learned from being in

Africa is how unbalanced our world is. In

terms of accessibility to basic health care,

accessibility to basic healthy water, and so

forth. We have to hunt and gather the forces

of justice. The forces of balance again.

Because that is what compassion is about.

Compassion is not something sentimental

sweet or mushy. Compassion is about finding

the dance in the world between ourselves and

others and within all the communities of

which we are a part. This of course means

the human community as well.

If they can tap into these fierce winds the

worlds entire electrical needs would be met,

they say. The trick is figuring out how to

harness the energy. But the jet stream blows

from west to east six to nine miles over the

northern hemisphere with speeds up to 310

miles per hour twenty-four hours a day.

This is a very interesting concept. I never

thought of that. This, plus solar energy,

plus wind energy on the earth, plus so many

other ways to go. Again, we're living in a

moment of the unleashing of our creativity.

This is really the strong point of our species-

-our creativity and our capacity for compassion.

Here again is where today's science

really serves compassion. Science has

rediscovered an ancient mystical awareness

of interdependence. Interdependence is

now obviously one of the primary principals

of today's physics. Interdependence is

the basis of all compassion. Thomas

Merton, a Catholic monk who died perhaps

of assassination a number of years ago, two

hours before he died, gave a talk on compassion.

He said, “Compassion is keen

awareness of an interdependence of all living

things that are all part of one another.”

Science had confirmed this. You and I are

literally living with the atoms of the stars,

the galaxies, and indeed the molecules in

our lungs are those that Buddha breathed,

that Jesus breathed, that others have been

breathing. We are living interconnected

lives in every sense of the word.

What we have now is a new basis for

human behavior and it matches

ancient teachings: Jesus saying, “be you

compassionate as your creator in heaven is

compassionate,” and the Buddha taught that

Think right now of the sacredness of

water, because that's the real issue

around the world and it's going to become

more of an issue. Who is going to own the

water? Thomas Merton one day wrote in

his journal, “It's raining outside my

hermitage. I'm going to take my hat off and

walk in the rain, because some day they will

be selling us the rain.” That day is here

already. I was taught by a Native American

teacher, a Lakota man named Buck Ghost

Horse several years ago. He said: “you want

to know how holy water is, how miraculous

water is? Go without water for three days.”

It's simple, it doesn't take a sermon, doesn't

even take scientific investigation. Just go

without it for three days and you will know

what a miracle that first sip of water is. The

truth is people all around this globe are

going without water on a regular basis, and

without healthy water. These are some of

the lessons I wanted to share with you

around this topic of our daily experience of

the miraculous.

One more virtue that needs special

attention today is the virtue of

generosity. Sometimes we forget how

generous nature is. Are we aware for

example that the entire earth system runs

on one billionth of the sun's energy

everyday? The sun is giving away all this

energy all we need is one billionth. Are we

thanking the sun? There is a beautiful

poem from Hafiz, the fourteen century Sufi

mystic, that says, “Even after all this time

the sun never says to the earth, 'you owe

me.' Look what happens with a love like

that, it lights up the whole sky.” There's a

give away going on, there's a give away

going on in nature all over the place and

we are invited to the table. Not just to

receive but to deliver. That is, we have to

grow up as a species. We have been taking,

especially western civilization, from mother

earth and her children, her creatures for so

long. Now mother earth is asking of us,

“Isn't it time that you act like grown ups

and give as well as take?” That act of giving

is what we mean by generosity. I found the

word generosity so primal to the miracle,

the miracle of being human. When you

can tap into your generosity, our being fully

human, the miracle of your power, of your

virtue is shining. What I find about this

word generosity is terribly interesting. I

find it to be one of the richest words in our


Behind the word generosity is a Latin word

genero, to beget, to produce, to create, to

cause to exist, to bring to life. So it's the

basis of our word generate, to be generative.

To be generous is to be creative. The word

generosity incorporates our creativity. In

addition, behind the word generosity is the

word genes or origin, birth, descent, father,

family, nation, offspring, race, ancestors.

All of these include the word generous. It

is our ancestors too. There is this

cosmological meaning to generosity too.

You're bringing in fourteen billion years of

ancestors when you're tapping in to your

powers of generosity. That is a miracle. In

addition the word generous comes from the

same source as the word generosity. Your

genius is the showing off of your generosity,

the display of your generosity. This is not

about building your ego up. It's about

participating in the generosity of the rest of

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nature. The miraculous, wondrous, stupendous

generosity of the universe. Which has

dared to bring our species aboard; a species

very exaggerated in our intellectual capacities,

and very feeble in our capacity for heart

and compassionate steering of the intelligence.

We've been proving the last few

centuries the deep danger of knowledge,

naked knowledge. Our species has to shift

and now, to the hunting and gathering of

wisdom. To draw the wisdom from all the

spiritual traditions of the world, including

science. To draw from our own hearts from

that of our children and from the warnings

that science is giving us. Part of the hope

of our time is the despair. I look at human

history and see nothing moves humans like

necessity. The truth is that we are living in

a moment of immense necessity. This is

one way we draw on our capacity for

generosity and creativity. One story I was

told by a scientist a few years ago that really

stuck with me is this: when our ancestors

discovered fire they left Africa. I would say

it was especially curiosity that had us leaving

Africa and we went on our ways. A bunch

of our ancestors landed in Euro-Asia and

the ice age hit. They just left the hot

savannas of Africa and now they're in an ice

age. I bet they spent a thousand years

blaming one another. Who turned off the

heat? What did you do? What bad dreams

did you have? Meanwhile they got to work,

they started killing mammoths, learned how

to sew them. They learned how to live in

caves and tell stories at night (instead of

watching television, watching other people's

stories at night). They developed all kinds

of survival mechanisms. But the point is

they survived. We come from tough stock.

Now we have self-pity that always goes

along with patriarchy. Patriarchy by

definition feels sorry for itself, because it

banished the mother capacity of compassion

within itself, so it has to look for mother

outside. It falls into to self-pity. One

concrete example would be the Vatican in

our time; It is overwhelmed with self-pity.

Because it destroyed the mother principal

within itself, that's called karma. We have

all kinds of whining and cynical media

people and politicians telling us, “Woe,

woe, woe! We can't do it. We don't have

the creativity. We don't have the energy,

don't have the time. We don't have the

money.” All self-pity. Every one of us

comes from very strong stock. Our

ancestors made it from the heat of Africa

through the ice age. Don't tell me we can't

make it today from this precipice of global

warming to a new way of living on this

planet. Every one of you in your work as

healers, searchers, investigators, scientists--

every one of you, every one of us and

everyone of the community that we

represent has a profound role to play in this

gathering of wisdom. This gathering of

wisdom and hunting for wisdom will be the

hallmark of our generation. These are some

thoughts I brought to share with you. We

might learn something from Gregory

Bateson when he says “the hardest teaching

in the Christian gospels is Saint Paul when

he says God is not mocked.” Gregory

Bateson says, “This saying should be

applied to the relationship between

humanity and ecology, the processes of

ecology are not mocked.” In other words

there has been a ledger that has been kept,

not by a God in the sky but by what

Subtle Energies & Energy Medicine • Volume 18 • Number 1 • Page 15

Hildegard called the “web of creation”. She

says humans are a part of the web of

creation. There is give and take as there is

in a web. She says if humans ignore the

justice that keeps the web together then

God, she says, will allow creation to punish

humanity. It's not God seeking vengeance.

It's the web of creation that's going to put

us in our place.

That is the moment at which we gather

today, that is the reason we are asking

questions about where is the miraculous and

how is our grasp of the miraculous shifted in

this post-modern time? You people have the

stuff that we all have within us, the chops.

To stand with the strength of the spiritual

warrior. The strength of the green man, the

strength of the goddess and of the Black

Madonna. At this time in history to reopen

the human agenda and the human perspective

to the basic truth that the miraculous

happens with every breath we take. If you've

ever been present for a birth of a baby you

know how stupendous and sacred that first

breath is. If you've been present at the last

breath as a person dies you know how special

that breath is. There is no reason then for

us to take every breath in between for

granted, quite the opposite. Every breath in

between can be the energy that brings out of

us our Divine-like generosity, compassion,

joy and creativity. That would be miraculous.

Don't you agree?

• • •

1. This paper is based on Matthew Fox’s Opening

Address presented at the Seventeenth Annual

ISSSEEMConference, The Science of theMiraculous

(June 21-27, 2006).

∞ ∞ ∞

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