Matthew Fox says “Wake Up!”
“There’s no such thing as a Roman Catholic rainforest, a Buddhist ocean, a Methodist moon, a Lutheran sun. And once we realize that—put our religions into context—then we’re going to chill out a little, calm down, and maybe we’ll start looking for one another’s wisdom and see how we can link up on that. And do the other things like save the world, heal the world.
You know, many atheists are not really atheists. What they are rejecting is theism. I rejected theism a long time ago. What I perceive is panentheism, which means God in everything and everything in God. Like the fish in the water, the water in the fish. That’s the way mystics see divinity and our relationship to divinity. They say, “God is not out there.” That’s theism. And the whole idea from the modern era that the universe is a machine and God’s out there oiling the machine or something…that’s just not where it’s at.
I’m a little uncomfortable with using the word “reliance” too much. But it may be just because I see a mutual thing going on between us and Spirit. And sure I’m going to call on Spirit and for help and for guiding us, and for keeping us steady; grounded. But Spirit is always there, and God is always here. So I think we can exaggerate the need for us to rely on God if we have this undercurrent of the Presence. And that’s where the word ‘Presence’ comes in again. I call on God like most people do, when in a foxhole or something. But the Presence…. It’s really interesting ’cause I’m just getting into Chenu (MD Chenu) and it has begun to grow on me and dawn on me what a powerful naming that is, ‘the Presence’ That the Presence is there all the time. We don’t have to spend a lot of time calling.
My biggest doubts are about the church, which claims to be Present, a presence; the mystical body of Christ, for example. And of course I’ve seen a good deal of the shadow side of that organization. I sought presence beyond the confines of a self-identified organization or structure. And I think that’s what Deep Ecumenism is. I think it’s looking for Divinity everywhere, as you say. And I can see it in my ancestors, I can see it in the struggle and theological effort, and often political effort, to survive and to celebrate God in nature, and to share it with other generations. But again, I’ve experienced it in sweat lodges; I’ve experienced it in sun dances; I’ve experienced it in vision quests—the presence of the Divine—so I don’t find it just at mass, or from the Catholic church.
I was silenced for a year. No teaching. No lecturing. No preaching, and no publishing. You know John Paul the Second brought the inquisition back. There’s no question about it. Cardinal Ratzinger was his hatchet man, and he loved it. So the first public appearance I had after my 14 months of silence was a big event in America. It was in Chicago, at the Call to Action, which is progressive Catholics. They are like 2,000 people. So in a dream they (the angels or spirits) told me what to say. My opening line was, “As I was saying 14 months ago when I was so rudely interrupted…” But I heard later that it really flipped the Vatican off again because, you know, inquisitors don’t have a real good sense of humour. That’s where they are lacking. And so that kept them on my trail. They were not pleased with that.
Now I had a little team and one of them, a canon lawyer who worked both in Rome and San Francisco, said, “You are in the sights of Ratzinger. He will not let go. He will do everything he can to destroy you. And this is what he will do. He will eventually give your provincial—your master general and your provincial—an order that you cannot in conscience obey. Then they will kick you out for disobedience (’cause we take a vow of obedience). And his hands will look clean.” And that’s exactly what happened because the order they gave me eventually was to quit my work in Oakland and my conscience would not allow me to do that.
And within three years, I was expelled from the order. The doorbell rang one day and there was this pink slip from the Vatican delivered by one of these delivery systems saying that I’m out of the order, and to never wear the habit again. Well I had already given the habit away to a Jewish friend of mine who was an actor who wore it when playing in the play I wrote about Meister Eckhart. But I sat down on the steps with this dismissal in my hands, and I asked, “What’s the meaning of this?” and then a word came I never heard before saying, “You are a post-denominational priest.”
You know, I’m grateful that they [the Episcopalians] offered me religious asylum. It would have been easier for me to have received asylum that the Dutch Dominicans offered me and stayed in the Catholic Church. But being outside, you know, I’ve learned a lot of things. And I have kind of been forced to live more ecumenism than I would have lived and see the world from the other side. So a lot of gifts have come out of it. And so I don’t really pass judgment on it so much.
The biggest disappointment for me was what I would call lack of courage on the part of the American Dominicans, because I see courage as being one of the real tests. Jesus talks about, “By their fruits you’ll know them.” I think the two fruits of spirituality in our time are joy and courage. And if either is missing, and especially if the courage is missing, people aren’t living spiritual lives. I don’t think you are mature spiritually if you don’t have courage. And courage sometimes means standing up to institutions, and forces, and powers, that are acting badly.
My greatest wish is that human beings would wake up; would grow up; would first of all be grateful for existence and for these 13.8 billion years that have brought us here so that we could give thanks, return blessing for blessing; reinvent education, politics, economics, religion, media, the art, and everything else, to carry on this amazing species that we are and get it tuned to the Earth and her needs.That means all the creatures on the Earth. We will be tuned to our real needs, which are inner needs.”
I met the celebrated theologian, Matthew Fox, at the Louisville Festival of Faiths where he was leading his Cosmic Mass. Fox is famous for having been silenced by the Vatican(by Cardinal Ratzinger before he was Pope Benedict) for his breakthrough book Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality Presented in Four Paths, Twenty-six Themes, and Two Questions. Through his research, Fox found that the concept of original sin was never part of the preachings of Jesus. It was developed 400 years after Jesus died and its purpose was, Fox posits, to control people. Matthew Fox believes humanity’s real inheritance is “original blessing” as opposed to “original sin.” Blessings, not sins, are humanity’s true origins and true destiny.
Few people have to suffer being silenced by the institution they have committed their lives to, and it is not clear to me how anyone could navigate that path. But Fox helped me understand how he navigated that path precisely by what disappointed him the most in his affiliation with the Dominican order—insufficient courage to stand up to “institutions, forces, and powers that are acting badly.” In our interview, he used a beautiful metaphor of the prophet versus the lover to explain what he meant by courage. He said that in life people are called to be the mystic (the lover) and the prophet (the visionary), “but that is not enough; we also have to defend what we love. And that is the prophet whose job is to interfere, to stand up and defend what we cherish.” I so admire Matthew Fox for standing up to the most powerful organization on Earth and for not abandoning his call to be a lover, a mystic, and remaining joyful at the same time.
There is so much in this sacred interview for me to reflect on, but the best thing I took away was his answer to my question about his greatest wish. Fox said his greatest wish was for human beings to “Wake up and grow up!” It reminded me of the great Jesuit from India, Anthony DeMello, who said that the first thing we need to know about waking up is that we don’t want to wake up! So I have to remember that I need to wake up but that it would be easy to stay where I am. It was Socrates who said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So what does it mean to wake up and grow up according to Fox? To be grateful, and “to return blessing for blessing, to reinvent education, politics, economics, religion, media, the arts and everything else…get in tune with the Earth and her needs and tend to our real needs which are inner needs!”
Ultimately, the message i took away from Matthew Fox is that we must love without ceasing and fight against bad actors without ceasing. That we must not be held back by old theologies which cause harm to people and the planet. That a new understanding of God and of creation is needed or we will self-destruct either quite literally or for sure spiritually and emotionally.
In his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Fox outlines a beautiful new, modern theology that fits this precise need. That theology is that God is a non-personal holy energy that is both inside of us and outside of us and non-separable from us. And that it requires we embrace three things: Science, Mysticism (i prefer the word mystery), and Creativity. That is a holy trinity for this new age of human development and will help us confront reality.
Thank you to Matthew Fox for all of who he is, all of what he has endured to bring us this holy message, and for role modeling love and courage, the mystic and the prophet.