“For me in today’s world, the wise and eloquent presence of Matthew Fox is ever again a source of wonder and gratitude.”
—Joanna Macy, author, World As Lover, World As Self
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity. You miss him and you miss the trajectory of the reform of Christianity and our return to the real sources.”
—Fr. Richard Rohr,O.F.M. Center for Action and Contemplation, Albuquerque, New Mexico
“Matthew Fox’s work holds an enormous importance in elaborating and sharing a spirituality adequate to our time. He also does not fail to criticize the type of society in which we live, in which there is no place for spirituality. And this is urgent if we want to save life on our planet.”
—Leonardo Boff, author, Thoughts and Dreams of an Old Theologian
Andrew Harvey: Hello. It is a very great joy for me to be here with you to celebrate the extraordinary book that has just come out, Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, with an excellent introduction by Charles Burack, who oversaw the book. Matthew, this book is essentially a compendium of everything that you have devoted your life to. You have been, for me, not just a very great friend and not just a great mentor, but you’ve been in your vast fierceness, your unified burning life, someone who constantly enkindles me and irradiates me and so many others, with the flames of your blazing charity.
The publication of this book, my friends, is far more than just a new book and spiritual event, it is nothing less than the distillation of a lifetime’s passion for love and truth and justice. And it comes to us at a moment in our tragic and burning world when we need its clarity, its grounded joy, and its summons to sacred action on behalf of the whole glory of creation.
So thank you, Matt, so deeply from the bottom of my heart.
Matthew Fox: Thank you and congratulations on your new book, Love is Everything: A Year with Hadewijch of Antwerp, coming out just this very day, also a special moment.
Andrew Harvey: Hadewich invites us to listen to the great voices of the sacred feminine Christ which is returning.
Matthew Fox: Yes, and you are a perfect megaphone for that important shift in consciousness from the patriarchal version of the masculine to a balance of the healthy sacred feminine along with a healthy masculine, so this is a very special day and I might add that I was honored to write a very short Forward to that book as well, so I feel part of it.
Andrew Harvey: And what a wonderful way to begin, because one of the extraordinary contributions of your book is a new vision, both of the sacred feminine and the sacred masculine. This enables us to enter the sacred marriage of transcendence and Immanence that really does birth in us the fullness of who we can be and what the full vision of what the creation is.
One of the things you say, and it’s such an arresting and thrilling formulation, is that we need to reimagine the sacred marriage as a fusion of the Green Man and the Black Madonna and it came to me last night reading Hadewich how to reach and thank her for this extraordinary journey that I’ve been on. That the authentic sacred feminine is also a marriage of the green woman and the Black Madonna of Mary and Kali have someone totally in her being radiant with the freshness and vitality of what Hildegard of Bingen calls be viriditas or “greening power.” They align themselves with the fierce energy of compassion and the molten sacred energy for transformation of the world. So with your formulation you’ve changed the whole conversation.
But I want to begin by asking you. Where are we? This book is coming out in a terrifying moment for the whole human race.
Matthew Fox: That is true, of course, we are literally facing extinction, you know. People are acting up and acting out, and nations are doing so nations led by authoritarian leaders or authoritarian wannabe leaders and climate change, above all, is bearing down on us. Just this week, as you know, Europe set records everywhere for heat and, of course, where I live here in northern California, we’ve got the Yellowstone Park on fire like never before, and these wildfires are happening all around the world and hurricanes and floods that go with them and the droughts with all the implications for agriculture, so severe. And, of course, the melting of the glaciers and ice. Where will we be getting our water in the future? So this is truly a time to meditate on extinction, at the same time that we do what hope really is as defined by David Orr: “Hope is a verb with the sleeves rolled up.”
We have to go to work, and that includes an inner work which, as you alluded to earlier, includes the balance of the sacred masculine and feminine, but it includes a lot of things and includes a renewed commitment to justice and to carrying on the fight whether we’re talking racial justice or economic justice or gender justice or eco-justice–all these issues are on the table.
And, of course, all this is familiar to readers of Tikkun magazine because Tikkun itself stands for a healing of the of the world and that is the Jewish understanding of redemption–it’s not about some private salvation thing, where you get to heaven climbing on other people’s backs–it’s about the survival of the whole–of the Community, and today the Community is homo sapiens’ version of humanity.
Let us include in our vision of humanity all these striking dangers that face us, but at the same time, we want to embrace what our strong points are as a species. Yes, we’re discussing our shadow; that’s not a surprise—it appears in 90% of the headlines of our papers and on the Internet every day, but also let us welcome, for example, the Webb telescope–what a marvelous accomplishment as a species! What other species has done this, that we can bring back into our living rooms and our personal computers the first galaxy and the first stars from 13.8 billion years ago? From way back then the very universe is speaking to us. Just that alone is an amazing accomplishment of our intelligence and our curiosity and our willingness to pursue it.
Of course, it was created by people from, I think, over 30 countries and thousands of scientists have contributed to it, so it shows that the human community with a guided and shared purpose can accomplish an awful lot. So we have to meditate on the good things that our species has brought forth, including the courage and wisdom of Gandhi or Mandela or King or Dorothy Day or Sojourner Truth or Isaiah and Jesus, and the other prophets of the world including Black Elk. Our species is such a mixed bag. Here we have the Pope going to Canada to confess the sins of the Catholic Church and indigenous children ripped from their families and culture and put into white schools–a horrible, horrible story that is finally coming out. So we do have to pay attention to the suffering of the world and how are we going to contribute to healing it. And to survival if that’s still possible given climate change. If we don’t get honest about it and pull out of denial about what’s really facing us, we will go extinct.
I think that among things we have things going for us is the return of the feminine and the women’s movement has brought that forward and women scholarship for sure and like you say, the recovery of the great women mystics and mysticism itself, by men and women, is a real contribution to bringing forward to what has been a patriarchal era for thousands of years, bringing a balance back. Like Dorothy Soelle says, mysticism itself is the language for healthy religion and for feminism because it deconstructs the notion of simply a vertical relationship to an all-powerful divinity. So, our capacity for creativity cannot be underestimated–that’s why I don’t count our species out yet–we are capable of massive transformation, but it’s got to begin in the inside it’s got to begin with a revolution in values; and this, I think, is what mystics offer us and prophets the world over, and certainly Jesus was about that. So were the prophets who preceded him and those who have come after. So don’t cut our species out yet if we can see that the handwriting is on the wall if we still have time. Scientists are saying we have seven years. If we still have time, we can change our ways profoundly out of necessity–I do think nothing moves the human species like necessity, and the necessity is there, so that’s the kind of time we’re living in and I think we have to dig deep into our souls.
Andrew Harvey: I totally agree with you. There’s a wonderful man named Stephen Jenkinson who says about this time we can either view it as an affliction or an as assignment. And I think that’s a very sacred distinction, if you view it as an affliction and allow the horror and the chaos and the madness to drive you into either denial or paralysis, then you’re missing the rugged great gift of a time like this, which is precisely what you talked about–the rugged great gift of a time like this, is that it can drive us deeper into our essence. To find that both deathless consciousness and a wholly new level of courage to step out in the middle of this gathering disaster to do everything we can, as wisely as we can to protect the creation, to honor equality, to stand up for harmony and justice in every realm and in every world.
And what’s becoming clear to me, and I know it’s always been clear to you, is that, if we can use this immense global dark night in that way, as an assignment, as an invitation to become the verb of hope with our sleeves rolled up, then we ourselves will be transformed–even transfigured–and the whole human race if it can meet this challenge in that way will go to the next level of our co creative capacity with the divine and a wholly new way of being and doing on every level could be established.
This also is being offered to us, on the one hand, the possibility, the real possibility of annihilation and on the other hand, the possibility of a massive birth of a new kind of human race chastened and humbled by tragedy but also awake to the assignment and willing under divine inspiration and divine grace to bring all of the best of what it’s always had available into focus in sacred action and sacred creativity.
Matthew Fox: Well, very well said, and I think that it’s really imperative that we of course, make a choice between, you say, affliction or assignment. The mystics often talk about the dark night of the soul as a school.
One thing that I think of these days is the Jupiter One space shot that was the first invention of humans ever to leave the solar system and that, when it looked back on its journey, it took pictures of its journey and the earth was just this tiny dot in the universe. I think that perspective is so important, and I can’t understand why it cannot convert every human on the planet, to see that. Because its perspective that this planet is absolutely singular–it’s so unique. Now we may find other planets with life on them, but will we be able to communicate with them and will there be intelligent life there?
It’s an interesting question and we hope so, but what matters now is that currently this planet Earth is the one that has come to a point where it can sing the praises of the universe that has been birthing for 13.8 billion years. And we know now it is 2 trillion galaxies big, each with hundreds of billions of stars, and on this particular planet we’ve got elephants and rain forests and giraffes and whales and bumble bees and butterflies and human beings, and I ask: What is it going to take for us to fall in love with this planet and act accordingly, enough to wake ourselves up and to get to work, to save the beauty of this planet, as it currently exists? I just think such an awareness is so important today because it puts into perspective our national ideologies and our warmongering, our revenge on others, our greed, our religious persecutions, and hatreds and projections and wars of the past.
It is part of everything you and I are saying that this is the next step of evolution is at our door. Either we’re going to evolve rapidly and undergo deep transformation, or we will go the way of all our other brother and sister hominids such as the Neanderthal and the Denisovans and all these other extinct species we are finding evidence of today—I think they have counted 14 with more to come. We are the last ones standing, so we have to take that seriously and get moving and transforming.
Andrew Harvey: One source of hope–rugged hope–is that all evolutionary processes in nature do not proceed gradually, they come as a result of a very extreme forced crisis. So that’s one source of hope and the other sense of hope is something you once said to me, when we were walking in California, you said if we’re capable, as we obviously are, of taking our own race and a great deal of nature to the brink of extinction–if we have that power–we also have the power within us to reverse that disaster because what we’re being shown by the crisis is the staggering power our human agency has. And if we can turn, you said, to the sources of primordial wisdom and empowerment and drink from those sacred wells and see in the shining water of that well our true face and claim our human divinity, then who knows what we could be capable of.
So those two sources of hope remain open to us, and I want to use the second thing you said to point to one of the very great contributions of your work and the very great inspirations of this book.
Jung wrote in the Red Book something that just leapt off the pages in letters of fire, when I read it, because it summed up so much of what I’ve been doing and so much of what you’ve been doing because we have different works, but we in so many ways endeavored to do the same thing from the center of our own temperament. What Jung says is “salvation is the resolution of the task and the task is to restore the primordial ancient in the new so as to birth a new creation.”
And when I read that, I understood why I had spent so many decades trying to understand and trying to live the ancient glory of Rumi, the ancient glory of Kabir, the vision of Transfiguration and Angelus Silesius, the stunning grandeur of Hadewich, because I knew that if I could truly enter into their world and, if I could truly bring back the immense treasures that I found in the world, a treasure far greater than modern spirituality or modern psychology or the very flatland vision of humanity that we live with, then human beings would have available to them the primordially ancient in the disaster of, the new so that they could work with that restored glory to infuse themselves with truth and passion and stamina and nobility and birth a new world. And you have done exactly the same thing with Aquinas, with Meister Eckhart, with Hildegard of Bingen, and with Julian of Norwich. One of the really most inspiring parts of your book is the way in which your love for these tremendous pioneers of human divine life. And what they have given us and how relevant what they have given us to our time is.
So what I’m going to ask you is to do something very difficult, but I know if anybody can do it, you can.
And that is just to speak out of the heart of your love for each one of them and speak about what each one of them has to offer us right now for this journey either into extinction or evolution/transformation.
So let’s start with Aquinas, why did Aquinas possess your heart, and so why did you spend so much time on him and what has he to give us now?
Matthew Fox: Before I address that, I would like to affirm your words from Carl Jung by citing these words of David Paladin, who is a native American artist who went through a profound rupture as a young man in a concentration camp during the Second World War. From this rupture, he became a real shaman and he echoes what you too are saying in his own words very wonderfully. Here is what he says, “all great truths are only myths that exist momentarily in the evolving greater consciousness. Like individuals, they die to be reborn fresh and glorious in the minds of each new age. They may bear resemblance to their forebears, but each brings with it new features of its own and seeks to find its place and meaning in the dancing dream that is the cosmos.”
Andrew Harvey: Wonderful!. Such reinterpretation revives the ancient truths about life and wisdom.
Matthew Fox: The Bible with its powerful myths and its powerful stories is part of this inheritance, but we have to keep living it anew in every generation.
OK, so now Thomas Aquinas, why does he grab me so much? First of all, because he insisted on the importance of science for spirituality and for an authentic view of the world, and he paid a real price for that commitment. He abandoned 800 years of Platonistic theology in the Christian church in favor of Aristotle, and he tells us why—”because Aristotle does not denigrate matter.” Platonism was very dualistic, and the Christian theologians who clung to Plato like St. Augustine and many more, were deeply dualistic. Augustine says, for example, that “spirit is whatever is not matter.”
Aquinas was shocked by that and he said “spirit is the elan, the vitality, in everything”–a blade of grass, a tree, of course in us–it’s everywhere. So that is a tremendous shift, and Aquinas kind of bore it alone, because the Church was so embedded then in the dualisms of the neo-Platonists that it couldn’t rise above itself and really give credence to the theophany that creation is very good and therefore an original blessing. Beginning with goodness of creation is so Jewish—of course, Genesis does not begin with human sin but with cosmology and the goodness of creation.
Christian preachers leap in with both galoshes on eager to talk about sin. But the Bible begins with the whole of creation, not with the human and chapter one of Genesis is about the goodness, and the beauty of creation and it culminates when humans arrive at the end, (which we do in the current scientific creation story today). We arrive and then somehow it’s all “very good” and “very beautiful.”
Aquinas actually uses the terms “primal goodness” and “original goodness.” It’s amazing that I got condemned for the word “original blessing”, which simply means “original goodness.”
Andrew Harvey: They can’t stand the good news.
Matthew Fox: Indeed! This shows how impoverished patriarchal religion has become in our time that even two popes–not the present one—over 34 years called creation spirituality “dangerous and deviant.” The roof of the Vatican came off because I dared to write about original blessing. So Aquinas trusts nature and trusts human nature. His appreciation of our capacity for creativity and for our immense intelligence is astounding.
He also recognizes our shadow side, when he says “one human being can do more evil than all the other species put together.” And this is 800 years before Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot or Putin that he was saying these things, so the man was amazingly balanced and aware. He stepped out of the entire history really of Christian theology to interact with the greatest scientists he could find in the 13th century, who was tainted, if you will, because Aristotle was a pagan and he came to the West by way of Islam, because it was in Baghdad that they translated Aristotle into Latin and thereby ushered him into Europe through Spain. I just admire him for his intellectual courage and quest for truth. He says that “all truth, whoever utters it, comes from the Holy Spirit” and that “all traditions and all cultures have their prophets” and are seeking truth. So he is a deep ecumenist long before that term was invoked.
Aquinas also celebrates our human capacity for virtue, he says–this is just an amazing statement and I love it—”miracles are wonderful, but the biggest miracle of all is to live a life of virtue.” He’s not into some shaboom zoom meaning of miracle changing life—just living life fully and virtuously–that’s the biggest miracle of all. I just love it because it’s so realistic, but it’s also challenging and, of course, he said that “a mistake about creation results in a mistake about God.” That so affirms the role of the scientists, those who are seeking for the truth about creation.
So it’s that nondualism that I love about Aquinas, and his bringing intellect and heart together and, of course, he also speaks grounded in the Jewish prophetic consciousness about the importance of justice. There is a reason why MLK jr. cited him in his iconic “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” for his insistence that human laws that violate the divine mandate of justice are not to be obeyed. Also, he is given credit for bringing the important value of the common good into Western jurisprudence (from Aristotle). He is grounded in Jewish consciousness and the Jewish prophets when he says that “truth and justice are the proper objects of the human heart.”
Andrew Harvey: Yes.
Matthew Fox: Truth does not come exclusively from the head but our hearts and intuition. Notice how he brings truth and justice together. You can’t have justice without truth, you need to get the facts, and you can’t have justice when denial reigns, you’ve got to bring truth out, and then there is this passion and the heart to support the quest for truth and the struggle for justice. And of course compassion–Aquinas says that “compassion is the fire that Jesus came to set on the earth.” And I think that says it all, you know.
Andrew Harvey: Absolutely. That’s at the heart of sacred activism, that’s at the heart of every kind of human creativity.
Matthew Fox: Yes, it is and it’s at the heart of all religions in the world.
Andrew Harvey: In the world absolutely.
Matthew Fox: The Dalai Lama says, “compassion, is my religion. You can do away with all religion but not with compassion.” And of course Jesus got his teachings from his Jewish tradition in which we are told, “compassion is the secret name of God.” And Jesus let the secret out of the bag saying, “Be compassionate like your Creator in heaven is compassionate.” And compassion is the most frequently used adjective for Allah in the Koran.
Andrew Harvey: And all the great Hindu sages and Taoist sages–this is the universal message.
Let me ask you about Eckhart because your work on him has been so magnificent and so inspiring to me. What is it in Eckhart that so thrills you and what do we need to drink from Eckhart’s well right now?
Matthew Fox: Of course, Eckhart stands on the shoulders of Aquinas. He was 15 when Aquinas died, and he had just entered the Dominican order.
During his entire life as a Dominican the Dominicans were fighting for Aquinas’s canonization because originally after he died he was condemned by three bishops, two of them at Oxford, your alma mater.
Andrew Harvey: I apologize for that. Matthew Fox: Although Eckhart attended the University of Paris and taught there, it later became clear to him that the academic world was in decline. They burned a beguine, for example, Marguerette Porrette, at the stake in Paris and when that happened, he shortly afterward fled Paris and never returned. Instead, he went to Strasbourg and hung out with the beguines there which was a women’s movement and a great threat obviously to many people.
Pope John XXII, who ended up condemning Eckhart a week after he died, also condemned the Beguines 17 different times! So that’s one thing alone I admire him for, that he was a feminist and he was standing with women, even when it was dangerous–that same pope said that any Franciscan or Dominican who hangs out with beguines will be kicked out of the priesthood. But that did not slow Eckhart down.
So Eckhart has this wonderful development of the divine feminine. He says, “what does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed giving birth.” He also develops an entire philosophy of the artist. He applies the annunciation story of the angel coming to Mary to give birth to all of us when he says, the artist is to be receptive of the Holy Spirit like Mary was and in that process we give birth.
And it was from Eckhart that I learned the four paths of creation spirituality which take us away from the three paths of Plotinus and Proclus, purgation, illumination and union, into a Jewish view of the world to the Via Positiva—awe, wonder and gratitude. The Via Negativa of silence and stillness and loss and suffering and grief. The Via Creativa, our creativity, which distinguishes us as the image of God, and we are called to co-create with divinity. And then to the Via Transformativa, which is the path of justice and healing, celebration and compassion.
Andrew Harvey: And all those powers that we’ve acquired are dedicated for the transformation of every aspect of life–politics, economics, art, education. Yes, the key isn’t it.
Matthew Fox: Absolutely and that is our divinization and how we divinize the world. That is tikkun, healing the world. He says God is needing to be born in us.
Andrew Harvey: When God is born in us and through us that’s how we become humble agents of the creativity of God that longs for the transformation of everything into the living mirror of love and justice.
Matthew Fox: Exactly, and Eckhart has his brilliant sermon on compassion and he’s talking about the soul of compassion and in that sermon and he says What the soul is no one knows. The soul is as ineffable as God is. He says we know a little bit about the soul when it goes out to do its work but not much, and then he says it would take supernatural knowledge to understand it. Finally, he declares that “the soul is where God works compassion, Amen.” That’s the last line of his sermon and I think everyone fainted in the Church, because what he is saying is that until we become agents of compassion, we don’t have soul. Yes, we’re not a full human being.
Andrew Harvey: Carolyn Myss makes the marvelous distinction, criticizing the New Age, between consciousness and conscience. She says everybody’s talking about consciousness, but you don’t actually have authentic consciousness without conscience, without the conscience that’s born from compassion and the commitment to put your compassion into creative action in every part of your life–that’s when you have real consciousness.
Matthew Fox: Good for her, good.
Andrew Harvey: And that’s an authentic Jewish realization isn’t it because—
Matthew Fox: Absolutely.
Andrew Harvey: True sages never speak about a private pursuit of liberation alone, they always know that the whole purpose of growing in God is to serve the people, with more nobility and humility and precision. And the creation also.
Matthew Fox: Yes. Eckhart says, “compassion means justice.” Consider this one other statement from Eckhart also that we don’t want to leave behind. He says, “every creature is a word of God and a book about God….If I spent enough time with a caterpillar I’d never have to prepare a sermon because one caterpillar is so full of God.” I think that’s a marvelous way of grounding a creation spirituality, that every being is a theophany, a revelation of the divine and he’s not alone there. Aquinas before him said, “revelation comes in two volumes– nature and the Bible.” Not just the Bible contains revelation but nature too you see. That is creation spirituality and that is the wisdom tradition of Israel.
Andrew Harvey: And Rumi says something I feel every day, when I look at my cat. “Adore the beloved, and he will reveal to you that each creature that exists is one drop from his river of infinite beauty.”
That’s just the truth.
Matthew Fox: That is creation spirituality for sure.
Andrew Harvey: You have been working on Hildegard of Bingen for decades, and you have been instrumental in bringing Hildegard back for us and her great work and great paintings and vision.
Matthew Fox: Yes, well, I call Hildegard the grandmother of the Rhineland mystics because she was first in this lineage that we’re naming as “creation spirituality” and being 12th century. Of course, she was a genius in music, as well as in science and healing and, as you say, she painted and wrote ten books, many of them on science of her day, one of them is devoted entirely to rocks and trees and crystals and so forth. And also works on healing the body and the psyche.
And she was a powerhouse and a prophet who wrote letters to the Emperor, the Pope, bishops archbishops and Abbotts telling them to man up. She actually told the Emperor that he was acting like a baby and should man up and work for justice. She told the pope he was surrounded by evil men who cackle in the night like hens.
Andrew Harvey: Nothing has changed.
Matthew Fox: Not a lot has changed. But she was fierce and was amazingly gifted of course but, again, as a woman, she was well aware that she was a second class citizen in society and the Church, but that did not stop her from accomplishing so much. For example, she was raised in in a Celtic monastery in Germany but when she became famous with her first book which took her 10 years to write and, by the way, inside her first book, there are 25 paintings and an opera, the oldest opera in the West by 300 years–of course, that’s kind of Celtic too–think of the Book of Kells which also includes stunning art as well as letters and words. They do paint pictures as they write, I think that they are operating with both hemispheres of the brain and she picked up that idea in her training in the Celtic monastery.
When her book came out, it became so famous so rapidly that a lot of women wanted to come and study with Hildegard. (She lived in a bi gender monastery which was common among the Celts where men and women live together though in different parts of the building and get together for prayer and the rest.)
But the men wouldn’t move over so, to make long story short, she up and left with all of her women nuns and started her own monastery which she designed. She was like the architect, for it, she hired hundreds of monks to build it for her, and then that got so full that she started a second monastery right across the river.
The fact that she didn’t wait around and left is telling. We also have the letter from the Abbot to her after she left saying, “Come back, come back and bring the dowries with you!
Andrew Harvey: Dowries?
Matthew Fox: Dowries, yes. Nuns at that time brought dowries to the monastery with them. Hildegard’s letter back to the abbot is all about justice and injustice so she felt she was very badly treated.
Andrew Harvey: Hildegard had an organic vision of the whole creation and the whole being’s relationship to the whole creation and of the necessity of serving justice born naturally from that relationship.
Matthew Fox: Absolutely. She says that we live in a “web of creation” and that if humans out of our greed or arrogance or injustice rupture that web, “God will allow creation to punish humanity.” She said, “the earth must not be injured, the earth must not be destroyed,” and she talked often about “Mother Earth” who is “the mother of all for in her are the seeds of all.” She has a beautiful poem about looking at the shining waters and so forth, and how God is present in the shining waters and in the “in the dew that causes the grasses to laugh,” she says. She paints an erotic relationship between nature and God The Creator is related to creation as lovers are related to each other, she insists.
She presents a whole new way of looking at ecology, one that is far beyond stewardship or even responsibility–it’s about how we treat one another as lovers; humans, nature and God as lovers.
Andrew Harvey: This transforms your understanding too of what sacred action is because if you continue to think of sacred action as some kind of gloomy duty or some kind of painful service, you’ve missed what Hildegard and the great mystics of sacred activism are offering. You missed the rapture of lovemaking that comes from lovemaking to justice; just making justice is an erotic glory, it gives joy and gives passion.
Look at that speech of Martin Luther King, you know Hildegard talks about viriditas, the greening power of the Holy Spirit, that is a passionate life force that saturates and inebriates all things. But if you’re Martin Luther King giving his speech about African Americans coming together, you see his whole body possessed by that viriditas, by that erotic hunger of love to see justice done.
So sacred action is not a duty–it’s a flowing out of an essential lovemaking between us and each other and the whole creation and God in the viriditas or greening power in the whole creation. Isn’t that one of Hildegard’s great revelations?
Matthew Fox: Definitely. I have a chapter in my Original Blessing book called “erotic justice,” and I think that’s where wisdom comes in. The Book of Wisdom in the Bible says, “this is wisdom: to love life” and Audrey Lorde, in her brilliant essay on eros, reminds us that eros is the passion for living that we bring to whatever we do—whether making a table or writing a poem or making love; and certainly to justice making. To do justice is to seek balance and harmony and fairness, all that is, as you say, not merely a call to cold duty but an invitation to again live out a relationship of love and joy. It is biophilia trumping necrophilia as Erich Fromm used to ruminate about so much.
Andrew Harvey: Right, there are all kinds of joy that you cannot discover until you live them out in creative action.
Let’s turn in these last moments of our time together to your latest love. I’m sure you’ve loved her a long time, but this wonderful book that you brought out two years ago on Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic…and Beyond.
Why Julian, why did you devote yourself to Julian at that time, which was during the covid epidemic, and we were talking a lot and I remember the absolute rapture you were having writing the book and that book communicates so much of the essence of everything that you have yourself striven for. She seems to me, having been so deeply moved by all of your work, that that particular book holds a very special place in my heart because it’s just radiant with celebration and gratitude and joy. So what was it about Julian that ignited such a passionate inspiration in your soul?
Matthew Fox Fox: Well, first is that she lived through the worst pandemic ever in Europe, the bubonic plague in the 14th century. She was seven years old when it first hit and then it kept coming back in waves her entire lifetime and she lived into her 80s. The plague killed between one out of two or one out of three people.
So it was terribly severe and of course they had no science and no vaccine or promise of vaccine and they had no clue where it came from, in fact, we didn’t know until the early 20th century when the mystery was resolved in San Francisco. They finally found the answer that it was the fleas of rats that would jump into other rats and onto other people, but we didn’t know that until the early 20th century.
The fact that she lived through that pandemic, a pandemic that Thomas Barry says destroyed creation spirituality in the West because it made Europeans so afraid of nature, tells us a lot about the dynamic behind Julian’s writing. She was bravely going beyond the hysteria of her day and deepening the entire creation spirituality lineage in so doing. Before, you could trust nature, and there was a theophany or mystical experience with nature, but now there is fear and angst and preoccupation with death and hell and salvation.
If you look at Christian history since the 15th century, you realize that creation is no longer in the forefront–redemption is along with a preoccupation with guilt and shame. Religion becomes all about redemption, which is all about how you stay out of hell, because people were so afraid because they saw hell on earth when they saw this disease–it was like AIDS on steroids. When you got it, you were usually dead in three or four days or even less, and your whole body turned full of puss and sores.. It was scary to people, but not to Julian, even though I think it’s very likely she lost a child and her husband in the pandemic.
People responded with craziness to the pandemic. Many men joined flagellation clubs and went from village to village flagellating themselves because they laid the cause of the pandemic on their sins. Others created scapegoats including Jews, and much antisemitism arose in England, so much that many Jews fled to mainland Europe hoping the antisemitism would be less pronounced there (even though the pandemic was raging there as well).
Julian, however, did not choose to go down that rabbit hole of fear and hatred of nature and sin as cause of the pandemic and scapegoating and antisemitism at all–instead she opted for the goodness of nature. And in doing so, she represents the culmination of the creation spirituality lineage from Hildegard to Francis to Aquinas to Mechtild of Magdeburg to Meister Eckhart. She is at the pinnacle of it, because in her day literally we lost the creation tradition and we went into religion as redemption instead of religion as gratitude for creation, which is its core meaning. Aquinas says, “the primary meaning of religion is a supreme gratitude and thankfulness” and he even says, “the first and primary meaning of salvation is to preserve things in the good.” To preserve things in the good is to confess that they are good. He also declares that the first thing we are grateful for on the Sabbath is “creation itself.”
Julian teaches that “God is the goodness in nature,” and “God is the Father and the Mother of nature” and “God is delighted to be our Father and God is delighted to be our Mother.” She develops a whole theology of the divine feminine and the motherhood of God more fully than any theologian up to the end of the 20th century. Not only is God the Creator mother (and father), but Christ too is a “mother,” she says, because he practiced feminine motherly virtues like compassion and taught us do the same. She displays an amazing balance and, of course, she was the first woman to write a book in English,
That is significant, for she invented many words in English such as “oneing” which is her definition of the of the mystical experience (Thomas Aquinas used the word “ecstasy” a lot for that experience and Eckhart invented his own word, Durchbruch or “breakthrough.”) Julian also invented the word “enjoy” in English, which is an interesting word to have invented isn’t it? She is consciously non-dualistic and says “God is in our sensuality” and “in our creation we were knit and oned to God [and] it is a precious oneing.” And “God has forged a glorious union between the soul and the body” and “God willed that we have a twofold nature; sensual and spiritual.” This is a long cry from Augustine’s dualisms that have served patriarchy and empire building for so long.
Julia says “every human has a birthright of joy.” Thus we are born for joy and we were born from joy.
She is certainly turning her back in her way on original sin and dualistic mindsets, that of course keep patriarchy and empires going.
Andrew Harvey: She never speaks at all about original sin, she never goes on and on about how awful we are. She endlessly encourages us to find within us joy and the blessings that come from our essential divine nature.
Matthew Fox: Exactly. Her very definition of faith is panentheism when she says “faith is the trust that all things are in God and God is in all things.” She gets it right that the core meaning of faith is trust and not doctrines. She’s taking faith out of the arena of piles of doctrines into the arena of practice–to practice trust. And if we do practice it, amazing things come of that, but it’s not an easy journey and, of course, she was well aware of suffering all around her. But that’s what is astounding about her, that she lived a creation spirituality worldview in spite of all the despair around her and all the suffering around her. She knew there was something deeper and that depth has everything to do with the marriage of the divine goodness and creation. “The goodness in creation is God,” she wrote.
Andrew Harvey: That what a gorgeous sentence to end our time, and when you’re describing her you are also describing yourself because you’ve lived now eighty years, and you’ve lived through all the terrible and frightening transformations of these last years, but you have never lost that sacred joy that continues to inspire you to pull yourself out and I bless you for that.
I just want to thank you for everything you’ve given us and everything you’ve given us today, and to say to everyone who’s listening to this: Please, please make available to yourself Matthew’s new book, Essential Writings of Creation Spirituality which is a compendium of the gorgeous and grounded wisdom that he has pursued in one lifetime. It’s much more than a book, it’s a source of rugged hope, sacred energy and inspiration for real sacred action, and we all need it like oxygen. Thank you very, very much.
Matthew Fox: And thank you for your work all these years, Andrew, and congratulations on your new book that came out just today on the mystic of fire, Hadewijch.
Rev. Matthew Fox, PhD, author, theologian, and activist priest, has been calling people of spirit and conscience into the Creation Spirituality lineage for over 50 years. His 40 books, lectures, retreats, and innovative education models have ignited an international movement to awaken people to be mystics and prophets, contemplative activists, who honor and defend the earth and work for justice. Seeking to establish a new pedagogy for learning spirituality that was grounded in an effort to reawaken the West to its own mystical traditions in such figures as Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart and the mysticism of Thomas Aquinas, as well as interacting with contemporary scientists who are also mystics, Fox founded the University of Creation Spirituality. His recent projects include Order of the Sacred Earth and Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox as well as The Cosmic Mass. Fox is recipient of the Abbey Courage of Conscience Peace Award, the Ghandi King Ikeda Award, the Tikkun National Ethics Award and other awards. His most recent books are: Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality; Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in at Time of Pandemic—and Beyond; and The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times. Other books include Original Blessing; The Coming of the Cosmic Christ; A Spirituality Named Compassion; The Reinvention of Work; and Christian Mystics. www.matthewfox.org. www.dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org.
Andrew Harvey is an internationally acclaimed writer, poet, translator and mystical teacher. He is the author of over 40 books, including Son of Man, The Hope, Love is Everything, Turn Me to Gold and Radical Regeneration with Carolyn Baker. He has taught all over the world, given over 20 courses for the Shift Network and is the founder of the Institute for Sacred Activism.