Spirituality & Health Magazine

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2012 November-December

Essential Conversations with Rabbi Rami: 21st Century Spirituality

Former priest Matthew Fox speaks with Rabbi Rami Shapiro about his work, and his new book, modern spirituality, and intergenerational wisdom.

Two decades after being expelled as a priest of the Dominican Order, Matthew Fox has continued to challenge the doctrines of the Catholic Church with books including last year's The Pope's War, and his teaching of Creation Spirituality. The author of 30 books, Fox has also been an advocate of education reform, working with young people to develop a more holistic approach to learning. 

S&H columnist Rabbi Rami Shapiro spoke with Fox about his work.

Rabbi Rami Shapiro: I know you have a deep interest in the Divine Feminine and the women mystics of the Church, and have just finished a new book on Hildegard of Bingen, an amazing German Catholic abbess of the 12th century. Tell us a bit about that.

Matthew Fox: The book is called Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times, Unleashing her Power in the 21st Century, and it’s my third book on her, actually. This fall, the Church will declare her a saint and Doctor of the Church — only the fourth woman to hold that title — and I felt it was important to celebrate her life and thought and not leave all the “spin” up to the present-day Vatican, for whom she can be quite a challenge.

How so?

Hildegard is committed to the Divine Feminine. She calls for circles over ladder-like hierarchies, for loving Mother Earth, for delighting in the glory and grace of nature.  She explicitly criticizes emperors, popes, abbots, and bishops for their "ignoring lady justice," and being surrounded by evil men who “scare even themselves cackling in the middle of the night.” She was a first-class musician and composer, a scientist, a healer, a painter, a mystic who rendered her visions into "illuminations" or drawings, a prophet who denounced the patriarchal guardians of society, and the author of 10 books.

And yet the Church is making her a saint.

She was fierce, and I really question whether the present papacy, despite that they are canonizing her, has a clue to what she really stood for and especially in the area of the Divine Feminine. There is no question that she felt her authority came from a source beyond ecclesial hierarchies. That’s why she had the courage to speak truth to power. She refuses to say that the pope is head of the Church; rather the “cosmic Christ” is, and that very much democratizes the Church since we all can experience the cosmic Christ through our mystical or intuitive psyches.

How does this tie in with your foundational ideas of the cosmic Christ and Original Blessing, which teaches that the creation of humanity is defined not by sin but by God's blessing of life and purpose?

Obviously a theology of Original Blessing and of the cosmic Christ is more horizontal than a theology of top-down magisterium or “trickle-down” grace.  Blessing and grace and the Christ consciousness are available for all. 

How do you envision spirituality for the 21st century?

 An integral part of any 21st century spirituality is what I call “deep ecumenism” or others call “interfaith” and “interspirituality.” Spirit works and has worked through all cultures and all religions -- Vatican II supported this reality -- and today humans cannot afford tribalism and hiding in their denominational boxes throwing stones or, what's worse, missiles at one another. We have to dig up our deepest wisdom from all our wisdom traditions, and most of that wisdom we share in common, as I have laid out in my book One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths.  The survival issues we face, such as dealing with global climate change, the depleting oceans and forests and soil and animals and seeds and plants — these are not restricted to any faith tradition. They are about the survival and sustainability of the planet as we know it and therefore of our species as we know it.  Science too can and should join as part of the wisdom tradition.

A few years ago, we were together at your offices in San Francisco. You were working with kids and creating a spiritual path geared to them. How is that work progressing?

We ran a two-year program for inner-city teenagers attempting to reinvent education from the inner city out.  It was very successful and is now going strong with a new name in Chicago. The key was bringing creativity alive in the learning experience of high school.

Today I am working with Adam Bucko of The Reciprocity Foundation in New York City, which is dedicated to assisting street youth. We are working on a book we call The Occupy Generation and the Quest for Spiritual Democracy. We’ve been surveying and conducting film interviews with 21- to 34-year-olds around the country involved in new forms of education, economics, politics, community and religion/spirituality. These people are going to change everything as they get older, and the need for a new relationship between young and old is imperative. What we need is an “intergenerational wisdom” that will share wisdom from young and old alike.  

Can you give us an example of intergenerational wisdom?

The issue of eco-justice is one. Also the need to balance contemplation with action.  The need to honor our bodies and feed them well and exercise them accordingly.  The issues of rendering education alive and creative, as opposed to boring and dull -- and (making it) affordable. Learning as a spiritual experience, a sacred experience. Awakening the creativity in young people as this generation is being called upon to reinvent just about everything from religion to economics to politics and more. We need what Howard Thurman said: To put the God of life ahead of the God of religion.

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