Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today my guest is Matthew Fox. Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian, an Episcopal priest, and an activist who was a member of the Dominican order for 34 years, until he was asked to resign because of his outspoken views on feminism, homosexuality, and other issues of our time.
As a spiritual theologian, Matthew has written 30 books that have been translated into 48 languages. With Sounds True, Matthew has created an audio program called Radical Prayer: Love in Action, and he is a featured presenter at the 2013 Wake Up Festival, which will be held August 14 to 18 in Estes Park, Colorado. This is Sounds True’s second annual Wake Up Festival. For more information, you can go to WakeUpFestival.com.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Matthew and I spoke about the reinvention of culture, and how spirituality can best flourish without the weight and encumbrances of organized religion. We also talked about group ritual and prayer, and the origins of what Matthew Fox calls the Cosmic Mass. We also talked about the marriage between the sacred masculine and the divine feminine, and how this marriage is imperative in our time. Here’s my conversation with Matthew Fox.
I feel lucky and blessed to be having another conversation with Matthew Fox, someone whom I always find to be quite inspiring and provocative. Matthew, welcome.
Matthew Fox: Thank you, Tami. Good to be with you again.
TS: You’ll be at Sounds True’s Wake Up Festival again this year, and I wanted to start our conversation by getting your view on what this idea of spiritual awakening means to you personally, and how you see it in the culture today as well.
MF: Well, for me, the word “awakening” is almost a synonym for spirituality. So it’s almost a tautology to talk about spiritual awakening. So, of course, the name “Buddha” means the awakened one, and both Jesus and Paul talked about waking up. And Kabir, the great fifteenth-century Indian mystic, says, “You’ve been sleeping for millions and millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?”
So I think the whole theme of waking up is at the very heart of what spirituality’s really about. And we have so much to wake up about today. Certainly the ecological crisis is really a spiritual crisis. By that I mean it’s about whether the earth is sacred or not, whether the four-legged ones in the oceans and the forests and the rivers are sacred. And if they’re sacred, then we have to reorient our relationship to them, and obviously it’s inadequate just seeing them as booty, as something to tear down and sell. And, of course, we’re paying the price for this, obviously, with the quality of air and climate change and the disappearance of species, and all the rest.
So then to wake up about what our species is doing in terms of the amount of money we spend on weapons—is it now $39,000 a second that we’re spending on weapons?—and how this money could be oriented to health and education and conviviality and celebration if we chose. So waking up to how the patriarchal version of masculinity that dominates in the world—really, what I would call the reptilian brain that dominates—is inadequate for our sustainability, and we could do much better than that. So finding the balance again between your yin and yang, between the divine feminine and the sacred masculine, is at the heart of waking up.
So I think this whole theme of waking up just cuts through so many issues. Wherever there’s injustice, prophets come along to wake us up. Propheto means to speak out. It means to shout out, it means to scream and to yell and to wake people up. And, of course, this is what artists do, or should be doing, in their creative way, waking us up through drama and through film and through music and the rest, waking us up about what we really ought to be doing with our time on earth instead of what we often are lulled into doing.
So I love the theme. I think, as I say, it’s at the very heart of the meaning of spirituality.
TS: Now, in Eastern traditions, sometimes spiritual awakening is talked about as a certain type of shift in identity, that a person no longer identifies with the individual part of themselves, but that they’re identifying more with the collective, with the whole. How do you see that, this shift in identity?
MF: Well, yes, I think that’s the nature of compassion. Meister Eckhart, a Western mystic from the fourteenth century, says, “What happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.” So I think that’s going beyond the ego identity to the realization that we are in this together in a deep way.
And so Jesus, too, was calling us to be compassionate as the creator in Heaven is compassionate. Again, his teaching comes from his Jewish ancestry, the Jewish tradition. This too is a call to compassion, and to living in a context of community, awareness, sharing. And obviously this resonates with the Dalai Lama’s teaching that, as he says, “We can do away with all religion, but we can’t do away with compassion. Compassion is my religion.” And I couldn’t agree more.
So I think that’s at the heart, really, of all spiritual awakening, the realization that we’re in this together. And then when you take today’s science, which is coming around to the theme of interdependence again, that really supports this whole understanding that we’re not in this alone. We’re interdependent with all the elements of the universe, really, the beings of the universe. We all come from the same source, and we’re made of the same atoms.
So this almost cosmic picture, once again, is of a pattern of community, of interdependence, rather than individuality. So I think we’re taking on this kind of consciousness, spiritual consciousness, which is so ancient. This ancient consciousness is challenging the modern consciousness, which is about individuality and often about the survival of the fittest, instead of about those who can fit into the larger community. So the implications of this for environmental health and survival and respect is huge, but the implications are also very great for everything, from neighborhoods to architecture to education.
TS: Now, Matthew, one of the things that I’d really love to hear you talk about is what you see as the role of religion and being part of a tradition in today’s world, where so many people are being attracted to what we could call faith or spiritual awakening without a religious tradition.
MF: Right, it’s kind of the difference between religion and spirituality. I think this is real. I just finished a book with Adam Bucko on young adults and spirituality. We surveyed a lot of young adults, and we interviewed a number of them on film and we did these dialogues, because Adam works with young adults who live on the streets in New York City, and he’s having marvelous results there in his work. And over the years I’ve had many projects with young adults, too.
And there’s just no question, this new generation is not, in great part—there are exceptions, of course—but they’re not buying into the whole apparatus of institutional religion. For example, there’s a group called the Young Contemplatives, and some of them are from a Buddhist tradition, others Sufi, others Jewish, others Christian. But they’re not married to their particular institution. They get together and they share practices and all the rest. And I think this is what I call deep ecumenism. This is going to the spiritual level of what all the traditions have in common. When you get down that deep, the differences begin to melt. And we’re all human beings, and we’re all seeking a contact with the source, a contact with wisdom, and a way to calm our reptilian brain so that our compassionate mammal brain can assert itself again.
So do we need all this religious apparatus? That’s really the question. I think we don’t. I think it’s a luxury we can’t afford anymore. I don’t think we should travel with basilicas on our back anymore; I think a backpack is enough. If you’re Christian, then the teachings of Jesus and the prophets and the mystics that have followed, you can put that in your backpack. And I think the whole idea that religion is an institutional, sociological structure with all of its buildings and everything else—I think that’s minor, and I think a lot of young people feel that, and I think the direction is more in terms of small gatherings and small communities and less institutionalism. And more authenticity in that spiritual quest for compassion, for self-knowledge, for forgiveness, for moral outrage that is properly dealt with in terms of creative, political, and social involvement and protest. I think all that is the real heart of spirituality, and I think that’s the future of healthy religion.
I think religion can easily fall into its own ego. There’s such a thing as an ecclesial ego or religious ego that itself has to be critiqued and melted. The real essence of religion isn’t that obtuse or esoteric; it’s about love and justice, and I think that’s the path. And I think a lot of people have seen, of course, the shadow side of religion in our time. My goodness, the pedophile crisis of clergy and the cover-up, which is even worse, in the Catholic church, for example, of late. It scares a lot of people away from organized religion.
TS: So I’m with you, Matthew, in terms of throwing off this big basilica. I think the concern that I might voice is, will people find themselves lost in space, if you will? Lost with a collection of mystical writings, but not having enough guidance or enough of a framework for deeper spiritual investigation? And how do we fill that need?
MF: That’s a great question. And I’m glad you asked it, because you’re right, the alternative to too much structure is not complete chaos or being completely on your own. There is some kind of dance and dialectic between order and chaos to keep things alive and creative. And frankly, that’s what my life work has really been. I think that naming the four paths of creation spirituality gives a structure that’s both fluid and strong. And with that, you can adapt the inherited tradition and also work with other traditions.
So the Via Positiva is about falling in love with life and the awe and the wonder and the reverence and the gratitude that comes out of that. And the Via Negativa, the path of darkness and silence, but also of suffering and grief and loss, that’s real for everybody. Then the Via Creativa—our creativity is born out of the experience of light and darkness, if you will, of the Via Positiva and Via Negativa. And then finally, the Via Transformativa, the path of justice and compassion, including celebration, is born of the other three paths.
This gives you a real structure, a backbone that’s substantive whereby you can take mystical teachings and prophetic action, and find their place both in your personal journey and also in that of culture and community. It’s really the role of the artists in a culture, and also the spiritual teachers—but real spiritual teaching is done mostly through art. And for artists to lay these things out and to challenge people, make it an adventure.
I think that these are the kind of forms—because you’re asking about forms—that we need. Whereas when forms become rigid, such as church structures often do, that’s not sustainable. If we know anything from evolution, it is that forms come and go. And those that last the longest have some kind of open loop to them, a way to integrate new ideas and old ideas, and to be continually regenerating, continually creative.
Like Meister Eckhart said, “What does God do all day long? God lies on a maternity bed giving birth.” So the whole idea of giving birth is the essence of the godhead, and therefore the essence of a godly individual or of a god culture. That’s not information that was preached from the pulpits particularly vociferously for the last few hundred years. But it matches our understanding of physics today, of how indeed the whole universe has been creating from the get-go.
TS: Now, you said a very interesting statement: “Real spirituality comes mostly through art.” I don’t think that’s a statement that I would hear very many spiritual teachers make. Can you explain that a little bit more?MF: Yes, well, it’s about the language. To me, there are really only two languages for expressing what happens deep within yourself: One is silence, which is very important. The other is art. Art is a language by which we share the beautiful experiences we’ve had.
Father Bede Griffiths was a very fine, very holy Benedictine monk who died a few years ago and who had an ashram in southern India for over 50 years, and he said that every religion began with mystical experience. The Buddha under the bodhi tree, Mohammad with the Koran, Jesus with his experiences, Isaiah with his, and so on.
So religions begin this way with experience. But when you have the experience, then you translate it into language. You want to share it with others. And then after the language, there come concepts, and after the concepts there come doctrines, and you get further and further from the experience. So the renewal of religion is always about returning to the experience. And Jung said the same thing; he said, “Only the mystics bring what is creative to religion itself.”
Now, to me, the artist is in a place to name the experience better than the canon lawyers or the left-brain, rational theologians, because every spiritual experience is beyond naming, it’s beyond the verbal, it’s beyond the left brain, because it’s a right-brain experience. And art, music, dance, painting, drama, filmmaking—these are the languages for bringing alive the deepest experiences of our lives, such as are named by those four paths.
So, yes, I think this is something that easily gets lost. One reason it gets lost is that our academic system in the West—and of course, most of our seminaries have sold their soul to get accredited by this system—is all about left brain. It does not honor intuitive brain. Einstein had a great line about that. He said that we’re given two brains; there’s the rational brain and the intuitive brain, and the rational brain should serve the intuitive brain, when in fact, we live in a society where we forget about the intuitive brain. The intuitive brain is, of course, that mystical brain, the brain of experience.
The artist, on the other hand, I believe, dwells more with the intuitive brain. And I’d even say—and I mean this seriously—with angels. Thomas Aquinas says that angels learn exclusively by intuition. So if you’re living a life of intuition, if you’re kind of hitchhiking on the highway of intuition, you’re going to run into angels. We call these angels “muses” of the artists. “Muse” is really another word for angel. But it is our mystical life that taps into beings that are invisible.
I’ve met shamans, for example, who are artists, and dead artists come to them at night and tell them to paint paintings. I knew a Native American artist (who’s now deceased), and his wife showed me a painting that was signed “Paul Klee.” It looked exactly like a painting by Paul Klee, and she told me that her husband said that Paul Klee came to him at night and told him to paint this picture. So life is so much more interesting than two-dimensional television or education would have us believe.
TS: Now, Matthew, I have to ask, because you said “I mean this seriously” about angels: Have you had encounters that you would say were meetings with angelic beings of some kind?
MF: Of course!
TS: Tell me about that!
MF: Of course. And many people have. A number of years ago I wrote a book on angels with Rupert Sheldrake, the British biologist, called The Physics of Angels: Exploring the Realm Where Science and Spirit Meet. And one thing I did was interview a lot of people in big groups. I’d say, “Now, shut your eyes. No one will know what the others are saying. Just be very honest with me. Keep your eyes shut, and raise your hand if you’ve ever had an encounter with angels.” And 60 to 80 percent of the hands go up.
Now, granted, my audience is somewhat, shall I say, sifted through or something, but the truth is that people do have experiences with angels. And now that the mechanical universe has had its lid blown open, I think that more and more angels are making themselves present; they’ve returned. I think they were banished during the era of mechanism. I also say that angels like to worship traditions, but I think worship has become so boring in the West that even the angels aren’t in church anymore.
I think more of them are in bookstores. A lot of people tell me these stories that they’ve been in a depression for three years, they’ve been to a therapist, and they get a message to go to a bookstore. They went to a bookstore and they looked at the books at eye level, and lo and behold from the top shelf, a book came down and hit them on the head, and they took it home. And it may have been my book on Eckhart, or my book Original Blessing, and they say, “This is what I needed, and it changed my life.”
A number of people have told me these stories. So, hey, to me, I conclude that angels are hanging out in bookstores. Someone was throwing that book down from up there. There was no one visible who was doing it. And I’m not the only one who has experiences like this or stories like this to tell.
TS: Now, I would be curious—and I know I’m pushing a little bit here—do you have a personal encounter that you would say, “Oh, I think there was an angel, an angelic being of some kind involved in that”?
MF: Well, I do. I could tell this one story: Years ago I was working on the East Coast, and I was finished and I was going to visit Frederick Franck. Do you know who he is? A Zen painter, a beautiful guy; he was an older man who was Dutch and who wrote many wonderful books on Zen painting. He and his wife lived in upstate New York, and I flew into Newark airport, and then I rented a car to go see them. It was pouring rain and I was driving out of the airport, and very near the airport the car broke down. It was absolutely pouring rain, and I thought, “Oh, boy, this is going to be fun.”
So I got out of the car and this car drove up, a very old, dilapidated car with five really big guys in it. Thugs, actually. They were getting out of the car and I said to myself, “Well, this is interesting. I’m going to die in a ditch in New Jersey.” And I wasn’t scared, I just said that to myself. “This is the end.” Because they were going to roll me, for sure.
At that very minute, just as they were getting out of their car, which was parked right behind mine, a cop car pulled up. And the cop said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “My car broke down. It’s a rental car. I don’t know what else to do; I’m going to walk back to the airport.” He said, “Get in your car, lock all the doors, and I’ll call for help.” And the five guys, the big guys in this car—and they were thugs—they got back in the car and drove away.
Now, I maintain that the policeman was an angel because, first of all, the tradition is that angels can take on any form they want. So they can take on the form of a human being or the form of an animal or something else. And the timing of that was just too perfect, I think, for most New Jersey cops. [Laughs.] So I would ascribe that to angels. But I’ve had other experiences that were of a more positive kind.
Aquinas says, “Angels carry thoughts from prophet to prophet.” And I love that image. I think of bumblebees or something carrying pollen from flower to flower. And I think that often when I’m writing—and I think this happens often when musicians are making music, for example, or scientists are coming up with ideas—but myself as writer, I know I’m in a world bigger than my own, and that ideas are being exchanged with more than just my left brain. So there’s some kind of shared highway of intuition that’s going on there, and I think it’s appropriate to call that angelic. Or muse, if you want.
TS: Now, you mentioned that many forms of worship have become so boring that the angels aren’t even present. And I know that part of your work has been to revive and reinvigorate worship, and that you’ve come up with this form that you’ve introduced into the culture called the Cosmic Mass. I’d love for you to tell us a little bit of the history, and also sort of the design principles and inspiration that went into the creation of the Cosmic Mass.
MF: Sure. Well, history-wise, it happened this way for me: I was finishing my book The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time, and I thought I was finished with the book, and a dream told me to add a chapter on ritual. So the last chapter was on reinventing ritual. And it included bringing the body back and the contemplative dimension and other issues, and getting away from reading text, which is such a modern thing to do in worship, and therefore to start dancing.
So I finished this and sent the book to the publisher. Two weeks later, I was in Seattle for a workshop, and five young people from Sheffield, England, had flown in for the workshop. It turned out that they had been reinventing the Western liturgy as Anglicans, by taking raves into the church. They had all these articles to share from newspapers, and it was very exciting to me because the very principles I had just written about, these guys were doing. And they’re all in their twenties.
Then not long after, I flew to Sheffield to check out what they were doing, and I was very impressed. Their story was interesting because Sheffield at that time was going through a tremendous unemployment crunch, because that was the Rust Belt of England. So there was a lot of unemployment, which meant there was a lot of abuse in families—a lot of unemployed men were drinking alcohol and roughing up their kids. So a lot of the kids were living the street, actually. They had been kicked out of their home or left home, and then this rave community became their family, their community.
Then the leader, who was a young priest and a very bright guy, he went to the Anglican church and said, “Hey, we’d like to bring what we do in raves here in the church, because we feel there’s a real religious dimension to it.” So the priest said, “Well, fine, come on board.” And six months later, the priest came to him and said, “Well, you have to leave church now. People are complaining that there are too many young people in church.” I think that’s really funny.
MF: I can’t think of the last time that sentence was uttered on the planet. And so then they found a secular place in downtown Sheffield and did their masses there. And then I was fired by the pope about that time, too, and I asked these young people, “How can I help you?” And they said, “Well, if you became an Episcopalian, you could run interference for us. You get what we’re doing, we’re already using your Cosmic Christ theology.”
So I thought about it, and I said, “Well, the pope gave me a pink slip. He doesn’t need me.” So I went to the Episcopal bishop of Northern California here, Bishop Swing of Grace Cathedral, and I told him I wanted to become an Episcopal priest, but just in order to do this, to reinvent forms of worship in young people. And he gave me a green light on it.
So we did that, and I actually got Anita Roddick to put up money to bring 35 of these young Englanders to Grace Cathedral with their equipment, and we had what they called the Planetary Mass in the basement of Grace Cathedral. There were some interesting people who showed up for that, including one of the Grateful Dead fellows.
So then, however, they went back to England. Two months later, there’s a big scandal in England. It turned out the head guy, this young priest, was fleecing some of his female flock even though he was married with a little baby. And so the whole thing crashed over it; the whole community dimension crashed. It was a horrible thing, and of course I went back to try to help some of the grief of it. At the same time, the question then becomes, “Well, do we just not do it in America or what?” So I decided to go ahead anyway, but to change it to become much more transparent. I hired an un-ordained woman to head the whole thing. We’ve never had a scandal in 16 years.
So we’ve done over 90 of these Masses, many in Oakland, but many other places, too. And they work. By that I mean we’re dealing with post-modern language, not just dance, which is pre-modern. But also using DJs and rap and all these new languages, these new art forms—again, we’re talking art—to express the sacred. And one thing that happens is that people of all denominations show up. We’ve had Buddhists and Muslims and Pagans and Christians and Jews. And we create themes, such as the return of the divine feminine, or the black Madonna, or the black Diaspora, or the Celtic tradition. It’s very important, the themes that you pick, because a session ought to be a chance for the community to express its joy and its grief and its creativity. And we follow the four paths that I spoke of earlier, and that gives it a real skeleton.
Now, I will say this: The first year when I was planning this, we didn’t do anything. I met every week with rave leaders from the Bay Area, especially San Francisco. And two issues came up always: drugs, and why call it a Mass?
Well, drug-wise, I did not compromise. I said, “I can prove—and we’ll do it together—that you can get high without drugs. And you can go to work the next day and you’re not messing up your head.” We lost probably about a third of the ravers because I was real clear on that. But we’ve proven it.
In fact, once we did a Mass with over 1,400 people in San Francisco at a Body Soul conference—and the theme, actually, was angels—and afterward, three young men came up to me. And one of them said, “I’ve been going to raves every weekend for five years. What I’ve been looking for in raves, I found here tonight.” He said, “I’m looking for real prayer, I’m looking for community. What’s unique about this, as distinct from raves, is it’s not one generation. It’s multi-generational. And to me, that seems really healthy.”
So over the years we’ve had a lot of responses, a lot of healings, physical healings as well as religious and spiritual healings. We’ve done these in LA and Boulder and Madison and Kansas City and New York and in Portland, Oregon, and so forth. So it’s exciting. Of course I’m looking forward to doing the Sounds True Wake Up Festival in Colorado this summer.
TS: Yes. Now, you mentioned that there were two objections: the drug issue and then calling it a Mass.
MF: Yes, the second was, why call it a Mass? And I said, “Well, ‘Mass’ is a Western word for worship or liturgy. Bernstein, who was Jewish, wrote a Mass. Bach, who was Lutheran, wrote a Mass.” So “Mass” is very political term, and it doesn’t belong just to the pope. In fact, by calling it a Mass, what we’re really telling the pope is that he’s not praying very well. He’s not praying in today’s language; he’s not leading us into today’s language for praying. And so the term “Mass” carries a political punch to it. They didn’t object to that once we discussed that dimension of the word.
TS: Now, one of the things that’s interesting to me is praying by oneself compared to praying in a group community activity like this, especially in terms of working one’s way through all of the four paths of creation spirituality. It seems to me there’s something about the group energy that might take me through an arc that might not happen naturally just on my own, and I wonder if you could speak to that.
MF: Well, that’s right, and that’s why you want both in your life. There certainly is a place for one’s own private prayer, meditation, emptying, silence, all that. But as you say, there’s also a place for the community, and that’s what we’re not doing well, I feel, as a culture.
For example, the issue of grief, the Via Negativa. We always include a grief practice in the Mass, the Via Negativa part. Now, notice what the churches have done. They talk about sin, and then they lose a lot of people. [Laughs.] That whole sin thing has been so oversold. It’s like the boy crying wolf. I don’t talk about sin; we talk about grief. And grieving is letting go, and healing.
And, again, as you know as well as I, last summer we did a grief ceremony for 800 people at Sounds True’s conference in Colorado, and it was a very, very powerful experience for people. And so many people admitted this; as one woman said to me after one of the Masses, “Well, I liked all of the Mass, but the most powerful part for me was the grieving. I grieve alone in my bedroom, but no one’s ever really invited me to grieve with a group before.”
So the energy is different when you do grieving in a group, as it is when you do celebration and joy in a group, when you get everyone dancing. Now, we have images; usually in the four directions, we have screens up. So let’s say, for example, the Mass is the black Diaspora. So for the Via Positiva, we’re dancing for 18 minutes with pictures of the great black heroes, whether they be entertainers or political figures or writers and so on. We’re all dancing and bringing this into our hearts and bodies together as a group, and we’re celebrating the accomplishment of the Diaspora. Then you’d go into the darkness of the Middle Passage, of slavery and all the rest, and we grieve together.
So as you say, it’s a powerful thing to do this as a group, and it’s a different power. It’s important to do it individually, alone, in solitude, but it’s also wonderful to be able to do it in a group. And I think that’s what real ceremony—ritual, liturgy, worship, communal prayer, or whatever you want to call it—is about. And again, with today’s technologies and today’s art forms, so many of which are fresh and new, there are whole new levels with which this can be shared.
I’ll never forget doing this once with Agape Church in Los Angeles, at a conference they were having. And afterward a young black man who was about 27 years old came up to me, and he said, “This was so powerful. This would be worth devoting your life to.” I wish I’d gotten his phone number on the spot, because he got it.
The potential of this—I think, for example, we should have ritual centers in every city, not just these theater complexes where everybody’s going to movies all the time, because ritual is the way in which you create community. As Malidoma Somé says, “There’s no community without ritual.” And yet I think that most of our ritual these days, in the synagogue and the church, is far too heady, far too much about text on a page, far too oriented to the eye and not enough to the whole body, to all the chakras.
It’s like the poet Rilke said: “The work of the eyes is done. Now go and do heart-work on all the images imprisoned within you.” So letting the heart images come out—that’s what you get to do in dance. That’s what you can do with the gentle guidance of pictures that the VJ comes up with, and of course, the DJs with good music. A good DJ, of course, is responding to the energy of the group, and therefore brings the sound alive, the music alive, that carries the spirit of the community itself.
So, so much can happen. We have to recover joy. Joy is one of the most important spiritual energies on the planet. Aquinas says it’s the reason the universe exists. He says, “Sheer joy is God’s, and this demands companionship.” So the reason we’re here is to create joy, to share in the divine joy. And joy is how you heal people. Joy is how you turn people and transform people. And we have a long way to go, but ceremony and ritual are the shortcut.
TS: Now, I’m curious to know more. You mentioned this thing about ritual centers in cities, and I’ll tell you why I’m going here. Earlier in our conversation, we talked about how we don’t need to carry this big, organized religion, this basilica, on our back. And as I said, my concern was that people won’t have a structure, they’ll get lost. And you’re like, “No, there are some components.” And I think this component of community and ritual is something that so many people long for, and they don’t exactly know how to find it in their life and in their community. And they may or may not have access to Cosmic Mass; it’s not happening every weekend in every city. So how do we fill this gap?
MF: Well, I think the first thing is what you just said: to realize that it is a gap, that we’re missing it, that we long for it, that it’s part of being human, and it’s part of being spiritually evolved, really, to want to share joy, share creativity, share grief, and share our commitment to justice and healing and compassion.
So it’s in all of us. But that’s number one, though; to recognize that, to go deep enough that we can see. And then we can recognize that, frankly, what we’re calling worship is not cutting the mustard today. And of course, it’s about bringing the young in, because the young are the ones who are adept at this language of VJ-ing and DJ-ing and rap and all the rest. This is new artistic language, which, actually, some of it is very ancient.
For example, rap has a beat to it that really comes from the African drum. And of course, drumming is the ancient way to pray. It’s not just in indigenous Africa, but indigenous America, indigenous Australia. Drumming is the ancient way to get into your first chakra. You get down to your connection to sacred Mother Earth. I call electronic music “urban shamanism” because it is an urban language, and yet it really is a quest for that first chakra, the beat that gets you down there. And then, of course, you can bring in other instruments, too; we use the electronic DJ, but often there’s various types of live musicians as well.
So yes, I just think that we have to recognize the problem, recognize that the church is not cutting the mustard, and that’s why they’re pretty empty of young people and others. And thirdly, then, we should put on these kinds of rituals maybe once a month. And you don’t need a church. What you do need is a space that has a floor that’s friendly to knees [laughs], especially for the older people. So you need a wooden floor; gymnasiums work very well for this. You need high ceilings, too, because of the projectors that use screens and pictures and so forth. We have these spaces already; gymnasiums are often not used at night. Of course, carpeted areas work, too, such as a ballroom in a hotel or something like that. But something that’s friendly to the knees is important. Concrete does not do it.
TS: Well, and it seems like we need to have trained ritual leaders who know to how to convene—
MF: Well, we’ve been training people in this Cosmic Mass now. In fact, we’re putting another training on shortly. It’s done by phone, by teleconference and so forth. People could look that up and learn how to do this. We’ve been training people for years now. So people are doing them in different parts of the country, but I’d like to see a lot more of it.
And this even has to do with unemployment. I feel that there’s a whole industry here, in the good sense of the word “industry.” That ritual is so needed; it’s a shortcut for healing. One fellow came up to me after our grief experience this summer at the 2012 Wake Up Festival and said, “I’ve been going to a therapist for 21 years, but I’m going to quit tomorrow. This is what I’ve been looking for; this ritual really got me into my stuff.”
So this is, frankly, a new industry, and an ancient industry. I was with aboriginals in Australia a number of years ago, and a woman said to me, “Well, in our tradition, in our culture, we work four hours a day, and the rest of the day we make things.” And then I said, “Well, what are they making?” They’re making rituals, because there’s a lot behind making these rituals, and it’s fun and it builds community and it’s good work. And, hey, we could be putting a lot of people—especially these young people who are only half-employed today because there’s no full-time jobs for them—they could be putting these rituals on all over the place.
And it would be a great way to bring artists in. Artists just love this; there are all kinds of street artists that show up for these things, people on stilts and all the rest that make life fun and festive. They don’t feel at home in a church or a synagogue, but they do in this kind of space.
TS: As you’re talking, one of the things I’m reflecting on is how transformation often seems to be a process where, when the transformative process comes to its conclusion—at least its temporary conclusion—as you said, there’s a birth of something new. But so often in our life and in our spiritual life, we get stuck in the grief or the negative part, or we can even get stuck in the positive part, but that we don’t move through the whole transformative process. I wonder if you could comment on that, and how a group ritual can help move us through.
MF: Well, I couldn’t agree more. Each of these four paths are so deep that you can get stuck in any one. For example, in the fourth path, Transformativa, you can become a justice junkie. You can become such a social activist that you ignore your need for solitude and for quiet and all the rest. And in the Via Creativa, you can become so enamored of your mandalas or something else that they become your whole life, and again there’s no attention to justice, to the fourth path. And as you say, in the second path, we can become addicted to our sadness, our depression, our grief, our anger, and that can be our whole life.
And even the Via Positiva—I mean, that’s where we’d all love to land, but I think life itself takes you out of that rather swiftly [laughs] and throws other things at you. So I think there’s less danger of being stuck in the Via Positiva.
But again, the reason you can get stuck there is that it’s so deep. And so that’s why, again, the naming of the journey is so helpful. It is a spiral; it’s an ongoing, open-ended spiral. You spiral from the Positiva to the Negativa into Creativa, and then again back to the Positiva. After all, the goal of justice is not justice. The goal of justice is to set a fuller table of more people for the Via Positiva. The goal of justice is that the celebration of life be shared with as many people as possible. So even Transformativa is only a means.
So I agree, it really helps to know that you’re on a spiral here, and that things are meant to move along it. You might say there’s a letting go in each of the processes, in each of the paths. There’s a letting go of your grief; there’s a time to let go of grief. There’s a time to let go of creating, and to put it to work. There’s a time to let go of protest or social action, and to imbibe the joys of life and the beauty of life, even if it means going for a walk and meditating with your dog or a tree or with poetry or music.
So each of these things has their season, and the theme of letting go—which is, of course, universal in spiritual practices—shows up in each of them. Because otherwise you’re turning something into an idol, and you’re freezing. And that’s never a healthy way to go.
TS: Now, of course, as we’ve mentioned, you’ll be leading a Cosmic Mass massive ritual at the Wake Up Festival that’s taking place in Estes Park. It’s August 14 through 18, 2013, and it’s Sounds True’s second annual Wake Up Festival. And I’m quite looking forward to that. We should have over a thousand people participating in a ritual that I think will be about three hours long, which you’ll be contextualizing. I think it’s going to be a tremendous experience. It will be the first Cosmic Mass I’ve ever participated in, so I’m quite looking forward to it.
Also, Matthew, you’ll be offering a workshop, and before we end our conversation, I would love it if you could talk a little bit about this, because I know it’s a theme that you’re quite passionate about. The workshop is on the marriage of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine. And of all the topics, of course, that you could have taught on, and there are many, I think you chose this because it’s really a topic that you care quite a lot about. So I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that.
MF: Well, I really do. And I think all of us need to, because I think what I’d call the toxic masculine brain is sort of out of control. You can call it patriarchy, you can call it reptilian brain, and all of the above. But it’s been out of control for some time, and it’s killing us, literally. It’s killing women, it’s killing men, it’s killing the planet. And we have to detox the masculine; we have to bring back the sacred masculine.
Of course, I wrote a book on this a few years ago called The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awakening the Sacred Masculine. But I end the book with two chapters on the sacred marriage of the divine feminine and the sacred masculine. So we’ve been bringing the divine feminine back. The whole goddess movement, the whole women’s movement of the last 40 years, has been such a hopeful regeneration of the human spirit at so many levels.
But the divine feminine deserves a consort that’s worthy of her. And so the next step, I think, is that the masculine be cleaned up. And this is an issue for women and for men, not only because women have men in their lives, of course—fathers and brothers and lovers and husbands and coworkers—but also because, if you’re at all Jungian, women have a masculine side of the soul as well as a feminine. So that means that women, too, are walking around with a toxic masculine, and we have to clean this up. So I think it’s very important to name what is the sacred masculine.
I’ll tell you two quick responses to my book, because this is the kind of thing we’ll be getting into. The first response is from a woman. She emailed me and she said, “In my private library, I have over 200 books on the goddess, and not one book on the sacred masculine. And until I read your book, I didn’t realize how much men had suffered under patriarchy. The truth is, I have two boys, and I really need to learn more about the sacred masculine. I’ve been so busy, in my lifetime, recovering the feminine that was so banished and lost in me and around me, that I’ve neglected the sacred masculine.”
Then the second response was from a Native American man who said to me, “I’ve been working in prisons for 12 years, and your book is the first book I’ve ever used with prisoners in which they found the nobility inside themselves. Most prisoners are projecting onto others, but in your book, because you’re dealing with those archetypes, it forced the men to look inside themselves and find something noble there, not just something dangerous or the thing that got them in prison.”
So I was very struck by that—the nobility. So the archetypes—the Father Sky, the Green Man, the Spiritual Warrior, Fatherhood, Grandfather the Elder, the Blue Man—these are the archetypes I deal with in the book The Hidden Spirituality of Men. And they cut through any religious tradition; they’re more ancient than any. They touch us all.
So we’re going to have fun in the workshop dealing with this stuff. When I have a weekend on this subject, I have people create skits around these archetypes. I briefly talk about each archetype, and then I break the participants into small groups—men and women together—and I just give them a quick 12 minutes to create a skit around Father Sky, or around the Green Man or the Blue Man. And it’s amazing what happens. There’s a lot of laughter, and this way the images get into their bodies, their imaginations. It’s not just a concept, but it’s an experience. And it’s amazing how people can shift when you do this as a practice.
I remember I did a program on this one weekend at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and three months later I ran into a woman in a supermarket, and she said, “I was in that weekend of yours. It changed my life, doing those skits on the sacred masculine. I really appreciate the work you’re doing.”
TS: Now, Matthew, tell me a little bit about the use of the archetypes. You mentioned the Green Man, the Blue Man—I’m not quite sure who the Blue Man is, so I’d be curious about that. Archetypes are the doorway to find out in ourselves what this sacred masculine is.
MF: Yes. Marion Woodman, the Jungian psychologist from Toronto, says to think of an archetype this way: an electrical volt composed of a million volts. [Laughs.] It really zaps you. And that’s why it’s transformative for people to learn about the Blue Man, for example. In his autobiography, Swami Muktananda talks about how his meditation on the Blue Man changed his life more than any other meditation he ever had. It got him over his fear of death, and it got him in touch with his creativity, and especially his powers of healing. And yet, Hildegard of Bingen in the twelfth century, eight centuries earlier—because Swami Muktananda was in the twentieth century—Hildegard also had an image of the blue man, and she called it “the Christ in every one of us,” the healing Christ in every one of us, and the compassionate Christ in all of us.
So here’s a twentieth-century Hindu man and a twelfth-century Benedictine nun having the same vision of a Blue Man that changed their life, and that became an archetype, a profound icon or metaphor that shifted their way of being in the world. Now, if the ten archetypes I have named in this book, for example, all have that kind of power, then it’s not going to be that hard, if we pay attention, to shift our definition of masculinity from the toxic definitions that our culture has been feeding us—that a man is number one and is on top and doesn’t cry and dominates and all the rest—it’s not that hard to shift it.
Archetypes are our friends. They are our allies. Jung said that archetypes come along when we need them. And I think we need this today because we have this unbalance between the feminine and the masculine, and it’s not sustainable. Until we get the balance back, we are a doomed species.
TS: Now, just as a final question: We’ve been talking in different ways about reinventing our way of being spiritual together in community and keeping our spiritual lives alive without this structure of organized religion. And I’m curious to know where you think we are collectively on this path. Are we at the very, very beginning? Are we actually making great progress? And are you hopeful or not?
MF: Well, frankly, in my book on the pope, who just announced his retirement, called The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved, I actually concluded by saying that I think that the Holy Spirit has been at work for 42 years in the Catholic Church to end it—to end the patriarchal structure that is so dominant. And that this is really the work of the Holy Spirit so that we can start over, pushing the restart button on Christianity.
Now, I think Jews have to push the restart button on Judaism, Buddhists have to do it with their tradition, and the rest. So I think that we are moving beyond organized religion. But we still need to take the treasures from the burning building. And there are treasures there; it’s one reason I use the word “Mass” for the Cosmic Mass. And the mystics and the prophets and the Gospels are treasures of the Christian tradition, just like there are treasures of every tradition. But all of us today have to travel much more lightly. Backpacks, not basilicas, on your back.
So I think that the very meltdown of the Catholic Church today—and it is a meltdown—is a sign of hope. There’s actually a saying in Rome: “Where there’s death, there’s hope.” This comes from living over the centuries with lots of different popes, not all of whom who were to be respected. But out of the Via Negativa, out of the death of things, the Via Creativa can happen. And I think that’s why we’re living at the cusp of an extremely creative time, provided we can get serious and we can take what’s really valuable and leave behind the rest, and invest it, if you will, put it to good use to heal: to heal individuals, to heal Mother Earth, to heal all our relationships.
That’s what’s it’s all about. And also to heal relationships between different religious and spiritual traditions, including atheists. There’s a lot to be said for atheism. Meister Eckhart, one of the greatest mystics of the West, said in the fourteenth century: “I pray God to rid me of God.” Well, that’s pretty good news for an atheist here, because the word “God” can be so readily abused and used to legitimize a dominance and injustice that always has to be cleaned up.
And there’s room in this movement for atheists, too. In fact, there’s a beautiful book by an atheist named Alain de Botton that came out in Europe this past year that was a bestseller in England; it’s called Religion for Atheists: A Non-believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion. And the writer, who is Swiss and is an atheist, says that atheists have to get better at doing what the church did pretty well, such as architecture, building community, education. He has a chapter on each of these things.
So it’s really a kick in the pants for atheists by an atheist about actually learning something from the history of religion, that it’s not all a shadow. Too many atheists, he says, are too busy just pronouncing themselves and not really working with community. And he says healthy religion has done a much better job of working with community than the atheists are doing. It’s a very interesting book and beautifully written.
TS: Matthew, it’s always great to talk to you. Thank you so much.
MF: Well, I’ve enjoyed it, Tami. And thank you for your questions and for your interest and the wonderful work you’re doing with Sounds True, including these rituals that are upcoming.
TS: Matthew Fox will be with us at our annual Wake Up Festival August 14 through 18, 2013, in Estes Park, Colorado. He’ll be leading a Cosmic Mass and also teaching on the marriage of the sacred masculine and the divine feminine. Also with Sounds True, Matthew Fox has created a seven-hour course on Radical Prayer: Love in Action, which is on the mystical roots of prayer and its power for transformation.
SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.