Inevitably controversial, but invariably representing a blending of both the provocative and the evocative, Matthew Fox (former Dominican priest – now Episcopalian), was recently featured in a Sounds True podcast where he talks about “…how we can apply the four spiritual paths [of what Fox terms “Creation Spirituality”] in every part of life, the value of grief rituals, the reinvention of Christianity, and what spirituality might look like in the future.”
After having listened this week to Mike Riddell wonderfully (and also provocatively) deliver the 2011 Ferguson Lectures it was nice, albeit from a different perspective, commitments, and journey, to be again reminded – this time by Fox – that so much about Christianity is both in crisis and in need of “reinvention” as we decide what to take and what to leave behind in the face of an uncharted future and the Spirit beckoning and inviting. Indeed as Mike suggested, and Fox reminds us, perhaps the invitation is not a retreating conservatism, but an open and vulnerable radicalism. Or, as Anglican Priest Kenneth Leech might say, a “subversive Orthodoxy”.
Fox has an audio (CD) release with Sounds True titled, Radical Prayer: Love in Action, Matthew Fox covers, among other topics, "What is authentic prayer?" recovering the sacred masculine and sacred feminine, and what it means to explore "the dark night of the soul."
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
Tami Simon [interviewer]: But I am curious about an aspect of the via negativa which has to do with suffering, and bringing suffering into the room, brining the via negativa into the room. In some ways—the spiritual path and the spiritual life is talked about—the idea is to get away from suffering. You know, that's something that we're trying to escape from, but here, you're bringing it right in as part of our path. I'm wondering if you can talk about that a little bit.
Matthew Fox: Sure. Well, the mystics talked about "the dark night of the soul," and Hafiz, the wonderful 14th-century Sufi mystic, says, "Sometimes God wants to do us a great favor: turn us upside-down and shake all of the nonsense out, but most of us, when we hear that God is in such a playful, drunken mood, quickly pack our bags and hightail it out of town." What he's talking about there, I think, is that the warrior energy of the mystic and the spiritual person is about sticking around when times get rough—and times do get rough for all of us! We do have our valleys and our mountains to travel through. To the mystics, the dark night of the soul is a way to say, "Hey, there's something to be learned. There's a school here that we're attending when there's suffering in our lives."
What is it that we learn? Well, one thing is compassion. We learn what it means for others to be suffering, because we are paying attention to our own. As Meister Eckhart says, "Compassion begins with one's self, with one's own body and one's own soul." If we don't pay attention to our own suffering, we're not really going to understand others', but when we do, suffering itself is a common language. It's an absolutely universal experience. Of course, this is what the Buddhists are teaching when they say that all beings suffer in the universe, and it's part of the archetype of the crucified Christ in the Christian tradition. All beings, including good people, like Jesus and the Cosmic Christ, we all suffer, so we want to ask, "What is there to learn from it?"
Another thing we learn from the mystics talking about the dark night of the soul is that for them, this kind of suffering is a purification of our longing. That's really the essence of what we learn at the school called "suffering": to purify our longing. I think that's a very important issue today. I really think our species is in a great dark night of the soul at this time, because we're all unsure about what the future holds, with so many decisions ahead of us and so many institutions not working, from government to politics to economics, and many of our religions are in bad shape, education... It is one of these times when there has to be this breakthrough. This creativity has to come out of the emptying. People in AA learn this too; that the "bottoming out" that happens there is a profound shift in their entire way of being in the world. The late Father [Bede] Griffith, this wonderful [Benedictine] monk who lived in India for many years, he said that, for many people, despair is a yoga—that they do not experience God or transcendence until they go through some very deep experience like alcoholism, for example, where there is a profound emptying that happens.
I think, as I say, that our species is going through a great emptying at this time. Hopefully, we'll learn some of the really important spiritual lessons that we have to learn from that, including this issue of the purification of our longing…”