Ask Ivor

Jane asks: "What is creation spirituality?"

Matthew Fox, a Dominican priest until his dismissal from that order in 1993, and the coiner of the term, says that creation spirituality "is not a newly invented path.... It is a newly discovered path.... Creation spirituality is an ancient tradition.... The basic spiritual heritage of native peoples everywhere." Practitioners of creation spirituality in the Christian tradition include, says Fox, Jesus, Irenaeus, Hildegarde of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Mechtild of Magdeburg, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Geoffrey Chaucer, Julian of Norwich, Nicholas of Cusa, George Fox, and Thomas Traherne. The "family tree" of creation-centered spirituality includes prophets, philosophers, theologians, psychologists, liberation theologians, New Age mystics, Taoists, Hindus, Sufis, Native Americans, Wiccans, Africans, Zennists, Celts, and Hasidim. "As a movement, creation spirituality becomes an amazing gathering place, a kind of watering hole for persons whose passion has been touched by the issues of our day—deep ecologists, ecumenists, artists, native peoples, justice activists, feminists, male liberationists, gay and lesbian peoples, animal liberationists, scientists seeking to reconnect science and wisdom...."

Fox writes that there are two spiritual traditions in the West: fall-redemption spirituality, and creation-centered spirituality. The former emphasizes patriarchalism, control of passions, original sin, ego, the Church, obedience, guilt, purity, status quo, and the intellect; while the latter emphasizes feminism, celebration of passion, original blessing, ecology, the world, creativity, thanksgiving, hospitality, prophecy, and the imagination.

The four paths of creation spirituality are: 1) awe and delight, 2) darkness, suffering, and letting go, 3) creativity and imagination, and 4) compassion; that is, justice and celebration. Corresponding to these four paths are the four commandments: 1) fall in love at least three times a day, 2) dare the dark, 3) do not be reluctant to give birth, and 4) be compassionate.

"For me," says Fox, "spirituality is about life, it's about responding deeply to life, to accepting life as a mystery and as something sacred, and it's about finding the sacred everywhere, including in yourself."

Central to Fox's theology is his discussion of the Cosmic Christ, whom he variously names as the creator of mindfulness, as the pattern that connects, as the bearer of coherence, as needing to be born, as the connector of time and space, as the connector of microcosm and macrocosm, as Mother Earth crucified and resurrected, as redeemer of cosmic pain, as revealer of the divine "I am" in every creature, and as the redeemer of worship.

"The movement from the Enlightenment's quest for the historical Jesus to today's quest for the Cosmic Christ names the paradigm shift that religion and theology presently need to undergo. One cannot explore the meaning and power of the Cosmic Christ without a living cosmology, a living mysticism, and the spiritual discipline of art as meditation. The holy trinity of science (knowledge of creation), mysticism (experiential union with creation and its unnameable mysteries), and art (expression of our awe at creation) is what constitute a living cosmology."

"A theology of the Cosmic Christ must be grounded in the historical Jesus, in his words, in his liberating deeds, in his life and orthopraxis. The Cosmic Christ is not a doctrine that is believed in and lived out at the expense of the historical Jesus. Rather, a dialectic is in order, a dance between time (Jesus) and space (Christ); between the personal and the cosmic; between the prophetic and the mystical."

In 1988, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (earlier known as the Office of the Holy Inquisition) called Fox's ideas "dangerous and deviant." The Vatican demanded that Fox serve a year of public silence, in which he would be prohibited from preaching, teaching or publishing his writings. Fox submitted, and used the year off to work on another book. But the ecclesiastical conflict continued, and Fox was expelled last year. Now he has joined the Protestant Episcopal Church, which he says has "more elbow room" and "a more Celtic flavor of disorganization." At the same time, he refers to himself as a "postdenominational" priest. "We don't have a lot of time to fiddle around, whether we're in this denomination or that one.... Denominationalism can be as sinful as racism or sexism. It just locks you in, and that's not the kind of spirituality we need today."