I Have Seen the Future of Religion, and His Name is Matthew Fox

matthew fox

From his origins in the Wisconsin heartland to his European awakening and from his nature-based brand of mysticism to his eventual split with the patriarchal church of the day, I have consistently felt a deep connection with the life and work of author, theologian and priest Matthew Fox.

I have cited and referenced Fox’s work repeatedly — from my Spring Equinox service to my Thanksgiving Prayer — and consider him to be a primary influence in my practice of entering into a direct relationship with God (not a God that is anthropomorphic or made in man’s image, but God as the Cosmos itself). And as a fellow author and minister, I consider him to be a mentor and spiritual director — an inspiration as I struggle to find a voice of my own and to have that voice connect with a new audience.

The rites of passage that I lead for new fathers in our community are directly fueled by his call for ritual and reclamation in books like The Hidden Spirituality of Men: Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.

“If we liberate the Divine Feminine,” Fox says, “she is deserving of a worthy consort — a cleansed and detoxified and resurrected Sacred Masculine.”

I first met Fox at a workshop in Sarasota, FL where he preached about Creation Spirituality, Deep Ecumenism (interfaith dialogue and pluralism), spiritual activism and the importance of grieving in our culture. He described a grieving ritual of his own design and demonstrated the process which asked participants to get on all fours and moan until they were emptied of their suffering. I immediately put this process to the test with the chaplains group I belonged to at the time and experienced deep and profound effects.

JSO and Matt Fox

Just two guys from Wisconsin: The author and Matthew Fox at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, 2015.

Fox doesn’t simply want to reinvent worship. He will not be satisfied until the worlds of work and education have been re-booted as well.

In his book A New Reformation, he writes, “We must leave the museum-like Christianity as we would a burning building — seizing what is valuable and letting go of the rest. We take what is best from the old ways and leave behind what is unnecessarily burdensome.”

“Integral to a New Reformation are new forms of worship. The old forms inherited from the modern era are very often boring and deadly, inviting people to pray only from the neck up while ignoring the lower chakras, much as they are ignored in modern education. The new language of the postmodern era — including deejays, veejays, rap, the spoken word, and more — can bring new life and deep spirit to worship, by inspiring dance rather than by encouraging sitting.”

I got to witness this first hand in October, when I had the distinct honor and pleasure of attending Fox’s “Cosmic Mass” at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, UT.

The Cosmic Mass resembles a Catholic mass but with a 21st century upgrade. It includes singing and chanting, video projection, prayer, an interfaith communion, a grieving ritual, and most importantly — ecstatic dance, fueled by loudly pulsing electronic music. Most times there are masks, costumes, and huge puppets operated by volunteers from the crowd.

At the Parliament, I was such a volunteer and you can read a detailed account of my Cosmic Mass experience here.

As a leader of spiritual community, The Cosmic Mass was a revelation. It was a religious experience like none other — connecting everyone together and to Source. It held the elements of masculine and feminine power in exquisite balance and oriented us to the cycles of the season (not only in the world, but in our own hearts). It was joyous, meaningful, heart-breaking, contemplative, awe-inspiring and fun. It was ceremony and ritual that proudly wore the clothing of 2015 (video, technology, social media). The Cosmic Mass appeals to those who are seeking worship based not in written forms (“from the neck up”) but forms that are experience-based and that activate the entire body. Or, as Fox likes to say, experience that is rooted “not in text, but in context.” Fox’s Cosmic Mass will keep me inspired (and spiritually fed) for some time. It is, indeed, the future of religion.

You might think that Fox’s teachings would be embraced by a world hungry for new forms of spiritual expression and fresh ideas. You may think that what Fox preaches is obvious, and that it is common sense for new religious structures to be built to accommodate the post-modern, gender-balanced and intergenerational elements of our society.

You would be wrong.

Fox himself has been threatened, condemned and silenced by his own Catholic Church for referring to God as “feminine,” “cocelebrating” with female priests and referring to spirituality as “sensual.” He eventually found a new calling (and a new home) as an Episcopalian priest. Despite the attempts to muzzle him, Fox’s message continues to spread. His followers remain a small but passionate group committed to singing his praises and putting his teachings into practice in their own communities. According to CreationSpirituality.info, at least 10 church groups in the U.S. and Canada currently identify as “Creation Spirituality Communities.” And The Cosmic Mass currently has plans for a 2016 tour of the U.S.

In November, Fox’s autobiography, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, saw a revised and updated release. The book details his experience as a seminary student and his time with the Dominicans and the Trappists (even Thomas Merton); his years as a young man in Paris; his life-changing anaesthesia-induced rendezvous with Meister Eckhart; the formation of his own spiritual institute (ICCS); and the legendary showdown with the Vatican, in which he was silenced and eventually excommunicated by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (a former Nazi foot soldier) who would go on to become Pope Benedict XVI.   

Fox describes the schism between the Catholic Church (at the time) and his own Creation Spirituality in this way, “Fundamentalism and fascism pray to a theistic God, a God who is above and over us and who is in no way God-with-us, God-among-us. Panentheism is an affront to fascism and fundamentalism for it implies democracy, the very heart of Jesus’s teaching that the reign of God is among us all. Especially those without power.”

Confessions is available on Amazon and at booksellers worldwide.

Matthew-Fox-Confessions

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About Joran Slane Oppelt

Author, Musician, Interfaith Minister, Chaplain, Public Speaker, Event Producer, Marketing Professional, Husband, Father - Not necessarily in that order. Follow me on Twitter @joranslane. View all posts by Joran Slane Oppelt

One response to “I Have Seen the Future of Religion, and His Name is Matthew Fox

  • Lokken Liane

    Dear Joran,
    I was so happy to read this blog, and to know that you are taking up the call to a healthier form of spirituality. I encountered “Original Blessing” around 20 years ago, and it broke open my previously fear-bound faith. I was a conservative, life-long Episcopalian, and it was terrifying in many ways to think of God in a new way. It took years, and much exploration. I now find myself in a community of Shambhala Buddhists, and I find it an enriching and sane path. I do miss ritual and music very much, but I am so much more at peace than I ever was 20 years ago.
    Keep the faith, and keep working. I think our culture is more than ready for a new way to see spirituality.

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