Lectory » Thomas Berry on Matthew Fox and the role of the Shaman

Thu 20 July 2000ShareComment

When I think of Matt Fox I recall a passage written by Henry David Thoreau in his essay on Walking: “In Wildness is the Preservation of the World.” For there is something wild in Matt, something primordial, a realization that humans are not here to control but to participate in the wonders of those vast cosmic phenomena beyond all human understanding. These experiences evoke within us an overwhelming delight and thoughts so profound that their meaning is revealed to us only in our dreams.

The most regrettable distortion in human life is to confine our understanding to what is measured, calculated, reasoned, and usable. We are brought into being by a daring adventure of the universe itself. We participate in an adventure beyond understanding. To compress our thoughts within the range available to our thinking faculty is to mistake the full range of the soul. There are spontaneities within us that we best respond to by song or ecstatic dance or by feeling insight….Matt has a vivid awareness of the fragility and ultimately the lack of fulfillment in any cultural tradition that has lost its experience of those unmeasured forces that inspire and bring fulfillment to the human mind and imagination. Forces that find expression in the vast range of natural phenomena in the heavens and on the Earth. In the full range of their ever-evolving sequence these phenomena constitute a cosmic liturgy. Indigenous peoples and the classical civilizations in the vital periods of their creativity situate themselves deep within this sacred order of the universe….

When religion lost contact with the presence of the divine throughout the natural world the deepest sources of religious experience was lost. Human control over the functioning of the life systems of the planet became the ideal to be sought. Nothing was to escape human dominance….

I think of Matt Fox in this context as one of those persons in more recent times who seeks to bring back this sense of the Great Cosmic Liturgy that has been sustained over the centuries by the indigenous peoples. While the ‘civilized’ persons of the world have abstracted themselves into staid liturgies that have lost their primordial vitality.

That Matt has consistently used the word “Creation” in identifying his work indicates the cosmic orientation of this thinking. By the term ‘creation spirituality

He turns the western mind away form its exclusive redemption fixation to the more primordial experience available for the Western soul in the universe itself….To preserve the authenticity of what it is to be human in a universe that has from the beginning been made for celebration might be considered the essential message that Matt has been presenting for these past thirty years. To elucidate this message he has identified the major Christian personalities of the past who have articulated this vision in its most brilliant form: Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen, the Rhineland mystics, and Thomas Aquinas…..

In identifying the over-all context of his work, Matt is sometimes considered to be fulfilling a prophetic role. Since the role of the prophet is produce the critique and to suggest to the sacred community more appropriate ways of fulfilling its task in times of disturbed social and cultural situations, this designation does indicate an aspect of the work of Mat. Indeed he has critiqued the Church in the light of its own most relevant intellectual, spiritual and social exponents in the past.

Yet there is, I believe, a more critical role that Matt is fulfilling within the Christian community, the role of Shaman. While both Prophet and Shaman have special roles in their relation to the human community, the Shaman is more comprehensive in his field of consciousness. The Prophet speaks somewhat directly tin the name of God, the prophet is a message bearer, the prophet is interpreter of historical situations, the prophet critiques the ruling powers.

The Shaman functions in a less personal relationship with the divine. He is more cosmological, more primordial, personally more inventive in the source of his insight and his power. Priest and Prophet are more clearly designated spiritual personalities in our western world. They belong to the period of greater social and cultural structure. Matt speaks of his teaching as Creation Spirituality, it seems to me, because he feels the need to understand the deep experience of the human soul within the sacred dimension of the universe itself. Indeed, in my own view, the present difficulty with the Christian community is not exactly in its relation to the divine or in its teaching of redemption but in its understanding of the universe and place of the human community and the manner of its functioning within the universe. In overcoming this difficulty Matt Fox has a significant role in these opening years of the 21st century.

Excerpted from The Making of a Prophet: Matthew Fox at Sixty, Mary Ford-Grabowsky, Editor
Copyright © Mary Ford-Grabowsky 2000

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