CONFESSIONS: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest is a new autobiography released this month by North Atlantic Books, about a man who has become a major change agent in our times; and who has been a powerful mentor in my spiritual, intellectual and academic life as well as my own personal growth. The book is a must read for anyone who wants to see into the life of a modern Christian mystic. Matthew Fox is that mystic.
I earned my Doctorate of Ministry in the school he founded, The University of Creation Spirituality, and was privileged to teach there as well.
The book details an amazing journey of a dedicated man of God, whose vision, creativity and will power allow him to accomplish much. His story grabs you right from the introduction. You won’t even want to take a break as you read on through the first couple of chapters; as he shares his journey to the priesthood and early years becoming a Dominican. His passion challenges us to check in on our own journeys and life callings.
In the Introduction, Matthew graciously points out that we all have a story – and with humility wonders why anyone as ‘ordinary’ as he is would write an autobiography. Still, he is able to tell himself (and us) that “…many people need others’ stories to realize spirit in their own.” However, as the reader plunges in, not only do we see the power of spirit in Matthew’s life; we also see that this is the story of a man who is far from ordinary.
Matthew opens his Confessions telling us that it “…may assist others today who find themselves either passing from religion to spirituality or trying to integrate spirituality back into religion.” Matthew has been a huge catalyst in my own passage from a traditional religion to an expanded spirituality… and for that I will always be grateful.
He has a way with words and can pack a lot into a few. He shares a story of a student who had AIDS. The student had a dream in which Matthew showed up wearing a white coat like a doctor. He gave the man an amazing bit of spiritual knowledge (read the book for what was said), which the man took back into his waking life. This mystical advice literally helped the ailing man feel stronger and fuller. Matthew takes a moment to remind us matter-of-factly that… “Yes, the universe is a very interesting place. And very connected.”
He takes us to his ordination, where he shares a moving experience of feeling a powerful connection to the lineage that came before him; of feeling a powerful sense of ancestors as a litany of saints and priests were read while he lay prone, giving himself to God. This “morphic field” as he later learned to call it, was the transparency of time and space. He shares how his interest in spirituality and science would lead him to work with scientists and write books in this vein, which I have greatly benefited from.
We see in Matthew’s journey how passion, intellect, vision and his recognition of the power, wisdom and vitality of youth… combine to manifest breakthrough – even during a simple lunch meeting. We sit with him as he hears a young 20-something man tell him of his thirst to create “revelry”. Matthew connects that to the word revelation. We witness him seeing that the same root word is in play here… and see him recognize in this young man the hunger for sacred joy. We witness the closing of the generation gap (he is in his 50’s) and watch as he envisions a new idea that could have a societal breakthrough… and eventually does! All this over a lunch!
Like the title of this blog says…. A MUST-READ!
Parts of Matthew’s story unfolds in a rapid-fire litany of what he wants to get across… and before you know what has just hit you, he has laid out something that you have had no time to avoid. And now that you know, you become responsible for the knowledge. We see how he takes responsibility… how will we? This is part of his writing genius. He draws you in, informs you, preaches powerfully, and gets you turning pages to find out what he has to say about big issues, and how you can help, no matter how small or inadequate you may feel.
Here’s an example:
Spirituality is required to wake people up and empower them to face the deep crises that earth is undergoing today, and the poor who constitute so much of humanity, and the young who are in despair, and the indigenous people who are being wiped out.
I believe the Holy Spirit is calling us to simplify our spiritual heritage as we move, more lightly, into the third millennium. As we move beyond denominationalism to a deep ecumenism. And as we listen to the Spirit working through young people, as it so often does.
There are insights into his early depth and courage of spirit. Take this thought for example, in one of his journal entries when he was still in his twenties: “Sometimes I think that what I’m looking for will occur only at death.” His search for usefulness and where he might work with the most effectiveness guides his early endeavors including starting a groundbreaking magazine while still a student, called Listening. Furthermore, his prolific reading brought him into contact with minds that seeded future endeavors and sets the stage for later efforts including the many books he would write and programs he would start. He shares one of his favorite paragraphs of a book from a German Jesuit on “Priest and Poet” that I can see supported his innate passion, which years later blossomed into a wisdom school that combined creativity, the arts, science, theology and deep ecumenism, including the wisdom of women and indigenous peoples.
Confessions allows us to see the arc of Matthew’s journey from his youth to the present day. He is a spiritual warrior and his journey is a model of ongoing praxis… of contemplation and action.
The ground that Matthew covers in his life and career is stunning. And he is still pushing the boundaries and preaching and teaching us out of complacency. The personal connection I have experienced with him ranges from student to colleague; from mentor to friend. A chief period of amazing growth for me was in his school, The University of Creation Spirituality. I echo the sentiments printed in the book of a former classmate, Dr. Suzanne Lopez:
Going to the University of Creation Spirituality was extraordinary. It was more than I could have ever dreamed of or imagined. My experience at the University of Creation Spirituality was the best educational and most meaningful, inspirational, transformative experience I have ever had. I would go again just to be there and be supported in continuing to evolve my soul in such a profound and visionary container.
That comment exemplifies the effect of Matthew’s transformational work in the world, and this book challenges us to look at our own lives and ask… am I doing enough?