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Defrocked Catholic Priest Leads Earth Worship SeminarFormer Dominican Turned Episcopalian Praises Gaia, ‘Goddess’Jeff WaltonMay 5, 2010
An Episcopal priest and theologian who popularized the rave-like “Techno Cosmic Mass” and advocated goddess worship recently led a seminar on mysticism and Earth spirituality to coincide with Earth Day.
Warning that environmental degradation caused by raging against “Gaia” had to cease, the Rev. Matthew Fox made frequent references to “the Goddess” and the divine feminine during his environmentally-themed lecture and workshop, “Earth Spirituality and the Mystical Tradition.” The event was held in April at the Unitarian Universalist Church in the Washington suburb of Rockville, Maryland, and sponsored by the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation.
Episcopal Priest and Theologian Matthew Fox has authored 28 books, many addressing the mysticism and spirituality of Earth worship. (Image Courtesy of Friends of Creation Spirituality)
Fox’s seminar was a melding of Celtic spirituality, goddess worship, panentheism (which posits that God interpenetrates every part of nature, but also transcends nature), environmental activism, and a political rejection of American “empire,” peppered sporadically with digs against the Vatican. Making references to Christian mystics like Hildegard of Bingen alongside pagan deities and the animal world, Fox comfortably oscillated between threats to polar bears and the oppression patriarchy when expressing his views on the natural world.
The solution offered by the former Roman Catholic priest was an embrace of ancient spiritual practices, recast in modern language and setting.
“This is how you change consciousness the fastest – through rituals, not [academic] degrees,” Fox said, explaining the various practices he has either rediscovered or pioneered in mapping out “creation spirituality.”
Fox’s views have long sparked controversy, although he did not start out in unorthodox surroundings. A member of the Dominican Order for 34 years, Fox refused to respond to a summons to discuss his writings with his superiors in the Roman Catholic Church. This disobedience led to his expulsion from the order in 1993. Due to his denial of the doctrine of original sin, Fox had already been forbidden by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) from teaching theology in 1988.
Following his departure from Roman Catholicism, Fox has served as a priest in the San Francisco-based Episcopal Diocese of California since 1994, working with the group Friends of Creation Spirituality and the now-shuttered University of Creation Spirituality. At the center of his work has been something called “the cosmic mass” – a religious ceremony that Fox adapted from the creation spiritual tradition.
“Creation spirituality begins with the concept of original blessing instead of original sin,” Fox explained in a 2005 documentary. “You came into the world as a real expression of divinity and as something beautiful and yearning to connect with others, including the creator. The ‘cosmic Christ’ theology is also a big part of our cosmic mass. It teaches that the Christ – that is the image of God – is present in every being in the universe. This allows you a much broader canvas in which to paint your worship.”
That worship has included the “Techno Cosmic Mass” – an event that attempts to combine the religious ritual of the Eucharist with non-Christian religious rituals and the energy of techno music and rave parties. Mixing dance, techno music, contemporary art and the western liturgical tradition, the post-modern form of worship eschews traditional images of church, along with rejecting traditional Christian teachings.
Fox partly justifies creation spirituality by saying that Jesus Christ did not get his wisdom from books.
“He was probably illiterate,” Fox claimed, explaining that Jesus’ purportedly illegitimate birth would have exiled him from the rabbinical schools. Instead, Fox posits that the young Jesus spent more time learning from nature. References to lilies, vines, and mustard seeds in Jesus’ teachings back this view, according to Fox. The former Catholic theologian did not explain how Christ was so familiar with rabbinical teachings if he was illiterate, or how he read from the scrolls at Capernum or wrote on the ground while confronting the accusers of the woman caught in adultery.
In addition to creating his own theology independent of Scripture, Fox waded into science, authoring his own physical laws for the universe.
“Matter is frozen light,” Fox asserted, also adding that plants and animals had souls, as they share the properties of being “living, sensory and intelligent.”
Fox conducted elements of the “cosmic mass” during the seminar. Among them was a grieving ritual, which Fox equated with confession during the traditional mass. In preparation for the ritual, Fox invited participants to place their feet, knees, hands and forehead in direct contact with the floor, in order to increase connection with the earth below. Seminar participants then were instructed to release their grief into the earth in three stages: anger, sorrow, and concluding with “bottoming out”.
As the “grief work” began, animal-like barking and growls punctuated guttural wails and whimpering that filled the church sanctuary, rising to a crescendo and then concluding. Fox pronounced the “grief work” as authentic, saying that which came from the gut was correctly in line with the third chakra, a point of spiritual power located along the body in yoga.
The clergyman also prescribed another practice of grieving: “Find a rock, dig a hole, ask the rock if it is willing to do this, and then you get a bandanna or some piece of cloth that means something to you, and you put your grief into that rock and wrap it, wrap the bandanna around it and bury it, and then cover it up. The Earth is so generous and large that she can absorb our grief for us.”
Despite Fox’s efforts to correlate portions of the cosmic mass with the traditional mass, such as having a modified communion service, he seemed eager to jettison the theme of the Eucharist.
“We’ve been told by bad preachers that Jesus died on the cross for your sins,” Fox said. In the place of sacrificial atonement, the Episcopal priest argued that liturgy and worship was about the Universe itself, “veneration of the sacred.”
Animosity toward the Vatican
Despite his focus upon creation spirituality, Fox could not resist inserting occasional digs at the leadership of the church he left over 15 years ago.
As if to validate concerns that led to his expulsion from the Dominican order, Fox referred to Mary as “the Goddess” whom he worshipped. Fox also criticized the “patriarchy” of Rome.
“Anyone who doesn’t think that Christianity needs reinventing has not been listening to the news for the past six weeks,” Fox said, referring to the clergy sex abuse scandals. “The Vatican needs reinventing, it needs a burial with a good ritual – all good Catholics can put their imaginations to work now on what a post-Vatican Catholicism would look like.”
Fox also protested against the Pope’s ban on the use of the feminine pronoun at the altar to describe God.
“One of the objections by Cardinal Ratzinger to my theology was that I call God ‘mother’,” Fox said. “I think he should have spent more time with these mystics and less time chasing down theologians.”Expressing frustration with the investigations of unorthodox theology by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, Fox hypothetically asked of the bishops: “Who’s investigating you? We’d be glad to!”
“Enough of the injustice, enough of the lies, enough of the Vatican, enough of patriarchy, enough is enough,” Fox said. “Enough of the empire.”
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