The Via Creativa and the Poor: Bob Fox, Part 2

Bob was one of a kind–as much at home with his friends in Harlem as with farmers or business executives or doctors. He challenged people and saved many people’s “souls,” as I was told at his anniversary party.

Young people in Harlem, 1960s. Photo by Klaus Lehnartz, from 1960’s NYC In
Black & White on WiredNewYork.com.

He died too young at the age of 53.  He had so identified with the people of Harlem that he chose not to live a lifestyle beyond their means—including a lifestyle of privileged medical attention.

He would tell the story how he would invite inner city teenagers to a farm outside the city to experience the land and to mix with an equivalent number of white teenagers who lived in the countryside. 

What was amazing was that the tough inner city kids, who were up to encounters with kids with knives and guns on a daily basis in the city, were kept up all night by the sounds of owls and the rest.  “Afraid they might get bit by a rabbit,” laughed Bob.  The experiment showed Bob and the rest of us how relative fear can be.

Piles of garbage sit on East 43rd Street during the sanitation strike on Feb. 6, 1968. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alan Raia

When a garbage strike shut down much of Manhattan, he gave talks in which he pointed out that the garbage on Fifth avenue smelled not a bit better than the garbage in Harlem.  When it comes to our garbage, we are all equal he pointed out.  And he drew many lessons from this in case we might miss the point.

At the memorial mass we held for Bob at Holy Names College where he had taught summer school with us, Luisah Teish, who taught African dance on our faculty and who knew Bob from the summer programs we did together, told this story.

“Young Drummer” Photo by Hatim Belyamani on Unsplash

The day he died (not knowing about his death), she had written Bob a letter about a powerful dream she had had. In it she was in Africa surrounded by many elders (Teish is an ordained Yoruba priestess). There was one white man there too—Bob Fox. “What’s he doing here?” one of the elders asked her. “He stays; he’s one of us,” Teish replied.

Teish remembered attending Bob’s class during the summer program. “I don’t remember what he said, but I remember that he spoke in the cadence of an African drum.” Apparently he had by the end of his life become so attuned to his people that he spoke in the cadence of their drum.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest, pp.132f, 312.

Banner Image: Drummers’ circle of African Djembes. Photo by Lee Pigott on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation


How true is it that garbage from Fifth Avenue in Manhattan smells the same as garbage from the inner city?  What are the implications of that?  What does that tell us about our common humanity as distinct from class and economic privilege?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.


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9 thoughts on “The Via Creativa and the Poor: Bob Fox, Part 2”

      1. Gail Sofia Ransom

        Dear Larry,
        We are sorry that the new format is not as enjoyable for you. However, the website has not changed, so you can experience the orginal format just by clicking into the website. http://www.dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org The new format allows people to download the meditation and visuals so they can read them at will. It was done in response to requests for this capability. Now you know, maybe you will want to download some of the meditations as well. Please give this new configuration another try.
        Gail Sofia Ransom
        For the Daily Meditation Team

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Sue,
      We are sorry that the new format is not as enjoyable for you. However, the website has not changed, so you can experience the orginal format just by clicking into the website. http://www.dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org The new format allows people to download the meditation and visuals so they can read them at will. It was done in response to requests for this capability. Now you know, maybe you will want to download some of the meditations as well. We hope you give this new configuration another try.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  1. Avatar

    I love your meditations. They provoke additional thought to my daily meditations. Today’s meditation of yours left me with the immediate question: “The Sound of whose Drum do you (I) march to?” I had to look inward to my own soul in order to answer that one! Thank you for your own comments in this one. They led me to this one.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Barbara,
      Thank you for your comment. Your question is very provocative. “To the sound of whose drum do we march to?” I am going to think about that as well. May we both receive clarity.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team.

  2. Avatar

    Thanks for the reflection. Where are the holy marchers and protestors today? Have many of us, including me, lost our way? Keep up the good work. Joseph

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Joseph,
      Thank you for writing and asking the question. “Where are the holy marchers today?” They are marching to protest climate change. They are marching to protect women’s rights. They are marching to protest racial violence. Or were you wondering about the presence of all the nuns and priests that Bob Fox recruited that made their march a ritual? I have never heard of a thing in my circles. Perhaps these meditations will spark a renewed interest in “holy marching”
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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