Elder and Youth Interacting on Holiness and More

We have been discussing art, creativity and healing in a time of pandemic in our most recent Daily Meditations.  A story about my own work and creativity occurred this weekend when I had the privilege to dialog on video with Jaih-Hunter Hill. 

Jaih Hunter-Hill. Photo from LinkedIn.

Jaia is a twenty-seven year old Apple product design engineer with an engineering degree from Stanford University.  We first met at a Sierra Club gathering last Fall when I was invited to speak on Pope Francis’s encyclical on the Environment, “Laudato Si” (which was written in great part by a graduate of my Master’s program in Creation Spirituality).  Two scientists were also speaking on the environmental crisis and Joanna Macy, having just celebrated her 90th birthday, also showed up and offered powerful words of hope and inspiration.

During a break in the event Jaih came up to me and introduced himself as being genuinely excited about my book Original Blessing.  As a writer, it is always fun to learn that someone—especially a young person–has derived some benefit from one’s work and equally fun to learn what part of one’s writing has moved another. 

“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.” Painting by Lambert .Lombard. From Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

This weekend Jaih and I interacted in a video exchange where he went into greater depth about what moved him in Original Blessing.  One topic that impacted him was “holiness as Cosmic Hospitality.”  It turns out that Jaih loves to cook and create hospitality and took immediately to the teaching that this work of his was a spiritual practice.  Recent scholarship reveals that it was central to the work and teaching of the historical Jesus as well.

In the book I cite Simone Weil who warns that

…today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness, itself is without precedent.

Perfectly imperfect: two giants of the forest. Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels.

Holiness is a word worth retrieving.  One of the most telling questions that can be asked about a period’s spirituality is, what is its understanding of holiness?  A people’s grasp of what constitutes holiness will affect its entire way of living, questioning, celebrating. 

I reject the fall/redemption definition of holiness as “perfection” and this for psychological reasons (Otto Rank called perfectionism “a disease”); and for feminist reasons–poet Adrianne Rich warns us: “Let us return to imperfection’s school/ No longer wandering after Plato’s ghost.”  Patriarchy countenances perfectionism. 

Natural abundance: a food forest of many traditional crops in Pohnpei, Senyavin Islands, Micronesia. Photo by Scot Nelson on Flickr. Public Domain.

In nature, beauty and imperfection abound together.  Every tree is beautiful–but also imperfect.  Theologically, we need to realize that the Greek word in Matthew’s gospel often translated as “perfect” actually means “ripe” or “come to maturity.”  Furthermore, in the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel the word is “compassion.”

Having criticized the dominant definition of holiness as perfection, I propose that holiness consists in hospitality–cosmic hospitality.  Creation has been laid out for us as a banquet.  God is a host; we are guests.  Through the Incarnation God becomes a guest and ourselves hosts.  Jesus offers an “eschatological abundance” that the prophets envisioned. (Amos 9:13-15)

Adapted from Matthew Fox,  Original Blessing, pp. 108-117.

Banner Image: Matthew Fox and Jaih Hunter-Hill in conversation

Queries for Contemplation

Do you learn and feel blessed when people respond to your work and your creativity?  Reflect on those moments of interaction and the gratitude the arouse in you.

What is your definition of “holiness”?

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11 thoughts on “Elder and Youth Interacting on Holiness and More”

  1. Avatar

    In Queries for contemplation, this question leaped off the page for me: “Do you learn and feel blessed when people respond to your work and your creativity?” In March I published a book on Amazon: JESUS GARDENS ME. I certainly have learned and felt blessed by people’s response. The initial inspiration came to me while walking a Chakra garden at Willka T’ika retreat center in the Sacred Valley of Peru. I too have been inspired and blessed by ORIGINAL BLESSING and CREATIVITY and several other books and the Daily Meditations. And I’m 81.
    Loved this conversation video. Matthew’s smile and interaction are so refreshing and hopeful.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      And thank you for sharing David. Your book sounds interesting, and of course I have read both of Matthew’s books that you mentioned. It is sooo good to know that we have spiritual Elders like you–I can just picture you walking the Chakra garden. And if you’d like to read Matthew’s take on the Chakras try reading: Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh.

      1. Avatar

        Richard, Thank you for your comments. My copy of Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh is heavily notated by me. I ordered it after reading a quote of Deepak Chopra from the Foreword: “In addressing sin and evil, Fox’s book faces the single greatest obstacle of spirituality in the twenty first centrury.”

  2. Avatar

    Yes, of course I am grateful and somewhat surprised when people comment about my book FOREVER BECOMING being helpful and an eye-opener. I feel that I wrote it mostly for myself . . . to get in touch with the person that I am always striving to become.

    As for “working at my perfection,” which I was told early on in religious life, had to be my goal for the rest of my life . . . I soon realized that this was an impossible task, and would drive me up a wall in no time at all . . . So, I decided then and there to stop “trying to be perfect” and focus on loving others with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength instead. My superiors did not have to know; I took this on for myself.

    Unfortunately, I forgot the part about “loving myself,” too. I am still working at this and am so grateful for all the help I’m getting this way through your book THE COMING OF THE COSMIC CHRIST, Matthew. Thank You!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for your words Vivian. The place of “perfection” in the Christian life is a problematic place to be in. Part of the emphasis on perfection and perfectionism in the Church is based on the text in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is recorded as saying, “Be therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). I however turn to Luke’s version of the same text where he writes, “Be therefore merciful, as your Father is also merciful” (Luke 6:36). And some translations even have, “Be therefore compassionate, as your father is also compassionate.” Also, I hope you enjoy The Coming of the Cosmic Christ it was the book of my spiritual awakening!

  3. Avatar

    Love this! Holiness is Wholeness.
    I got that definition from Eugene Kennedy when he was a Maryknoll priest and I was a Maryknoll sister on retreat. It turned out to be my last retreat in Maryknoll as I spent the following year meditating on that eight day retreat. I had entered Maryknoll to give God everything but after five years something began to shift and it was very unsettling and scary. During a long silent sit I got the message: “You are not taking back the gift if you leave. I AM THE GIFT and you and I will never be separated.” I’m almost 80 now and it’s been a long journey from the Catholicism of youth to the evolutionary spiritual seeker of today. Mathew Fox has been a major influence and I am so grateful to him for his courage!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you sooo much for sharing with us, and I personally ask God’s blessing on you for following the path that God has set before you on your evolutionary journey. An just remember, we are never really alone when we walk the Via Negativa!

  4. Avatar

    Oh yes, this question leaped off the page for me too: “Do you learn and feel blessed when people respond to your work and your creativity?” It’s why I write, why we all write. As a theatre director friend of mine says, “What I want out of theatre is a play that makes me laugh, makes me cry, and makes me think.” One of my most precious memories as a playwright was sitting at the back of Theatre Artists Studio “hearing” complete silence near the end of my play, “Medea’s Ghost” and watching people wipe away tears. After the play, a comic playwright I greatly admire said to me, “I watch your plays and I wonder why I even try to write.” All of us, all of us have gifts to be shared.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      You ask the question: “Do you learn and feel blessed when people respond to your work and your creativity?” And you answer the question yourself when you say, “It’s why I write, why we all write.” I would like to add that since I too am a writer (with about 10 books in print) I have had to learn to write for myself–to write just for the joy of writing. And as for not feeling blessed, well for me that is just another stroll along the Via Negativa which definitely has its place in the cyclical pattern of our lives. And thank you for sharing your gifts with us as well.

  5. Avatar
    Margaret Nuccio

    Hello Matthew,
    Yes, older people can get high!…….I have started reading Original Blessing which is digging into my soul and uprooting it. This morning I listen to your amazing exchange with Jaia and if this was not enough, I then go virtually, to the graduation of my young friend Max from the Interlochen Arts in Michigan. Such a huge pile of Creativity there. I am in orbit, tears and all!!

    Thank you Matthew for being such a great part of this awakening.
    Margaret N

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you so much for your comment. Original Blessings was an amazing book for me as well, but the book that brought my awakening, even as an already ordained minister, was The Coming of the Cosmic Christ which I heard him speak on at the School of Theology at Claremont, CA the day before he was silenced!

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