Shamanhood, Rupture, and the “More Primordial”

Another way to unpack the “more primordial” is to undergo rupture, loss or deep suffering. 

Thich Nhat Hanh (L, Wikimedia Commons) and the Dalai Lama (R, Wikimedia Commons) both survived horrific sufferings before becoming globally-beloved spiritual leaders.

I pose this important question: Are the ruptures we are undergoing today openings to the “more primordial,” to a far vaster appreciation for being and for our being and the planet’s being?  Is deep suffering a school for shamanhood?  For exploring the “more primordial”? 

That was surely the case with David Palladin who, as his elders taught him, was “initiated” as a shaman from his years of torture in a concentration camp.  (And by the way, but not by the way, he reported that, being the only Native American in the camp and surely one of the youngest persons, it was Jewish people who kept him alive by generously sharing their tiny morsels of bread with him.)

Not only David Palladin learned this valuable lesson.  Julian of Norwich surely learned it also, suffering as she did her whole life from the Black Death.  As I make clear, first she underwent the via negativa and dark night of the soul—then she fell in love with the “divine goodness” inherent in all of nature and wrote the first book ever by a woman in English—a book full of wisdom especially for our times.

The poem of St. John of the Cross, “Dark Night of the Soul,” sung by Loreena McKennitt. Video by philipApart.

But it was not only Julian of Norwich.  St. John of the Cross underwent both physical and mental torture at the hands of his Carmelite “brothers” who resisted his call to reform and chose to lock him up in a kind of dungeon, mock him, torture him, until he was near death.  He was so near death that he dared one last effort to survive: An escape in the middle of the night, lowering himself out of a window.  Had he been caught, he would have been killed. 

The escape worked!

Not only did he escape, he underwent through all his suffering a shamanistic initiation that, among other things, released poetry and teachings of the deepest and most moving kind and that has been blessing generations since with its wisdom.  Yes, John of the Cross was a shaman.

Steve Herrmann has made a convincing argument that Emily Dickinson was initiated as a shaman through her suffering and Walt Whitman through his. 

Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” read by Parikshit Rawat

Were the early Christian disciples, so traumatized by the cruel and premature death of Jesus at the hands of the Roman Empire, also initiated into shamanhood by that very death experience?  Is this what provoked the Resurrection stories and appearances as well as the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost? 

In Stations of the Cosmic Christ, Bishop Marc Andrus and I offer a practice that can awaken us by bringing alive the deeper meanings of those mysteries and others in the life of the historical Jesus.

Thomas Berry invites us to contribute to a “Great Work”–but one that begins with growing the self.  In his words, “The small self of the individual reaches its completion in the Great Self of the universe…”  

To be continued.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times, p. 22. 

And Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond. 

See also, Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus, Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Banner Image: “El Greco’s landscape of Toledo depicts the priory in which St. John of the Cross was held captive, just below the old alcázar (fort) and perched on the banks of the Tajo on high cliffs.” Wikimedia Commons.

Do you experience your small self as an individual reaching a completion in the Great Self of the universe?  What follows from that growth?  Do you see the ruptures in today’s world contributing to a similar growth for our species?  What other historical examples can you recognize in this trend from self to Self often by way of rupture?

Hildegard of Bingen, A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century

Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her.
In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice.
“This book gives strong, sterling, and unvarnished evidence that everything – everything – we ourselves become will affect what women after us may also become….This is a truly marvelous, useful, profound, and creative book.” ~~ Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism.

Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic–and Beyond

Julian of Norwich lived through the dreadful bubonic plague that killed close to 50% of Europeans. Being an anchoress, she ‘sheltered in place’ and developed a deep wisdom that she shared in her book, Showings, which was the first book in English by a woman. A theologian way ahead of her time, Julian develops a feminist understanding of God as mother at the heart of nature’s goodness. Fox shares her teachings in this powerful and timely and inspiring book.
“What an utterly magnificent book. The work of Julian of Norwich, lovingly supported by the genius of Matthew Fox, is a roadmap into the heart of the eco-spiritual truth that all life breathes together.”  –Caroline Myss
Now also available as an audiobook HERE.

Stations of the Cosmic Christ
By Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus.

This is a book of meditations on the Cosmic Christ, accompanying the images of 16 wonderful clay tablets by Javier Ullrrich Lemus and M.C. Richards. Together, these images and meditations go far beyond the traditional Stations of the Cross to inspire a spirit awakening and understanding of the cosmic Christ Consciousness, Buddha consciousness, and consciousness of the image of God in all beings, so needed in our times.
“A divinely inspired book that must be read by every human being devoted to spiritual and global survival. It is cosmically brilliant.” — Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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11 thoughts on “Shamanhood, Rupture, and the “More Primordial””

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    Feeling lost in the rupture, in that in-between place of what was, what is, and what is yet to come. It’s like being in the womb, the water has broke and feeling the tension of the labor pains pressing in on the depths of my soul. The tension getting tighter, constricting my movements, the pathway narrowing. There is much pain and suffering in this place.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, You are right. In the in-between place of what was, what is, and what is yet to come is in a sense like being in the womb and waiting to be birthed. But just as the pains of child birth bring with it the joys of new life, most of us say that the suffering was worth it–that sometimes we have to go through the pain to get to the joy. And that’s why Matthew’s book on Thomas Aquinas is titled, SHEER JOY. Our task is to respond to the suffering, without being overcome by it, and always waiting in expectation for the joy to come!

  2. Avatar

    Suffering “can” lead us to understand the frailness of humanity and this understanding “can” strengthen us.. I feel sorry for those who are not able to understand. Matt Fox aids us greatly to understand. Matt Fox guides us to understand and his guidance expands our Awareness.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Matthew certainly does guide us in understanding that suffering can ultimately strengthen us. More than this, the Buddha taught in the First Noble Truth the universality of suffering, and when you speak about the “frailness of humanity,” Buddha teaches the truth of “impermanence”–nothing lasts, nothing stays the same…

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      You’re right Patrick! “We must trust LOVE to transform us and all creation through struggle and even death.” Thank you for your comment.

  3. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    It is difficult at times not to be overcome by the struggle, when most of what you see all around you is the suffering and pain. Sometimes I lose sight of the inherent goodness and beauty that is also there in the struggle, the pain and the suffering. Working in long-term health care during this pandemic has ruptured so many things, bringing to the surface such a mix of emotions, and it is this energy-in-motion that often overwhelms me. It ranges from a deep sadness to a boiling rage and everything in-between. Thanks for the comments encouraging me to trust in Love to transform this into something more, even if I don’t yet know what this something more is.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I hear you but can’t imagine what it is to be in your shoes. I’m guessing that in your profession you have to deal hands-on with those who are suffering. I having been a minister for over thirty years and I have had to deal with the emotional suffering of the sick and dying. The important thing is as the Buddha once taught to see the inevitability of suffering and live in such a way that you can accept it, see it as “the way of the earth”–and walk the paths of creation spirituality, knowing that though at times we all walk the Via Negativa, eventually we will come around and walk the Via Positiva again. God bless you and the work you do!

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, in Creation Spirituality we believe that all life is lived upon four paths: The Via Positiva (the path of awe and wonder), the Via Negativa (the path of darkness and silence of letting be and letting go), the Via Creativa (the path where we express our creativity in a myriad of ways), and the Via Transformativa (the path of justice, the mystic prophet, and celebration). And we believe that we move in and out of each of these paths at different times and not in some kind of cyclical pattern–so like Frank Sinatra once said: You can be “riding high in April” and get “shot down in may.” So “Yes!” “darkness does not have the last word.”

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