The Space Race—Inner or Outer—Which Shall It Be?

The journey to “the depths of our own being” that Merton speaks of is calling us all.  Without it our species will not survive and neither will the earth as we know it.  We can see telltale signs of both realities all around us today.  The lying and denial of climate change, authoritarianism appealing to so many, injustices regarding race, class, gender, gender diversity, efforts to silence the vote of the poor, and so much more are all around us and within us. 

“Voter Suppression is Violence: Poor People’s Campaign 3/2018” Three years later, Texas Democratic lawmakers flee to D.C. to plead for Congressional action against nationwide voter suppression. Photo by cool revolution on Flickr

If they were not within us, how could there be so much suffering all around us?  We project ourselves– whether our joyful and beautiful selves or our shadow and selfish and ignorant selves–onto the world around us in our work worlds, citizenship worlds, political and economic worlds.

This is why that journey inwards is so primal.  Our educational systems run from it almost entirely—we put knowledge on a pedestal but rarely even attempt to teach wisdom.

This is also why people are hungry for the mystics today.  The mystics of our various spiritual traditions and the mystic inside each of us and who is dying of hunger and thirst.  I see this hunger everywhere (though many do not know how to name it).  It is striking to me that two courses I have taught this year with The Shift Network, one on Julian of Norwich (with Mirabai Starr) and another on Hildegard of Bingen, have drawn 985 students and 865 students respectively. 

Vox explores a growing trend in public schools: “Classrooms all over the country are trying something new: sitting and breathing.”

Something is missing from our culture, our media, our schools, our churches and synagogues that our souls need badly.  It is our willingness to make that deeper, adventurous journey inwards and then outwards again that Merton and all the mystics speak of.

Hildegard of Bingen talks about it this way. 

O humanity, why have you not examined the field of your soul, that you might root out the weeds and thorns and thistles!

She warns of a “people who were meant to be green” in whom there is now

no more life of any kind.  There is only shriveled barrenness.  The winds are burdened by the utterly awful stink of evil, selfish going-on.  Thunderstorms menace.

ABC News covers the impacts of the record-breaking heat covering the Western U.S. and Canada.

A fog fills the air that “destroys and damages the earth, rendering it incapable of sustaining humanity.”  Climate change, which is affecting us all now on a daily basis, comes about by humans refusing to look inside and examine our inner motives and values and relationship to the more-than-human-world. 

How green are our souls?  How filled with love of life and gratitude for it so we move beyond greed that, Hildegard says, “only bores people.”  She urges people “to weep for their sins” of greed and injustice and power-over rather than passion with (compassion).  People who do not look inwards ignore both the joy that is there and also the capacity for evil.

Hildegard says: Examine “the just and unjust roads” and ask yourself this question: “Which road do you desire to travel?”  Outer space or inner space?

Adapted from Matthew Fox, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 122f. 

And from Matthew Fox, Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times, pp. 33-45.

Banner Image: Melbourne demands climate justice as the first Australian city to hold its COP 21 climate change mobilisation rally, with close to 60,000 people. Photo by Friends of the Earth International on Flickr.

Are you finding that mystic inside yourself that sings both of your “birthright of joy” (Julian of Norwich) and of the “weeds and thorns and thistles” that Hildegard speaks of?  Do these namings apply to the inner life of our communities and countries as well?

Recommended Reading

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

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.


Join Matthew Fox for a thought-provoking 7-week course: Answer the Call for an Uncommon Life Through the Mystical Teachings of St. Hildegard, Tuesdays, 6/15 to 7/27. While the course has begun, registration remains open, with recordings of past classes available. Learn more HERE.

Join us for a Virtual Teach-in with Isa Gucciardi and Matthew Fox, hosted by Rev. Cameron Trimble.
August 13-14, 2021 (Fri-Sat)
Shamanism in Buddhism and Christianity
Session 1: Friday, August 13 at 4pm-6pm PT
Session 2: Saturday, August 14 at 9am-12pm PT
Session 3: Saturday, August 14 at 12:30pm-2:30pm PT

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8 thoughts on “The Space Race—Inner or Outer—Which Shall It Be?”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    In today’s DM I am reminded of the root cause of much of the suffering in our world.. that being humanity itself. People often fear examining the field of their own hearts, minds and souls… acknowledging the thistles, thorns and weeds that lie there within the shadow side of ones being… and therefore they unconsciously project this darkness outwardly… which causes much suffering in the ways in which people relate with not only one another and the all and the everything of creation, but also themselves as well as the indwelling presence and essence of the Holy Spirit. People in general have not learnt how to walk in the darkness and shadows of their own interior landscape, without fear… the fear of what they may discover about themselves and then inevitably have to take responsibility and accountability for healing and changing within themselves. The mystics however, discovered that in and through this inward journey of traversing our inner landscapes that we do not walk in the shadows and darkness alone, but rather we are comforted, consoled and wisely counseled throughout the process. The mystics can teach us the reality of the incarnation… that life long companionship of relationship and friendship with the indwelling presence and essence of the Holy Spirit of unconditional love… whom desires to bring light into our inner darkness, exposing the shadows with truth, casting out fear with love, offering wisdom that expands our circle of choices available, shifting our perceptions of what’s possible. Some know her as the Black Maddonna, whose desire is to do everything she can to aleviate our suffering. Yes, this inward journey is hard work, and like the mystics tell us… in the beginning it is like starting a fire… our eyes get filled with smoke and there are many tears. However, once we learn how to tend to, to nurture, to cultivate this inner fire we no longer hide in the shadows and darkness of pretense, but rather we discover the joy of becoming our true self… all the while being loved to love.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, you write: “In today’s DM I am reminded of the root cause of much of the suffering in our world” which you say the cause being “humanity itself.” The Buddha however said that the cause of suffering is desire or selfish craving–and of course it would be humanity that is doing the desiring and have the selfish cravings. And the Buddha, being a mystic himself saw the solution in the inner life through meditation. Matthew however, would say that Buddha taught “introvert meditation,” whereas he emphasizes “extrovert meditation” or as he likes to call it, “art-as-meditation.” Art-as-meditation makes the inner, outer or makes the inner be expressed in the outer. And as you conclude, “once we learn how to tend to, to nurture, to cultivate this inner fire we no longer hide in the shadows and darkness of pretense, but rather we discover the joy of becoming our true self… all the while being loved to love.” Thank you!

  2. Avatar

    It has been said that the longest journey man can take is the 18 inches from mind to heart. It’s been part of culture from Lao Tzu to T.S. Eliot, and Lakota wisdom too. }:- a.m.

  3. Avatar

    Today’s Word for the Day from is by Ross Gay: “What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. I’m saying: What if that is joy?” This blends nicely, I think, with the need to look deep to see both our darkness and our light, which are truly of a oneness if we are brave enough and honest enough to see.

    I also appreciate the contribution of neuroscience to meditation/contemplation practices. I have a Great Courses series that demonstrates the clear changes in the brain both from nuns with decades of experience and a woman with years of experience speaking in tongues–and brain scans show the exact same changes. This is so hopeful to me that there is a possibility of real change, even in old age! I am 78 and still a relative novice in contemplative practices but already see a benefit to myself and others by a widening of my lens for compassion and new opportunities for action to benefit others. Both action and contemplation, as Fr. Rohr says, and Matthew Fox and many others of our wise leaders and prophets.

  4. Avatar

    For many years, I have engaged in a sincere honest inner journey. It certainly has not been easy facing the shadows within, and yet now I can say with certainty that it is the only way to be free of the destructive habitual conditioned patterns that we carry. Lately, I am making a most interesting observation. The deeper I travel, the more accessible I find true inspiration and insight. This growth is very expansive, providing an experiential link with the entire universe. The union of the above and below is available. Without a balanced perspective, there is no harmony and the hypnotic spell of the ruler of this world has humans captive in a bondage that makes humans believe that what they are doing is actually right when the evidence contradicts such behavior. The broad based obvious results cannot be denied when things get worse and worse. Awakening is inevitable. Often resisted, but inevitable.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Martha, in view of the “destructive habitual conditioned patterns that we carry” I do indeed hope that, “Awakening is inevitable. Often resisted, but inevitable.” Thank you for your comment.

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