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.
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.
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.
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?
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