The modern age was not only hostile to but ignorant of mysticism.  This parallels its relationship of fealty to the idol called Patriarchy—which still reigns everywhere. 

“Nondualism: A body of water is made up of countless drops, yet it is one body.” Photo by Herbert Goetsch on Unsplash

Dorothee Soelle insists that mysticism is the deconstructing of hierarchical thinking (and therefore a threat to Patriarchy) when she says mysticism “comes closest to overcoming the hierarchical masculine concept of God.”  and she defines mysticism as the “certainty that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  We approach it when we place ourselves, freely and without guarantee of success, on the side of love.”

And Rosemary Reuther tells us that patriarchy sits on a bedrock of dualism.  To deconstruct dualism is to make room for the mystical therefore.

Mysticism does that.  It is about non-dualism.  Examples abound: Meister Eckhart, “in Breakthrough, [i.e. mystical experience], I learn that God and I are one.” 

Julian of Norwich on body and soul in harmony–“God is in our sensuality.”

A “beautiful oneing was made by God between the body and the soul.”

“God is the means whereby our substance and our Sensuality are kept together so as to never be apart.”

“Body and Soul” Photo by NeilRaviya on Wikimedia Commons

“God has forged a glorious union between the soul and the body.”

“God willed that we have a twofold nature: sensual and spiritual.”

Or Thomas Aquinas: “Love makes ecstasy.”

A “wonderful communion” exists between body and soul.  Eckhart, following Aquinas, says “the soul loves the body.”

How different this is from Augustine who said “the soul makes war with the body.” 

The toxic masculine seeks knowledge and not wisdom; it also seeks to lord over others, including of course Mother Earth and her creatures.  Dualisms and put-down of women and war mentalities and reptilian-brain conquests dominated the modern era.  Can we move beyond this in a more healthy balance of the feminine and masculine sacred marriage so that earth might survive? 

The next eight years will tell the story.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, pp. 277f.  

And Matthew Fox, Julian of Norwich: Wisdom in a Time of Pandemic—and Beyond, pp. 104f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: “Indra’s Net” A spiderweb illustrates the Hindu conception of reality: “a vast net; at each crossing point there is a jewel; each jewel is perfectly clear and reflects all the other jewels in the net….Each jewel…stands for an individual being, or an individual consciousness, or a cell or an atom; each…is intimately connected with all other jewels in the universe, and a change in one jewel means a change, however slight, in every other jewel.” From The Enlightened Mind, by Stephen Mitchell. Photo by HibaHaba on Flickr

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see yourself and society growing beyond modern, dualistic, and anti-mystical consciousness?  Do you sense the mystic in you coming ever more alive?

Recommended Reading

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.

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12 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on Mysticism and Our Survival”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Thank you for this very helpful, and to me, hopeful meditation. Today you ask: “Do you see yourself and society growing beyond modern, dualistic, and anti-mystical consciousness? Do you sense the mystic in you coming ever more alive?” I don’t really see society growing beyond modern, dualistic and anti-mystical consciousness. But what I do see is people like you, who have opened up literally thousands of people of all faiths and even no faith (we had an atheist in our doctoral program at the University of Creation Spirituality). You have certainly opened me to mystical consciousness, and that has changed the direction of my life completely (and in a good way). Having spent time reading your books about Hildegard, Aquinas, Eckhart and Julian opened a whole new world to me. It is so much richer spirituality, and even artistically in my painting and writing…

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    I too, like Richard has commented, am truly grateful for the ways that you, Mathew and others like you, have opened my heart, mind and soul, to the hidden mysticism within my own faith tradition, and the jewels that I and many others are now blessed to rediscover. In all honesty, if I hadn’t come across this hidden wisdom that had been cultivated, nurtured and kept safe, through the sacred writings of the Mystics… amidst and in spite of the persecution they suffered… I don’t believe I could have remained following this Christian path. It’s been unfortunate and yet also a blessing that I at first had to seek other spiritual traditions to get a glimpse of what I was seeking to find… unfortunate that this wasn’t available to me within my earlier experiences within my Christian journey… yet a blessing because it opened me to being ecumenical.

    At times this journey has been painful and confusing… often feeling like I was walking through a minefield… and yet in and through this I sensed deep down in my soul, that there was something hidden that I needed to find, something much deeper that I just had to keep digging down to, to discover… a hidden jewel I sensed was there, waiting to be found within my own Christian faith tradition.

    Thank you to all the Mystics and Saints, those from the past, the present and the future one’s to come… for you are all, myself included, like a sacred thread, a faithful remnant, whom weave and wear the mantle of the mystic… whom choose to “place ourselves, freely and without gurantee of success, on the side of Love.”

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    I am so appreciative of your wise, refreshing insights on how to address the challenges we face in these troubling times. Thank you for introducing me to Hildegard, through your writings, many years ago. She has been a constant companion ever since.

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    “”The most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.” Albert Einstein

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    Matthew, I agree wholeheartedly that Western civilization and patriarchal societies for the most part have never really valued the non-duality spirituality of our indigenous cultures and mystical spiritual traditions up to the present modern times. Maybe the growing understanding of quantum physics since the last century will create a better integration and socially gftransformative understanding of spirituality and science….
    Even though the destructive effects of patriarchy and duality have been destroying Mother Nature and human society, could you explain Matthew what you mean exactly when you say we only have eight years left?

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    When Neoplatonism was created as an “expression of reality,” there was no understanding of thought processes, and no understanding of where the boundaries of “perception” vs. “perceived” lay. Its creators lived in a society filled with many bizarre (to us) conjectures about how the world worked. Sight, for example, was not understood as something “in the eyes and brain,” separate from the object perceived . They also didn’t differentiate between “intellect” and “intuition.” They had no words for “non-duality.” Our designation of them as “philosophers” is itself a modern dualism, projecting our split between “thinking” (philosophers) and “scientists” (“outer” world). Aristotle’s emphasis of the world as PRIMARILY that which is measurable and directly perceptible to touch/taste/hearing/sight was one of the ancient lines of “philosophical inquiry”, which became our scientific model. A second line of world-exploration split off and became the (mostly) logical intellectual analysis of the world, i.e. philosophy. And a third line of “philosophy” was what we would NOW categorize within “theology”, i.e. a “belief system about a larger reality that goes beyond what we can (currently) scientifically measure and verify.” But when it was created, neoplatonism was science, philosophy, lifestyle and religion all rolled into one, before they were sorted into all the separate categories that were created centuries later. It also was a MYSTICAL philosophy/theology that completely revolved around a revealed/experienced single, ultimate, loving, all-encompassing, non-dualistic Deity.
    Neoplatonism was the source, the direct reference, of the opening lines of the gospel of John’s “Logos”. Plotinus taught this mystical non-dualistic theology and described the neoplatonic mystical revelation repeatedly in his Enneads. Christian theologians frequently used his teachings, and those of other neoplatonic mystics, for their foundational theology. Augustine became a neoplatonic mystic, immersing himself in neoplatonism after reading Plotinus, and subsequently became a Christian, but he was also both the product of a dualistic society and the most angsty mess of anxiety and guilt feelings, and it showed in his conflicted writings. Eckhart wrote neoplatonic theology and conveyed neoplatonic mystical experiences, but focused on the non-dualistic aspects more extensively, creating a kind of hybrid zen-flavored neoplatonism.
    People have long found Eckhart’s texts thrilling for his intense, intriguing exploration of non-duality and his clever, catchy wordplay. But he built that non-duality upon a base of the neoplatonic non-dualistic theology. He didn’t invent his mystical Path all by himself. And he freely riffed on Plotinus and other neoplatonic mystics for key concepts in his Sermons. He recognized their mystical experiences and intuitions as reflecting his own direct experiences.
    The key understanding here is that the neoplatonic “mystical experience” is MORE than just a single type of radically non-dualistic “awareness”. It is a bigger UNIVERSAL SET of SPECIFIC joinings/sharings/unveilings, always in a specific sequence within the larger mystical revelation, involving more than one non-dualistic mode, set in an even larger, recognizable framework of ideas/beliefs and healthful, worshipful lifestyle, always with a healing re-structuring and re-orientation of intellectual thoughts and intuitions — i.e., neoplatonic philosophical mystical theology. Neoplatonism was a holistic, reverential model of Reality, Ideal Life, and worship, centered around a Single, Loving, non-dualistic Ultimate Deity, but the Deity’s Self-revelation was more complex than just one type of “immersion in non-dualism”, and its Path included BOTH intellect and intuition, integrated into an intuitive Whole. Western religions incorporated this into their teachings and theologies, and enriched their religions immensely by doing so.
    I suspect that one of the reasons why mysticism has died out, especially in the West, is that its primary expression in the form of neoplatonism has been grossly misunderstood and incorrectly portrayed. Its mysticism has been erased by modern intellectual interpretations which are often stridently dualistic, anti-gnostic judgements projected onto the intuitive philosophy of neoplatonism. Modern scholars speak from biased assumptions rather than intuitive understanding and experience.

  7. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Melinda, First of all, as moderator of our comment section, I must say, “Yours’s was not a comment, it was an essay!” I do however find some very important points that you make. But what’s up with “Neoplatonism”–I can tell you that Matthew is not a lover of Plotinus, and Neoplatonism doesn’t work with Creation Spirituality from a basic philosophical perspective. You say, “there was no understanding of thought processes, and no understanding of where the boundaries of “perception” vs. “perceived” lay” back then, and “They also didn’t differentiate between ‘intellect” and “intuition.’ They had no words for ‘non-duality.’ Our designation of them as “philosophers” is itself a modern dualism” projecting our split thinking concerning philosophy and science. Then you say, “Neoplatonism was science, philosophy, lifestyle and religion all rolled into one.” BUT the point is, that is how all (lets call them) “schools of thought” were in those days, whether you were a Pythagorean living with the Brotherhood, or a Platonist at Plato’s Academy, or a follower of Mithraism. It just part of the way that modern society has “specialized”–think of the changes with the old family doctor in the 1950s and the specialists now. And actually the source of the logos in the gospel of John most scholars attribute to Philo of Alexandria a Jewish philosopher. It is true that St. Augustine was influenced by Neoplatonism but I believe that Matthew would say that Meister Eckhart was more influenced by his Dominican heritage with St. Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus or St. Albert the Great, despite the fact that you say, “he freely riffed on Plotinus and other neoplatonic mystics for key concepts in his Sermons.” I think the problem here is that the “schools of thought” you refer to in your last paragraph such as, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism are both very dualistic making an extreme separation between the body and the spirit–with body being matter, is bad and the spirit, being good. The world does not need these kind of forms of spirituality. We need the embodied spirituality that Matthew is showing us in the great creation mystics–those who affirm that creation, matter, and bodies are good. Mystics like St. Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis, Mechtild of Magdeburg, St. Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, and Julian of Norwich. I believe that mysticism is still alive thanks to Matthew, Rabbi Heschel (RIP), Andrew Harvey and others. You close saying, “Modern scholars speak from biased assumptions rather than intuitive understanding and experience.” Everyone has assumptions, don’t you ???

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    Melinda: Thank you for your thoughtful excursion through neoplatonism, etc. But please do NOT dump the Plotinus trope onto Meister Eckhart. You should read my major work on him, “Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart” where i offer 37 of his sermons and treatises with a commentary after each. I am SO sick of people projecting platonism onto Eckhart. Eckhart is first of all a Biblical writer and preacher and you don’t mention that even once in your commentary. Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew bible is what gives us John 1 and Eckhart knew that. (Jesus comes from that tradition also.) Please read my book on Eckhart to understand his real influences. You ignore the role of Aristotle which Eckhart derived from his brother Aquinas and Aquinas and Aristotle take on the dualisms of Plato or as Aquinas said, “Aristotle does not denigrate matter.” (unlike Plato) Aquinas wrote 10 books on Aristotle and 0 on Plato or Plotinus. Eckhart was Jewish (like Jesus was and the prophets were) in much of his thinking (and also Celtic–why don’t you mention that?). Where does Plotinus talk about Justice and Compassion? Anti-semitism floods much of western philosophy and ignoring Eckhart’s biblical and Jewish basis is part of that. Your remarks on Eckhart are, I’m sorry to say, part of that anti-semitism which includes leaving out the via transformativa. The 3 paths of purgation, illumination and union derive from Plotinus and Eckhart breaks radically from them with his four paths. I give some philosopher credit for at least discussing Eckhart because the church condemned him; but Eckhart is first a theologian and preacher working from the Scriptures. One can’t understand him without understanding the Biblical, i.e. Jewish, basis of his thinking. Read my commentary in his sermons (translated from the critical edition of this works) in Passion For Creation. Thanks for listening.

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    I call it neoplatonism because that’s the clearest and most famous version that was used to teach the mystical Path to the West. Each culture or religion may interpret the underlying mystical revelation somewhat differently, within their own beliefs and sacred Teachings, and has to create a Path of teachings and meditations that affirms and deepens those teachings. within the larger framework and assumptions of their contemporary culture. Hellenistic schools framed it with an assumed dualistic mind-body split. Judaism affirms the body and creation, in a different form of the mystical Path. Plotinus offered a few variations of mystical Paths from his predominant one, which include a very much positiva one. And the mystical experience itself is TOTALLY positiva, in ALL ways. I would not be here, affirming creation spirituality, otherwise.

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