Adam Bucko & Fox on Spiritual Experience, Concepts & Contemplation

In our book Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, Adam Bucko and I discussed how a spirituality is contemplative and experience based.

Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox. Used with written permission from Adam Bucko.

Adam says:

It starts from life rather than concepts. Nonetheless, concepts are celebrated as tools to connect the dots and deepen the experience. So this new spirituality is lived in a constant dialogue between experience and concepts, where one informs the other, thus to subtler and subtler understandings.

And, of course–you mention it often–Thomas Aquinas said that to teach spirituality, experience is not enough, you also need the concepts. I think this new generation really understands that.

Some of the older spiritualities and more traditional paths started from concepts. An idea of enlightenment or grace, or whatever, was introduced, and then one was given a path that one had to follow for five, ten, twenty years to get to that experience.

Religion by rote: the first page from the 9th edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1785). Wikimedia Commons.

The problem with that approach, as I experienced in my own life, is that it convinced me that God and the experience of God needs to happen outside of my life. This created a certain kind of detachment from my life in the world around me.

In contrast, this new approach goes back to that God of Life–it’s about starting from what we are already experiencing, acknowledging the sacredness of it, and then using practices and other things to deepen that experience and sustain it.

Matthew responds:

I think when it comes to concepts, that the four paths of creation spirituality are really helpful. The four paths are conceptual, but they’re thoroughly grounded in experience, and they return to experience.

Divine co-creation: Permaculturist Dennis Doyon cups his hands under a spring revived by tree-plantings he and his family did 10 years ago through in the almost completely clearcut Atlantic Forest (“Mata Atlantica”) in Brazil. Learn more about their story HERE.

The Four Paths form the backbone of the creation spirituality. They address the question, ‘Where do we experience the Divine in our life?’ And respond: ‘The Divine will be found in our experiences of the via positiva, negativa, creativa and transformativa.’ 

Each of the paths is valuable in itself. But also, any one of the paths done on its own could be seductive. For example, when I asked one of my students why she came to our program, she said, ‘I am a cause junkie.’  One can become a cause junkie—we can become addicted to anything–even our activism.  But the prophet is the mystic in action, so we must make room for the mystic in us even for the sake of our prophetic callings.  

To be continued.

Adapted from Charles Burack, ed., Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, pp. 198f.   

And Adam Buck and Matthew Fox, Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, pp. 20-25.

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

Banner Image: Meditate for Climate on the steps of the Victorian Parliament. Part of the 2019 Spring Rebellion by Extinction Rebellion in Melbourne. Photo by John Englart on Flickr.

Queries for Contemplation

How do you see the tension between concepts and experience/contemplation playing out in the deepening of your spirituality including your activism?

Recommended Reading

Matthew Fox: Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality
Selected with an Introduction by Charles Burack

To encapsulate the life and work of Matthew Fox would be a daunting task for any save his colleague Dr. Charles Burack, who had the full cooperation of his subject. Fox has devoted 50 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship.  His more than 40 books, translated into 78 languages, are inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and have awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. Essential Writings begins by exploring the influences on Fox’s life and spirituality, then presents selections from all Fox’s major works in 10 sections.
“The critical insights, the creative connections, the centrality of Matthew Fox’s writings and teaching are second to none for the radical renewal of Christianity.” ~~ Richard Rohr, OFM.

Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation

Authors Adam Bucko and Matthew Fox encourage us to use our talents in service of compassion and justice and to move beyond our broken systems–economic, political, educational, and religious–discovering a spirituality that not only helps us to get along, but also encourages us to reevaluate our traditions, transforming them and in the process building a more sacred and just world. Incorporating the words of young activist leaders culled from interviews and surveys, the book provides a framework that is deliberately interfaith and speaks to our profound yearning for a life with spiritual purpose and for a better world.
Occupy Spirituality is a powerful, inspiring, and vital call to embodied awareness and enlightened actions.”
~~ Julia Butterfly Hill, environmental activist and author of The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, a Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods

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8 thoughts on “Adam Bucko & Fox on Spiritual Experience, Concepts & Contemplation”

  1. Avatar

    Today’s DM, you’re dialogue with Adam Buck, and your questions for us at the end of your video are very profound, the tension between concepts and experience and the contemplative spirit deepening our spirituality and activism.
    On my own spiritual journey, after 40yrs as a clinical social worker (my period of ‘activism’ with
    others on their inner and outer personal lives), I find myself becoming more contemplatively reflective on my inner spiritual journey, while still keeping myself informed of outer social justice issues around the world, especially environmental justice issues.
    My inner spiritual journey includes deepening my understanding and experience of humanity’s underlying universal spiritual dimensions beyond the surface four dimensional world most of us are aware of through our five senses and rational minds. I call these spiritual dimensions our multidimensional-multiverse aspects of the Cosmos that are interconnected and influence our more physical and visible lives. By experiencing and understanding in a deeper way the microcosm of our eternal souls, we realize more consciously our Divine Loving Oneness with the macrocosm of All ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution of God’s Cosmos, within and among us… Among mystics and channelers, past and present, this transformation of our consciousness has been called Cosmic Consciousness among other spiritual terms….

  2. Avatar

    Concepts, contemplation and spiritual experiences have converged, as a unique pathway of expanding my heart, mind and soul; awakening my consciousness to the essence and presence of the mystery of Spirit within all of creation. In particular the concepts of the mystics, like Eckhart, Aquinas, Hildegard, Chenu, Tielhard, Ilia Delio, Mirabia Starr and Mathew Fox, when not only contemplated upon, but also spiritually experienced through practice; deepen my personal communion and union of relationship with this mystery; making this reality known.

    “How can we fail to be struck by the revealing mystical current that nourishes all that is lovable and loving. The more I put my trust in this guiding influence, the more I discover the way of connecting with the mystery of Spirit… the unfolding, evolving, emerging Love of God; converging with the all and the everything of creation. Sacred Mother Earth, is the Holy ground; to discovering the glowing light of the Spirit of all that is lovable and loving at the heart of all things… disclosing the origins and destiny of humankind… a vision of heaven and earth on fire with the hope and promise of LOVE, consciously, imaginatively, creatively and intuitively being consummated and incarnated.”
    Teilhard De Chardin

  3. Avatar

    Today’s post is very relevant to mysticism.
    Mysticism is in a mess of confusion: it’s often conveyed in disjointed segments, or it’s hidden within coded theology, which is then often only taught as intellectual, memorized, short little “I believe that..” tidbits of belief, or it’s artistically, poetically romanticized into imagery and emotionality at the expense of both its conceptual teachings and its radical non-duality, or it’s portrayed as something “trippy” that conveys total wisdom and cosmic bliss.
    If and when people have mystical experiences, they need accurate roadmaps: they need authentic reports of past mystics (to the extent possible without stepping beyond sacred religious custom); teachings and techniques for exploring and expanding the implications into their understanding; and healthy ways of expressing their ongoing/unfolding intuitive lessons over the course of their lives. They need to know that their mystical lessons don’t “download” automatically, all at once, and that there are potential pitfalls of intellectual/ego-based interpretations that can distort and undermine the understanding of Mystical Truth.
    I’ve tried to bring some of the lost information about Mysticism back into circulation so that future mystics don’t have to scramble for all the missing pieces like I’ve had to. And maybe a few people (one or two!) will find Mysticism more interesting and compelling once they hear more about it.

    1. Richard E Reich

      Melinda, I would to take a couple of things you wrote about today and make them stand out for all of our readers to see–because I think you’ve got it!
      “If and when people have mystical experiences, they need accurate roadmaps:
      1) they need authentic reports of past mystics
      2) teachings and techniques for exploring and expanding the implications into their understanding
      3) healthy ways of expressing their ongoing/unfolding intuitive lessons over the course of their lives
      Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.

  4. Avatar

    I can see that either concepts alone or experience alone can be dangerous. Both must marry and lead to positive activism. People can have visions of what is “good” and justify anything to attain their visions–like Hitler or other tyrants, including churches that burn people who disagree or who exclude them–both Catholics and Protestants have been guilty. Yet, they hold that their experience of spirituality is true. We need wise leaders like mystics down through the ages to guide us in interpreting/validating our own experiences, in deepening them, and in pointing the way to actions out of love, not out of fear.

  5. Avatar

    Random thoughts while reading:
    “This created a certain kind of detachment from my life in the world around me.” — This reminds me of the scene in “Godfather” where various assassinations are taking place while Michael, the new godfather who ordered them, is at the font becoming an actual godfather to his nephew saying, in response to the rote question, “Do you denounce Satan and all his works?” and Michael replies, “I do denounce him.”
    I am old now and I’ve learned over long years to look for the mystical—and still look every day—and still find it every day in one form or another. I recently lost my beloved lifelong spouse of 60 years. In that pain I find the mystical. It’s not comforting in the ordinary sense we come to expect, but it nevertheless strengthens and sharpens the Mystery and provides a necessity to learning wisdom and surrender.

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