The Roundness to the Recent Synod in the Vatican 

Recently I was interviewed by Franciscan Sister Ilia Delio, scientist, theologian, author of The Emergent Christ, The Unbearable Wholeness of Being, and other good books.

One question she posed was what I thought of Pope Francis’s recent Synod held last month in the Vatican.

Round Tables foster a feeling of cooperation between equals. The table and chairs used at the 2016 G7 Summit, are now on display in the Ise-Shima Summit Memorial Museum in Japan. Photo by Miyuki Mainaka. Wikimedia Commons.

My spontaneous response—I had never been asked that question before—was this: That the most important part in my estimation was the round tables. All participants sat at round tables—Pope, bishops, archbishops, religious sisters, laywomen and laymen, some young, some old. 

This was significant. Why?

I devoted a chapter in my book, A Spirituality Named Compassion, published 44 years ago, to moving “From Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to Dancing Sara’s Circle.” To move one’s consciousness, and that of a large organization, from patriarchal ladder-climbing to circle dancing, matters. 

Step By Step: Gail Ransom teaches a Circle Dance at the First United Methodist Church of Pittsburgh, PA. Video by RUMC Worship Jam. 

Sitting at round tables and seeing each other eye to eye, one can see the joy that is there, and the suffering that is there. It renders compassion much easier than operating from the top of skyscrapers or hierarchical ladders of any kind. There, one is isolated and alone. Being unable to look another person in the eye, renders it almost impossible either to laugh with or to grieve with that other. The same is true of dropping bombs from above at 40,000 feet.     

Dancing Off the Ladder: A diagram excerpted from A Spirituality Named Compassion, p. 63.

Once, when giving a talk about “Climbing Jacob’s ladder vs. Dancing Sara’s Circle,” a woman came up to me afterwards and said, “my husband is vice president of a large corporation, and what you say is true. A ladder is very precarious. I don’t know anyone on the ladder who feels secure or even happy. And that includes their families as well.”

Meeting at round tables holds promise. Working with people eye-to-eye and listening and being heard, holds promise. It may signify a first step in deconstructing the hierarchical mindset that, for too long, has dominated religious and other patriarchal structures. One can hope. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Sexuality and Compassion: From Climbing Jacob’s Ladder to Dancing Sarah’s Circle,” in Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion, pp. 36-67.

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

Banner Image: King Arthur’s Round Table has long been considered a symbol of equality and cooperation, as distinct from hierarchy. Detail from Lancelot (1470), attributed to either Gaultier Moap or Michel Gantelet. Wikimedia Commons. 

Queries for Contemplation

How important do you think it is to move from ladder-like hierarchical thinking and practice, to circle practice? Is a both/and dynamic and consciousness possible, once one recovers the circle?

Recommended Reading

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

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6 thoughts on “The Roundness to the Recent Synod in the Vatican ”

  1. Avatar

    Thankyou Matthew for your unveiling of the importance of ‘Roundness’

    Let’s not forget the example of the ancient King Arthur who had his knights sitting at a ’round table’ when they met together. History tells us that they created a ‘brotherhood’ which was conceived to be a bond of kinship and compassion for each other where jealousy and rivalry were brought to account!

    Being a Circle Dance teacher for many years I witness the growth of a natural caring taking place in the members who join together….. not knowing each other and coming from different backgrounds.
    Even after a short space of time there is a melting into an overall gentleness which becomes the atmosphere in which we work.

    Every big corporation could benefit from having their own Circle Dance group…..
    sharing, having fun and leaving the head brain behind just for a few minutes.

  2. Avatar

    The Medicine Wheel itself, mirrors the powerful healing and restoration that naturally unfolds, as we evolve through the circle of life. What emerges naturally is balance and harmony. It also teachings circular thinking, rather than linear thinking. It’s a completely different point of view, one in which the whole is considered. In a circle the convergent movement of the energy of the collective flows freely, sometimes spiralling in an asscent, other times spiralling in a descent; other times rippling outward, other times rippling inwards.

    I find it interesting that within the technological world, the corporations with remote zoom meetings, now have moved from a heirarchal ladder formation, to one of individual little boxes within a larger box. The energy within boxes doesn’t move, but rather gets static, stuck and stagnates. Have you ever seen anything in nature that naturally takes the form of a square box?

    1. Avatar

      Thanks for mentioning the importance of the Medicine Wheel. I wanted to mention the aspect of the Central Fire in a Medicine Wheel representing a consensus. Everyone in the wheel has a differnt viewpoint of the problem or situation and offers their viewpoint or perspective. The Central Fire represents bringing them together in an areement of some kind. We no longer have a Central Fire in our society with fragmentation and no shared media etc.

  3. Avatar

    Yes! Yes! The Life circle/spiral dance/prayer/consciousness reminds me that God’s Living Loving Creative Spirit Is Always Within and Among Us in ongoing Co-Creation~Evolution in Loving Diverse Oneness within the Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment….

  4. Avatar

    My meagre knowledge of physics includes the fact that gravity forms spheres, unless there are counter forces.

    There is a wholeness and equality to spheres. Scientifically and spiritually, they are perfect.

  5. Avatar

    “Ladders” have multiple meanings in spiritual teachings. They often express the idea of training/moving from a state of “confusion and distraction” (as “lower” or less spiritually aware) to a “more-awakened” ( or “higher”-quality) state during a Path or life-journey of realigning one’s whole self with an “ideal” spiritual template.

    They may also reflect the “degree of one’s soul-evolution of awareness” as indicated by “chakras” of energy flowing up the spiritualized body’s spine, culminating in the “crown chakra” above the forehead, where energy flows upward/outward, into the supreme Mystical Union.

    But it’s also true that the Mystical Revelation unveils itself in a radically unitive experience, and its message is universal and completely egalitarian, regardless of gender or status. It is a deep embracing of creation in joyous celebration, very much an en-circling, all-pervading, unencumbered, intensely-intimate, Mystical union/transformation, flowing into a radically different, dimension-crashing, non-dualistic One (God), and flowing back again through the Creating, transcendent Son/Logos/Wisdom. It is the astonishing gift of its universal message to all humans, shared in an embraced oneness of community.

    It is Love, the Act of Love unbounded, in the Oneness of God.

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