Celebrating Feast Days of Père Chenu & Sister Dorothy Stang

This weekend is of special significance to me and to anyone keen on remembering and celebrating people of great spirit. My mentor, Père  Chenu, OP, died on February 11, 1990. And my student, Sister Dorothy Stang, was martyred in the Amazon on February 12, 2005.

Sister Dorothy Stang in her dorm room, a student at Holy Names. (cropped)

Chenu named the Creation Spirituality tradition for me in class in the Spring of 1968 at the Institut Catholique in Paris, France. That was his last semester of teaching, so I was especially blessed to have been among his last students. 

Chenu taught Yves Congar, OP, early in his teaching career and Congar was a pioneer in ecumenism who played an outsized role at Vatican II (as did Chenu). Chenu also taught Father Schillibeeckx and Gustavo Guttieriez, father of liberation theology who gave a talk a few years ago in Tubingen entitled “Liberation Theology: The Daughter of Père Chenu.” 

I remember the moment vividly when Chenu talked about the “two traditions” in spirituality in the West—that which begins with sin which he called the “Fall-Redemption” tradition, and that which begins with creation he called the “Creation-centered” spiritual tradition. The latter was the oldest tradition in the Bible.

Marie-Dominique Chenu, o.p. Wikipedia. Public domain

The great medieval historian Étienne Gilson said that “a man like Chenu comes along only once per century.” At his funeral, held in Notre Dame Cathedral, his eulogy was delivered by the eminent French historian Jacques le Goff, who was an atheist and an ex-student of Chenu. 

At one point he spoke to Chenu in the second person: You were in your existence the light, the vivacity of generous thunderstorms, a man who did not ignore the darkness but who followed the light, always present, ever flashing. A man always open to others, attentive to them. Human, too human some would say, but not those who have known you…. You have taught us courage, firmness, fearlessness, even resistance–but in humility.

I confess that I cried translating this eulogy to Chenu. It names so perfectly what I knew about the man, and it culminates with what I consider the most important virtue for our time: Courage, a true sign of the spirit. Courage and joy and magnanimity marked the man.  

To be continued.

See Matthew Fox, Confessions: The Making of a Post-denominational Priest, pp. 40, 73, 79-82, 90, 97, 21, 239, 2251, 76, 281, 285, 311, 440, 451.  

And Matthew Fox, Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, pp. 36-65.

And Fox, Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality.

Banner image: Composite of Pere Chenu, from biography in Backward View Blog, February 12, 2012; and Sister Dorothy Stang, photo by Roberto de Vasconcelos on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

What has learning about the creation spirituality tradition meant to you?

Recommended Reading

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

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.

Original Blessing: A Primer in Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox lays out a whole new direction for Christianity—a direction that is in fact very ancient and very grounded in Jewish thinking (the fact that Jesus was a Jew is often neglected by Christian theology): the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality, the Vias Positiva, Negativa, Creativa and Transformativa in an extended and deeply developed way.
Original Blessing makes available to the Christian world and to the human community a radical cure for all dark and derogatory views of the natural world wherever these may have originated.” –Thomas Berry, author, The Dream of the Earth; The Great Work; co-author, The Universe Story

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10 thoughts on “Celebrating Feast Days of Père Chenu & Sister Dorothy Stang”

  1. Avatar

    Feb. 10th
    What has leaning about creation spirituality meant to me.
    I rejoice in being able to respond to this question as it means a great deal to me.
    Resonating with this teaching has restored my faith in the creator God.
    It has brought me back to the place where I started as a child knowing that God was everywhere creating all things.
    It has helped me to integrate the discrepancies I encountered when I believed in the little used power of the Matriarch and I left the Church of England.
    And I no longer struggle with the confusion brought about by being told to believe in ‘sin and guilt’.
    So much more to add…..
    These meditations are a life-line and my heart is filled with gratitude.

  2. Avatar

    How many ways can we say that God loves us unconditionally and always has? Maybe, in humility, we should credit God for the inspiration and insight of John 3:16, 17 and 18. Spiritual sages in ‘the East’ have been practitioners for over 10,000 years and have brought ‘this reality’ to ‘the West’ as well.

    For God So Loved the World
    16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
    17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
    18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

  3. Avatar

    I first learnt of Matthew’s teachings about Creation Spirituality, from one of the elders in the Retirement Home that I was caring for, whom was a priest, whom had the book “Original Blessings”, in his room which he was always reading. This sparked some interesting conversations. I then started pursuing reading this and Matthew’s other books, and eventually started participating in the DM’s. This then led to reading many other books Matthew would reference, in relationship to Creation Spirituality.

    All of this has had a profound effect upon me, in so many ways, that’s it hard to put it into a paragraph; so I’ll just use single words to try and convey some of this… healing, liberation, transformation, clarity, reconciliation, integration, freedom, awakening, self-love, deepening trust in my relationship with Spirit, reclaiming and rediscovering lost parts of myself, finding my voice, engagement with the gifts of creativity, imagination and intuition, nurturance, wisdom, strength, light, truth, new life, many more blessings to numerous to mention.

    The words THANK YOU MATTHEW seem so very small in response to all that you have given freely, which I have graciously received deeply within my heart, mind, soul and spirit. I was thirsty and you offered me living water at the meetings at the well! I was hungry and you offered me spiritual sustenance for my tired and weary soul!

  4. Avatar

    Learning about creation spirituality has opened a door for me that fills me with joy. I have in a way always been a spiritual seeker but let me just say, this brings me into the oneness of everything and towards trying to live the life I should live and learn how to give to others. Before learning about creation spirituality I was becoming rather lackluster in spiritual matters. I now have a new and wonderful understanding of love, justice, compassion and just so much more. Thank you Matthew.

  5. Avatar

    Creation Spirituality, a wholistic and contemporary representation of the mystical spiritual tradition, has meant to me becoming more open/sensitive to God’s Spirit of Love~Wisdom~
    Diverse ONENESS… LIVINGLY & LOVINGLY PRESENT within our unique human hearts/ETERNAL SOULS and among Us, especially with Beautiful Sacred Mother Earth and all Her creatures & graceful abundance, in Our Evolving Co-Creative SACRED COSMOS…. Creation Spiritually has also deepened my awareness and appreciation for its intimate relationship with Our Feminine Spirituality and Indigenous Spirituality….

  6. Avatar

    In the mid-1980’s, I was part of a Spiritual Autobiography small group of women, as we were discovering that women develop spirituality differently from men. We also discovered “Original Blessing”, along with the writings of Marcus Borg and Bishop Spong. I was fortunate in not having been brainwashed into the concept of original sin in my Congregational/UCC tradition, so it was easier to accept the ideas of original blessing, which were and are so very freeing. Gratefulness and a sense of perspective are a result. Inclusiveness, appreciation of diversity, and concern for equity and justice for all are also consequences. Thank you, Matthew.

  7. Avatar

    It brings to mind Luke 24 when Jesus sat down to eat with them, “took the bread, and said the blessing; then he broke the bread and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?'”

    In one gesture, of a hand giving bread to another receiving bread, a hand on the arm, the eyes with another’s eyes, the silent knowing, forms a path that changes the course of one’s life from then on.

  8. Avatar

    After a week of very enlightening focus on Mary it feels so serendipitous to find out that Marie-Dominique Chenu was so influential in Vatican II. When I was doing research on Miriam [Mary] of Nazareth in the 1980-90s I realized that I needed to read the Documents of Vatican II. I was astonished to read that the Church remained open on her role in salvation saying “it does not, however, intend to give a complete doctrine on Mary, nor does it wish to decide those questions which the work of theologians has not yet fully clarified.” [Lumen Gentium VIII.] Perhaps this openness was prompted by Chenu. However when I searched the index for the deliberation about Joseph I was astonished again, but this time because he wasn’t mentioned in his role of husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus. As I recall his name didn’t appear in the Index at all. Was he overlooked or did I somehow miss any mention of him. In my view, if he hadn’t agreed to marry her because of a dream voice prompting him to do so we might never have heard of Miriam and Yeshua. Carl Jung has much to say about the value of voice dreams. Dreams were significant in the life of Joseph of the Old Testament.

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