Saturday, September 11, 2010

Healing Through Grace

Matthew Fox has a major bone to pick with the Catholic Church. I have a major bone to pick with the New Age Movement he represents. Both of us are wrong. However, we are both human beings who hurt, have anger and who have a hard time letting go. Resentment feels like a rigid, ball-like mass in my stomach that pulls my energy strongly to it and seems to want to hold me eternally there. This mass in my stomach does not seem to desire God. All it seems to be able to say is, “I hurt. I hurt, and I'm pissed off, too. Listen to me and the many ways I can justify it.”

How can I pay attention to this pain without this ball controlling me? How can I move beyond this ball to desire God? It's louder right now than the “still, small voice” of God. As it's sapping my energy and demanding all my attention, it seems to say, “Come here, now! And don't bring your love with you!” I am baffled by how to approach it. I feel frustrated, not realizing the ball is trapping me when I'm caught unaware! I don't know what to do with this ball. I don't want to ignore it or push it away. As I contemplate, I'm already in it, mentally wondering, doubting, like a mother who just doesn't know what to do with her infant.

I back up in my awareness and see the mother perplexed with what to do with the baby. Damn it! My desires are trapped. My intention is to long for is purity of heart, yet I cannot even feel or reach the place of longing. Damn it! My desires are trapped. I have no clarity or peace.

I just finished reading a Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God by James Finley. This book was a soul-opener. The problem for me is that the last time my soul opened, I felt the sense of critical trauma. A former monk and present psychologist specializing in trauma, Finley writes about the soul's journey up a mountain to be with God, because he wants to rise above worldly things. But, on the way up, he hears a baby crying in the valley below. He returns to the village, abandoning his climb. In his union with this crying child, which represents the traumatized child in himself, he suddenly finds himself at the top of the mountain with God.

As I walk down from the mountain, anxiety grips me. Fear of “not loving right” paralyzes me. What does this confusing baby want? Does it long to be with me? I'm afraid it will trap me and swallow me whole. Why do I feel it isn't really a baby, but a demon? It's a mystery I don't understand. Why do I feel it wants to suck out my very soul?

Imagine the babe as stuck in a well. He fears the rescuer is as evil as the one who put him in the well, so he will not come out. It's the old “devil you know vs. the devil you don't.” The rescuer, too, is afraid of the child. Does it somehow have the power to pull him in with him as well? So, we have a standstill. Neither trusts the other. It doesn't matter how hard or how long we focus on love or compassion, the divide will not be resolved through the power of our will.

Both sides of the psyche must take a risk to become whole. It's not whether we desire to save or to be saved, it is salvation which we do not know. We don't know how to offer or accept it. We cannot bridge this impasse on our own. So, my understanding of this part of the message of Jesus is, “I'm giving my life for you. I believe you can trust that. It's obvious I am no threat.” The only solution to the dilemma of inner trust is to be receptive to grace. Grace is freely given. It cannot be earned through belief or non-belief. Receptive or no, grace shines through. But, if we are not receptive, we may not even recognize it. To be receptive to grace is to take a step into the unknown.

Matthew Fox is the author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. I will admit I have not read his work in depth. I have not desired to after reading the many articles posted on his website. Reading these has led me to lose interest in Matthew Fox's teachings. While that does not mean that he is wrong, I'd like to share about what I think is missing from them in the articles by him that I have read. I fear that his work, like a lot of New Age teachings, is devoid of the intention to develop purity of heart. Matthew Fox lauds the teaching of Ernest Holmes, author of the Science of Mind used in Religious Science churches. In these churches, an emphasis is placed on fulfilling the heart's desire for wealth, prosperity, and whatever else is believed by the petitioner to be a God-given right. From my viewpoint, not only are material things secondary to the desire for God, but to build these things in life takes patience. Patience is suffering. Hence, the word patient means, “he who suffers.” It's not about wanting what we want and now.

I want my heart to be pure with intent only for God. I don't even believe God can be reduced to the word, “love” because that word is so emotionally laden with egoic desires that the meaning of God's love is diluted. When love becomes whatever we want it to be, happiness becomes good and suffering becomes bad and should be avoided, which seems to reflect the attitude of many New Agers. Matthew Fox even says that focus upon Christ's death and suffering is a part of a “fascist piety of pain.” He goes on to poke fun of the Catholic practice of the Stations of the Cross, gazing at crucifixes and other such things. Matthew Fox has brought the teachings of great saints and mystics to the public. However, these very same saints were often ascetic and contemplated suffering. So, I wonder if he may be taking them out of context. The child and rescuer in my story were suffering. Will they not suffer anymore through the power of grace? Or will they continue to suffer until they learn, through grace, what they are meant to learn, before the suffering subsides?

Is suffering not a part of life that we are called to embrace? How can I find union with God if my desire is to avoid suffering? Did Christ avoid it? Did Christ not embrace it? Did Jesus desire his death on the cross? When we examine and weed out thought which causes suffering and is therefore bad to us, who is doing this sorting out? Is it suffering which we need to avoid or impure desire? Which is the greater obstacle to fulfillment?

Fox ties Buddhism and other religions in with his teaching. My understanding of both Buddhism and Christianity is that neither focus on the accumulation of wealth and prosperity. Neither Christianity nor Buddhism puts selfish desire above the desire to serve others. Neither Buddhism nor Christianity teaches the avoidance of suffering as the path to peace, yet New Age teachers will say that their work stems from the “heart of all religious traditions.” That is why the New Age heart no longer reflects my heart.

I have a deficit of understanding as to why Matthew Fox is so venomous in his attacks of the Catholic Church. He had a difference of opinion with them and was asked to move on. That difference was over “original sin,” which he claims does not exist. If a Catholic priest wanted to teach original sin at his “University of the Creation Spirituality” would Fox allow him to teach the opposite point of view? Probably not, because it just wouldn't fit. So, Fox didn't fit anymore. But why then should the Church change to his point of view?

Since they have not agreed to change their point of view, Fox writes angry and venomous things which “make them wrong.”He even posted “95 Theses” against the Catholic Church in the same place where Martin Luther once did. They didn't change for Martin Luther and they aren't going to change for him. Despite their many major foibles through the centuries, they are going to continue their pursuit for purity of heart regardless of what Fox has to say.

But, I cannot judge Matthew Fox. My heart is full of anger too. I feel misled by teachings such as his, that I feel took me far away from God instead of towards Him. Likewise, Fox feels the Church tried to stifle his free thought and creativity. Which of us are the most wounded? Does it really matter? We are both left with the task of inner reconciliation. How we heal is between us and God.

Recent Articles by Matthew Fox

The Contemplative Way website of James Finley

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