From Christianity to Christ Path and the Help of Mysticism

Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox speaks to the weight of the Christian legacy and the baggage of the word “Christianity” in the first Christ Path Seminar.

The Christ Path Seminars begin with a searching question: The world as we knew it is passing. What sort of humans must we become to co-create a just, sustainable and spiritually awakened society in its place?

We’re talking about a new, evolving humanity, and what might this begin to look like? Where are the seeds all around us to grow us at this time? Thomas Berry puts it this way, and I think this is encouraging, almost optimistic, at a time such as we live in today. He says: “The dark periods of history are the creative periods; for these are the times when new ideas, arts, and institutions can be brought into being at the most basic level.” In other words, this cusp of the dark night of the soul, of the via negativa, is where the doors are also opening up for all kinds of creativity across the board—in religion, in politics, in economics, in education, in journalism and media.

Berry points to the Middle Ages in the West and also the third century in China, when a dissolution of the Han Dynasty gave birth to a “period of Buddhist monks and Confucian scholars and artists who gave expression to new visions and new thoughts at the deepest levels of human consciousness.” And these allowed the Chinese “to survive as a people and as a culture.” Such movements, he says, brought alive the wisdom traditions, which “are not the transient thoughts or immediate insights of journalists concerned with the daily course of human affairs; these are expressions in human form of the principles guiding human life within the very structure and functioning of the universe itself.”

In other words, a time like ours is a time to go deep and to redirect the basic principles by which we’ve been living on this planet, by which we’ve been doing religion and so much else at this time. And that’s what I think this Christ Path Seminar is about.

Our generation has been gifted with the culmination of the quest for the historical Jesus, and it’s very, very useful information. But it’s not enough. The historical Jesus is only one of the wings on which the Christian tradition flies. The other wing is that of the Cosmic Christ and mysticism. And that wing has been especially undervalued for centuries. As Theodore Roszak says, “the Enlightenment held mysticism up for ridicule as the worst offense against science and reason.” So mystics have had to hide in the closet for centuries in our churches, and seminaries.

We use the words Christ path instead of Christianity, because—and this is deliberate—in the Middle Ages, when there was a real reformation that culminated in Francis of Assisi and Dominic the reformers—Francis, Dominic, Aquinas—dropped the word Christendom entirely from their vocabulary. They felt the Church at the time was far too allied with the feudal system, with the privilege of the feudal system, and they wanted to break, and break free.

I think we’re in a similar place today, frankly. The word Christianity carries so much baggage—the inquisitions, witch burnings, Crusades, religious wars, anti-Semitism, christofascism—I just don’t think it’s worth bringing along. Every renewal goes back to the sources, and the early Christians did not use the word Christianity. They used the word path or way—the Christ way or the Christ path. And that’s where we’ve gotten this term for this seminar–we’re serious about returning to our sources.

The key, I think, to this resurrection at this time is to recover the mystical dimension to our lives and to our communities, to the Christ path. The day of imperial Christianity is over.

In the Western tradition, the archetype of mysticism is the Cosmic Christ. There lies the metaphor and the succinct way of talking about mysticism. All of our religions have to shake themselves down, have to distill what is of the essence. I think that great Buddhists of our time, like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama and Joanna Macy, are doing this out of their tradition. Christians have to do the same. We don’t have the time left to travel with basilicas on our back. We have to travel with backpacks. We need to get to the essence of things, the treasures of the burning building. And remember that the mystic is the prelude to the prophet. The prophet is the mystic in action. And so we’ll be talking about that, obviously, too as we move along this weekend.

What are some understandings of mysticism?

Einstein said this: “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”  No one can accuse Einstein of being anti-intellectual, but he’s putting first things first. He says your right brain, your intuitive mind, your mystical brain is the sacred gift, and our rationality should be honoring that. Instead, of course, what are we doing with our rationality, so called? We’re spending $39,000 a second on weapons, our species is. Einstein warns us that values come from intuition and not from the intellect.

Bill Everson, the California poet says: “The ordinary person sees God in nature or he sees [God] not at all….By extension, the God-thirsting [person] sees [God] everywhere, for Nature is omnipresent…. Emerson said that nature is the language of God. It is fittingly spoken, for ‘in the beginning was the Word.’” The Word or Logos is another word for the Cosmic Christ. “And in that beginning is its end. The Word, then, is all. For Nature itself holds the clue to the divine. In its myriad forms, the great plenitude of being is poured out, streaming from the womb of potentiality, exploding into act…. It is this transformation the poet celebrates.” The Cosmic Christ is the divine presence in all things.

Dr. Howard Thurman, one of the great mystics of North America, who was the spiritual genius behind the civil rights movement, speaks to what the Cosmic Christ and mysticism are all about:

“Man builds his little shelter, he raises his little wall, builds his little altar, worships his little God, organizes the resources of his little life to defend his little barrier,” all this to no avail. “What humans are committed to in the religious experience is this: the effective possibility of a vital religious fellowship which is so creative in character, so convincing in quality, that it inspires the mind to multiple experiences of unity.”

That’s mysticism: multiple experiences of unity. Mysticism is our unitive experiences—when you feel one with being, one with others, one with yourself, one with God. But notice, multiple experiences of unity.

You see, if you’re going to renew religion, you’ve got to return to experience. Buddha experienced something under the Bodhi tree; Muhammad experienced something with the creating of the Quran; Isaiah, Jeremiah, all the prophets experienced what they were preaching about, and of course Jesus too. And that’s what mysticism is. It’s about experience. As the Psalmist says, “taste and see that God is good.” You’ve got to taste—no one can taste for you.

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To learn more  about the upcoming Christ Path Seminar weekend being offered online and on-site in Pittsburgh, PA, 6/28/30, see http://www.christpathseminar.org/ai1ec_event/cosmic-christ-and-the-historical-jesus/?instance_id=123

To order the complete 12-DVD set of recordings from the first Christ Path Seminar weekend – including Dr. Fox’s delivery of the full introductory address from which this post is clipped, see http://www.christpathseminar.org/participate-by-dvd/

 

 

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About Matthew Fox

Matthew Fox – author, educator, activist, and spiritual pioneer – has spent the past 40 years doing the culture-changing work to lay the foundation for the values of a new generation. As today’s leading voice of the ancient mystical Christian tradition of creation spirituality, he has helped to midwife the birth of a movement that celebrates embodied spiritual practice, oneness with creation, personal awareness, educational empowerment, and social, environmental, and gender justice.


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