It was recently reported there are now more than 200 Christian denominations in the United States. Which sounds like a lot, until you discover there are an astounding 45,000-plus denominations around the world. Yet reading the new book by Matthew Fox, Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality, you could come away with a different opinion: there are really only two.
Have you heard of the firebrand priest Matthew Fox?
An outspoken former Roman Catholic (now Episcopalian) priest, activist and academician, Fox’s first book was published in 1972. He has now written 37 of them. If you know music, you might think of Fox as the Neil Young of Christian spirituality—an eclectic, spirited free thinker, constantly exploring new themes, who over the decades has amassed an amazing body of acclaimed work. Essential Writings on Creation Spirituality is the equivalent of his greatest hits.
Though a member of the Episcopalian church, Fox views Christianity from a non-denominational perspective. While he references the teachings of the Bible and Jesus, he is not beholden to them. He believes God’s teachings have long transcended this now ancient book. He also simplifies Christianity and spirituality into two distinct strands:
- Fall/Redemption Spirituality (F/R)—which originates with the fallibility of humans
- Creation-Centered Spirituality (C-C)—which originates with the divine in nature
The term Creation Spirituality was popularized by Fox. It includes the belief that God is present in all things—including you and me. Compare his ideas to what he labels fall/redemption spirituality and you will see two very different belief systems. Here are several comparisons offered up by Fox, with his thinking on creation-centered spirituality in bold type.
F/R: Original sin is the starting point
C-C: Original blessing is the starting point
F/R: God as Father
C-C: God as Mother as well as Father
F/R: Key spokespeople: St. Augustine, Pat Robertson, conservative evangelicals
C-C: Key spokespeople: Jesus, mystics like Meister Eckhart, artists
F/R: Control of passions, suspicious of the body
C-C: Celebration of passion, welcoming of the body
F/R: Keep the soul clean
C-C: Keep the soul wet so it grows
F/R: Death is wages for sin
C-C: Death is a natural event, a prelude to rebirth
F/R: A personal Christ
C-C: A cosmic Christ that belongs to all
C-C: For the many
What’s the basis of the Creation Spirituality philosophy?
Fox’s ideas originate with the very first book of the Bible, Genesis. The author points out that Genesis 1 deals with “the goodness of creation.” God creates the sun and moon, followed by the sky, land, oceans, and the creatures that inhabit it. But for centuries, many Christians have jumped right to Genesis 2 which changes the focus from the creation of the universe to the creation of man and woman—and original sin. Fox writes:
In religion, we have been operating under the model that humanity, and especially sinful humanity, was the center of the spiritual universe. This is not so. The universe itself, blessed and graced, is the proper starting point for spirituality.
The Earth itself is where all life begins and should be the starting point for our spiritual pursuits. Fox believes that “the preoccupation with human sinfulness” has caused us to lose sight of and appreciation for Mother Earth and divine grace. He wants us to go back to the beginning of our shared human story and “find the divine in nature and in the creativity of humanity.”
Fox’s thinking is greatly influenced by the Christian mystics who “go the edge of consciousness and invite us to accompany them there.” During a conversation with Fox, he quoted a line by Meister Eckhart: “Every creature is a word of God and a book about God.” In practice, this means seeing God in all things. When we trust that God is present at all times, within us and around us, in all people and all creatures, our belief shows us the way. Again, quoting Eckhart:
You can never trust God too much. Why is it that some people do not bear fruit? It is because they have no trust either in God or in themselves.
The female mystic Julian of Norwich reinforces this thinking, in this passage on the importance of faith: “Trust that we are in God and the God we do not see is with us…to behold God in all things is to live in complete joy. Julian, who lived between 1342-1429, also believed that “just as God is truly our Father, so also is God truly our Mother.” This is not a God who judges and punishes people, but a God of compassion who offers us “goodness and joy.”
Fox teaches us that Julian viewed the world as abundant and overflowing with goodness. He advises us to “get out of our stuckness with the human condition” and to “open our eyes and hearts to the abundant goodness found in nature.” Julian identifies God with goodness itself and declares:
God is all that is good. God has created all that is made. God loves all that he has created. And so anyone who, in loving God, loves all that is. All those who are on the spiritual path contain the whole of creation, and the Creator.
Looking at the whole of Creation Spirituality, Fox sees it “as an amazing gathering place, a kind of watering hole for people whose passion has been touched by the issues of our day—ecologists, native peoples, justice activists, feminists, male liberationists, gay and lesbian peoples, animal liberationists. They all find in the Creation Spirituality movement a common language and a common ground on which to stand.”