October 16, 2008

Matthew Fox, for Ode Magazine: “Men are closet Spiritual Warriors.”

This blog comes courtesy Jayson Gaddis.
As a men’s coach, I love reading stuff about and working with men—helping them to see what they have not been seeing and take responsibility for what they have refused to own.  Let’s face it, we need a shitload of help. Because of our privilege and power, men have the ability to not only eff up the planet 10 times over (as we’ve consistently shown), we also have the capacity to make an outsize impact. At least as long as the wavering Patriarchy is intact.

In this lofty article, spiritual teacher Matthew Fox begins by asking, “Where are the men today?” Fox  
claims men need to step into the role of “Spiritual Warrior” that we are, and that our world so desperately needs.

This article is timely, however it is written for the already spiritually astute man. I doubt the article will reach the “conventional” man. Maybe I’ll translate and re-write it…Hmmm.

“I know of a renowned scientist who has a large sweat lodge in his backyard where he and his wife do regular sweats led by Native Americans. They even know the ancient songs in the Lakota language. But no one at the university where he works is aware of his spiritual practise. It’s hidden from them. His is one of the best-kept secrets of our culture: Many men are profoundly spiritual and care deeply about their spiritual lives.

What’s no secret is that men today are in trouble. And these troubles affect everyone. The warring of our species continues, from Iraq to Sri Lanka, from Lebanon to Somalia; the U.S. government sells more weaponry worldwide than even entertainment. Meanwhile, global warming is a global warning: a warning that we’re not doing well as a species and as a planet. One out of four mammal species is dying out.

In fact, young men are also disappearing. In Baltimore, Maryland, in the shadow of America’s capital, 76 percent of young black men aren’t graduating from high school. It’s no secret that failed education frequently leads to incarceration, and as a result, more young black men are in prison than in college in the U.S. For many inner-city youth, it’s cooler and more manly to go to jail than to get a degree.

For years I’ve been writing as a male feminist—indeed that was the No. 1 objection to my theology voiced by the chief inquisitor general of our day, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), when he expelled me from the Dominican Order, saying I was a “feminist theologian.” But what I’m saying now is in no way a denial of my previous work; rather it’s a logical extension of it. Women have been recovering their stories and their archetypes. Where are the men in the awakening our species needs so badly? Where is the healthy masculine in men and in women?

Our culture has latched onto images of God as male and then defined for us what male means. Male means winning (being No. 1 in sports, business, politics, academia), going to war (“kill or be killed”), being rational, not emotional (“boys don’t cry”) and embracing homophobia (fear of male affection). Male means domination, lording over others—whether nature, one’s own body, women or others.

Thomas Berry, a Catholic priest of the Passionist Order and an eco-theologian, talks about the need for “The Great Work.” What is this Great Work? It’s “the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence.” Such a great work will require great spirits, real warriors, and it will require steering our moral outrage and our powers of competition in more positive directions.

The Great Work is “not a role that we have chosen. It is a role given to us, beyond any consultation with ourselves. … We are, as it were, thrown into existence with a challenge and a role that is beyond any personal choice. The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.” Noble warriors are called for. The archetype of the spiritual warrior helps to answer in a constructive way some important issues: What to do with male aggression and competition? How to steer both in healthy directions?

Aggression is in all of us. Whether you’re athlete or preacher, businessperson or taxi driver, aggression will emerge. It’s easy to identify the negative ways it expresses itself: as war, as conquest (whether in business or sex), as passivity (aggression turned against oneself: “I can’t do that…”), as selfish competition (“I can’t win unless you lose”) and more. But what are the healthy ways to engage it? How to turn aggression into nobility, to use Berry’s term?

To me, the key is understanding the distinction between a warrior and a soldier. A Vietnam veteran who volunteered to go to war at 17 described this eloquently: “When I was in the army, I was a soldier. I was a puppet doing whatever anybody told me to do, even if it meant going against what my heart told me was right. I didn’t know nothing about being a warrior until I hit the streets and marched alongside my brothers for something I really believed in. When I found something I believed in, a higher power found me.” He quit being a soldier and became a warrior when he followed his soul’s orders, not his officer’s; in his case, this meant protesting war and going to jail for it. The late Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa talks about the “sad and tender heart of the warrior.” The warrior is in touch with his heart—the joy, the sadness, the expansiveness of it.

However, not everyone understands this distinction. I believe the confusion of soldier and warrior feeds militarism and the reptilian brain. It’s also an expression of homophobia, since I suspect heterosexism is behind much of the continued ignorance and fear of the real meaning of warriorhood. The warrior, unlike the soldier, is a lover. The warrior is so much in touch with his heart that he can give it to the world. The warrior loves not only his nearest kin and mate but also the world and God. The warrior relates to God as a lover.

How different is this from right-wing depictions of God as judge and not lover? This view of God leads to the distortions of masculinity. The confusion of warrior and soldier feeds unhealthy relationships, with God, self and society. It feeds empire-building, and the builders of empire would like nothing more than to enlist young men who believe soldiering equals warriorhood. We can’t afford this ignorance any longer. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If the warrior is different from the soldier, there must be distinct ways by which the warrior develops his or her strength. If the warrior is the mystic in action, then let’s try the following four steps on for size. They derive from the mystical/prophetic or mystical/warrior journey in the creation spirituality tradition.

  1. The Via Positiva. This is the way of celebrating life, of seeing the world with its beauty and goodness, its grace and generosity—and being open to seeing more. This is the way of reverence, respect and gratitude. It’s the way of original blessing, whereby we live out the truth that the universe and life itself, for all the struggle and pain they dispense, have birthed us as individuals and communities with what we need for happiness and for sharing joy.
  2. The Via Negativa. The Via Negativa goes into the darkness, the wounds, the pain and silence and solitude of existence to find what we have to learn there. It’s a way of letting go and letting be, of emptying and being emptied, of moving beyond judgment and beyond control, and learning to breathe, to sit, to be still, to dwell in silence, to taste nothingness without flinching and, ultimately, to focus. It’s the way of grieving. Without grief we can’t move on to the next stage, one of giving birth. The ancient German theologian, Meister Eckhart von Hochheim, calls the process of letting go “eternal.” The warrior faces death and, because he or she has, loves life more passionately.
  3. The Via Creativa. Having fallen in love with life often (Via Positiva) and having been emptied and learned to let go and let be numerous times (Via Negativa), the spiritual warrior is ready to give birth. Creativity is the weapon, the sword, of the spiritual warrior—who is mother as well as father, and who digs deep into a wellspring of wildness that provides the energy for new life, connections, images and moral imagination by which to change things in a deep, not superficial, way. The true warrior is a co-creator, a worker with Spirit, a worker for Spirit. The warrior’s hands are the hands of Spirit at work; the warrior’s mind is seized by Spirit precisely in the work of creativity. As 13th century Catholic philosopher and theologian St. Thomas Aquinas put it, “The same Spirit that hovered over the waters at the beginning of creation hovers over the mind of the artist at work.” Every warrior is an artist at work for the people that they might live.
  4. The Via Transformativa. Claims to artistry and to creativity and to co-creation need to be tested. The Spirit requires discernment and evaluation. The primary test for claims of spirit work is that of justice and compassion. Does the work I’m doing pass the justice test? Does it fill gaps between haves and have-nots or make the chasm deeper? Does it contribute to healing and empowerment of the powerless or re-establish the privileges of the few at the expense of the many?

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