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The miracle of being


Question & Answer

Q: By Mark Adams-Westin
 I have been on a journey much like John Spong’s for almost 67 years. I have followed his work over the years with interest and used to be on his regular mailing list. I just finished his “last Book” and found it both enlightening, and frustrating. I appreciated the insights and the bio of his and our shared journey, and resonate with many of his conclusions. Where I part company is his “insight” that we human’s alone have “self-consciousness,” which allows only us to grasp: life, death, fear, joy, God, spirit etc. Sadly Spong trots out the age old notion that humans are mentally & spiritually superior to the “lower” beings on our planet. This attitude has justified our human lethal domination of this planet to the detriment of every species including human beings. Worst of all it is a conjecture that can neither be proven nor disproven (which I personally think is the easier of the two tasks) because we humans lack the ability to communicate with our fellow travelers. Stating this opinion and maintaining it as “fact” throughout the book diminishes, Bishop Spong’s logic and conclusions, because it is so basic to every argument that follows. I pray that as we humans expand our own spiritual consciousness we will outgrow all of the assumptions we’ve nurtured about our innate superiority.
A: By Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox
Dear Mark

Rather than plunge into your disagreement with Bishop Spong as such, I prefer to speak to the important issue you raise about our so-called “innate superiority” as a species.

To me, we as a species are better than other species in some things but inferior in others.  Among the former, I would put front and center our capacity for evil.  I don’t know any other species that has put such effort into developing nuclear missiles that would destroy the planet as we know it.  Nor has any species created an event like the Second World War which killed at least 42 million human beings and sported concentration camps and the holocaust.  Or that indulges in climate change and denial of climate change at the same time,

Why are we so superior when it comes to Evil?  Aquinas says one human being can do more evil than all the other species put together.  How did he know that, writing as he did in the thirteenth century and 700 years before Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, et al?  Because he recognized the profundity of our intellects and our creativity which together constitute the “image and likeness of God” that we carry either for good or for evil.

Rather than carry on the myth of our “innate superiority,” I prefer to think in terms of what Meister Eckhart calls the “equality of being”–at the level of being we are all equals, none greater than the other.[1] In a culture with its religions, theology and educational systems rarely talking about “being” at all, we set ourselves up for the kind of “superiority complex” that you are warning us about.

It is existence or being that is the true miracle of life.  We cannot take credit for it–existence is a given, a gift, a grace.  We all got it.  Now to use it well and wisely.  My being as a human is not greater than other beings, say my dog, as a dog.  Being is being and being is divine.

Thomas Merton puts it this way:  “The consciousness of being (whether considered positively or negatively and apophatically as in Buddhism) is an immediate experience that goes beyond reflective awareness.  It is not ‘consciousness of’ but pure consciousness, in which the subject as such ‘disappears.’”  He adds: “To one who has been exposed to scholastic ontology and has not recovered, it remains evident that the activity of becoming is considerably less alive and dynamic than the act of being.”[2]

Eastern Orthodox scholar David Bentley Hart, in his excellent book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, chastises both Western and Eastern wisdom traditions for neglecting the experience of being.  He criticizes contemporary religion for forgetting a God of being and offering instead superficial ersatz notions and projections whether of a theistic or atheistic bent.

The real miracle among us is the miracle of being and shame on us for taking it for granted or forgetting it.

So before dashing off and declaring ourselves the “king of the hill” and the “summit and even purpose of all creation” we should wake up and smell the roses–and the sun, clouds, rain, supernovas and original fireball that make the roses possible.  Aquinas says the most excellent thing in the universe is not the human but the universe itself.  In short, we must return to cosmology in preference to all that feeds our collective narcissism as a species.  It is the beings that preceded us and nurture us still that make our being possible.  Let us cease the chauvinism and become instead grateful for being and therefore grateful for our equality with all beings.

~ Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox holds a doctorate in spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris and has authored 32 books on spirituality and contemporary culture that have been translated into 69 languages. Fox has devoted 45 years to developing and teaching the tradition of Creation Spirituality and in doing so has reinvented forms of education and worship. His work is inclusive of today’s science and world spiritual traditions and has awakened millions to the much neglected earth-based mystical tradition of the West. He has helped to rediscover Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Aquinas. Among his books are Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh, Transforming Evil in Soul and SocietyA Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality JourneyMeister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Times and Confessions: The Making of a Postdenominational Priest

A new school, adopting the pedagogy Fox created and practiced for over 35 years, is opening in Boulder, Colorado this September.  Called the Fox Institute for Creation Spirituality it is being run by graduates of his doctoral program and will offer MA, D Min and Doctor of Spirituality degrees. With young leaders he is launching a new spiritual (not religious) “order” called the Order of the Sacred Earth (OSE) that is welcoming to people of all faith traditions and none and whose ‘glue’ is a common vow: “I promise to be the best lover of Mother Earth and the best defender of Mother Earth that I can be.”

[1] See Matthew Fox, Passion for Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart (Rochester, Vt: Inner Traditions, 2000), Sermon Five: “How All Creatures Share an Equality of Being,” 91-101.
[2] See Matthew Fox, A Way To God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey (Novato, Ca: New World Library, 2016), 237f.

Review & Commentary