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Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 4

May 25, 2010 Leave a comment

After my struggle with Chapter 5, “Spiritual Warriors”, of Matthew Fox’s book on Men and Spirituality, subtitled Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine, I have been cruising right along with the remainder  of the book. Today I’ll review chapters 7 and 8. If you missed Part 3 you can read it here.

Chapter 7 covers the “body metaphor” and is titled:  “Our Cosmic and Animal Bodies.” Up to this point Mr. Fox has covered six “metaphors” or what he also refers to as archetypes; the first five I would definitely classify as archetypes: Sky Father, The Green Man, Icarus and Daedalus, Hunter-Gatherers, and Spiritual Warriors. Beginning with the sixth chapter and certainly extending into the seventh I believe he leaves the archetypal approach and begins addressing actual men and their sexuality and physicality. Chapter six covered in Part 3 of this series is about our sexuality; it is handled very nicely by Fox but it’s not clear why this is a metaphor. And here in Chapter 7 we deal with our physical bodies; how is this a metaphor? How am I to react to my body as metaphor rather than physical presence here on Planet Earth? It would be different if he spent most of the chapter on the “Cosmic Body” but most of it is devoted to the physical.

He does a nice job describing his version of the chakra system, how it affects us and how we can work with it. Yet, while he treats this subject within a section called “Rediscovering Our Sacred Bodies” much of the discussion is on the physicality of the chakras. Carolyn Myss does a much better job of describing the sacred nature of the chakras in: Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing. I recommend her book to anyone interested in an expanded vision of the chakra system.

In a too brief final section of this chapter Fox discusses “More Than One Body.” He refers to four, the physical body, the cosmic body, the earth body and the divine body. The actual distinctions between the physical and earth bodies and the cosmic and divine bodies is never really made clear, and he uses the terms interchangeably. Here I thought he might have used the four bodies I’ve often read about and considered: the physical body, the emotional or etheric body, the mental body and the spiritual body.  These are actual layers to our bodies and extend outward from the physical layer beyond and into our auras and ultimately into the cosmos, of which we are a part. There is certainly some parallel between these four and Fox’s four but I think the ones I refer to are more clear.

Chapter 8 covers the Blue Man and is titled The Blue Man. Here Mr. Fox is referring on the one hand to Swami Muktananda’s vision of the Blue Pearl who becomes a “blue man” a vision of the divine within or the Cosmic/Spirit Body. He compares Muktananda’s vision with that of Hildegard von Bingen who encountered a “man of sapphire blue.” It is clear that these two very different people in very different times encountered the very same being, the Blue Being within themselves.

Chapter 8 is an excellent extension to chapter 7 and nicely responds to my complaint that he didn’t spend enough time on the “more than one body.” It is the Blue Man to whom he appeals and the Blue Man in each of us who is called to action today. In his conclusion Fox writes:

“The Blue Man represents the expanded consciousness and the creative compassion [I really like this phrase ‘creative compassion’ – so much more appropriate than the ‘conservative compassion’ we had to deal with during the first 8 years of this millennium!] we are all capable of. He is an artist at life, recognizing beauty and justice and creating it. We are being tested in a special way today. Because of news both good and terrifying, a global consciousness arises, asking us to expand our minds and hearts. We are interconnected and interdependent in ways we have never experienced before, even as the collective impact of our human society threatens the Earth’s health. We must use our powers of creativity, which increase when consciousness increases, to engage and solve the many problems facing us at this important time in history. We must take our expanded consciousness into all our relationships. The purpose of the Blue Man is to empower our hands so that real compassion takes place, the real work of the Divine in our lives. The Blue Man helps us to overcome our fear of death and to let go of our fear-inspired frenzy. Creativity can convert anger and moral outrage into appropriate expressions of protest, so that we build and not simply tear down. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, Michelangelo, and many other men have demonstrated the Blue Man in action.”

I have quoted this entire paragraph for a couple of reasons: one, it expresses a good summary of Fox’s call to men to embrace the spiritual, the creative, the compassionate responses in us that are so important today; this Blue Man energy vital to our survival! And, two, he makes this call without resorting to the “spiritual warrior” archetype, which he brought out in Chapter 5, and which I and others have called into question. Here he now avoids that term and all its connotations by invoking creative compassion in its stead! Yes, we CAN divert our anger, fear, outrage into positive, creative, appropriate action for good with Blue Man energy at our core!

Chapter 8 is a delight and makes it worth reading the book to this point. And Chapter 9, “Earth Father: the Fatherly Heart” is excellent. I’ll review Mr. Fox’s final two metaphors on Thursday.

Meanwhile see if you can get in touch with the Blue Man in you!

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Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 3

May 15, 2010 7 comments

I have struggled with this post; you may have noticed that I did not post this part of the review last Monday, choosing instead to post Rosemary’s Mother’s Day message link. And I didn’t post yesterday, on schedule, either. The cause of my struggle is Chapter 5 of Matthew Fox’s book on Men and Spirituality, subtitled Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine. Is it inevitable that when talking about and writing about men and spirituality the notion of warrior has to be raised? The title of Chapter 5 is “Spiritual Warriors”.  I knew it was coming; Fox referred to the notion in earlier chapters, but somehow I was hoping he would thread his way carefully through this swamp and avoid the pitfalls. Sad to say, he didn’t.

OK, I don’t like war. I am probably not a pacifist in the strictest sense of the word. I am currently reading the poetry of William Stafford who refused to fight in World War 2; he had his very good reasons. Had I been a young man then I may have taken up arms against the fascism that had taken over too much of the world at that time. Instead I was born at the very end of that war just days before this country dropped the two atomic bombs on Japan. Perhaps the impact of those bombs somehow vibrated through my young being setting up an abhorrence of war. In any case I have been opposed to all of the wars I have been old enough to fight in; I consider them the highest folly of human-kind and an absurd waste of resources, not the least of which is human life, that most precious “commodity” this planet has yet produced.

So, when I read about spiritual warfare I am repulsed. Intellectually I can understand that this is a metaphor, that the term warrior is meant to represent strength and determination to stand for something good, righteous, just. And yet I struggle. For me war is an act of separation. It is about “us against them”. It is a reinforcement of the duality and a staging of one side of that duality aggressively opposing with the intent to annihilate the other side. But if we live in a dualistic world how can we ever hope to annihilate one side and still remain whole ourselves!?

Fox’s Chapter 5 is a meandering attempt to soften the whole notion of the warrior through anecdotal reports of others who he calls warriors but in my mind are far from it. He begins with Thomas Berry who “talks about the need for ‘the Great Work.’ What is this Great Work? It is ‘the task of moving modern industrial civilization from its present devastating influence on the Earth to a more benign mode of presence.'” I couldn’t agree more! Fox further quotes Berry as saying: “‘The nobility of our lives, however, depends upon the manner in which we come to understand and fulfill our assigned role.'” Again, I couldn’t agree more! But then Fox leaps to: “Noble warriors are called for. The archetype of the spiritual warrior helps to answer in a constructive way two issues raised so far: What to do with male aggression? What to do with competition? How to steer both into healthy directions?”

So, the call here is to “fight” the “devastating influence on the Earth” with aggression and competition in order to move toward “a more benign mode of presence”! Oh, and to do it nobly, of course! This is the age old call to “fight fire with fire”. Berry calls us to move to a “benign mode of presence” and Fox requires spiritual warfare to accomplish this move. I don’t think this will happen. So, from the outset of this chapter Fox falls into the trap I saw him heading toward and when he falls in he loses me. And I channeled my own aggression and sense of competition right into his points, his stories, his style, and his cavalier way of conflating the “warrior” and the “lover”.

Fox attempts to draw a stark boundary between soldier and warrior: a soldier follows the orders of an officer; a warrior follows orders of his soul. He claims “the warrior unlike the soldier is a lover.” And, “the warrior relates to God as a lover.” This chapter is peppered with non sequiturs; in the context of the soldier/warrior argument he states: “I believe the confusion of soldier and warrior feeds militarism and the reptilian brain. It’s also an expression of homophobia, since I suspect that heterosexism is behind much of the continued ignorance and fear of the real meaning of warriorhood.” Huh? What did I miss here in this leap?

In this chapter Fox rambles on with several stories about people he has known or interviewed who he believes are spiritual warriors. As I read them I kept waiting for how they waged war. For the most part they are or were strong in their beliefs and generous of spirit; they worked diligently to move humanity toward a “more benign mode of presence.” But I did not see them waging war. As one example he tells the story of Bhante Dharmawara, a Buddhist monk, meditation teacher and healer. He quotes a friend of Bhante’s as saying: “‘There is no heart that doesn’t melt in his presence, and people leave him with their minds open to the infinite possibilities that living a life of awareness can bring.'” And then Fox say: “A spiritual warrior indeed.” [and here’s another non sequitur] “Bhante served and transformed his fear and aggression into such peace-sharing and peace-giving that even the wild animals respected him.” I wonder how Bhante would feel about this “spiritual warrior” label.

Am I overly sensitive here about waging war for the sake of peace? Hasn’t every war ever fought been in some way justified by the call for peace? For me the term “spiritual warrior” is a divisive term. It contains the word “war” and implies warfare. War separates. Peace requires a joining together. How can an act of separation ever bring people together? How can any kind of fight move humanity toward a “more benign mode of presence”?

In Chapter 6: “Masculine Sexuality, Numinous Sexuality” Fox regains my attention and respect. (And, don’t get me wrong here; I may argue with this notion of spiritual warriors and still respect Matthew Fox. In fact, I think he struggled himself with Chapter 5; it doesn’t flow well, the non sequiturs are examples of his struggle to make his point. His stories of people, e.g. Bhante Dharmawara, do not make his point. But enough on Chapter 5!) In chapter 6 Fox presents an excellent argument for men to get in touch with their sexuality as a gateway to their spirituality. This may be the best part of the book to this point. And he waxes eloquent at the end of the chapter as he concludes:

“I believe, beyond being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, that we are pansexual. Ultimately, embracing the archetype of the lover means recovering our pansexuality, which nurtures and feeds all our relationships, including our humanly sexual ones.

“Sexuality is sacred because it is bigger than all of us. That is also why it is irrepressible, funny, fun, amazing, surprising, generative, serious, playful, mystical, and unpredictable. It is one area in our relationship with the cosmos and with Father Sky that has never fully succumbed to anthropocentric mastering and control. Sexuality thrusts us into a relationship with the cosmos. Which is a big part of its appeal. A big part of our staying alive. A big part of the joy of living.”

It is good that Fox follows chapter 5 with a chapter on the Numinous Sexual Man. Robert Moore places the Lover archetype on the opposite end of the Warrior archetype axis in his quadrilateral model. It is a direction of growth and evolution to move from the warrior stage to the lover stage. Isn’t it more likely that we can love our way toward a “more benign mode of presence” than fight our way toward that high state of consciousness? Can’t we channel our aggressive and competitive tenancies into a pansexual, generative relationship with the cosmos? I, for one, would like to try; I’d like to throw out the whole notion of war, warfare and warriorhood as we move toward a higher stage of consciousness.

Review of “The Hidden Spirituality of Men” Part 1

May 3, 2010 1 comment

I am in the middle of reading Matthew Fox’s book which is subtitled: “Ten Metaphors to Awaken the Sacred Masculine.” I plan to review the book in six parts; since there are 12 chapters I’ll review two per post, for the 10 metaphors (archetypes really) and the two concluding chapters which explore the sacred union of masculine and feminine, and other sacred unions.

This is an interesting time for me to be reading Fox’s book on the heels of reading and reviewing Joseph Gelfer’s book on masculine spiritualities over the past couple of weeks. You may recall that Dr. Gelfer isn’t particularly fond of archetypes, especially when they reinforce patriarchy. As I’m reading Fox I am very much aware of this sensitivity and constantly on the lookout for such traps.

The first two archetypes of the book are “Father Sky” and “The Green Man.” These could be very dangerous patriarchy traps. Dr. Gelfer even refers to the Green Man as a version of the “Wild Man” of the Mythopoetic Men’s Movement who can, in fact, be dangerous!  But Fox, to a large extent, tip-toes around the trap and doesn’t seem to be calling all men to rise up and take back their “rightful place” in the home and family as so much of the Christian Men’s Movement seems to do.

The “Father Sky” chapter traces the history of our wonder at that awesome arch overhead, brilliantly blue to storm-threatening back in the day, deepest black and often littered with stars at night. He reports on pre-modern, modern and post-modern views and rejoices that Father Sky is “alive again” in our era. I like this flow from awe and worship to the despair of John Calvin and Bertrand Russell and back now to a post-modern respect through recent scientific explorations and discoveries. He uses The View from the Center of the Universe by Joel Primach and Nancy Abrams as a reference to highlight the importance of humans. For me this was overly anthropocentric drawing specific attention to the importance of humans not only in our own solar system but through the entire cosmos. But they do express some interesting thoughts on what they call the “Goldilocks Principle” believing there are many things about humans that are “just right.”

I especially liked the section on “The Dance of Father Sky and Mother Earth.” This brings in a nice balance to the equation of life and the inter-dependencies we rely on for both breath and sustenance. Fox concludes with a reminder from Thomas Berry: “We will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe beyond ourselves as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us.” This is a nice counter balance to the wonder at the human expressed by Primach and Abrams.

I very much appreciated Fox’s chapter two, second archetype, on “The Green Man.” I have done some of my own study on the Green Man and enjoyed the reminders Fox offers. One of my fondest images, in fact I have it on my business cards, is of a Green Man face in a stained glass window in St. Peter Ad Vincula Church in Pennal, Wales. According to my good friend, Geraint ap Iorwerth, Rector of the Church, this is the only Green Man in a stained glass church window in all of Great Britain. Fox reports the Green Man archetype is on the rise again. With all the interest in paganism, ecology, the greening of the world, I believe the Green Man would be an excellent symbol for our return to Nature. He says: ‘Embracing the Green Man creates a new male empowerment, a new warriorhood on behalf of Mother Earth and her creatures. Is this not what is happening today as we talk of “green buildings” and “green politics,” of “green business” and Greenpeace, of “green belts around cities” and “green economics”?’ While I like this call to the greening of our world again, I am highly aware of this reference to the warrior archetype. Are we dancing perilously close to the patriarchy trap?