by Matthew Fox
Meister Eckhart was a late-thirteenth- and early-fourteenth-century preacher and mystic, yet like Rumi and Hafiz, he remains relevant today. He speaks to so many and touches people’s hearts.
As we grasp the heart of Eckhart’s teachings, we find that they take us away from sterile and external religion to a deep spirituality, one that imbues every dimension of our conscience and consciousness. His teachings put Christ back into Christianity and offer a “Christ Path” that is far deeper than institutional Christianity has put forward for centuries. They also offer a living bridge between all world spiritual traditions, without which the human species cannot, it seems to me, survive.
Eckhart leads us to the land of the mystic-warrior, to the land where our action flows from being or nonaction, from contemplation, from love — from the Cataphatic Divinity. And, yes, also from our brokenness, our wounds, our grief, as well as our silence — from the Apophatic Divinity. This is one reason today that so many feel a calling to go deeper, travel deeper, take on spirituality as distinct from mere religion. We all feel the call, consciously or unconsciously, from Gaia, from Mother Earth, from our children and grandchildren and ancestors to come, from Spirit, to change our ways. To undergo metanoia — or conversion, rebirth, waking up, or all of the above.
To do this we need to be lovers again who are more in love with the world than ever. More grateful for existence, for the nourishing and beautiful Earth, for her marvelous creatures, for her suffering, than ever before. More struck by reverence and respect for the miracle of our being here, the gift of existence in this amazing universe with its 13.8-billion-year history — “isness is God,” says Eckhart. Eckhart takes us there, for he is a lover and a traveler into the deep. He is both mystic and warrior.
What distinguishes a warrior from a soldier is that a warrior is a mystic, a lover, one possessed by beauty, one alive with radical amazement, one seized by the Cataphatic Divinity, the God of Light and Creation. It takes a warrior to become a mystic, for the mystic cannot survive in denial; the mystic hunts everywhere in search of his or her beloved. “Where have you hid my beloved?” asks the lover in the Song of Songs. This lamentation also begins “Spiritual Canticle,” the love poem by John of the Cross: “Where have you hidden, Beloved, and left me moaning?” We search the highways and the byways, as John of the Cross did, and we eventually come to this holy awareness. “My Beloved is the mountains, / and lonely wooded valleys….”
Like the historical Jesus who derives from the wisdom tradition of Israel (a fact that Eckhart knew well and today’s New Testament scholarship is finally rediscovering), Eckhart, too, is steeped in the wisdom or creation-centered tradition of the scriptures wherein all of nature is revelatory, a “book about God,” as Eckhart puts it.
So it is with us at this precarious moment. Are we sustainable? Only if we “become sweet lovers,” says Hafiz. Only if we become mystic-warriors. Only if we not only fall in love but develop the astuteness to defend our beloved, the Earth, with all of our resources at hand. Our left brains of analysis and rationality are essential; as Eckhart says, “We are compassionate like the Father when we are compassionate, not from passion, not from impulse, but from deliberate choice and reasonable decision….The passion does not take the lead but follows, does not rule but serves.”
Our right brains of intuition, imagination, creativity, and mysticism are essential, too. We need to create learning centers and wisdom schools where both are honored. We need to resurrect common values — which is not that hard, since atheist and Buddhist, Jew and Muslim, Christian and Goddess worshipper, indigenous and Taoist, can recognize four things: 1) the Earth is sacred, and 2) the Earth is in trouble, and 3) we humans are greatly responsible for the latter, and 4) we can, with imagination and work and strength, do something to positively change that.
Eckhart helps to carry us to this new level of evolution, this deeper expression of what it means to be human at this time in history. He asks that we live in depth, not superficially, whether we are talking about religion or education, economics or ecology. “Deep Ecology” is a phrase coined decades ago to name an ecological movement that was not merely about switching the hats of power but of going deeper into the land of the sacred, the place where in our deepest intuition (Eckhart would say, in the “spark of the soul” from which conscience is born) dwells the Divine and all the angels and spirit helpers who can assist us in this shamanistic vocation to heal so that the people may live. We need all the resources we possess as a species — science and technology along with our varied spiritual traditions.
We need what I call in the conclusion the four Es: we must awaken Deep Ecumenism, Deep Ecology, Deep Economics, and Deep Education. Deep Ecumenism is in many ways the starting point, since without a spiritual depth and practice it is unimaginable that we will have the energy or the vision for the letting go and the birthing that survival will require. Eckhart is a leader like none other in Deep Ecumenism. Who else has worked out of the depth of his own tradition (his Christianity) and has been named a Hindu by Hindus; a Buddhist by Buddhists; a Sufi by Sufis; a depth psychologist who discovered the self by a depth psychologist; a shaman by students of shamanism?
Not ecology as we know it; not education as we know it; not economics as we know it; not religion as we know it — none of these things is currently up to the task at hand. We need to go deeper. Just as Adrienne Rich and Meister Eckhart tell us, diving deep and also surfacing. Moving inward and outward, but always deeply. Deep where the joy resides; where the darkness, pain, and grief cry to us; where creativity is unearthed; where the passion for justice and compassion return again.
We need ecological mystic-warriors, ecumenical mystic-warriors, educational mystic-warriors, and economic mystic-warriors. There is where Eckhart is leading us. Down and deep and dirty, in the sense that we are on new terrain, that there will be trial and error, but it is better to be in the dark than overly confident in a diminishing and damaging light.
Matthew Fox is the author of over 30 books including The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Christian Mystics, and most recently Meister Eckhart. A preeminent scholar and popularizer of Western mysticism, he became an Episcopal priest after being expelled from the Catholic Church by Cardinal Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI. You can visit him at matthewfox.org.
Excerpted from the book Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times ©2014 by Matthew Fox. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com