Matthew Fox, a spiritual theologian, has been an ordained priest since 1967. He holds Masters degrees in philosophy and theology from Aquinas Institute and a Doctorate in Spirituality, summa cum laude, from the Institute Catholique de Paris. A liberation theologian and visionary he was silenced by the Vatican and later dismissed from the Dominican order. After dismissal he was received as an Episcopal Priest by Bishop William Swing of the Diocese of California.

Matthew Fox is founder and president of the University of Creation Spirituality which is located in downtown Oakland, California, in order to bring hope to the downtown area and diversity and racial harmony. In January 1999, the Naropa Institute of Boulder, Colorado, and UCS co-created an educational and spiritual alliance and community. The outcome is the Naropa Institute Oakland Campus, offering an innovative Master of Liberal Arts program.

Matthew is author of twenty two books, including the best selling Original Blessing, A Spirituality Named Compassion, The Reinvention of Work and Natural Grace with scientist Rupert Sheldrake. His most recent book is Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh. His forthcoming book on deep ecumenism has been inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn's book Living Buddha, Living Christ.

A great deal of credit for the awakening of interest in the work of Hildegard of Bingen in recent years goes to Dr. Fox. He was the first to translate her work into English in Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, 1985 and Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works with Letters and Songs,1997.

A lecturer who travels throughout North America, Central America, Europe and Australia Matthew has brought his message of ecological and social justice, mysticism and blessing to eager and ever growing audiences.

Matthew Fox received the 1994 New York Open Center Tenth Anniversary Award for Achievement in Creative Spirituality. In 1995 he was presented the Courage of Conscience Award by the Peace Abbey of Sherborn, Mass. Other recipients of this award include the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, Ernesto Cardenal and Rosa Parks. In 1996 he received the Tikkun National Ethics Award in recognition of contributions made to the spiritual life of our society. He has twice received the Body Mind Spirit Award of Excellence for outstanding books in print: in 1996 for the Reinvention of Work and in 1997 for Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest.

With a commitment to honoring the wisdom in all faith traditions Matthew practices deep ecumenism. Father Bede Griffiths has a tremendous respect for Matthew's work. He has also been a good friend of Brother David Steindl-Rast and has dialogued with Joanna Macy and others on engaged Buddhism and engaged Christianity focusing on the relationship between mystical traditions and issues of social and ecological justice. He quotes Meister Eckhart who said, "Compassion means justice . . .The person who understands what I have to say about justice understands everything I have to say."

Sharon
Matthew, do you believe that animals have souls?

Matthew
Of course! The word itself, anima means soul. All the pre-modern people including the medieval mystics and theologians believed in the soul of nature. Thomas Aquinas says that what animals and humans have in common is the soul. So it is only the modern age that took soul out of everything. Not only took it out of everything, but even in humans put it up in our heads - the pineal gland.

Sharon
How does our relationship with and treatment of animals relate to our own spirituality and enfoldment as human beings?

Matthew
Animals love. They love their being. They strive to survive, to celebrate, to propagate . So certainly something we learn from animals is love. To survive and to celebrate, propagate and to love life. To be the best we can be - the right to be here and the responsibility to be the best dog or bear or horse that they can be. Humans have the tendency to self pity that other animals don't indulge in.

Sharon
I know I have learned a lot from animals about meditating and just being still.

Matthew
Yes. Just being and being still, being themselves - just being when its time for being, eating when they are hungry - and rejoicing.

Sharon
What can the average person who is concerned about animals and nature do to enhance the spiritual lives of their animal companions and other animals especially in the world that we are living in that if far from a perfect place for them?

Matthew
Well, obviously when it comes to wilderness animals we have to make an effort to preserve what areas we can that they can be themselves in. Its come to a point though, clearly, where some species have to be cared for By humans if they are not going to disappear altogether. Of course, when it comes to domestic animals, I think that it is important that humans acknowledge our relationship with them and our interdependence with them.. How the very health issues that we look at for our own species are also theirs. For example issues of healthy water, soil, plants, air and forests. These are issues for our children, but also for our fellow creatures as well. The bridling of human greed and anthropocentric ignoring of the needs of other species is very evident for example the ways that we are fishing out the oceans and so we have to slow down our greed and corporate greed and look at the bigger picture and realize if the animals keep disappearing we will become very lonely and our children will have much less beauty in their lives.

Sharon
Many people I talk to in my work feel very discouraged and dis-empowered, feeling that somehow as an individual they cannot make a difference because it is just too big a problem. What would you say to someone like that? How would you advise them?

Matthew
We should think beyond just being individuals think in terms of neighborhoods, families and communities, the places where we work, the kind of work that we do. To be asking the question what is the relationship of this work that I do to the other species, to the health of the planet. The ecological questions that are the real ethical or moral questions of our time need to be raised in all of our work worlds and our relationships. And its about how we train our children and grandchildren. There has to be a big change in human consciousness to connect to the deep spirituality of creation. For this our forms of education have to change, and our forms of worship have to change, and the way we approach our professions. This is what we are trying to do with our new university in downtown Oakland (University of Creation Spirituality). To create a new model for university, for education, one that includes the rest of creation and sensitizes ourselves to our lower chakras where we connect so much to the Earth. The same is true of worship.

One of the things I will be doing at the Kinship conference in July I'm not just going to talk, but lead a ritual a techno-ritual where we will be dancing and praying with the animals, bring in their spirits. Its very important that we not just talk about this, but that we bring it into our bodies and tell our bodies also what we have in common with animals.

Sharon
Are you an optimist about the future? Do you think we can turn things around?

Matthew
I'm not an optimist but I think it is all conditional . Lester Braun at the World Watch Institute says that we have eleven years left to change our ways. So, can we change in eleven years? My reading of human history is that we change when we have to. If the word were to ge out, the media is not educating us but if we really understood how really desperate things areyea I think we can change in eleven years. I think there is a lot of good will to do it but its not a guarantee by any means. There are many forces such as those of greed, fear and envy that are very strong in the human psyche and history which we're up against.

The book I wrote this year "Sins of the Spirit Blessings of the Flesh" examines those areas of greed and so forth and what we can do about it. I think we have to be consciously combating those forces, because those are the real forces that keep preventing things from happening.


Sharon
Matthew, I just read that your upcoming book was inspired by Thich Nhat Hahn's book Living Buddha, Living Christ? If Buddha and Christ walked the Earth today how do you think they would feel about the way we have treated animals and cared for the Earth?

Matthew
Well, I think they have some pretty good representatives in the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hahn to name two in the Buddhist tradition. Living Buddhist traditions are quite alive today there are a lot of good Buddhists. I think they'd be saying the same thing, that its about compassion - learning compassion . Compassion is not about pity but its about entering into the common joy that we share with the other creatures and the common suffering. Once you enter into that, its hard to deny it and it could motivate us to change our ways and to get moving. So I do think that not only Francis of Assisi in the Christian tradition but Meister Eckhart, Hildegard of Bingen and others in the Christian mystical tradition all realized the kinship that we have with the other creatures, and how divinity reveals Itself through the animals not just through books.

Sharon
You have been instrumental in the awakening of interest in the work of Hildegard of Bingen. I have a wonderful iconographic painting of Hildegard sitting with a cat. It seems to me that all of the illumined ones like Hildegard, Francis, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, St. Francis, The Karmapa and so many others through their lives offer us examples of reverence for all of life and they all adored animals. Why do you think it is that we are so slow to take their example when it seemed to be such a large part of their life and being?

Matthew
I do think a lot of people are very attached to their pets these days. It is as if they are the remnant of the rest of nature hat is disappearing so rapidly. Often its not spoken about, but I think there is often a great kinship in people's lives with their pets and I think its going to get stronger as the crisis gets more severe.

Sharon

Yes, I see that in my work. Its as if the animal becomes the surrogate for all of nature.

Matthew
Ah, yes, that's right and you know Rupert Shelldrake new book Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home demonstrates that a lot of people deep experiences of love in relationship with their animals and vice-versa. The telepathy that friends have between them. I asked Rupert what the scientific response was to his book. He laughed and said that they had been unusually mute. Usually scientists scream when he writes a book but he said that they were silent because they have pets or they have kids that have pets. He said they are so schizophrenic That in the laboratory they are still running on the old science which says that animals don't have souls, but at home they know that their animal does have a soul! So he says the truth of the matter has shut them up for a change, but they still won't confess that therefore the whole paradigm has had the rug pulled out from under it.

Matthew
Laughter.

Sharon
Do you have animal companions Matthew?

Matthew
I had a dog that I was very, very close to but he died a few years ago. Even his death was very special. His name was Tristan. He still comes to me in dreams.

Sharon
What gifts did you and Tristan give each other?

Matthew
Its so much really. He gave me wisdom, a sense of play, joy, ecstasy without guilt, the love of the moment, affection, honesty guarding, protecting. He gave me very through friendship and I tried to give him the same. When he died it was interesting. He had a collapse and when I took him to the vet she said "well we may not be able to do anything for him.." I said I didn't want him to suffer. She said "you go home and call me in an hour and a half." I called her and she said "no we can't do anything." I said "why don't you prepare him and I'll get down there." I arrived in fifteen minutes. When I walked in the vet said "your dog is dead." I was very upset, because I'd wanted to hold him and say good by and thank him. I said to the vet "what is the meaning of this? What is the meaning of this? " She said "You and your dog must have had an amazing relationship and communication because when I hung up the phone he had died. He was waiting for your permission ." That was so much like Tristan. He was not going to let the humans put him to death. He was going to go and all he wanted was my permission. The fact that he knew. He wasn't on the phone, she was on the phone, but he knew what I had said. I found that very beautiful and meaningful. That was special and his life was special.

Sharon
You are taking part in the Kinship With All Life Conference in San Francisco in July. What do you think the significance of such a conference is?

Matthew
I think its terribly important. I think animals have so much wisdom to teach us at this time. Its just the wisdom that we have been ignoring. We have a lot of knowledge, but we are low on wisdom. A shaman I met two years ago said to me "The four legged ones are very worried about us two legged onesvery worried. So much so that they are having many, many conferences about us and they have concluded that they have to do something to help us. One thing they are going to do is to appear more in our dreams. The other thing is just to make themselves more visible and play a bigger role even in our domestic lives." So I think this conference is a sign of that. It's the humans responding to the pain and the call of Gaia and the creatures that we better change our ways and wake up - get smart. So I think it's a very important conference. I'm very much looking forward to it. I do a lot of speaking and I must say that this conference is something I'm looking forward to more than most.

Sharon
We are honored to have you come.

Matthew
I'm sure there'll be a great interest. People do know that they learn a lot from their animals and they want to learn more about it. It's all part of this paradigm shift, moving from this modern notion that humans are the only ones with souls to realizing that the whole planet has soul, and every being on it. I think it is a very important conference. I hope that a lot of people come ant that they have their lives changed by it.

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