Celebrating Our Original Blessings:
An Introduction to the Four Paths of Creation Spirituality
The Reverend Peter Edward Lanzillotta, Ph.D.
There is a great search going on in our society today. It is a common yearning, a deeply held one and now; Often this inquiry is an expressed need for connection to the Earth and to one another.
From the dawn of civilization, humankind has sought out ways to define relationships to the greater world around them. To be fully human, is to search for meaning; we are not just social animals, political or economic beings, we are a seeking, curious, creative and wondering animal- homo sacralis- We seek that which is holy, meaningful, what is divine within and divine without. Civilization has proceeded from the building blocks of religion.
Religion can be defined by any activity, which by its practice and understanding, helps us to feel more connected; unified; together,(from the Latin religiare) and by any activity that assists us in transcending the intellect and the ego- that faciliates our ability to going beyond our social selves, and to look both beyond and within for our deepest, most true answers.
Today, the old, traditional ways of religion and being together, no longer fit the demands of new approaches to planetary science, or the complexities of our social existence. It is a growing vital concern…
An abiding and ripening concern that humans everywhere come together to create a new cosmology- in new, inclusive and inspiring ways that include the holistic or interdependent linking of science, art, service, and mysticism, in a simple and yet profound universal acceptance that spirituality and ecology, art and justice belong to and are connected to each other.
This yearning, this search has had some leading edges…. Nowhere is this yearning felt more deeply than in the various liberation movements, 12 step recovery groups, and the worldwide desire for church revitalization.
As a consequence of a search that is becoming critical and apparent, there is also a need for a common religious and metaphoric language that unites religious ideals to the frontiers of science, the depths of art, and the expanse of culture. One approach that boldly and enthusiastically presents itself as being able to facilitate these desires, and fulfill these wide ranging and inclusive needs. It is called Creation Spirituality.
Right away, let me declare that this approach has nothing to do with Creationism..In fact, its openness to science and mystery function as the direct opposite! One of the main purposes of Creation Spirituality is to remedy and rectify old harmful theologies and those religious beliefs that have crippled people since their childhood…
As an interfaith movement, it offers a new interpretation of the Creation and the entire Biblical story based on its positive themes. As a uniting philosophy or framework, Creation Spirituality helps us to reclaim the beauty and inspiration of The Western religious traditions without having to accept any of the old control centered, static, necrophilic, irrational and pious theology!
Those interpretations of scripture and human nature that are so often used to promote grief, guilt, shame or fear. Creation Spirituality teaches that our salvation is not based on believing some speculative man-made creed. If we are to be saved; that is, if we are to be whole, loving, and free, we cannot divorce our personal concerns from those of our planet Earth, or from our sisters and brothers around the world.
CS is an outlook and a conviction that says that if we, as humankind, and we, as a civilization and as a planet are going to survive, then we will have to actively acknowledge our common origins, our shared human experience, and actively affirm the worth, the sanctity, the mystery and the divinity of Earth itself.
Creation is a wonder… It is nothing short of a supreme miracle called life on Earth. Out of wonder, awe and mystery religion is truly born, and a genuine spirituality is first expressed.
Yet, it is ironic that so few of the Western churches teach such respect and reverence as a part of their religious education programs or life span teachings.
Instead, the models that have been passed down to us are either excessively moralistic, or do not give equal time to the dignity and worth of the person and the environment. Many of us have been sternly taught and often admonished about Original Sin, but very little is ever said or affirmed about our Original Blessings. It starts with the affirmation of the mystery and miracle of God as Spirit, presence, enegery that is inherent, interwoven, alive and timelessly participating in Creation. It teaches about God as an alive Spirit that maintains a gracious benevolence and sustaining intimate relationship with all of life.
Creation Spirituality states that Heaven and Hell are not places, but states of mind and heart that confirm that we need a more positive view of ourselves, and our world, if we are ever to repair, restore, or revitalize the Earth or one another. As for the greatest sin… It is not found in eating an apple- it is the wholesale desecration of Mother Earth herself; our ignorant, wasteful ravaging now holds all of humanity liable, and holds the world’s people at risk.
So while Creation Spirituality does not avoid dealing with sin, it does not wallow in sin or shame either. Instead, it encourages us to look at ourselves compassionately; to educate ourselves out of any
lingering beliefs, ignorance, or an acceptance of imposed inadequacies, and see one another as people who can be caregivers, who have to reclaim the natural wonders and blessings of our world. C.S. teaches us to see and experience the beauty and love, understanding and consolation we can find in walking the beach, watching a leaf hold a butterfly or when we hold hands across our cultural ways to give another person hope and find a quiet joy looking into one another’s eyes, or the sanctuary felt when we are in another’s arms.
Creation Spirituality is an approach to community and one’s own religious life that emphasizes the positive values and options we have in living; it promotes creativity and compassion, and offer ways that teach how the interrelationship of the arts, sciences and religion can combine to create a better world.
Creation Spirituality does not start with Adam and Eve, the Fall, and Sin. By affirming our positive identity as the children of God, made in the image and likeness, we find our working and royal identity when we live as companions to all the creatures of Earth, when we can empower ourselves to heal our world.
Creation Spirituality is a move toward Oneness; it honors human dignity and worth. Its teachings and principles equalizes the sexes, and is an inclusive trans-denominational approach to spirituality and ecology.
While the ideas and ideals of its teachings go far back, even before the Bible, the rediscovery of its
truth is only 35 years old. A progressive, once labeled a heretical Catholic radical, now finding a tentative safe haven as an Episcopal priest, named Matthew Fox. He rediscovered these truths while doing research on the great Christian or Creation mystics. They were those inspired men and women that kept this alternative way of looking at God, Nature, and life alive throughout the centuries; not bowing down to the coercion or control, or the patriarchal and dehumanizing teachings that have condemned church goers to those reinforced feelings of failure, robbing us of health, happiness, creativity, justice and joy.
From those controversial Catholic beginnings, Fox and his followers quickly understood that using ecology to inform one’s faith drew all kinds of people, many world faiths and different spiritual expressions into a greater awareness of their lives on Earth.
The inclusive and interactive philosophy, theology, and practice within progressive congregations worldwide is generally divided into four interdependent paths or ways in which sacred universal archetypes are known, understood and embodied as part of every person’s search for truth and meaning.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with these four ways or paths, I will give you a quick synopsis of each path, and then ask how each way or approach can be understood in practical and personal terms.
First, from Path One or the Via Positiva, the task is to emphasize our Original Blessings, the wonder and promise of life and the Creation. Fox suggests that we have to learn to find beauty, for how can we see and experience, feel and understand the meaning and the magic found in everyday life. Fox states that: “we have become afraid of our own divinity,” that we are the sons and daughters of God. With this divinity comes the identity of each of us as a royal and wonder-filled human being; a marvelous new way of perceiving who and what we are… yet, with this truth, there is also responsibility.
One of the principal reasons the old, fearful forms of religion endure is that it is easier for us to accept being passive, afraid, childish, even guilty, than it is to accept our adult and ongoing responsibility as co-creaters of our own world. Here, in the first of the four paths, called The Via Positiva, we are taught that we need “to taste and see that life the world is good.” Because of this, each of us has to uphold beauty, truth and virtue with sustained strength and a resolve that brings to all men and women the ability to celebrate all the ideals they believe in or trust. This is the path of the mystic.
The Mystic’s main task in life is affirmation, and closely connected to it, is to maintain the outlook of gratitude.(approx.Thanksgiving to Epiphany)
So, now I will ask each of you…What can you affirm in your life? What makes you thankful? How does your community conncetions promote affirmation and gratitude?
The Path Two is called the Via Negativa, or the emptying way. Here is where the warrior battles for mental, emotional and spiritual clarity; He or she accepts their own need to let go- to empty oneself of false beliefs, negative feelings, rehearsed roles. In the Via Negativa, we have to face up to our inner pain, our hurts and whatever we feel that we lack in ourselves, or have failed to accomplish in our lives. Here, the path urges the spiritual warrior in each of us to develop fortitude, persistence, and the courage to go beyond the familiar, and to welcome the unknown; to expect the good, to be open to grace, despite life’s wounds. Fox says this: we have to learn to let go- Letting go of comforts, security, of past images of oneself, or all that we have reinforced or rehearsed about past ways of relationships- all those ways that keep us stuck or dissatisfied with our lives…Here the task is to learn what serves growth and goodness, and practice only what will not harm rob anyone else of dignity and respect.” This is the path of the prophet.
(January to Lent)The main task of the prophet is to interfere with the status quo in ways that promote equality and justice, dignity and selfhood.
I ask: In what ways are you willing to infere with the staus quo? When is it that you stand up for others?
What does your congregation interfere with regularly?
The Third Path or way is called the Via Creativa or the way of creativity and resourcefulness. Here is where we learn about giving birth to newness and hope, and how to experience a rebirth of who and what we are or can become. It takes a lot of faith, and a sincere degree of flexibility to be creative; to bring into being a new way of looking at the world, of defining and refining yourself.
We also find in this creative path, the creativity that uproots or refashions. As Fox puts it, “in Path Three, we stand up and offers our gifts to the community. Here the fight is engaged, and the demons exorcised….” Creativity arises from a depth of awareness that states that… if we do not give back what is our unique gifts, talents and skills, and give expression to life’s mysteries and give witness to life’s truth, no one will stand up, or give or do it for us.” If we do not give back, whatever gifts or talents we have will atrophy or go stale… This is the path of the artist. (Approx.Easter to August)
I ask: How do you express your creativity? How do you share your gifts? How does this church or community give of itself to the community?
The last way or Fourth Path is called the Via Transformativa, the transformative way. But as Fox emphasizes, “transformation does not come easily.
Powerful people and entrenched institutions do not relinquish power and privilege cheerfully or willingly.. Paradigm shifts in religion, politics or ecomomics are often resisted vigorously.
We have to learn compassion for ourselves and for our world. “Through empathy, we learn to celebrate the common struggle and can find the strength, the willingness to stand up for justice, equality and truth as belonging to everyone, as being the right way of in community, as living on and for the Earth. This is the path of the Healer. (Approx. August to Thanksgiving)
I ask: How do you find healing for yourselves? How do you offer it to others?How do you work together as a group to offer or provide healing?
As this movement relates to U-Us, listen to some of the thoughts Matt Fox shared with us at the 1987 General Assembly:
“In your letter of invitation to me, the following sentence caught my attention: ” You said “there exists a great spiritual hunger among religious liberals today.” To this I respond, It is as it should be! Great Souls! Great hungers! Great visions! Great Dreams! Mister Eckhart states, “that God is delighted to see how our souls can be enlarged by a heartfelt participation in life.]”
Your denomination is famous for its impressive record in civil rights, feminism, justice issues…
And for your respect for the mind and for science. But what you are undergoing today is something that all of us trained in Newtonian universe are undergoing, and that is the quest for a living mysticism-
[A way of affirmation and practice that supports] the struggle for justice, because we cannot sustain justice without an imaginative mysticism.
Every religious tradition needs to take a harder look at Origins. There is no question that endemic to the mystery and the gift of the Universalist and Unitarian tradition is the wonderful mysticism of Thoreau and Emerson, which is creation-centered. Many of you have lost that root and that is one reason why
there is such a great spiritual hunger. Cosmology is the opposite of piecemeal thinking, which is the essence of the Newtonian universe. A cosmology where we open ourselves to the whole of human experience, the whole of life, where the universe itself is our shared home. Our task is to be co-creators of a place where every person wants to live and will thrive.
In this new view of the whole, cosmology, we are all equal members in the community of being; in the interdependence of all things….
The best work on mysticism today are being written by scientists. … Scientists, not monks, and certainly not most theologians! Today, mystics are coming out o the closet all over the world, and in every community, church or meeting house. They are artists and engineers, householders, parents, lawyers, doctors, and yes, even a priest or a minister or two!…
(among the naturalists we can claim are John Muir, Luther Burbank, Ansel Adams, and Rachel Carson…)
Carl Jung said that the mystic brings out what is creative to religion… But you will never get a full definition of mysticism or spirituality. Why? Because definitions are all left brain, and living creatively and celebrating the mystery is right brain- we are never going to define or control it! ( Emerson- We dare not fence the Spirit!)We need as much heart knowledge as we have head knowledge. We need experience awe, wonder, fascination, and inspiration, and teach these mysteries to our children so they will really know what life is about… Creation Spirituality, and our liberal religious appreciation for what it can teach us is something I highly recommend.
For me, and for the others who have embraced it as a theological guideline, It is simply about how we humans can grow our souls to realize the beauty of the earth, and how best to cooperate with our humanity, our creativity, our divinity, and experience the holiness of universe itself. AMEN. SO BE IT!
PS: One more definition- especially important for Unitarian with all your debates you have between the atheists and your theists, your humanists, and your mystics- panentheism is your answer. It cuts away all those 19th century world views and distinctions. You can discard both atheism and theism! Panentheism is the mystical teaching that we are all in God, and all that is God, all that is good, can be found in us.]”
In truth, there can be no complete approach to God, humanity, or the planet unless all the approaches to human interaction, and understanding our place in that universe must include spirituality and ethics, mysticism and justice.
On his faculty of his Institute, you will find, Indigenous and Native Shamans and Aboriginals, Celtic Pagans, different kinds of Buddhists and Sufis, physical and social scientists, artists, dream weavers, and other assorted seekers and witness bearers that affirm that the time has come to change the way we look at religion, the planet, and ourselves.