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A Way to God, by Matthew Fox.

July 4, 2016

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality, by Matthew Fox. New World Library (2016), 320 pages.

3 stars

A contemporary spiritual author writes about a man who was critical in expanding our understanding of spirituality in the late twentieth century.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk who played a key role in opening up spirituality for many of us in the era of Vatican II and the activist movements of the late twentieth century.  Merton never rejected his monasticism or Roman Catholicism.  Instead he expanded it with his deep thought and spiritual practice.  Moving away from a spirituality that downgraded the human and created worlds, he found solace in solitude, nature, and art.  He refused to separate spiritual life from working for justice. His writing is compelling and often reveals his respect and admiration for Buddhism.  In the 1960s, his spirituality reached out to as we some of us rejected the hide-bound religions of our childhoods.

Matthew Fox (1940-    ) came of age just as Merton was beginning his writing.  Fox also entered the priesthood and followed Merton’s advice to study at an innovative seminary in France.  He continued to read and follow Merton’s teachings but eventually left the Roman Catholic Church and began his own career as a theologian and guide for those seeking spirituality beyond that traditionally presented by mainstream churches. His writings and recordings are available through Sounds True and are widely popular among Christians and those who have rejected traditional denominations but still value spirituality.

The aspect of Merton’s thought that interests Fox most is what he calls Creation Spirituality, a religious practice that moved away from an emphasis of sin and redemption and the rejection of the material world.  Instead both Merton and Fox stress the beauty and joy of the natural and created world. They posit that humans have the potential to reach beyond themselves and be creators, absorbing themselves in artistic creation and in the activist’s struggle for justice.

I found Fox’s introduction to Merton’s spirituality useful.  For me, abundant quotes from Merton were the most valuable part of the book.  At times, however, Fox seemed to be using Merton as evidence for the validity of his own writings.  Because I had little real knowledge of either man, I found it difficult to see if or how Fox deviated from Merton.

While  I was grateful for this introduction to Thomas Merton, I found that Fox kept getting in the way.  I often felt he was advertising his own abundant writings rather than focusing on Merton.  Now I simply want to read more pure Merton.

Thanks to Edelweiss and New world Libraries for sending me a pre-publication copy of this book to review.

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