I wasn't sure what to think as Episcopalian Priest Matthew Fox began giving instructions for the grieving ritual part of the Cosmic Mass event I had come to experience.
Two hundred or so of us sat in a circle around him listening intently as he talked about the importance of expressing grief and how few and far between the opportunities to do so, in a sacred space, are in today's world.
"Our species has a lot to grieve about," he told our congregation of participants who were still glistening with sweat after the 18-minute dance of joy we had just completed. "If we don't grieve, our creativity gets blocked. When we do grieve, it's like melting a big boulder in our hearts and the creativity is free to flow again."
This was my first Cosmic Mass, despite having served as Matthew's book publicist at New World Library for several years. I knew I needed to experience it for myself when the subject came up during this video interview I did with him in conjunction with the release of his recent book Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times.
Fox not only was a Catholic Priest in good standing for 25-years, he was also the most widely read theologian in North America at the time. However, he was expelled from the Dominican order in 1993 because of the forward thinking views he espoused on things like gay rights, the divine feminine, and nature based spirituality.
At that time, he joined the Episcopalian Church and dedicated his life to reinventing the way we worship. "They have us praying from the neck up . They have us reading books. Getting the text right. Getting the musical note right," says Fox. "Eyes on a page are not really the way to open the heart up."
Fox believes it is essential that we incorporate the body into the practice of prayer and worship. The Cosmic Mass incorporates dancing and chanting, as well the grieving practice we were about to do.
Fox encouraged each of us to pick something specific to grieve during the ritual, whether from the world at large like global warming, police brutality, or violence in our schools, or from our individual lives like a challenging experience, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one.
Before he described the posture of humility we were about to assume, Fox explained that anger or sadness could come up since both are stages of grief. He guided us to get down on our hands and knees with our forehead on the ground while paying attention to our gut, which is where grief lives in the body. He encouraged us to let out whatever sound came up as we did this, and told us to stay focused on our own sound first before gradually bringing the sounds of those around us into our awareness.
I went for it completely. A deep guttural growl came from deep within my being as I got in touch with the frustration I'd been feeling around a situation in my personal life. As that frustration morphed into anger, I allowed myself to howl and scream. It was incredibly cathartic and before I knew it, tears were streaming down my cheeks, creating a small puddle on the floor in front of me.
Wails, whimpers, and screams filled the large hall for several minutes, until Matthew asked us to very gently sit up and to start toning together. Our voices united in the most soothing, healing sound of harmony. As it filled my entire being, I felt the the intensity of my emotion gradually subside.
The experience cracked my heart wide open. So much so that I was holding back tears as the toning part of the mass ended. At that point, Fox and one of his co-leaders explained how we were to walk around the room with a hand on our heart offering the greeting, "May peace be with you" to those we encountered along the way. This offered a warm and supportive transition from the personal experience of the grieving ritual back out to the congregation at large.
The rest of service, which included communion, featured speakers, musical performances, and a final round of ecstatic dance was also quite revolutionary compared to any other other church service I've experienced. But it is the grieving ritual, by far, that most profoundly impacted me personally. So much so that I felt compelled to sit down to capture the experience in writing the very next day, which I find particularly interesting since Fox talks so much about how grieving inspires creativity.
"If we don't grieve our creativity gets blocked and nothing gets done," says Fox. "We wallow in our pain. We can get hooked on victimhood, self-pity, and projection. We are not empowered to do something with our lives, passions, and energy. We can turn our creativity against ourselves in the form of self-pity, depression, and more. Unleashing pent-up grief unleashes creativity. Without it we are not fully present to life and its challenges; we lack authentic warrior energy."
What about you? What do you need to grieve? And what creative pathways might open up if you allowed yourself to go there? I encourage you to be gentle with yourself as you explore your answers to those questions and then find safe ways to express and release the anger and sadness that could very well be standing between you and your highest aspirations.
I also can't recommend The Cosmic Mass experience highly enough. Be sure to check out The Cosmic Mass website for the latest information on their regular gatherings in Oakland, CA, as well as Cosmic Masses occasionally offered in other parts of the world. You can also visit Matthew Fox online at www.matthewfox.org.