Many of you will have heard of Matthew Fox, the Roman Catholic Dominican priest who was shown the door for his rather revolutionary theological views. He, of course, found his way to The Episcopal Church, and is now a priest of the Diocese of California. He continues to explore the frontiers of Christian theology, and in doing so, often seems to go far afield of what is considered “normal” by our tradition. He excels, in my mind, at doing what theologians really ought to do first and foremost: get people to think.
Recently, he got me thinking about education and formation, through a book that was published in 2006 called “The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human”. A.W.E. stands for Ancestral Wisdom Education, and Fox intends his book to be a call to supplement the rational “three R’s” of traditional education with an even more traditional education, a kind of formation with ancient roots: an education or formation in wisdom. The idea, it seems to me, is that for human beings to be whole, we must become practiced at different ways of knowing. Our culture tends to value knowledge acquired through the sciences, and while that knowledge is certainly important, the kind of knowledge which falls under the category of wisdom is also important. Wisdom is rooted in the collective human experience over the ages, the kind of knowledge which the world’s spiritual traditions are adept at preserving and handing down (though, it must be admitted, these traditions are also good at obscuring that wisdom from time to time). The world’s spiritual traditions hand down that wisdom in a variety of ways, not only through texts and teaching, but also through ritual and practice.
In exploring the idea of wisdom education, Fox distills what he calls “The 10 C’s” which he believes should be a part of a fuller program of human formation:
- cosmology (or creation)
- creativity (or co-creation)
- critical consciousness and judgment
- ceremony and celebration
- character development
There isn’t space in this blog to go into all of these 10 C’s — although one of the most intriguing of them to me is chaos. I suppose I am intrigued by it because we seem to live in a cultural context that dislikes chaos, and craves order. Yet, as Fox points out, chaos is part of the human experience, and can often be a fruitful time. He quotes a midwife who describes childbirth as one of the most chaotic of human events, and yet, the end result is new life. Chaos is the womb out of which galaxies and stars come forth. And chaos in our own lives can give birth to new beginnings and new directions. The wisdom of our spiritual traditions, including the Christian tradition, helps us embrace the chaotic parts of our lives and ourselves in creative, dynamic and transformative ways.
Considering all that Fox has to say, it strikes me that we so often think of our religious traditions as authorities that tell us what life is about and demand our allegiance to their doctrinal truths. But I think that what these traditions are really about (in part) is preserving and passing on the wisdom of the ages. If we are to live our lives meaningfully, if we are to develop a sense of wholeness within ourselves and our world, we need to discover this wisdom. I wonder how our experience of religion would change if we saw our faith communities as wisdom communities, perhaps the only places in our society that provide a space to develop the intuitive, non-rational aspects of our being, and that preserve for us the fruits of human contemplation and experience over many centuries. If we valued this kind of formation, then not only would we know how to do things, but then perhaps we would have the wisdom to know how best to do them or whether to do them at all.