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New World Library Unshelved

New World Library Unshelved

Positive news and inspiring views from the New World Library community

Thursday, February 13, 2014
MATTHEW FOX’S COSMIC MASS by New World Library Office Manager Jennifer Listug

“We want the entrance to feel like outer space,” the ardent event coordinator, Rose Elizando, told us. “You know, like you’re walking through the cosmos.” It was a Sunday afternoon in Oakland, California, and the black-walled, high-ceilinged nightclub around us was about to be transformed, visually and energetically, into a sanctuary. Pointing around the hall, Rose continued: “The altars will be in the four corners. Positiva, Negativa, the flower mandala for Creativa over there, and then finally the Transformativa altar with the black lights and glow-in-the-dark paint.” Clearly, the Cosmic Mass wouldn’t be like any church service I’d ever seen.

New World Library author Matthew Fox created the Cosmic Mass in 1996 as a way to “reinvent worship.” The event falls somewhere between an interfaith worship service and a rave, and in fact its purpose is to bring together elements of both, using ritual and dance to reawaken joy, transform grief, spark creativity, and support compassionate action. Sunday, December 1, 2013, marked the first Cosmic Mass in five years, and I volunteered to help, along with New World Library Assistant Editor Jonathan Wichmann and a team from all over the country.

Fox is a former priest of the Roman Catholic Dominican Order who was expelled in 1993 for diverging from traditional Catholic teachings. Three years later he founded the University of Creation Spirituality in Oakland, whose curriculum integrated studies in art, science, and spirituality. The Cosmic Mass embodies Fox’s diverse religious and spiritual background.

I have been to only one traditional Catholic Mass, but the memory stays with me. In each part of the Cosmic Mass, elements of the ancient ritual are present, but transformed with a distinctly postmodern universality. There was no choir but a DJ. The walls of our makeshift sanctuary were adorned not with stained-glass images of angels but with a loop of video montages picturing beautiful colors, shapes, and patterns. We didn’t stand and sit in rows, facing in one direction while following the leaders; instead, we turned to the center of the room, where the presenters stepped up on a small platform, so we faced not only the leaders but one another.

The theme of this Mass was “Celebrating the Body,” and each of the four corners of the room held an altar honoring one of Fox’s four paths of Creation Spirituality: Via Positiva, Via Negativa, Via Creativa, and Via Transformativa. The altar representing the Creativa featured a beautiful fresh-flower mandala, which was added to throughout the evening, while the Transformativa’s had an interactive display under a black light where people could write healing messages to their bodies.

There was, as in most of the worship services I’ve attended, a time for sitting, for standing, for music, for speaking, chanting, and praying. But each element was drawn from a different faith and different tradition, incorporating rituals as ancient as readings from the Torah and as modern as slam poetry. A Hopi poem honoring the four directions was read as an opening prayer. The repenting of our sins was transformed into a healing ritual of vocal grieving of our shadow sides and past hurts. There was even a communion ceremony: Fox read an alternative version of the Lord’s Prayer, and then the attendants honored and consumed bread and wine as a representation of the uniting of all beings through the sacred act of eating and drinking. Other highlights included Native American drumming and a meditation led by author Joanna Macy.

And there was, of course, dancing. The Cosmic Mass celebrates the inseparable connection between Spirit, Breath, and Dance. Though the theme and specific rituals of each Cosmic Mass vary, every Mass begins with an eighteen-minute dance in which the attendants are encouraged to feel the pure delight and energy of moving the body to rhythm and music. The second dance, which closes the evening, empowers the dancers to leave the Cosmic Mass and reenter the world as spiritual warriors with the strength and energy to transform society where transformation is needed. In this space, dance becomes synonymous with prayer, with worship, with joy.

The eclectic structure of the Mass was mirrored in the attendants. Men and women of a wide variety of ages and ethnicities came together to pray, meditate, eat, drink, dance, and share a meaningful evening.

But for what purpose? What are those who come to the Cosmic Mass seeking? I suppose I can only speak for myself here. I began the day thinking I would volunteer at what seemed like an interesting event, meet some interesting people, and get my good Samaritan points for the week. I left the Mass feeling uplifted, open, and awake to new aspects of myself — things that had been quietly hiding under to-do lists, responsibilities, and socially acceptable behavior. So rarely are we encouraged to express ourselves physically, vocally, and truly authentically. By drawing on ancient and modern forms of worship, the Cosmic Mass creates a welcoming space for self-discovery, renewal of mind, and of course celebration.

As Fox writes in The Hidden Spirituality of Men:

“We are badly in need of rituals that awaken the joy latent in all of us and get it moving again. . . . In developing the Cosmic Mass ritual . . . I have become convinced that today’s consciousness and technology can assist us greatly in bringing joy alive. And with joy come the energy and strength to carry compassion into action. Good ritual carries good myths into the hearts, cells, and bodies of the community, and from there into action.”

Intrigued? The next Cosmic Mass will be held on February 16 at American Steel Studios in Oakland, California. You can find more information at For more about Matthew Fox’s reinvention of Christianity and spirituality, check out his books The Hidden Spirituality of Men, Christian Mystics, and the upcoming Meister Eckhart, available in July.


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