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Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh by Matthew Fox

Fox, a Christian theologian, has issued one of the most lucid treatments of the chakra system to date.

By Phil Catalfo

Just about anyone who has studied yoga or Indic philosophy more than a little has encountered the concept of the chakra system, which holds that human energies—physical, emotional, and spiritual—are channeled through seven distinct "centers." Located around the body, these centers become focal points for different levels of awareness. A "blockage" in one or another chakra means an emotional or energetic dysfunction, while full functioning of the chakras makes for vitality and expanded consciousness.

Understanding and working with the chakras has been practiced in the East for many centuries, but the system has only become widely known in the West in recent decades, with the increasing popularity of Eastern religions and related disciplines such as yoga. Many Westerners have found the idea greatly appealing, but although there is a great body of literature on the subject, there are still relatively few clear, authoritative texts written for Western readers which do not require a sophisticated prior knowledge of Eastern philosophy or scriptures.

Now, one of the most lucid treatments of the chakra system issued to date has been authored by a Christian theologian: Matthew Fox, noted author of 20 previous books including Original Blessing (Bear & Co., 1996) and The Reinvention of Work (HarperSanFrancisco, 1995). Fox does not set out to explain the chakras so much as to draw our attention to their metaphorical import, in the context of a larger discussion.

In Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Lessons for Transforming Evil in Soul and Society (Harmony), Fox examines the different aspects of being represented by the succession of chakras, in hopes of reversing the dissociation from our physical and spiritual inheritance which has characterized the post-industrial age. We see the results of that alienation in the dissolution of our bodies and the devastation of the natural world we inhabit. These are not only "sins" committed against ourselves; they are also, Fox argues, transgressions against creation.

Readers whose spiritual perspectives are primarily grounded outside the Judeo-Christian tradition might recoil at first from Fox's use of the word "sin" to describe the calamitous consequences of "misdirected" chakras. But he uses the term quite purposefully, and in its original sense: to err, to be "off the mark," to go astray. Fox notes that our situation, "with despair and potential violence among the young, with the growing gap between haves and have-nots...presents us with a need to reexamine our understanding of sin and ways of liberation from it." And, he writes, "We must talk about sin again because while our news is filled with it, we would be fools to let newscasters and journalists be our surrogate theologians; because the earth is dying due to human transgressions; because our hearts are sad and we are without energy; and because elders have a responsibility to show the young where boundaries lie."

The genius of Fox's framing his treatise this way becomes clear in the latter chapters. After devoting the first four chapters to "redeeming" the word "flesh," and a fifth chapter to detailing the seven chakras ("Further Blessings of Our Human Flesh"), he adds two chapters on "The Evolution of Sin and Its Meanings." The last seven chapters comprise a tour de force correlating "The Seven Chakras and the Seven Capital Sins." For example, Fox delineates "misdirected love" in the first (or "root") chakra (located in the perineum) as "acedia"—"a kind of ennui," listlessness, "couch-potato-itis." Acedia "invites a cosmic loneliness," Fox writes, adding, "Grief is the price we are paying for ignoring the first chakra." By way of healing ourselves in the first chakra, Fox proffers the sacrament of baptism, which "uses the symbol of beginnings—water—for its work of empowerment." Clearly, says Fox, "the sacrament of baptism corresponds to the first chakra, which is also a chakra of beginnings, the taking-in of all the wonders of the world....As water wakes us up in the morning, so the first chakra is the release of energy that wakes us up, inspires us, gets us moving."

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