Big news, all you Wisdom Seekers. Thanks to the incredible persistence and deft touch of Wisdom student Joshua Tysinger, the priceless collection of unpublished writings by Beatrice Bruteau has come to live at Emory University—alongside comparably priceless collections by such luminaries as Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is an amazing coup, and a blessing for us all.
Beatrice Bruteau—scholar, nondual Christian teacher, and interspiritual pioneer par excellence—died in November 2014 at the age of 84. Many of you already know of the extraordinary spiritual friendship that developed between Josh, at the time a first-year student at Wake Forest Seminary, and Beatrice, living out her final days behind a thickening veil of dementia. Partly caregiver, partly spiritual son, Josh sensitively helped her navigate the horizontal axis while in return she conferred on him the full luminosity of her spiritual being and wisdom. Josh recounts this remarkable journey in his essay on Beatrice in Personal Transformation and a new Creation (Orbis, 2016). If you haven’t read it yet, don’t miss it!
And yes, I put Josh onto the assignment of keeping an eye on the voluminous archive that Beatrice had left behind her (she and Jim had no children, seeing if he could get it into safekeeping in an archive worthy of her brilliance and influence.
And that mission has now been brilliantly accomplished…but not without the inevitable touching human element. thanks. Thanks, Josh, for all you have done for Wisdom. And over to you for the backstory—
Through a series of fortunate and serendipitous events, the Special Collection of Beatrice Bruteau came into my possession earlier this year. This acquisition would never have occurred if it were not for the incredible insistence of my mentor Cynthia Bourgeault who guided my formative steps and movements. First noticing the collection while visiting the Bruteau residence in May 2014, Cynthia charged me with the task of collaborating with friends and family to have it archived in a major academic setting. The burden of responsibility fell upon my shoulders to preserve thirteen binders filled with fifty pages each of uncirculated articles, documents and manuscripts. This was not without its fair share of obstacles and resistance, for Beatrice and Jim had become quite attached to her collection over numerous years and who was I to pawn off their belongings to an impersonal institution?
Although I realized the utter importance of preserving Beatrice’s works for public consumption, I also had to tread a very fine line in securing them. It never crossed my mind that these were ever fully in my possession. As a matter of fact, I attempted to collaborate with Beatrice and her husband Jim to get them housed at an array of potential settings. The universities on my list ranged from Wake Forest University (where they would inevitably have gotten lost in the Baptist Heritage section) to Fordham University (which currently harbors part of her collection), to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. After discussing the situation with Beatrice’s goddaughter Carla and hearing Cynthia’s input, we collectively determined that Emory was the right fit. At the time, Emory University had just acquired the Thomas Keating collection. Highlighting Beatrice’s works alongside other interspiritual luminaries such as Thomas Merton, the Dalai Llama, and Thomas Keating seemed like an ideal situation. For as legendary as Beatrice is in the realm of contemplative studies, her literature only attracted a modest following; therefore having them placed aside such literary giants would only increase her exposure. Excited as I was to present this option to Beatrice and Jim, what I did not account for was the amount of resistance to my proposal that Beatrice would demonstrate.
Day after day I corresponded with representatives from Emory University, seeking to make sure that we had chosen the right selection. I collected information, heard their offers, and showed the transfer of documents paperwork to Beatrice and Jim. They wanted to ensure that Beatrice’s works were well looked after, managed and used for advancement of her body of prestigious works. Ever the man of reason, Jim acknowledged the immediate importance of having Beatrice’s works catalogued and archived. He was my best representative in making the case to Beatrice, even when she could not digest its merit. On one occasion while sitting with them in the living room of their apartment, Beatrice, who was at the time in the throes of dementia, became confused by the practicalities of our dialogue. It became increasingly apparent that the logistics of the transfer were too much for her to bear. Engaging in a round dance of circular conversation for over an hour, Beatrice suddenly turned to me and asked if I were a representative from Fordham – in this situation, she had forgotten who I was. From her perspective, someone had sent me into her house as a Trojan horse to confiscate her belongings on behalf of a library. I instantly regretted the mess that I found myself in and questioned whether or not it was better to let the proposal drop. Increasingly agitated, Beatrice pressed on about the issue of my “true identity” and badgered me until I could no longer stomach lingering around. Because Beatrice and Jim had ties to Fordham University, where Jim had taught philosophy, I immediately quipped back, “The only representatives from Fordham that I see are sitting in this living room!” It was the only time I ever challenged Beatrice over an interpersonal dispute and she sat for an instant staring into space, looking as miffed as ever. That day, I walked out of their apartment wondering if I would ever return; yet I felt resolve in my heart not to let the matter of her collection serve as a wedge between the wonderful relationship we had cultivated.
From there on out, I never brought Emory University back into the equation. It was only when I met with Jim and Beatrice’s power of attorney one year later – after Beatrice had passed – that I was informed that Jim was willing her documents to me. To my surprise, Jim had remembered our exchanges approximately one year prior and felt comfortable enough to entrust them to my care. Vaughn John, the power of attorney, instructed me to wait till after Jim’s passing before retrieving the collection. At that time, the binders were one final reminder of his beloved and a source of consolation during his bouts with loneliness.
Jim died earlier this year two days shy of his 101st birthday, and I have since reflected deeply on the immensity of the gift that they have given me. It has been in large part a stroke of fate being involved with this transfer of documents and preserving them for new generations of Beatrice Bruteau enthusiasts. Her life and legacy will now be displayed at Emory University for any pilgrim with enough time and energy to mine through her impressive collection. And after two years of working on this project, I now close a marvelous chapter that has given so much to me. I hope it will with you, too.