In the middle of winter I discovered in myself an invincible summer.
~ Albert Camus
This quote is the epigraph for “Dying Before You Die,” the fourth chapter of Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God, by Cynthia Bourgeault. I like to sit with these words that were chosen for this page, allow them to go inside. It’s personal; brings us right into the heart of our own experience. For me, it brings up a flood of warmth and gratitude for the hard stuff. When all is stripped to the very bones, when nothing is left—Merton says—when everything is taken away:
…to that point of final destruction, and the last little bit that’s left before destruction, a little kernel of gold which is the essence of you—and there is God protecting it…
Merton says that we know this: that we will be ok, looked after. That this knowing is “built into that particular little grain of gold,” and that when we are brought to our knees, when all is lost, something in us finds that we have a magnetic center that will always be, that connects to the Source and that from that “everything comes.” Powerful. No wonder the word “wellspring” comes up a lot in this little gem of a book.
The real freedom is the freedom to be able to come and go from that center, and to be able to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center. Because when you die, that is all that is left…everything is destroyed except this one thing, which is our reality and which is the reality God preserves forever. (pg 70-71)
How do we come near the gold nugget within, surrender to the wellsprings of the innermost ground? How do we begin to touch this center of ourselves which is not simply our own? Throughout the writing Cynthia uses examples—stirring, helpful, beautifully connected by her agile words—that ease forth realities of life, speak to our relationships with our own humanness and one another, with the earth, with the body of Christ. They remind us that what is alive within the whole of things never dies and we are part of that. We forget, but we are always only a heartbeat away.
I find great beauty in our human journey. I find joy in the pain, I find something sustaining, life giving, in the trials and sorrows. I do not always remember this, but somewhere inside I know it, the heart of me knows it: that this earthly life is a path that is allowing, forging, sculpting a greater beingness that is the connective tissue to all and everything. If we are lucky we find our way there, step by step. To what is, as Merton says, our reality.
We can die before we die? Become a person who can “do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center?” I am circling that question a lot lately. The learning has been unfolding over decades; it is whether or not it becomes a way of life. In these times, is it in fact necessary—for the whole—for at least some of us to make that choice, work in that direction? Lately I am drawn fiercely to a central interiority, one that is not isolated, or insulated. It is a sun inside that is calling, that radiates outward, something that wants me to join with it.
This draw to interiority is demanding; says: connect to the point within. It says: stop and do the work. Surrender, pray, practice spiritual exercise, listen, walk. Connect to ground, to earth, to creation, to our human family. Touch the presence inside that grows being substantially. Stand in I Am where I am, undeniably here, now. Listen from that solid footing. Give. Serve.
This is the directive. Whether or not I can do it is another thing. The call keeps coming. The how says: take the step, act on what is received. Let go of anything not immediately connected to center. See where center is lost, far away. Let go. Open to learn. Gather, collect. Listen. Notice where, what, is holding on. Relax, release—more. Soften. Act. Ask for help. Repeat.
Cynthia says in Chapter Four that we must “yield ourselves all the way into” the ground of hope (pg 59). What is there to discover in the yielding? If I stay with the sensation of hope, if I strip away the surface hope, its connection to outcome, to things being a certain way, take away the judgment, and lean into it, yes. There is a relief there. A little burning coal of trust glows. Yield into the hope and let go of every last bit of it that is not connected to the little nugget of gold within. What remains? Is revealed? What is the felt-sense of hope that is free from agenda? This feels like a practice; one that could forge a new relationship with hope. An essence of hope practice.
Leaning into the hope I notice a spark inside, a glimmer of aliveness, a sense of my human capacity to bear, and trust I will be borne. All of it is borne. It is also mysteriously alive in the surrounds, filling space. It is loving. I notice that vibrational presence when my attention hones. An unfettered, simple, pure hope grows up and moves forth. I sense and feel more. Do you have this experience with sensation practice, with feeling practice? That you begin to sense, and feel, more? A fullness—I almost don’t know what to do with it—that grounds me in a great pattern that is in and through all. Grateful.
This generative spark of aliveness can only be sensed without the soft muffling cushion of my defenses and identities. I come to it stripping down. Entering into territory beyond judgment and emotion; the place where all time, all space, is held. It is as a tree is or a stone, infused with an energetic movement of beingness, of What Is-ness. Force of Spirit. Part of the whole. In this trust, in this moment, I accept what is, inner and outer without divide. Nothing stands alone. Can I see the whole that this moment nests with? Sense within it a larger embrace?
There is a doorway within us to the place in the heart that knows. We each find it in our own way; or it finds us. A place within that knows, not in thought but by way of a matrix, or web, of being; knows that there is, as Cynthia likes to say, no falling out of God. Jesus sits at the heart of the earth, at the root of it all, with all that is broken, all that is in pain, all that sings joy. Sits with it, with open eyes, full of love. All, Cynthia says, is “already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled” (pg. 64). The incarnational fulfillment mystery of Christianity, offered to us as gift, as Boros intimates, lining the way for us.
Something knows that in the underbelly of our lives, God moves, and, even further, that “a piece of God’s purposiveness coursing like sap though our own being…will lead us (pg. 87).” The archaic meaning of hope is trust—an experience. Putting trust at the root of hope frees it to be more than we imagine, more than what we hold on to. It lets us in the door, gives us the key to a deeper reality where we actually enter into a substance of hope, into an energetic field, a unitive “electromagnetic field of love” as Helminski says.
Hope is a light-force which radiates objectively…
hope is what moves and directs spiritual evolution in the world.
~ Valentin Tomberg
A process unfolds in these chapters, that begins with dying before you die and ends with a living hope, that, as Tomberg says in the epigraph to Chapter Five, moves and directs us into the future. It carries us in mercy. May we surrender, find our feet, re-enter and listen—awake—to be led into the future alone and together as “living members in the body of Christ” which “holds us tenderly in the belonging (pg. 98-99).”
Cynthia relates a story about Rafe knowing that “the work of prayer is ultimately communal…that the principle job of a hermit is to ‘help maintain the spiritual ozone level of the planet (pg. 84).'” He had no doubt. As we shed and learn to do without anything that is not connected to the center, practicing in both our inner and outer lives, we move closer to being teachable, to being carved anew by hope. Twenty years ago, Cynthia said:
If we really wish to change the planet, to become a sign of hope in a broken world, all we really need to do (and it is one simple thing, but it is everything) is to narrow the gap between means and ends: between the gospel we profess and the gospel we live out, moment to moment, in the quality of our aliveness…No unified, consistent energy generated by closing the gap between means and ends ever fails to change the world…
Hope is not imaginary or illusory. It is that sonar by which the body of Christ holds together and finds its way (pg. 94, pg. 98).
May we open to the guidance of the sensation of hope within us. May we learn to listen and act on what we receive, be present to one another and to creation in the wholeness. May we begin to walk alongside one another. May we move closer to an integrity that changes the world, one step at a time. May we feel our belonging in the fullness of time where all is held in the mercy. May we learn to coincide with and move with the sonar of mystical hope.
A Note, and an offering, from Northeast Wisdom/Wisdom Waypoints:
Please stay tuned for a possible post-Wisdom Book Practice Circle reflection to come, from our beloved facilitator Susan Cooper. And check out the audio files offered below:
Mystical Hope Chapter 1
Mystical Hope Chapter 2
Mystical Hope Chapter 3
Mystical Hope Chapter 4
Mystical Hope Chapter 5
These audio recordings of the entire book are offered to you, our Wisdom Community, with love and a prayer for stabilitas in the midst of all!
A GIFT from the Mystical Hope Wisdom Book Practice Circle facilitator team of Heather Vesey, Eilen DeVerteuil, Jeanine Siler Jones, Heather Ruce, Susan Latimer, Elizabeth Combs, Nan Delach, Susan Cooper, and Marcella Kraybill-Greggo…
…with a SPECIAL shout out to Eilen DeVerteuil who had the technical talent to pull this all together so beautifully.
ENJOY! Listen for a special TREAT at the end of chapter 5…
Image credits from the top: Dahlia, image courtesy of Leanna Cushman, Unsplash; Enko-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan image courtesy of Fabrizio Chiagano, Unsplash; Shell, image courtesy of Abishek, Unsplash; Feet, image courtesy of terimakasih0/978 immagini, pixabay
Laura is a member of the Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints Council and is the Community Program Coordination and Publishing staff person. She and Kerstin Lipke co-founded Incarnating Wisdom, leading Wisdom Practice Circles and retreats at Hallelujah Farm from 2014 – 2019 that were dedicated to an embodied, practical Wisdom that is awake and alive in our daily lives. She is grateful for Cynthia’s lineage and the Wisdom community, where a true sharing of embodied practice, hearts and minds creates a living body of spiritual exploration that continues to welcome, grow and mature in untold ways. And grateful too for the course of life unfolding, bearing with it all the surprise elements, both joyful and painful, that have become her teachers over the years. Her prayer today: May I become ever more aware of all that has been given and the cost of my arising, and God help me to give back with love.