Ask Cynthia

Have you ever wished you could ask Cynthia for more information, or for clarification about something you read or heard? Here’s your chance.

My journey into evolutionary Christianity and centering prayer has felt like a prolonged version of Neo’s (The Matrix, 1st movie) departure from the matrix and into the Realm of the Real. The last few months have been quite intense. Like a faulty fluorescent light, sometimes the contrasting difference between these two perceptions of reality (asleep and awake) can be so vivid it feels like some kind of heavy inner vertigo, or having a rug pulled out from under me. As there is nobody to whom I can talk about these things at this point in time, would you be able to perhaps touch on what to expect, as in is there some sort of map from those who have gone before and/or people with similar experiences I can read about?

kind regards,
Craig

Hi Craig,

One of my esteemed spiritual teachers, the Abkhazian elder Murat Yagan, once commented that spiritual practice is mostly about “strengthening the nervous system.” And I’d add, balancing it. There is a natural tendency, particularly when the awakening experience is new and raw, to lean into it with your emotional center (the heart and nervous system), vastly magnifying its intensity, but also frying yourself a bit. This is what the Sufi’s call “moth-to-the-flame.” While it makes for a vivid spiritual life, it also runs you a bit ragged. It’s important for various reasons to keep practice steady and integrated. A regular meditation practice, some good body prayer (such as the kind Allen Borque offers regularly through our New England Wisdom network), daily work, reduction of story and inner self-absorption, and a good strong yang requirement in your face (job or responsibility to fulfill, aging parent with dementia to tend, woodpile to split and stack) will help the higher voltage intensity of spiritual experience to flow smoothly through your system and find its natural pathway to the ground rather than getting bottled up in your emotions.

I could put you onto all sorts of spiritual autobiographies, beginning with St. Augustine, but I rather fear that the same inner preoccupation that drives people to write narratives about their spiritual experience also virtually guarantees a somewhat distorted and overwrought account. So I’d just say, “go gently, and remember that every experience is ‘normal’ for God.” Err on the side of gentle and enfolding rather than dramatic and polarizing. It really IS all one, the ordinary and the profound, the awake and the asleep—but only when the heart can see it. And while the emotions may have their heyday, the heart shuts down with too much drama.

All best,

 

Dear Cynthia,
I recently enjoyed listening to the interview with you on “Buddha by the Gas Pump,” but you said one thing that keeps coming back to me. In response to the question whether spiritual practices prepares one for receiving God into one’s heart, you said yes and no. Of course, the yes answer seems self-explanatory, but you were keen on emphasizing the no. You explained that doing spiritual practice is more of the fruit of oneness rather than the cause of it. The concern with the “yes” response, you went on to say, is that spiritual practice quickly devolves into a scarcity model in which only the “most spiritual” receive divine visitations, which is back to the “ladder” concept of spiritual growth. I know that I often think of spiritual practices in the former and teach my students this as the rationale: dampening the mind opens the body and heart intelligences to the vertical dimension of life. But yet there seems something true about your “fruit” statement that I don’t think I know how to explain, even if I have a sense for it. For instance, as I’m running off to class on an early morning, I find that there is a part of me that really wants to pause and do some Centering Prayer for a few minutes, and I don’t think it’s because it brings me so much peace, although it may be peaceful, and it’s not a scarcity model that I’m clawing my way to God; it’s more in the sense of greeting something familiar that brings joy. But it’s not really a conscious thing – it seems to bubble up from somewhere else oftentimes. So, while I have some intuition for this in my own life, I have no idea how to explain this to my students who are coming to spiritual practices to gain something rather than to celebrate some invisible ontological reality. Or perhaps that’s the point – as you grow into a practice, you come to understand the grace that propelled it all along. Despite my confusion, there seems something very light and spacious and effervescent about prayer as a fruit of the journey. ~ Marty

Hi Marty,

Sorry for my delay in responding to your question. It had the bad luck of arriving just when I was in the midst of a pretty intense teaching week in the UK.

But yes, I think the experience you share of feeling drawn to do Centering Prayer for the simple motivation of “greeting something familiar that brings joy” is exactly what I’m talking about here, that golden tipping point when practice seamlessly shifts in the direction of being a fruit of gratitude rather than a means to secure some desired spiritual good. And you may be right that the nuance is perhaps too subtle for beginners to pick up. At the beginning it may all have to look like goals, destinations, techniques because that’s how the mind at that level works; it needs constant reassurance in its illusory sense of control. But as the heart opens in the space which practice provides, the new seeing begins to unfold. I love Kabir Helminski’s description of the journey: “You see the majestic mountain peak in the distance, hop into your car, and charge off to conquer it. Halfway there, your car melts.” The car, of course, is your ego system, the only system you have online at the beginning. Once it melts, rivers can again be rivers and mountains mountains. But it’s a fair bet that for most people, ego perception is not going to melt on its own recognizance. Practice gets the ball rolling, even if the direction it’s rolling in ultimately proves to be illusory.

Blessings,

Our centering prayer group has been watching your dvd on the divine feminine and the divine masculine. You mentioned someone whose first name is Raymond who has proposed the idea that the Gospel of John may have had a prototext written by Mary Magdalene. Can you give me the author’s full name and the title of the book? ~ Suzanne

Ramon K Jusino: Mary Magdalene: Author of the Fourth Gospel? July 13, 1998. You can google his name and the information will come right up.

Blessings,

May I add my thanks to dozens of others’ for our last Wisdom School. A question which has excersized my mind for years (and which gets dismissed when I try to share it with others) is this: when Jesus was a child, many must have known that He was the unwitting “cause” of the massacre of the innocents. What might have been the psychological effect on Him? Do you know of anyone who has addressed this?

With love,

David

Hi David,
Thanks for your kind words. I think your question–like so many others speculating on the childhood and “lost years” of Jesus–is basically a wild goose chase because it starts with the assumption that the sketchy Biblical accounts we have of Jesus’ birth and childhood are historically true, according to standards of historicity in use today. They are in fact largely legendary, developed decades if not centuries after Jesus’ historical lifetime and in dialogue with the theological teachings already being promulgated about him. In point of fact, there were no records kept for peasants (which Jesus’ family were): no birth records (except for that occasional random census, yeah!), no school records, no track records. Nada. So his birth and childhood story we’re so familiar with today was reconstructed in a two-way dialogue between theological stipulations and historical cross-weavings. That doesn’t mean it’s not true; it’s simply not FACTUAL (or at least reliably so). These early stories we love so much are ICONS more than events: mirrors which allow us to peer deeply into the nature and cosmic significance of this Word-become-flesh. To push them into the historical or psychological realm, at least as we’re used to it, goes beyond the limits of the historical genre we’re dealing with, and pushes your own response into the realm of fanciful speculation. That’s good work, for sure, but you have to be aware of its limitations. So yes, Matthew has brilliantly connected a historical pogrom carried out by Herod against the young with some evidence (which certainly percolates through the esoteric tradition) that Jesus spent time in Egypt. IF Jesus had been old enough to recognize that he was the cause of the pogrom (a couple of big ifs), I suspect, he being who he was, that his response would not be so much to wallow in personal guilt as to “pay it forward”: by offering his own life as a reconciliation for the propensity for collective sinfulness so deeply stamped into the human heart. (Sound familiar?) I hope this is helpful.

Many blessings to you!

Dear Cynthia,

I will be attending your wisdom school at Casa de Maria in September. I was wondering if you would kindly suggest which of book of/on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s would serve as the best introduction. This will be my second wisdom school with you. Thank you.

Blessings,

Bob

Ursula King’s SPIRIT OF FIRE, followed by her excellent “Teilhard: Selected Writings” volume (Ornis Press) with its helpful introductions, will get you oriented. But don’t worry; the retreat is a Wisdom School, not a seminar. Better to prepare your heart with meditation and quiet presence than to overstimulate the brain. It’s my job to make Teilhard accessible, even to those with no prior reading experience.

All best,

 

During the Trinity retreat I think I heard you say Donald Trump was the third force.  I have been working with Law of Three to attune my view to discern the three forces. If Donald Trump is the third force, what is the first force and the second force? 

~ Martha                                                                                                   

First force: the liberal progressive establishment, symbolized in the Obama/Clinton lineage and the postmodern worldview with its elitist intellectual assumptions and liberal/politically correct social agenda. Second force: the conservative/populist, religious right, alt-right sector, smarting under the condescension of the entitled majority. What Donald Trump managed to do as third force was to coalesce this (unfelicitously dubbed) “basket of deplorables” into a veritable volcano, in the process reversing first and second force: a typical resolution in Law of Three new arisings. I used this example to reinforce my warning that third force is morally neutral; it should not be automatically equated with “grace” or “the holy spirit.” It is simply whatever breaks the impasse and establishes a new configuration.

Blessings,

Dear Cynthia,

In my Systematics Theology class in seminary, the professor has asked us to write on the following question, and I would love your take on this. The question is: “The Christian theological tradition has tended to view sin as a state or condition of corruption that subsists apart from and prior to any specific actions a person performs. Do you see merit to this conception of sin? If so, why? If not, why not?”

As a Christian Theologian, I am wondering what your thoughts are on sin? Where does kenosis fit into sin? Do acts of sin come from the ego? If we are able to empty our egos through kenosis through the practice of Centering Prayer, can we rid ourselves of sin that way? Or is our tendency to sin simply a given and a fact that we must live with? St. Julian of Norwich says, “Sin is necessary, but all shall be well, and all shall be well . . .” What are your thoughts about this, Cynthia? Thank you so much for your availability to us.

Lava

Wow, great questions, Lava: to be pondered deeply more than resolved and explained away.

A lot of the conundrum mitigates when you shift the lens of perception from the singular to the collective. Augustine’s challenging doctrine of Original Sin begins to make more sense when you re-envision it as a “web of woundedness.”  We are all born into this web whether we like it or not:  the errors of omission and commission enacted unwittingly by one generation set the conditions and terms for the next: (The old “abused ones tend to become themselves abusers.”) In her brilliant 1997 book GOD’S ECSTASY, Beatrice Bruteau points out how the very conditions that become the seedbed for exclusion, oppression, self-preservation, and even violence are clearly evident even at the cellular level and are the inevitable shadow side of the core evolutionary principle, symbiotic unity.

Thus, I would say that the general conditions conducive to the emergence of sin are part and parcel of the boundary conditions that make this universe what it is. Dame Julian is quite right here.

Now that being said, free choice remains as to the degree that one is going to surmount these conditions by becoming conscious of them and avoiding entrapment (and the only known route that works consistently here is kenosis, or non-identification.) The author of the Cloud of Unknowing claimed boldly that the “work of contemplation” (as he calls it) “destroys the root and  ground of sin” because it precisely contains that self-projective tendency of the mind, the proclivity toward grasping at our thought forms as if they were are reality. In a state of non-grasping —a.k.a., equanimity— it’s hard for those conditions of violence, fantasizing, fear, and judgment which are the active drivers of sin to get an initial foothold.

How does that set with you?

Blessings,

I have been reading your books for years and have been deeply comforted and guided in my inner life and trying to take your teachings into the world. I have been involved in social justice work for even longer than finding you.

Now I feel like we are living in epic times and have turned to Walter Bruggerman’s ideas about addressing empire. Also, reading Merton, soelle, Elul, Tillich, and others to guide me in my thinking, feelings and actions. My fellow activists are mainly atheist, one an admirer of Becker. Even my progressive ucc church is not able to address in any truly deep understanding of empire and the deep risks Christians must take, in my opinion, to understand and to form action plans that use ancient prophetic vision with Jesus teachings/purpose .

My activist friends are more overwhelmed and feeling like the world is on their shoulders and making short sighted and ineffective action plans. I am one of the only ones bringing liberation theology and the prophetic imagination of Brueggeman and others to the ‘table’.

I have been obsessively searching current and past theological studies to guide me in how to work for healing and on how to assist the world in transformation in these unimaginable times we are living in—world fascism, trump and all the criminal/mobster leaders in our world who are inflicting so much suffering in our world today and destroying god’s creation with their deeply psychopathic being.

I have just read The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three again in the hopes for guidance for my thinking and actions for raising consciousness and developing ‘action plans’ with others in the activist and Christian communities I am in contact with.

I was hoping that The Law of Three would help me in this regard but in my ignorance, I can’t discern it and maybe that is not the way you are intending it?

I live in Bellingham, WA and have wanted to visit your community in Victoria when we visit our friends there. Although I am now concerned about border crossings in the world of the dark forces behind Trump. These systemic forces that are ancient and so deeply entrenched as to seem impossible to get to let alone change it.

Is there help in The Law of Three or in any deep wisdom Chistianity for guiding me and to help me to help other ‘activists’ and to be in the service of God to help birth the kingdom of God on earth?

Thank you for all the work you do in bringing healing and hope into our world today!

With deep appreciation,

Marcia Leister M.Ed Adult Education
Literacy Instructor, ABE/GED.

Marcia,

There is indeed a lot of help out there, but it begins on the other side of the “contemplative practice” threshold. Even these fine resources you cite—Bruggerman and Liberation Theology—still  largely operate in the world of mental constructs. The real resolution you’re seeking (and accurately intuiting) requires the opening of the heart as an organ of spiritual perception, able to see and comprehend beyond the mental mechanism  (which inevitably divides a field in its effort to perceive it.)

 This heart modality, by the way, is not about AFFECTIVITY but about HOLOGRAPHIC PERCEPTION, which sees and feels beyond either/or, right/wrong, friends/enemies—and hence beyond judgment and beyond fear.

I’d say that your best starting place would be with the 20th century Quaker mystic Thomas Kelly. His classic A TESTAMENT OF DEVOTION explores this heart terrain, eloquently evoking the relationship between this Christic, heart-centered perceptivity and the capacity to move forward into the world in “holy obedience:” “speaking truth to power,” as the Quakers put it, but beyond violence and condemnation. It’s a great start.

My THE WISDOM JESUS and WISDOM WAY OF KNOWING also cover some of this same terrain, and they’re more accessible than the Law of Three, which really only begins to make sense once this other kind of perceptivity has kicked in.

And yes, do go visit those wonderful seekers in Victoria. But there’s also a lively cell of Wisdom folks  in Seattle and Bainbridge Island. The Rev. Patricia Robertson at St. Barnabas, Bainbridge, can help get you networked in with folks practicing right in your own backyard. And Linda Conroy has a lot of good work underway at her Stillpoint Center right on the outskirts of Bellingham.

Blessings!

Dear Cynthia,

Thank you for your unique way of including seekers in your teachings. It tells a lot about the core of the Work. I have been following your Lenten course about Gurdjieff and know the Work from earlier in my life. Due to a severe physical illness my opportunities in this world are pretty limited, but these limitations have in some ways become an opportunity in itself. I just wonder about «conscious suffering». I often take part in the masses in my local church. You see, Holy Communion means everything to me. I have tried to convince the priests to include silence and make changes in the liturgy. Some of them are listening, but in my country the laypeople decide the liturgy, which makes it even more conservative and self-sufficient, sorry to say. So when sitting there I work with my presence in body-and-mind, also because I often are in physical pain. This has become one of the main reasons for going to church. I try to radiate this presence and forget about my discontent with the sermons & all. But I am a little bit afraid that this «exercise» becomes a habit, but believe the challenges during this hour of liturgy are too many and the crowd too compact to allow me into sleep. What do you think, can Holy Mass be used as an exercise for conscious labor? Now and then I can sense that such presence makes a difference to the room, if you understand what I mean. I would be grateful for advice.

~ Freddy

This is profound and helpful work, Freddy, and I encourage you to keep going with it; on SOME bandwidth, it is surely making a difference. The important potential blindspot, of course, is “self-meritoriousness,” as Gurdjieff called it: the sense that you are better than these other folks. If you sense judgment creeping in, go back to the center of your own pain and simply offer it up in solidarity with the suffering of Christ, to help ease the collective pain body of humanity…and “our common Father.” Thanks for this good work!

I wonder if you’ve come across Sam Alibrando’s book: The 3 Dimensions of Emotion. After reading your guest posts for CAC this week on the law of 3, I thought there was interesting resonance. One extension could be that the 3rd force-creative and reconciling-is dynamic in that the context calls it forth for one prepared to respond (like a midwife): the energy used is likely objective in the inclusive sense of being true, but the energy can be quite different experientially and not always objective in the dispassionate sense (similar to Enneagram head/heart/body energies).

Thanks for your work! Look forward to reading your book.

~ Darryl

Hi Darryl,

I haven’t read the book, but this looks like a subtle and yes, highly resonant cross-pollination. Do dig in !

All blessings,

You speak of the physiological understanding and acceptance in our centering prayer practice, Cynthia. I am occasionally experiencing strong physical reactions in my sitting practice.  I sense that i should let them happen. Are emotions releasing? Other sitting practices, other than kundalini yoga, have said to stop the movements. What do you think?
Thank you in advance for your advice!

~ Sharman

No, Sharman, your assessment is right. Strong physical reactions are simply part of the “purification of the unconscious” that Fr. Thomas Keating talks about (or “strengthening the nervous system” as my dervish teacher Murat Yagan preferred to see it). Just let them be. If they happen too exuberantly in a time of group prayer, so that you’re in danger of distracting others, quietly remove yourself from the room and go on doing your CP just beyond the door.

The catch-22 in all spiritual work is that whatever you resist you inadvertently ENERGIZE, so the effort to restrain and cut off the physical expressions simply gives them more force. If you can NOT pay attention to them, simply allowing them to be, they will integrate and normalize more quickly, particularly if you spend time in your moving center walking, doing some bodily practice, or rhythmic exercise that grounds the energy.

Best blessings,

Cynthia,
I’m considering asking if there’s still room left in your next centering prayer retreat, March 24-29. I’m very attracted to silence, although my mind is very noisy. I have some experience in silent prayer; in fact it has been the center of my life at certain points, though I am by no means proficient. I continue to be a beginner after half a lifetime of trying/wishing for union.  The problem is that I no longer can form a clear intention because my concept of “God” has changed so much. I continue to search for a “Thou”, while not believing that god is a separate entity. Can centering prayer “work” for an almost non-believer in a traditional Christian god?

~ Elaine

Yes, indeed, Elaine, come on down to the Garrison retreat; it will be just the right place for you, I suspect. The “concept of God” question is really not a big deal. God as “thou,” God as “it,” and God as “I” (i.e., “light within,” “atman is brahmin,” etc.), are simply complementary angles of vision for expressing the sensation of intimacy that the heart knows from within. “Thouness” doesn’t necessarily imply “distant” and “other”; it simply allows the language of devotion and eros to flow more fully. All the problems with God really derive from turning God into a concept. The whole thing calms down when your intention becomes simply dwelling in that heart intimacy and letting it lead. Intense meditation retreats are good for pushing beyond the concepts and mind chatter, and the more Buddhist ambience of Garrison should make these other windows into divine beingness  much more accessible. See you there, I hope!

Blessings,

Thank-you so much for these opportunities, Cynthia. I have a question about intercessory prayer. Before my launch into centering prayer and study of the Wisdom Way, intercessory prayer was a major focus of my prayer life. Now I find a dissonance with my former practice. Does our heart pray for those we love and are concerned about each time we hit the prayer mat in Centering Prayer? How do you pray for others?

~ Liz

Good question, Liz, and one that I explore in much more depth in my new book, The HEART OF CENTERING PRAYER (in part III, the Section of The Cloud of Unknowing, where this anonymous medieval mystic addresses exactly the question you have just posed.) But the long and short of it is that Centering Prayer and Intercessory Prayer are different modes of prayer. Intercessory Prayer is cataphatic: it makes use of our FACULTIES (memory, reason, intellect, will, emotion). Centering Prayer is apophatic. It bypasses these faculties to simply rest in a deeper, more interconnected oneness. Thus, when you’re doing Centering Prayer, you really are already at one with all the individual people and petitions you raise up in Intercessory Prayer; you’re just expressing the same music in a different way: like Bach and jazz are really different, but they’re both beautiful kinds of music.

It’s typically good to intentionally separate these practices in your prayer time, since, as you observe, they do push in different directions. When you’re in Centering Prayer, just do Centering Prayer. Then emerge from it, intentionally, into a time of intercessory prayer. Or reverse the order, whichever way is most natural for you, or do them at completely different times of the day.

The important thing to understand is that they are both valid and authentic modes of prayer, enriching and bootstrapping each other: to the glory of God and the comforting of the world. Let this be your benchmark for sincerity and avoid any temptation to see one as “higher” than the other. Everything belongs.

Blessings,

Cynthia, I, along with a group of our sisters, recently finished listening to Non duality, seriously? They loved it and so did I. During your presentation you talked at various times about felt sense! I was wondering if you are familiar with Peter Campbell and Ed McMahon, BIOSPIRITUAL Focusing? I remember that you posed the question that seemed to inquire about anyone doing what they call body memory. Their work adds to Gendlin’s Focusing by including the “God piece.” Thank you so much for continuing to unpack for us the meaning of non duality as we plow forward in our God knowing as it unfolds in each of us.

~ Jeannette

Thanks for this welcome addition to the conversation, Jeannette. Yep—predictably, I should expect—I first made the acquaintance of this book a year or so ago in Aspen. Thanks for bringing it to the attention of our wider audience.

Blessings,

Hi Cynthia — I’m writing to you here because the comments section to your most recent blog doesn’t seem like the right place. I’m neither a Wilber expert or apologist, but doesn’t he use the developmental line of emotional intelligence to describe what, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, is called putting the mind in the heart?  To me the important thing is that we are seeing, across different traditions, how the process of “coming on line” of the capacities of heart and gut (Gurdjieff’s emotional and moving centers) are brought into language. And even more important, that you are showing Christians that this is both possible and necessary. It seems to me that contemporary teachers like Adyashanti and Thomas Hubl place much attention on the development of these centers, but their way of talking about them is quite different. Of course, I’m interested in your response. Aren’t these different models and methods for the process of putting the mind in the heart? Thanks in advance, and appreciative of the dialog!

Thanks, Marianne, for your great and timely question.

Yes, Ken Wilber does address emotional intelligence in one of the several developmental lines in his overall mapping of consciousness, but the point is that only the COGNITIVE line really breaks into an articulated “third tier” or nondual typology (I have Integral Spirituality on my lap as I speak). And this obscures the basic point which I believe, the Christian mystical tradition has been making all along:  namely, that the cognitive line will not kick into “third tier” mode until the mind is in the heart, not just attitudinally (as a stage of growth) but physiologically—neurologically—as well. Brain must entrain to heart before there is a stable platform to run the nondual perception program and the nondual seat of selfhood. Ken’s map, while acknowledging that there’s more to consciousness than just the cognitive line alone, fails to demonstrate how the lines must necessarily come together at the junction point of mind and heart.

And yes, I do think there’s a growing awareness among contemporary spiritual teachers of the need for mind/heart engagement and the full maturation of our human personhood as constituents of a genuine nondual emergence (Ken’s latest mnemonic gambit, “Showing Up, Waking Up, Growing Up, Cleaning Up,” implicitly acknowledges this.) But I nonetheless believe that his maps do not sufficiently demonstrate the physiological basis of nondual perception, nor the key role that heart perception plays in catalyzing this shift. Thus, they unintentionally devalue the Western contribution to this conversation, misrepresenting the personal and ardor-filled nature of so much of Western (not just Christian, but even more Sufi and Jewish) mystical discourse as simply signs of an immature spiritual development rather than a mode of signalling the active presence of HEART in the field of perception.

The dialogue continues….all insights sincerely offered get ground and burnished in the school of “sohbet,” or spiritual conversation.

Best,

Hello Cynthia,

just finished experiencing “the heart of centering prayer, (non-dual christianity)” or as my spell check keeps reminding me “entering prayer”…. i had given up on trying to decipher “cloud of unknowing” through the books collected because it seemed so beyond me. Through your book i have been able to give it a home as an integral blueprint in the inner workings of CP… wow its all so simple when it touches…

Repatterning of attention is the “work” and this is done to us not by us as a result of spending regular time in the field of kenosis as an act of giving. This awakens heart cognition…. Have i got this right?

Much, much appreciated the clarity & common sense that comes through in your work… thank you.. x

~ John

Hi John…

Yes, but…..with the following fairly substantial proviso:

1. We’re talking about an INNER field of kenosis here, not an outer one. Merely engaging in outer acts of compassion and giving won’t IN AND OF ITSELF repattern the field of perception unless accompanied by  some intentional inner work to shift the seat of identity. It’s this inner arena that the author of the Cloud is principally addressing in the “work” of contemplation. From there, a changed perception will percolate out as a changed quality of being in the outer actions…But rarely does it work the other way around: usually only in situations of ultimate upheaval or self-donation. Meditation is the most reliable vehicle nowadays for beginning to engage that inner shift, and meditation by a kenotic practice such as Centering Prayer can reinforce the movement in that direction and bring inner and outer together more seamlessly.

2. It is “done to us” in the sense that the ego is not the agent, but still, we must show up and exert our “naked intent direct to God.”

Thanks and blessing,

Hello Cynthia,

Thank you for doing this Q&A service it a wonderful opportunity.. x

My question is…i am beginning to realise that i don’t really know anything about “letting go” in-fact my version of letting go seems to be more about clinging on.

in CP i am noticing that sacred word has started to be used as suppressing thoughts rather than letting go of them. A few years ago when i started to practice CP it seemed much simpler.. once i was made known i was thinking i simply replaced that thought with sacred word as gently as i could and rested. But more and more these days i seem to have slipped into using sacred word in a robotic fashion… maybe i am becoming aware of the more subtle levels of “letting go” i am not sure can you help…x

~ John

This is all part of the rich turf of Centering Prayer, John. The Sacred Word is neither a mantra nor a thought-suppressor, but more like a wiper blade that gently flicks the windshield clear without calling attention to itself. The trick in Centering Prayer is to keep your consciousness bright, collected, and present, but without recourse to THINKING. Using the word in a robotic fashion is simply a sign that you’ve slipped into autopilot and consciousness has dulled a bit. No crime! You can brighten things up by returning to your basic intention: to sit gentle and alert in the presence of God. For the fact is, the moment you start to do this prayer, you are entering a LIVE relational field, and it is the intelligence and goodness of this field that basically carries everything.

Don’t get too hung up in the mechanics of letting go. It moves faster than mechanics, and your lovely observation, “Once I was made known I was thinking I simply replaced the thought with sacred word” tells me that you already have both the spirit and the letter of the motion. So just keep doing what you’re doing, and relax! Brighten up when you notice consciousness growing dull and keep on making this offering of your own gentle wisdom and generosity.

Thanks and blessings,

Hello Cynthia,

I was at your Cloud London talk last month. A question if I may.

Contemplative Prayer and going into the silence is a way of opening to be part of God, as you described through the four places on active and inner contemplation. I am wondering if some of this wisdom can also be learned through suffering, without necessarily having taken on a contemplative prayer pattern? Can a similar opening to the unknowing of God become through surrender to loss?

I also wonder if you know of any world mythology which would speak of the relationship with God which is on offer to humanity. I use enactment of myths as a means of bringing healing in secular situations.

Thank you.

Mary

Dear Mary,

Yes, suffering definitely can and does open the gateway to deeper levels of Wisdom. But this Work will progress far more profoundly if it it is taken up by the deeper self—sometimes called “Real I,” “The True Self,” “The Essential Self,” or a simply “Witnessing Presence”—rather than by the small self or personality, for whom suffering is always a personal affront and tragedy. When suffering becomes the gateway to universal compassion, profound work is done. The real way that Contemplative Prayer complements and extends the wisdom to be had in suffering is by deepening our connection with that larger self; by giving us a way to soothe and gentle the anguish of the smaller (who is also a part of our authentic selfhood).

I’m not quite sure what you mean by a myth that would convey “the relationship with God which is on offer to humanity.” By this I assume you’re talking about the relationship of intimacy, compassion, and transformation of suffering…and to embody this in human form,  one could hardly do better than the life of Christ. But if that is a little too much of a red flag for secular situations, go back to C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and you’ll get the exact same story in mythic form, with Aslan the lion as an obvious stand-in for Christ. I’d also encourage you to browse Helen Luke’s marvelous set of essays in her book Old Age (including a profound chapter on suffering), where she takes mythic characters and Shakespearean heroes to illustrate key transformational points. Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces” is pretty amazing in this respect as well.

Thanks and blessings,

Dear Cynthia,

I echo a previous comment here that it is truly fantastic to have this Q and A with you, so thanks for this service you are providing! I was re-reading your beautiful chapters in the middle of the Mary Magdalene book on the path of conscious love, and came across a curious sentence about those who traverse this trail: “There is a yearning to do so [to open the door to the soul cage], for the path of kenosis as walked between beloveds expresses itself in a deepening urge to hold nothing back” (123). What struck me here is that the “letting go” of kenosis expresses itself in a “deepening urge to hold nothing back.” I realized that once again the spiritual path naturally leads, as it matures, towards some kind of paradox: letting go in love results in a deepening urge to love. I understand, as you teach, that this is why there is the need to run the non-dual operating system that can hold both of these in tension. My question, which applies to all aspects of the spiritual life in that emptying and filling are occurring at the same time, regards the actual lived experience of this paradox, and perhaps for guiding metaphors to better understand the practice. Is it like driving a car where there is a constant rebalancing towards the center of the road, at times running towards one side of letting go and at other times towards the other side of feeling full-heartedness? Or is it a gradual process of purification where the two merge closer into one so that it’s hard to tell which process is at play? Or maybe it’s better to think of it as 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration where most of the focus is on trying to let go and then very occasionally one is surprised that some urge manifests in an unexpected pure state? Or are any generalizations hard to make, suggesting that those walking the path should simply trust that the proper “skillful means” will manifest themselves in time? I appreciate your thoughts on this.

~ Marty Schmidt

Hi Marty,

A couple of koans to ponder in response:

From The Cloud of Unknowing (chapter 16-4): “Do not be surprised at this, for it is the nature of all true lovers that the more they love, the more they long to love…”

From the Gospel of Thomas, 21 in response to a question (from Mary Magdalene), “What are your students like?” “They are like small children living in a field not their own. When the landlords return and say, ‘Give us back our field,’ the children return it by simply stripping themselves and standing naked before them…”

What if the “urge” to love is not so much DESIRING or “urgency” as simply a deepening capaciousness, like a bottomless well?

What if emptying and filling are not different operations, but joined at the hip in self-disclosure, or transparency? Or nakedness? Or intimacy?

just sayin’……..

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

A scholarly man in the Centering Prayer group I lead has been reading the Jesus Seminar material. I know only the edges of that voluminous research and its integration or lack thereof. I am concerned, though, about where I should be drawing from for pieces of Scripture for our Lectio Divina. Do I limit my use of the moving and poetic Gospel translations I’m familiar with and use instead Funk’s dreary Gospel of Jesus? I do use Gospel of Thomas, but I think that’s questioned by the Seminar too. Thanks in advance for any insight you could give me/us.

Gratefully!
~ Anonymous

Hi,

Don’t be intimidated by the Jesus seminar. They have their own rather narrow take on what constitutes “authentic” texts of Jesus teaching, and they fail to take into consideration the “added value” conferred by centuries of devoted practice by the Church and its faithful. Their purposes are different from the purposes of lectio divina. While it’s always a plus on the human side to get a reasonably accurate translation, grace will make itself known through any translation reverently embarked on.

So feel free to use the four gospels in the version your participants are most comfortable with (NRSV is generally the book of choice), plus the Pauline epistles, Psalms, wisdom texts, and Gospel of Thomas (Lynn Bauman’s edition works particularly well for lectio divina because of its readable translations and helpful commentary). There are also some wonderful, poetic new translations by Stephen Mitchell (The Gospel according to Jesus) Willis Barnstone, and Hal Taussig (The New New Testament, which includes the Gospel of Thomas and several other extracanonical early Christian texts.) You can also draw on the Revised Common Lectionary, in use across most of mainstream Christendom. The goal is not to analyze the scripture, but to pray the scripture. God will understand.

Blessings,
Cynthia

 

Cynthia,

Thank you so much for this opportunity to ask you questions. I am in seminary, and yesterday I preached a sermon for my preaching class. In the sermon (which was about the opiate epidemic in Vermont) I quoted you from The Wisdom Jesus when you talk about the importance of looking beyond the “fatal trap in the ‘God is light’ roadmap” (p.123), and your message that we need to find a resolution that is beyond our conception of good and evil, something, as you say, “that can hold them both.” I continued to use this concept throughout my sermon. During the critique period after I preached, I got some pushback about this. Some students were feeling that this theology was too new and different for them to embrace. They feel that of course evil is bad and must be destroyed. For me, having studied and practiced an Eastern spiritual path before finding your work, this theology (is that even the right word here?) was familiar, as was the teaching that everyone’s birthright is the ability to awaken to our Higher Self – to the oneness of God. Interestingly, your work was my introduction to Christianity. I was raised atheist, found God through the 12-steps, practiced and studied Siddha Yoga, and then discovered you and then the church. Your teaching was my introduction to Christianity. And now I have been called to ministry in the UCC, and I feel I need to tread lightly. If seminarians are having trouble embracing this, how do I move forward in offering the “hold them both” vision? Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you so much for all you do!

Lava Mueller

Hi Lava,

I am sincerely sorry that you have had to endure this kind of pushback, but sadly, it’s a microcosm of where the Church is at right now, and in my opinion one of the principal reasons that seminaries (and the churches the serve) are continuing to lose force and market share in a rapidly evolving spiritual world. The awareness of (and aptitude for) holding the tension of opposites is certainly neither appreciated nor honed in the dialectical world of dogmatic theology; it flows through the Wisdom lineage of all the sacred traditions, where its foundations lie in meditation, mindfulness training, and contemplative prayer. These experiential pathways are often in all too short supply in traditional seminary training.

But the impression that this theology is “too new” is simply not correct. It’s been around at least since the 13th century, if Richard Rohr’s reading of St. Bonaventure is correct, and it has always formed an “alternative orthodoxy” within the Christian lineage (unfortunately, not the branch of the river that surfaced in the much of the Protestant tradition). His Living School for Action and Contemplation, in which I have the honor of serving as one of the core faculty, was launched in 2013 as an “underground seminary,” restoring this Wisdom expression of Christianity to its rightful prominence and returning it to its proper contexting: not as an idea to be debated, but as a new way of seeing grounded in spiritual practice. His presentation of Christian nonduality as precisely this capacity to bear the tension of the opposites without judgment is well-rooted theologically and reaching a wide audience in today’s increasingly transformation-minded and practice based interspiritual world. It’s only the Church that seems to be missing the message.

Blessings,

Cynthia

Cynthia,

I’m having trouble moving through everything you have taught me in books and in the wisdom school and reconciling it with the words in the petition you signed. Specifically these words: “We believe that the centrality of Christ, the importance of both conversion and discipleship, the authority of the Scriptures, and the “good news” of the gospel…” Conversion seems a bit out of line with some of the way wisdom asks us to move in this life. Additionally, I’ve been really working at trying to figure out how to build a “new” church. In other words, you’ve talked about needing a new story and the old model maybe being outgrown. This moving forward has occupied most of my thoughts and efforts these days. When you came back from the Vatican and said that we shouldn’t give up on the church, it really gave me pause. I know you never said the church was bad but I’ve definitely been moved through my reading of you and Teilhard and to see it as something we’ve outgrown. This is obviously a very hard viewpoint from someone with a collar so I’ve been trying real hard to be in integrity with wisdom and the way it is flowing. Your recent words have me feeling like I’m way off base and kind of like a heretic. Is there anything you can say that might help me make sense of some of this?

With love,

Stef+

Hi Stef,

Thanks for this great and challenging question. (By the way, the petition being referred to here is “A Declaration by American Evangelicals Concerning Donald Trump,” sponsored by Change.org, which you’ll find on my Facebook page.) Many in our Wisdom Community have followed my lead and signed as well, but thank you so much for calling me out on whether it’s not essentially hypocritical to do so. Can I really agree to the statement about the centrality of Christ, the importance of conversion and discipleship, the authority of scriptures, etc.???? And if so, how does that interface with my Wisdom teaching?

I have to admit that I’ve so far in my ministry been brushed fairly lightly by the evangelical “velvet glove and iron fist.”  Many of my dear friends have been smeared with the label of “non-Christ centered” and “non Christian” for far less than I’ve put out there. And yes, it’s happened to me in a few painful episodes in my ministry, from which I’m still licking my wounds, so I’m well aware that the way I interpret the centrality of Christ, conversion and discipleship, and scriptural authority is not doubt a real stretch from the usual fundamentalist spin on these things.

But yes, these points are all essentially what I affirmed in my ordination vows and still hold sacred. My “centrality of Christ” is a Teilhardian kind of centrality—cosmic rather than juridical—but it’s still the heart of what I’m about. Conversion and discipleship are for me simply a more traditional way of languaging what Wisdom calls “awakening” and “spiritual practice.” And while I don’t accord authority to scripture at the literal, proof-texting level often promulgated by fundamentalism, the Bible is still for me a living, breathing treasury of sacred wisdom (otherwise how could I do lectio divina?), and as a Christian, it’s my ultimate court of appeal. My understanding of authority is ultimate and inclusive rather than exclusive, but I still bow the knee of the heart to that authority.

So in my heart of hearts, I can sign the petition in good conscience. The alternative—the mental and overpsychologized, visionless, tepid version of Christianity promulgated by so much of liberal progressive Christianity is, at least in my books, an equal if not greater affront to the Wisdom heart of Christ.

Mostly, I am thrilled to see a significant slice of responsible Christian evangelicals stepping up to the plate and calling out their fellow evangelicals for the failure to recognize that Donald Trump represents an abortion of core Christian values and an affront and danger to humanity. Among the authors of this petition are such esteemed evangelical  visionaries as Jim Wallis, Shawn Claiborne, and Brian McClaren, who like myself are trying to win the name “Christian” back from the ugly and angry extremist quarters that have shanghai’ed it in recent decades. Despite our differing theological interpretations of the  “the centrality of Christ,” we all know about the centrality of love and compassion. And that, finally, is what we need to stand together for as Christians as our country—and our world—navigate the eye of the needle on November 8.

Blessings,

Cynthia

Hi Cynthia,

First I’d like to thank you for your contributions, The Wisdom Jesus, Way of Knowing and Centering Prayer. All three, for me, have done a lot to not only clarify, but help transform my thinking from a dual to a non dual mode. My question is about experiences I’ve had during centering prayer. Sometimes while sitting, my normal mode of operation is in full swing. Anything and everything is going through my mind. On a handful of occasions recently something else has happened. Now two predominant thought/feelings have been with me for years. The first is that it is much simpler than we’re making it out to be. And the second is that there is a space between where something fundamentally different can happen. While sitting this between action has taken place. Between a thought or feeling or sensation, a different action has taken place inside of me. On one occasion I saw the split between personality and ego. On another came the realization that we have a life, as opposed to the constant searching for one that seems to be the norm. We have one and all we need to do is participate. Both of these and others were accompanied by a feeling of joy and clarity that lasted several hours into my work day. The reason I’m writing, is that I’ve yet to see anything about this space between. And where I did read your article on mystical experiences during centering prayer should be avoided (I’m not sure if these are)? Your help on this would be appreciated.

Thank you,
Mike Jones

Yes!!!!!!! Exactly!!!!

And you can get away with not calling it a mystical experience because, since it happened in “the space between,” it’s really a mystical NON-experience: simply a direct connection with the power and clarity of what the Tibetan Buddhists call “rigpa,” or pure awareness. And yep, you taste it in the space between the thoughts.

I’ll be expanding on this a bit more in my new book, THE HEART OF CENTERING PRAYER, which will be hitting the bookstores in early December. (You can already pre-order online.)

I very much appreciate the balance and maturity with which you’re integrating this!

Blessings,
Cynthia

Hi Cynthia,

I heard a sermon preached on Luke 16, the parable of the Dishonest Steward on Sunday in a church in Hanoi, and I wondered what the Wisdom Tradition would say about that. My take on it was that commending the immoral steward forces the reader to let go of duality and create new relationships, which result in a Law of Three reconciling force that establishes something new in the universe. I was in Vietnam over the weekend celebrating the opening of a new campus of one of our Lutheran international schools. Communists and Christians had to forego their organizational dualistic orientations (why would atheist communists work with people of faith? why would Christians invest in a country in which the Gospel cannot be proclaimed?) and shrewdly and somewhat clandestinely establish new relationships with an “opponent.” The unforeseen result 20 years later is a different kind of Christian school in a communist country. It’s a vibrant community because of the challenges they face. Adventurers of the spirit are welcome; traditionalists need not apply! It’s come to me recently that non-reactivity seems to be the fundamental spiritual discipline. If so, then a concept like going beyond duality is not something peripheral to the story, but at at its very heart, which means texts like this have much more to teach us than we would assume. I’m wondering if the Wisdom Tradition would agree with this interpretation.

~ Marty Schmidt

What a great question, Marty—and I’ll bet you were probably the only one out there in that sea of Christian worshippers pondering the gospel in terms of the Law of Three! But your take is exactly on target, and as you suspect, the issue hinges on this question of “shrewdness.” While we often hear it as implying “immorality,” there is absolutely nothing immoral in what this clever steward brings off here. He simply skillfully assesses the situation and successfully invokes Third Force. It’s a win/win. Nobody goes to jail, everyone is relieved of debt.

Your analogy with the situation in the founding of the new school is similarly right on target. It is because people were able to let go of their identification with fixed positions or moral stances (with accompanying rhetoric) that the turf was freed up enough to start something new. And this does indeed look like something new: not quite looking like a traditional Christian school, but looking even less like a secular or communist academy. Truly, a new beginning.

I am impressed that you’ve noticed this, and are able to make the connection so skillfully with the Law of Three and the Biblical story. Yes, Jesus was advocating alert, supple presence—as he himself demonstrated on many occasions, such as when confronted with the “Should we pay taxes to Caesar?” question, or the woman taken in adultery. Rather than allow himself to be backed into a corner, he skillfully assesses the possibilities already inherent in the entire moment (not just his verbal response, but what’s there before him at the material and sensate level), and responds in a way that brings surprise, embodiment, and liberation.

What if, in our age of fixed positions and inflammatory rhetoric, we could do likewise— turn those soapboxes into plowshare?

This also ties into the last question you posted here, in which you lamented that traditional spiritual practices seem to be based on celibate and sequestered models which disadvantage people busily engaged in the world. And that may indeed be where contemplative spirituality has tended to gravitate in the past. But we are in a sea-change, my friend. Do come back to this parable as often as you want to, to reaffirm to yourself that Jesus himself was not advocating permanent isolation or solitude in order to attain/maintain profound states of nondual realization. Instead, he modeled a way of working in the world skillfully and shrewdly in order to bring about compassionate change (and yeah, it grows out of maintaining a certain threshold of nondual attainment, but this is accessed through continuously renewed attention and surrender, not permanent withdrawal into specifically engineered and gated environments.) His heroes are often rogues, tricksters, and rule-breakers who nonetheless know how to get things done without hurting anybody. Those friends and relations of yours who got the new school together are the real gospel heroes in your story. And you have indeed spotted the Wisdom Jesus—caught in the act!

Blessings! All best,

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

Your book “The Meaning of Mary Magdalene” was a game-changer for me. Having been close friends with numerous women who’ve been victims of trauma from various “spiritual teachers,” however, the opening up of the erotic, kenotic energy of Jesus as a path of conscious love with Mary brings up transformative hope as well as questions. How can victims of trauma trust the conscious love of Jesus? What does it mean for Mary to be both loving soul-friend and student to Jesus, a male teacher? (Aren’t there inherent “power dynamics” involved in such a relationship that in other spheres we would perhaps categorize as transgressive of healthy boundaries?)

Thanks for any insight you care to share!

~ Anonymous

These are excellent and thoughtful questions, but dominated so much by that “hermeneutics of suspicion” that infects so much of progressive, “politically correct” theology today. They are mental projections of possible worst-case scenarios. Do you REALLY want to live in a world where victim psychology overwhelms the love of Christ? Where absolute trust in the living presence of this person is not possible because he is a male, and women are not able to enter into soul-changing relationships with male teachers because of “inherent power dynamics?” Is “in Christ there is no male or female” merely a piece of theological rhetoric? You can inhabit that world if you want, but personally, I’d rather be turned into a stone!

Yes, I know that IN THEORY victims of trauma might have trouble trusting in conscious love. In practice, I haven’t seen it—except where a person is so insistent on hanging onto the victim’s badge that they refuse to move beyond it. Conscious love emanating from an authentic healer is very strong, pure, and healing (check out Jim Finley, for example!). It transcends gender and begins to address and release the wounds by bringing a whole new energy, which releases the power of old stories. If I couldn’t believe that this power still exists and that it overcomes all other wounds, I would hand over my collar and my teaching badge immediately; there would be nothing to say.

The Law of Three can perhaps be drawn on here to open another window of insight on what I’m trying to get at here. The current “healthy boundaries/politics of domination” model so characteristic of the “green” (pluralistic) level of theology and consciousness (where so much of liberal progressive theology is clustered) is stuck in the push/pull of opposites. There is no third force. Victims are always victims (denying force); teachers are always in the power seat (first force), dominators and perhaps potential abusers. Their roles are fixed, and green models aren’t about to release the roles. But that’s precisely here where the logjam occurs, leading to the defensive and angry tone of so much contemporary progressive theology; there is no third force! The precise role of third force when it comes, which is what a true conscious healer brings, is to release BOTH parties from former roles and establish a whole new playing field. That is the possibility that the real Jesus kerygma is based on – total liberation from the power of reified roles. And that’s the power we have to keep trusting in, working toward: wise as serpents, but also innocent as doves.

Blessings,

Cynthia

Dear Cynthia,

Hello from Hong Kong! Now with a bit more decorum . . . It’s taken me about six years of reading your work, Cynthia, and the writings of a good number of others within the Wisdom Tradition for its primary message to finally end its circuitous journey and land, at least in my head. I finally get the claim, gamble and wager that the Tradition asks us to consider: our infinite yearnings will never be satisfied until our body-heart-mind self opens and surrenders to the Presence of God. So, my real burning question – as someone who is now entering another new decade of what feels like an endless search – is if “normal” people – not only our teachers – can attain some type of regular contact (to loosely quote a discussion with you and Adyashanti) with the heart as an organ of spiritual perception which actually “sees” the luminous web, that underlying energetic sameness that animates everything? Is that possible for mere mortals who have not chosen the ascetic path of our teachers? That’s the question I’m trying to understand. Meanwhile, and I’ve said this to you personally, it’s a lonely quest in that so much of day-to-day life seems to blithely go on its merry way with seemingly little interest in what, for me, matters most.

~ Marty Schmidt

It seems to me that you have some paradoxically intertwining questions here, asking both “how much?” and “how little?” The “how much” question is by far the more interesting and leading of the two. How much can be borne in human flesh? Well, remember what the author of the Cloud of Unknowing said RE Mary Magdalene: “It is the nature of all true lovers that the more they love, the more they long to love.” And I have known you long enough and well enough by now to recognize you as one of those “true lovers.” Your heart hungers for the infinite in all its passion, anguish, intensity, and luminosity. And your hunger is itself the sign that you are even now riding the curve of that infinite love. And you are riding it because your heart won’t let you do anything else. The hunger is your soul’s hunger. Like love itself, it admits no comparisons. No need to look around and measure how others are doing, or despair that the impossibility of attaining it is because you’re merely a lay person, a teacher, a laborer in the vineyard of this world. No way! The reason it’s impossible to attain is because it’s infinite! But the yearning is itself speaking in the mother tongue. You’re there.

Blessings,

Cynthia

Hi Cynthia –

As our human consciousness evolves and we hopefully become better cosmic servants, living with objectless awareness, are we then a-theistic? What/who are we worshiping? I would love your help in articulating if progressive Christians, rooted in the Wisdom tradition, can call themselves atheists? What is theism!!!???? Are we theistic?

~ Robin Junker-Boyce

It comes down to how you define the word atheist, doesn’t it? If by “atheist” you mean simply a person who doesn’t believe in the anthropomorphic “big daddy in the sky” model of divine presence, then of course, atheism would be the normal maturation of the contemplative path as one gradually becomes less and less dependent on cognitive/dogmatic structures and more and more trusting of more subtle capacities for inner perception which allow one to perceive from the inside the coherence and compassion holding the whole shooting match together.

But many people use the word “atheist” to claim (while still firmly locked in their cognitive structures and their identification with these structures), that there is NO COHERENCE and NO COMPASSION: in other words, to justify a position of philosophical nihilism. And Wisdom would never assent to this interpretation, for it is a surefire sign that a person is still firmly stuck in the head. As soon as one descends into the cave of the heart, coherence and intimacy are immediately picked up. These qualities just can’t be picked up by the mind in isolation. So in that sense, no, you can’t be an atheist and a follower of the Wisdom path, for the wisdom path leads inevitably, through the heart, to the discovery of some fundamental, deep band of meaning (NOT explanation), in which we “live and move and have our being” because or in spite of ourselves…

“God is a person, God is a person,” Teilhard de Chardin used to repeat urgently toward the end of his life, to his younger Jesuit colleague Pierre LeRoy. By this he surely didn’t mean God is an old man in the sky. He meant that the universe is personal, intimate, flexible, responsive, relational, coherent, compassionate. This is what heart perception infallibly tells us once we get into it. And the job of Wisdom is to get us into it.

Hope this helps. Thank you for asking.

All best,
Cynthia

Hi Cynthia –

I hope this Lent finds you well and thriving. I am teaching a class at the Episcopal Cathedral here in Kansas City on the Gospel of Thomas. Last night we looked at Logion 23, and some class members were understandably disturbed by its “exclusivity.” I know how I would like to interpret it – that essentially we are all “chosen” because we were all made in the image of God. But what it sounds like there is just a small exclusive club that is singled out by Jesus. Of course it does seem apparent that few “wake up and stand up,” but does it follow that only a few are called? I’d love to hear your thoughts if you have time.

~ Lisa Whitlow, Kansas

I would say that we basically self-choose; we opt in or out — not according to our preference or our fantasies about ourselves (in which case we’d all be in!), but by how we actually put teeth in our intentions as demonstrated in our capacity for self-knowledge, commitment, and inner consistency. Exactly the point Jesus was trying to make with Peter just before the betrayal. “Really, Peter, really??? You say you are one of my elect, but the cock will not crow three times before you have betrayed me.” We have such little self-knowledge, so little real will, that most of us are content with vicariously experiencing salvation by imagining ourselves already there.

The road belongs to those who can actually walk it—begging God for mercy and assistance with every breath, but still marching on. And these people are few, very few.

Now as to being called, yes, I think the call is universal, reverberating in every breath we take, every heartbeat: the call to universal life, to all that “is alive, is real, is YES” (to paraphrase e.e.cummings.) Part of the problem here is that we hold the word “call” too tightly, equating it with a religious vocation or participation in a particular denomination or order, in response to a direct invitation from Big Daddy in the Sky (which of course, makes us very, very, special.) The call is to life, to love, to greater reality, and it is universal; it resounds through and in the marrow of life itself. We just need to learn to listen better.

Blessings,
Cynthia