Set on a gentle hill, a long winding driveway approaches a seasoned stone and wood monastery building with the Abbey Church of Our Lady of Glastonbury perched at the end. Beyond, the road narrows and heads down to the chicken and goat barn. The monks pray and chant the psalms in the Benedictine rhythm five times daily, in a chapel that breathes both with the tall pines surrounding it and with its simple, elegant interior. It is adorned with the stations of the cross, a two-sided crucifix, and icon of Benedict all created by artist Tomie dePalo. A feeling of peace and stillness, a sense of quiet fullness, pervades. Nightly, the monks gather around a stunning round icon of Our Lady of Glastonbury to sing before sleep. The grounds include an herb garden and woodland labyrinth, a stone fountain with Mary offering blessing, and a gazebo as well as outdoor stations of the cross and beautiful places to walk, stop and sit.
Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham Massachusetts sits just two miles south and three miles west of the Massachusetts Bay of the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Boston. It was founded in 1954, has had a retreat ministry since 1975, and is home to an active community of monks who have answered an inner call to live the Benedictine Rule in community together–and to listen. “Listen” is the first word in the Benedictine Rule. “When we listen, the human heart hears the call of God…” say the monks. The Abbey welcomes people of all faiths, and began a center in 2001 to invite the public at large to the Abbey for community, cultural and social events.
Glastonbury Abbey has become a home away from home for people interested in the Wisdom teaching of Cynthia Bourgeault over the past five or six years. She has been visiting to lead retreats on a regular basis. The last two summers, in shorter weekend retreats at Glastonbury, Cynthia has introduced specific aspects of the Benedictine Rule as basis and food for the Wisdom tradition, sharing her deep appreciation for the transformational template that Benedict (born in 480 and died in 547) introduced to monastic life. The Benedictine tenets of Humility and Stabilitas (as stability of place and stability of heart) came alive those summers as Cynthia illuminated them as pillars of the Wisdom tradition and relevant guardians in contemporary life.
Ora and Labora
Alone and Together
Rule is not Law
Chant is Food
STOP is Freedom
Forgetting self, Remembering self
is the Round Dance
Carried by Rhythm
The saving grace of Free-Fall (though uninvited)
I slowly feel the cost of my own arising.
~ Susan Jean Latimer
September 23, 2019
This fall at the Abbey Institute, November 23, 2019, Cynthia will be leading A Day of Reflection: Benedictine Spirituality as a Wisdom Tradition. One of the great joys of the Wisdom tradition work that has happened at Glastonbury Abbey is the meeting of the local community attending with those who travel to hear Cynthia’s teaching. Cynthia’s beloved teacher Rafe brought the teachings of Gurdjieff to his own daily life in monastery, and out of their work together in the five years before his death, Cynthia has worked deeply with the transformational elements of both traditions. She noticed how three-centered awareness–the wisdom of the intellectual, feeling and moving centers balanced and quickened in the human being–”yields a functional template for developing the four quadrants of the Benedictine Rule. We can look at how each quadrant of Ora et Labora–prayer alone and prayer together, work alone and work together–generates attention in a different combination of the three centers to gradually catalyze and stabilize a three-centered, or Wisdom, way of knowing.”
I have deeply appreciated the Benedictine ‘Ora et Labora’ married with the three centered awareness and presence that our lineage emphasizes. I find the balance of the structure done with conscious awareness to be like a lattice simultaneously containing a plant rooted on the horizontal while allowing it to thrive and grow in vertical space.
It provides the rhythm I need to wake up and see more fully from my heart as an organ of spiritual perception that includes the realities of this world and the much more subtle realities beyond.
~ Heather Ruce
Cynthia teaches the Rule from this perspective of “deepening being and transforming consciousness,” adding dimension to a more traditional contemplative and theological read of Saint Benedict. Cynthia invites participants who are “Wisdom regulars, as it will offer a refresher course and serve as an energetic support in holding the container” as well as local community members. She calls it “a pilot experiment, for her own more regular and deepening involvement in the Benedictine Institute at the Abbey.”
I have worked through Cynthia’s teaching of the Benedictine template, the Four Quadrants and Three Centered Knowing repeatedly, it always deepens and I see anew. Rolling all the images together, my journey has been a spiral of ever deepening and widening my tolerance to open to the setting “aflame the names of God.”
I remember coming home from my first Wisdom School committed to translating “Ora et Labora” into my own life. I had read its significance but only felt it for the first time when I was ensconced in a monastic environment. I realized the real trick is creating the monastic container outside a monastery. My efforts often troubled those around me, “you didn’t finish!” but the subtly of the conscious work revealed itself over time filling me with a quiet spaciousness and enlivening. A sense of attending from my solar plexus, which feels like being effortlessly aware and in service to all around and in me, a wholeness, deep joy and awe!
I feel connected to all of humanity that ever has been, are and ever will, singing my way through the Psalms. Alone, because I still need to find my voice. I love the rolling sea like quality of the stories, as they move vibrationally through me.
I find myself walking through this teaching again. This time I am startled by a deepening sense of how the Daily Office, which in a monastic setting would be prayer together, may still be prayer together even though I am practicing alone, in the conscious effort and attaching to the cycles of the day, sunrise/sunset, a communion at any distance or time difference, in whatever state; been, are or will, simply in pure intention. My centering prayer sits have filled this space for me and still do, but this feels like a calling to a different level of subtle awareness, Teilhard’s Noosphere comes to mind; it feels like there is a thread of Truth to be found. Jacob Boehme, “I am a string in the concert of God’s joy.” May it come to be.
~ Nan Delach
In the spirit of experimentation, I invited a random sampling of Wisdom practitioners to participate in an exercise in immediacy, sharing their personal experience with Benedictine Spirituality as Wisdom Tradition as it resonates in and influences their lives. The request was to simply respond from the heart, with words, poems, artwork; and to send their contribution back within 50 hours. A treasure trove of personal experience and heartfelt, creative insight flooded in.
prayer spoken up out of silence
out of the rest from hard labor;
work taken up out of stillness
out of the peace from a morning sit
the rhythm of being!
ordering the energy of love
building exquisite bowls and oil-filled lamps
clean and spacious rooms
the rhythm of being!
launching me into the mist for that further shore
unfastening my gaze from fingers pointing to the moon
drawing my true self down from kairos time
never ahead but already within
the rhythm of being!
left hand grounds the key
right hand inscribes the intervals
the angel who stirs the waters smiles slyly
for she knows that today I will take up my mat and walk
in the rhythm of healing, of a mind unknowing
in the rhythm of will, of wisdom unfurling
in the rhythm of being, of a soul becoming!
~ Andrew Breitenberg
When introduced to the Four Quadrants by Cynthia at an Introductory Wisdom School, I became aware of how parts of my life were out of balance. So, with the mind of a beginner, I began focusing on two of the quadrants: ora et labora, both alone, with the hope that over time, the other two might balance as well. It felt like too much to try to shape the all of it. Conscious work and spiritual practice (chant, silence, movement and lectio) were what I tried to integrate each day – simple, beautiful practices.
Maurice Nicoll often writes variations of “your level of being creates your life”. In looking back over the last years, the other two quadrants, ora et labora in community, have deepened and changed in ways I could not have imagined. It is as if a dynamism, an aliveness, is moving through the four quadrants of my life, and the deepening of what community looks like today for me, feels vast, expansive, and timeless, even while in the world of time. The most tangible expression of this has been the on-line communities that have been created by several of Cynthia’s senior students over the last several years on web platforms and Zoom, all inclusive of prayer and work. Coming away from those experiences with fellow wisdom travelers raises my level of being, and intangibly connects me to a greater bandwidth of connection with all. It is beautifully enlivening.
The messages received from a wide spread community of Wisdom practitioners are but a small reflection of how many people are integrating this work of Benedictine Spirituality as a Wisdom Tradition into their inner lives of practice and outer lives of work and relationship in the world. And the creativity with which people responded speaks to the fullness of being, the breadth of being, that grows strong in the traditions of Wisdom.
I drew the 3 aspects, then saw in my simple rendition what appeared to resemble a butterfly to me — a symbol of transformation, and the beauty of the present moment.
I did not *know* that I would see a butterfly, nor did I intend to draw anything in particular other than the representations and intersections of the teachings in this immediate way. It was a joyful moment in a heavy few days.
~ Elizabeth Coombs
Society and cultural messages I have gotten say that freedom is the right to choose what one wants, when one wants. Not only accepting no yoke but bristling at the thought. The path to that freedom ends up looking like wealth and the self-knowledge to know what one wants, then working toward those becomes a hamster wheel that combines making money as quickly and efficiently as possible while taking serial workshops for knowing oneself.
With its timeless Wisdom the Benedictine Tradition turns that on its head. The Benedictine Tradition shows us that running away from an appropriate yoke isn’t freedom; freedom is wholeheartedly accepting a transformative yoke and letting it have its way with you. That having the discipline to adopt the tried-and-true rhythm of the Benedictine Tradition in a way that suits one’s life prepares the ground for one’s emergence as a centered and grounded disciple of that transformative path, as one who is gratefully free from needing to be free.
~ Phil Rogacki
Help me to see (help me to be)
in my life,
in the Church I serve;
so a New Arising
may bring new life
with all the joy
for whatever is to be.
~ Debbie Brewin-Wilson
Over the years, I’ve encountered the palpable sensation of Cynthia’s heart-awareness evolving into new dynamic forms of relational expression. Many of these practice-based forms have become deeply foundational for holding our ever-widening circles of coherence together. Although I’ve not regularly practiced three-centered awareness for quite some time, our Wisdom network is undoubtedly flourishing because of it. As our shape-shifting field of mutable love cyclically flows from one radiant circle to the next, we attempt to germinate its aliveness, in each awakening moment, through sustained and diligent practice.
Three-centered awareness gives us a key for unlocking our creative potentials – bringing new possible realities into being – while expanding the horizons of our own transformed condition. We not only begin seeing more clearly, but with more of ourselves, as the seamless series of selves we were meant to give rise to, in each passing, radiant moment. Cynthia’s method enables us to incarnate a participatory consciousness in relation to the Whole, that we might encircle each other more fluidly, in the grace of an always deepening love and mercy.
Thank you, dear Cynthia, for bringing the luminosity of your vision to bear in moving us toward the Personal Center of community, in knowing and loving, where all of our centers connect.
~ Joshua Tysinger
When Beth O’Brien received this invitation to reflect upon how Benedictine spirituality and a Wisdom way of knowing intersect in her life and work, she was in the midst of a week “in silence and solitude at the Hermitage, entering into the daily rhythm of ora et labora with the monastic community” as a Benedictine Oblate of the New Camaldoli Hermitage. We close with her poem below.
The Immediacy of Love: Living the Rule of St. Benedict
Travel the two-lane road–
windy and arduous though it may be–
until it becomes a single, solitary lane
hushed by the fragrance of white roses
and the reassuring encouragement of crows.
Thin as the taste of mussels, yes.
Navigate wisely as the ordered and gradual footpath of heart
becomes a radiant boulevard of intimacy,
unfolding through your very embodiment.
Towering redwood trees,
across the 60 years of journey to be deeply known.
by the many crevices
within the tree’s
ancient, fibered bark,
Dare to touch it.
The strength of a personal Rule,
wends its way
throughout the living quadrants
as the eyes of the heart
open to the Universal Donor.
Ora et Labora:
5:30 am Vigils
Under brightness of distant nebulas and lustrous constellations,
from hermitage to candlelit oratory.
Cosmic beauty lures all to communal prayer.
The psalmody of monks offers Baraka for the shelter of the journey.
7:00 am Lauds
Relax against the rustling of wakening quail,
the joy of the heart
Prayer rises like incense,
moving through the living stream of water–
in the vibration of chant
amongst the turning of the pages.
Ground it in the moving center.
The day’s work: bedclothes gently laid back upon the pillow,
the fan set out upon the desk, compost delivered,
chair turned just so in order to accept
the arriving gift of perfumed mist.
Inner task: Gather your attention. Explore the question,
Where does sensation reside?
12:10 pm Midday Prayer
Warm flush petals and feathers of abundance
line the sunlit walkway.
Follow the psalmists’ line
through the tone, all the way down:
“But Magdalene heard his voice in / the garden
and ran with good news: “I have seen / the Lord!”
In gratitude, catch the scent of desert larkspur against the whirr
of the hummingbird’s wings while washing out the pots and pans.
Sweep the porch alongside the jay’s high point watch;
sleek jacket of silky cobalt meeting the edge of grey born bush
at the place of wonder.
Inner task: Document your heart’s openness through it all.
5:30 – 7:00 pm Vespers, Eucharist, and Centering Prayer
Love holds on the wall of my heart as prayer begins.
The silence of communion, my Beloved awaits,
Yeshua draws me in.
Stilled by the penetration of love,
I am tethered
to the heart of Christ.
A house that is refined melts in weakness
after only one touch.
Fish bones of transformation
in Eucharistic proportions,
the day of your birth.
8:00 pm through breakfast The Great Silence
the sound of no sound, the hum of the Universe.
Under the moonlit firmament, the lyre begins to play.
Yeshua, most tenderly,
takes me . . .
~ Beth O’Brien
With a deep collective breath, we have now come full circle, returning to the simple, essential beauty of Benedictine spirituality as a Wisdom tradition. There is a living quality of listening present as we enter ora et labora, and step upon the path through the hours and into the night.
Beth, as Wisdom Mentor and Spiritual Director, attends to others who desire to perceive life from an awakened heart. Founder of the term ‘Wisdom Mentor,’ Bill Redfield, shared a story as a response to this inquiry, which, serving as a blog post of its own dimension, is now posted on the Breaking Ground page. He introduces his story with the words:
I have always appreciated the fundamental essence of Cynthia’s work as the joining of Christian Benedictine spirituality with the practical guide to transformation of the inner tradition as expressed in the work of Gurdjeiff… (click here to read the rest of Bill’s story in Breaking Ground)
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who answered the call of this exercise in immediacy, and responded in the moment. Fifty hours to take it up, live with it and sleep on it! Gratitude for “the one in the all, the beauty of the specificity in the unity, the reciprocal dance between us and the All … An experiment”… for your willingness, and all blessings, for the work of Wisdom in the world.
Deep appreciation to our contributors: Susan Jean Latimer, Heather Ruce, Nan Delach, Andrew Breitenberg, Anonymous, Elizabeth Coombs, Phil Rogacki, Debbie Brewin-Wilson, Joshua Tysinger, Bill Redfield, and Beth O’Brien.