This is Part V of an eight-part Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog series that began on Sunday January 12, 2020, with posts every Sunday and Wednesday during the season of Epiphany. Please share your reflections in the Comments section below.

In Parts III and IV, Cynthia introduces us to her own opening through Raimon Panikkar, noting in Part IV his observation that the biggest threat that Jesus represented to the powers that be, was his “filiation” to God —”this unauthorized prophet was standing too close.” Panikkar’s theological vision of a moving, intercirculating, mutually infusing world of worlds, includes us all: we are each and all part of a cosmotheandric universe where, as Cynthia discovers, “God is not a first cause, not an explanation, but rather meaning itself, throbbing through the entire dynamism, suffusing the attuned heart like the air we breathe, like the atoms still reverberating in our bodies from the big bang.”


V. A Brief History of Consciousness

“I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation.”

It is the occasion of my ordination to the Episcopal priesthood, August 1979, and I am standing before my bishop, making my required public profession. My friends are rolling their eyes, wondering if I’ve just perjured myself. But no, I have never had difficulty with this particular provision, then or now. I do indeed believe that the Holy Scriptures contain all things necessary to salvation. So does a rock. So does this ten-foot-wide patch of ocean I am now sailing through after the fog has shut down my usual visual horizons. So does almost anything in this holy, God-infused universe of ours when we truly open our hearts to it.

But scripture is indeed its own unique brand of wonderfulness, and over the nearly seven decades it’s been part of my life, I have come to appreciate its sacredness in a whole different way. Back then I looked upon it as the unchanging revelation of the one true God. Now I look at it as an extraordinary, sacred archive of the evolution of human consciousness.

The idea of levels of consciousness, first advanced in the late1940s by Jean Gebser and Ernst Neumann and carried forward into our own times primarily through the work of Ken Wilber, suggests (in a nutshell) that each of us in the course of our lives pass through a series of levels of consciousness. Beginning in the undifferentiated “uroboric” state of infancy, we pass through the magical consciousness of early childhood, where the world is alive with “ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggity beasties, and things that go bump in the night;” to mythic membership (identification with the group or tribe); rational; pluralistic (“Co-exist!”)—and finally, if we’re lucky, to those “nondual” states of integral and cosmic consciousness, where we begin to see all things from the perspective of oneness. In the same way that an individual progresses through these levels in the course of life, moving as far as he or she is able to along the gradient, so our entire human family has passed through these same stages, “writ large” in the history of civilization.

Swan
Swan Series no 23, artist Hilma af Klint, photo courtesy of Laura Ruth from Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future

Seen in this way, the people of Israel are indeed, quintessentially, “the pen that God writes with” (as our Israeli tour guide categorically proclaimed during my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land). The journey we call the Old Testament really gets underway around the shift from magical consciousness to mythic membership consciousness. That’s what I was really witnessing in all those Bible stories of my childhood, those holy wars on “idol worship.” What I now know from a wider reading of human anthropology is that all those struggles with the Canaanites and Baal worshippers were really playing out the displacement of an earlier, magical consciousness in the transition to the next level, mythic membership. Israel swept like a holy dust storm into these ancient matriarchal lands, replacing the gods of rocks and rivers with a new concept, of a God “out there,” related to creation through covenant, not indwelling. It was a clear and significant evolutionary leap. The twelve tribes of Israel came into being as the active agency of this transition, determinedly obliterating their neighbors and even earlier, “pagan” vestiges in their own tradition to clear the way for this heretofore unconceivable new beachhead of divine/human consciousness.

Even Song
Even Song by artist Agnes Lawrence Pelton, 1930, courtesy of wikiart

Then, beginning in the Davidic psalms and continuing in earnest through the post-exilic prophets, we see the rise of rational consciousness as across the entire planet the winds of that great “first axial” age begin to blow and Israel awakens to the idea of a personal relationship and individual accountability with this great transcendent Yahweh. Finally, in those mysterious apocalyptic images of the “suffering servant” and that elusive “son of man,” we see the first intimations of a whole new level of consciousness, integral verging toward nondual: the capacity to think from the whole, not from the part, and thus for the first time in the history of civilization to begin to envision the possibility of a collective humanity.

This is where Jesus takes up the story. As far as the West is concerned, he is indisputably the first to model a fully attained nondual consciousness: flowing, compassionate, holographic, unbound by the conventions of those lower orders of consciousness which require that things be separated from each other in order to make sense of them. He is literally envisioning a new world, based on a new mode of consciousness: unity attained.

And of course, the planet was not ready for him then—and is still barely ready.


Look for Cynthia’s next post in this series, “I Am Not a Space that God Does Not Occupy: Part VI: A Brief History of Consciousness, Continued” Wednesday January 29, 2020 here on the Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog. You may click on these links to go to “Part I: The Light Within,” “Part II: Panenthesim,” ” Part III: Panikkar,” and “Part IV: Jesus Was Not a Monotheist(!?)

From My Introduction to This Series:

“May this “year of perfect vision” indeed shed some new light.

How I Found God.“Dear Wisdom Friends,
As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere… Enjoy! And Happy New Year!!!

“how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere is an anthology of spiritual memoirs, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish, our intrepid publishing partner here in Northeast Wisdomland! Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.” 

           ~Cynthia Bourgeault, January 2020

We look forward to the conversation continuing in Comments!

This is Part IV of an eight-part Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog series that began on Sunday January 12, 2020, with two posts weekly, Sundays and Wednesdays, during the season of Epiphany. You are invited to share your responses in the Comments section below; and check out the end of this post for Cynthia’s introductory message to this series!

In “Part III: Panikkar,” Cynthia recalls first reading Panikkar’s Christophany—her heart being “blown wide open by this theologically exacting yet breathtakingly nondual rendition of the Christian mystical vision.” Panikkar offered new origin to the Trinity; and gave us a new word:

Jesus’ experience of God was cosmotheandric, the infinite and the finite continuously interabiding one another, dynamically changing places through a process of continuing self-giving, or kenosis.”

The stunning vision of the Trinity that emerges from Jesus’ experience—the “Abba, Father” pole on the one hand, and the “I and the Father are One” pole on the other—comes into motion with the third of Jesus’ master sayings, “It is good that I leave.” This new vision reveals a beautiful movement of active infusion, an intercirculation of realms, which Panikkar sees as World—God—Human in abundant, dynamic relationship.

Panikkar affirms theologically what science calls a single unified field, and what we are learning, as people of the 21st century, “that energy, not substance, is the coin of the realm.” Cynthia penetrates further…   


IV.   Jesus was not a monotheist (!?)

As I began to pay more attention to the subtext in Christophany, what I began to see appearing before my eyes was something even more radical. Was I really understanding correctly that Panikkar seemed to be implying that Jesus was not a monotheist?                                                            

I got to ask Panikkar this question directly in a private interview a few months before his death. His answer turned my world upside down—not so much what he said, but how he said it.                                                                                 

Hand of God
Hand of God by Lorenzo Quinn, photo Loco Steve, Halcyon Gallery, London

Well, it sure seemed to me that this is where Panikkar’s argument was heading. Block by understated block, he was quietly building the case that what made Jesus so threatening to the Jewish authorities was not his politics, his mysticism, or even his charisma, but that aforementioned “intense experience of divine filiation.” This unauthorized prophet was standing too close, violating that unbridgeable divide between Creator and creature which Father Abraham and Father Moses had fixed in place as firmly as the firmament itself. Who would ever call the great, transcendent Yahweh “Abba,” “Papa!!!!” Or accept the moniker “Son of God:” a blasphemy so galling that they played it back to him on his crown of thorns.

Silense
Silense by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

It was so blasphemous, in fact, that even St. Paul found himself wanting to wriggle out of it, inventing the grand theological dodge that Jesus is the only natural son of God; the rest of us are “adopted” sons. But with his own brilliant theological and interspiritual acuity, Panikkar overturned that proposition as logically flawed, culturally bound, and not at all what Jesus was saying in the first place. Jesus is the son of God because we are all sons (and daughters) of God, because that is how a cosmotheandric universe works, because God is not a first cause, not an explanation, but rather meaning itself, throbbing through the entire dynamism, suffusing the attuned heart like the air we breathe, like the atoms still reverberating in our bodies from the big bang.

“Is that really what you meant? Am I understanding you rightly?” I peered across the vast walnut desk at the tiny, 93-year-old man, sitting like a wizened tulku in the study at his home in Tavertet, Spain. It was March 8, 2010, less than six months before his death, and he was already actively transitioning toward the next realm; two months earlier he had cancelled all engagements. How our own interview remained on his calendar, I to this day do not understand; I chalk it up to the deft touch of a mutual friend in Barcelona who had arranged our meeting and served as our impromptu interpreter when our conversation occasionally lapsed into Panikkar’s native Catalonian. We sat there for about an hour, our conversation mostly carried in the mode of contemplative prayer, punctuated by a few brief exchanges which barely rippled the radiance of the depths.

“That’s really what you’re saying?” I finally summoned up my nerve to ask —“that Jesus was not a monotheist?”

He weighed my words silently. The silence lasted a long, long time. Then slowly, still silently, he nodded. A mysterious smile flickered across his face, not unlike the Mona Lisa.


Look for Cynthia’s next post in this series, “I Am Not a Space that God Does Not Occupy: Part V A Brief History of Consciousness,” Sunday January 26, 2020 here on the Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog. You may click on these links to go to “Part I: The Light Within,” “Part II: Panenthesim,” and Part III: Panikkar.

Here’s Cynthia’s original message introducing this series, posted January 12:

“Dear Wisdom Friends,

How I Found God.As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere.                  

I look forward to you sharing your reflections in the Comments section.

Enjoy! And Happy New Year!!!

May this “year of perfect vision” indeed shed some new light.”

Cynthia adds, “how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere is an anthology of spiritual memoirs, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish, our intrepid publishing partner here in Northeast Wisdomland! Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.” 

This is Part III of an eight-part Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog series that began on Sunday January 12, 2020. Cynthia introduced the series with this message:              

“Dear Wisdom Friends,

As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was originally published in the 2018 How I Found God.anthology, how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere.                  

I will be sharing my entire essay in eight successive posts, which will be headed your way in bite-sized doses over the upcoming season of Epiphany. I look forward to you sharing your reflections in the Comments section. Enjoy! And Happy New Year!!!

May this “year of perfect vision” indeed shed some new light.”  


In “Part II: Panentheism,” Cynthia remembers how frequently she met resistance teaching Centering Prayer with its understanding of levels of consciousness:

“Clearly the whole notion of a divine indwelling, for all its certifiable theological orthodoxy, continues to make many traditionally reared Christians squirm.”

Inevitably, the word “panentheist” would come up, a term which Cynthia says, “like a ‘jet airplane’… tries to define itself in terms of a prior term (in this case, pantheism), to which it offers an ostensible improvement… while still implicitly keeping the paradigm in place.”

As our world hovers on the threshold of a second axial age, I believe that it’s time to recognize pantheism as a concept whose era has long since come and gone… This old wineskin’s simply gotta go before we can break out the new wine of an authentically nondual Christianity.”

She concludes, “I hope to share with you a bit of the story of how I have come to see things in this way—in particular, the three “aha” insights that changed everything for me.” And here we are…


III. Panikkar

Panikkar
Raimon Panikkar, photo courtesy of Milena Carrara

I had been slowly drifting toward a more unitive worldview for decades, but it was Raimon Panikkar who finally put me across the line.

Panikkar had been on my distant radar screen for some time, but my immersion began in earnest in the spring of 2008—thanks, I should say, to a nudge from my longtime friend and spiritual mentor Thomas Keating. Eighty-five years old at the time, Thomas had himself recently taken the plunge into Panikkar’s 2004 magnum opus Christophany and was electrified by its brilliant, dynamically nondual vision. “Can you imagine how this would change the face of Christianity if it were better known?” he mused, then added, staring straight at me with that signature twinkle of the eye, “But of course, it’s too difficult for lay people….”

True Trinity
the true Trinity in true unity, Hildegard of Bingen

Well, them’s fighting words! It’s long been a point of pride with me (and TK knew it!) that anything worth teaching can be taught to anyone if you can only find the right angle of approach. So rising to the wager, I too plunged into Christophany, only to find my heart, just like Thomas’, blown wide open by this theologically exacting yet breathtakingly nondual rendition of the Christian mystical vision. As I waded into the section called “The Mysticism of Jesus Christ,” I was floored by what Panikkar seemed to be arguing: that the Trinity, often dismissed as a theological add-on hammered out at the later theological councils, was actually an original—because it originated in the mind of Christ! It encapsulates in a single elegant mandala the entire personal experience of Jesus himself in his relationship to divinity.

Far from either a static immanence or static transcendence, Jesus’ experience of God was cosmotheandric, the infinite and the finite continuously interabiding one another, dynamically changing places through a process of continuing self-giving, or kenosis. At the “Abba, father” pole, claims Panikkar, Jesus is most fully identified with his finite selfhood, reaching out to God with what Panikkar describes as “a very intense experience of a divine filiation.” (p. 93) At the opposite pole, “I and the Father are one,” there is simply a unity of being, no place where God stops and “I” begin, just a unity. Between these two poles, the third of Jesus’ three great mahavakyani, or master sayings—“It is good that I leave”— places the other two in a perpetual kenotic dynamism which Panikkar beautifully summarizes as “I am one with the source insofar as I too act as a source by making all I have received flow again.” (p. 116).

Vortex
Vortex, Space, Form, Giacomo Balla, 1914

Dynamism, the missing link: like a bicycle, the whole thing only works when it’s in motion.

Cosmotheandric” is Panikkar’s neologism of choice to describe this dynamic intercirculation. Denotatively, it covers much the same turf as panentheism, but connotatively, they are light years apart. Panentheism ties us back into that old static paradigm (this “thing” called the created order is not God, but God can still visit it without getting stuck in it); cosmotheandric (forged from the words cosmos, world; theos, God; and andros, human) speaks implicitly of an intercirculation of realms, of whole different dimensions or planes of being actively infusing each other. It is cosmic, quantum, Einsteinian, portraying the paradox of form and formless more like virtual particles dancing in and about existence in a single unified field than in the old substance theology categories now largely outmoded as we have discovered that energy, not substance, is the coin of the realm.

Flame
Mount of Flame courtesy artist Agnes Lawrence Pelton

                

Panikkar’s words knocked my socks off, for it felt so in tune with the heartbeat of the 21st century, the dynamic, evolving, interabiding world we are coming to find affirmed far more in science these days than in theology, still so stuck in defending an ancient and long since superfluous abyss between form and the formless.

Nor did it come as much of a surprise to me when the lay people in my Wisdom School ate it right up.


Look for Cynthia’s next post in this series, “I Am Not a Space that God Does Not Occupy: Part IV. Jesus was not a monotheist (!?),” Wednesday, January 22, 2020 here, on the Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog. You may click on these links to go to “Part I: The Light Within,” and “Part II: Panenthesim.”

Cynthia says, “how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere is an anthology of spiritual memoirs, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish, our intrepid publishing partner here in Northeast Wisdomland! Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.”

This is Part II of an eight-part Northeast Wisdom Home Page Blog series that began with “Part I. The Light Within” posted Sunday January 12, 2020. Cynthia introduced the series with this message:  

“Dear Wisdom Friends,

As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was How I Found God.originally published in the 2018 anthology, how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere.

I will be sharing my entire essay in eight successive posts, which will be headed your way in bite-sized doses over the upcoming season of Epiphany. I look forward to you sharing your reflections in the Comments section. Enjoy! And Happy New Year!!!

 May this “year of perfect vision” indeed shed some new light.” 


In “Part I: The Light Within,” Cynthia shares an experience of an immediate knowing that she had as a young child, one evening in the sunset light of a pumpkin field:

“…this holy, intimate radiance suffusing the picture was in me and in everything, if for no other reason than because it was from the inside that all of this seemed to be emerging. ‘Ah,’ the Quakers nodded encouragingly, ‘the light within!’ And they told me it was in everyone.”

Cynthia watched her grandson wrestle at four years old with how to reconcile his young life experience with what he had been told were “the basic tenets of Christian belief: 1) that God is everywhere, and 2) that human beings are not God.” Part I closes with her reflection:

“Blessedly, it never occurred to me back in those early days of my awakening that my cherished secret, that gently dawning light within, might be seen in some quarters as ‘putting God in a box.’”               


II. Panentheism

The whole implicit collision course didn’t really hit home until years later—decades later, in fact; post Ph.D., post seminary, post ordination—when, by now a commissioned practitioner of Centering Prayer, I was regularly giving introductory workshops in local churches and seminaries. Part of the standard presentation features a way of introducing the concept of contemplative prayer by framing it in terms of different levels of consciousness: our ordinary awareness (task-oriented and self-referential), spiritual awareness (more open-ended, receptive, and emotionally attuned) and last but not least, the divine indwelling, through which God “himself” is personally conscious in us and as us.

“No, no, that is quite wrong. You are in error.” Inevitably there would be a person standing there at the break, right in my face, urgently challenging me on this last point. “There is nothing of God that indwells the human person,” this person would categorically proclaim. From there, the argument would go in either of two directions: a) we humans have been so ineradicably contaminated by sin that we have lost the image and likeness of God, or b) the whole thing is pure pantheism.

This episode was repeated with such predictable regularity that I eventually came to expect it. Clearly the whole notion of a divine indwelling, for all its certifiable theological orthodoxy, continues to make many traditionally reared Christians squirm.

I draw in my breath and begin again, “Yes,” I try to explain to this person, “for sure, if I were claiming that I am God or that God and the world are the same, that would be pantheism.

Illuminated Heart
Illuminated Heart, 2016, courtesy of the artist Havi Mandell

“But surely God can inhabit this world of ours, indwell and suffuse it without getting stuck there…”

“Oh, you mean you’re a panentheist!” comes the rejoinder. I roll my eyes and cede the point, all the while silently gritting my teeth.

For you see, mea culpa, I have to admit that I do not take easily to being labeled a panentheist. Yes, I know that most my other theologically progressive colleagues are all in favor of it, but the term has always made me distinctly uncomfortable. It’s not so much the concept that bothers me; it’s the word itself. Like a “jet airplane,” it’s one of those terms that tries to define itself in terms of a prior term (in this case, pantheism), to which it offers an ostensible improvement.

Panentheism hence looks like a more refined version of pantheism, an update that disposes of its major shortcomings while still implicitly keeping the paradigm in place.

But in fact, it’s the entire paradigm that’s the problem in the first place, and I suspect that things are not going to improve (either for our schools of theology or for our planet) until we gird up our loins and stop en-abling it.

14thc.
14th century perhaps, Pera, Church of St Paul.

As our world hovers on the threshold of a second axial age, I believe that it’s time to recognize pantheism as a concept whose era has long since come and gone.

It has no place in a post-Einsteinian universe, is radically subversive of all efforts toward a unified planetary ecology, notoriously unfriendly to mystics, and just plain old existentially wrong. This old wineskin’s simply gotta go before we can break out the new wine of an authentically nondual Christianity.

I am not saying this simply for the sake of being controversial. These conclusions have been slowly growing in me for a very long time now, to the point where I simply cannot see the situation in any other way. Over the next few blog posts I hope to share with you a bit of the story of how I have come to see things in this way—in particular, the three “aha” insights that changed everything for me.


Look for Cynthia’s next post in this series, “I Am Not a Space that God Does Not Occupy: Part III. Panikkar,” Sunday, January 19, 2020 here, on the Northeast Wisdom home page. “Part I: The Light Within”, posted January 12, 2020, is here on the Northeast Wisdom Blog.

Cynthia says, “how I found GOD in everyone and everywhere is an anthology of spiritual memoirs, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish, our intrepid publishing partner here in Northeast Wisdomland! Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.”

Dear Wisdom Friends,

As the new decade gets underway, it feels like an appropriate moment to share one of my earlier essays, which is still to my mind one of the best things I’ve ever written. It was originally published in the 2018 anthology, How I found GOD in Everyone and Everywhere, edited by Claremont School of Theology faculty members Andrew M. How I Found God.Davis and Philip Clayton and published by Monkfish, our intrepid publishing partner here in Northeast Wisdomland! Compiled in honor of Marcus Borg, this anthology is broadly structured around the theme of Panentheism and features the usual suspects among Christian nondual teachers, including my colleagues Richard Rohr, Matthew Fox, and Ilia Delio. It’s well worth a read in its entirety.                

I will be sharing my entire essay in eight successive posts, which will be headed your way in bite-sized doses over the upcoming season of Epiphany.

Part II will be posted here on Wednesday January 15. Look for the next posts to follow Sundays and Wednesdays through January and into early February. I look forward to you sharing your reflections in the Comments section. Enjoy! And Happy New Year!!! May this “year of perfect vision” indeed shed some new light.


I. The Light Within

“So does that mean every time a new baby’s born, there’s less God?”

The Good Earth by Jose Bernal

The pint-sized questioner was my grandson Jack, at the time four years old and clearly wrestling with the theological implications of the recent birth of his baby sister. His other grandmother, of a more evangelical persuasion, had been coaching him on the basic tenets of Christian belief: 1) that God is everywhere, and 2) that human beings are not God. With his four-year-old, preoperational-logic brain in virtual overdrive, Jack was trying to reconcile the admittedly challenging interface between these two givens.

I have to admit, his question stopped me dead in my tracks. Not just the perspicacity of his insight, but the very notion itself. Never during my own childhood would the thought have even crossed my mind that a human being might be a space where God was not. Raised in the rolling countryside of southeastern Pennsylvania, I grew up in an easy, natural intimacy between the divine and human realms, an intimacy intensified through the regular silent worship at the local Quaker school I was privileged to attend. To be sure, Sundays brought my weekly encounter with Christian Science where it was drilled into me that “there is no life, truth, intelligence, nor substance in matter.” But the rest of the week I was free to roam the fields and forests and drink in exactly the opposite message. From the first moment my young self-reflective consciousness came online, about Jack’s age or a little younger (I remember myself standing in a pumpkin patch just at sunset in late October, everything brilliantly ablaze in orange), I knew then and there that this holy, intimate radiance suffusing the picture was in me and in everything, if for no other reason than because it was from the inside that all of this seemed to be emerging. “Ah,” the Quakers nodded encouragingly, “the light within!” And they told me it was in everyone.

The Hymn
The Hymn by Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis

In due course, at Christian Science Sunday School and Methodist Vacation Bible School, we kids all read the Bible stories and learned all about those epic Old Testament battles against something called “idol worship.” We thrilled as Moses smashed down the golden calf and sneered over our shoulders at those misguided Baal worshippers or Phoenicians or Canaanites with whom our Hebrew heroes were locked in mortal combat. I didn’t know exactly what “idol worship” was at the time, but I knew it had to do with trying to put God in a box—and that the consequences for disobedience were severe. (The Ten Commandments, duly memorized as part of our Bible School experience, left no doubt on that score.)

Blessedly, it never occurred to me back in those early days of my awakening that my cherished secret, that gently dawning light within, might be seen in some quarters as “putting God in a box.”

 

Look for Cynthia’s next post, “I Am Not a Space that God Does Not Occupy:” Part II. Panentheism, Wednesday, January 15, 2020 right here on the Northeast Wisdom Home Page.

Dear Wisdom Friends,

Our FOURTH annual Maine Wisdom InGathering is now officially open for registration. The dates are May 30 through June 5, 2020. Mark it on your calendar!

Once again we are delighted to offer a relaxed, affordable, family-friendly Wisdom School in the heart of scenic Stonington, Maine. This year’s program will feature our signature blend of daily teaching, meditation, chanting, body prayer, and conscious practical work, as well as generous unprogrammed time for exploring the natural paradise here and reconnecting with old friends. This year, our ever-popular “adventure day” will come at the end of the week, on June 5. Once again, we are pleased to be able to offer children’s programming as an integral part of our Wisdom work together.

Our theme this year is 2020: HONORING THE YEAR OF PERFECT VISION. The morning teachings will feature a “sneak peek” into my forthcoming (September 2020) book, Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal World, where we explore some powerful new perspectives for working skillfully in a world apparently hopelessly divided and gridlocked.

In the afternoons we will bore into some of the deeper practical applications of this vision as Matthew Wright leads us once again in his popular exploration of Sufi prayer of the heart and Tim Shriver and Brie Stoner showcase their remarkable “Inspiration Nation” project, a visionary effort to reintroduce civility and virtue into our present political scene. With a major primary election coming up the following week, our gathering will come, as they say, “not a moment too soon.”

Our time together will also showcase music and the arts, including a concert by Quaker chant writer Paulette Meier to launch her new album of chants, and an original one-act play by professional actor/playwright and budding wisdom student Doug Hertler called Merton and Me, which played to rave reviews in our Claymont Wisdom school last December.

This year the logistics for the event will be managed by our dedicated Wisdom duo, Mary Ellen Jernigan and Eileen Clark, two very caring and responsive presences, who have set up a special e-mailbox just for the occasion. They will be happy to work with you on all aspects of logistics, accommodations, and other details. If you would like to talk to Eileen or Mary Ellen by phone, just send a note to ingathering2020@gmail.com with your phone number and the best time for one of them to give you a call.

We hope you’ll join us—whether for the first time or as a returning InGathering regular. This is the time for our Wisdom tribe to gather, and you are all welcome, regardless of experience and even if you see yourself as merely riding in on the coat tails of a spouse (a lot of our very best wisdom students began this way!) It’s a wonderful imaginal synchronicity that our first full day this year happens to be Pentecost Sunday, reminding us once again that the winds of God are sweeping strongly through our world, and that our presence here as a wee “pop-up” conscious circle is both needed and blessed.

As Rumi says, “Beyond right and wrong there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” I am hoping to meet as many of you as possible in Stonington, May 30 to June 5. Registration will be capped this year at 80, so don’t wait too long before signing up!

All the wait list information, logistics, and details are in one place, on the 2020 Maine InGathering Event page.

Blessings,
Cynthia

 

Maine with child

Dear Wisdom Friends,

As many of you know, one of my longstanding priorities has been to encourage a creative and empowered next generation of Wisdom teachers. A lineage only survives into the future to the extent that the wingspan of its next generation of lineage bearers exceed the wingspan of their founder. I have seen all too many bright young spiritual organizations die on the vine in the second generation when, out of fear or misplaced respect, they allow themselves to become a mausoleum for the founding teacher. I was determined that this should not happen with Northeast Wisdom.

As this wonderful experiment in Wisdom organizational culture now rounds its five year milestone, I am overjoyed to report that I have rarely seen such a burst of creativity and collaborative spirit, now coming of age. In declaring themselves no longer a Board but a Wisdom Council, my seven students-become-colleagues announce formally what has already been increasingly true in spirit: that this wee organization collaboratively birthed in 2014 has indeed become a new wineskin to bear the good new wine of Wisdom to a parched and bewildered world.

 

Northeast Wisdom Council Members

We Invite You to Donate Here

I will not detail here all the remarkably imaginative and groundbreaking initiatives launched and/or supported by our Council this year. But to highlight just a few: members of our Council have broken into new delivery formats (would you believe, an online Holy Week retreat and now an Advent retreat?); taken on Bruno Barnhart’s Future of Wisdom in the first Northeast Wisdom study group on Zoom which served people across the country and around the world; overseen the return-to-print of the contemporary mystical classic, The Mystery of Death by Ladislaus Boros; spearheaded the production of a second volume of Paulette Meier’s remarkable Quaker Wisdom chants; and sponsored two groundbreaking seminars: the Thomas Keating interspiritual celebration in Aspen this past July and the Teilhard and Gurdjieff seminar at Claymont this past fall–both of these events capably staffed and organized by emerging Wisdom students. This, of course, is over and above the amazing variety of on-the-ground Wisdom Schools now flourishing coast-to-coast. The new generation of Wisdom leaders is indeed alive and well, well-grounded in the lineage, yet bursting with their own creativity and synergy. It’s not just teachers in the traditional sense. It’s also visual artists, musicians, chant writers, cinematographers, movements teachers; the brew is sparkling.

 

 

Meanwhile, with the daily operations clearly in safe hands, I have been freed to turn my attention to the experimental projects and writing closest to my own heart. I am happy to report that my new book, Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm, will be published in September 2020. And The Mystery of Death, mentioned in the paragraph above, will include an extended introduction and commentary which I finally found time to write. Top on my list for the upcoming year is to continue to plunge deeper into the metaphysical dialogue between Teilhard and Gurdjieff–which I am convinced contains the seeds of a cosmovision robust enough to reorient our crumbling Western culture at this point of crisis­­–and to continue the exploration of Thomas Keating’s profoundly beautiful and moving end-of-life exploration of an authentic Christian nonduality.

 

 

What a privilege and a gift to be traversing this sacred ground! I am so grateful to our Wisdom Council, to the emerging network of younger Wisdom leaders coast-to-coast who are stepping up to the plate with respect and panache, and to each of you who are reading this post and feel moved to make a financial contribution. Together, we are creating this new wineskin. It is sorely needed. Let’s keep it going!

With blessing and gratitude,

Cynthia


Dear Wisdom Friends,

It is my great pleasure and honor to invite you to financially support the work of Northeast Wisdom. Supporting and proliferating Wisdom work in the world, Northeast Wisdom is eagerly working to encourage and support developing Wisdom communities around the globe. Through initiatives that highlight emerging leaders, that connect Wisdom seekers with Practice Circles and programs, and that is beginning to publish and distribute written Wisdom material—Northeast Wisdom is an important engine that manifests Wisdom in the world.

While Cynthia continues to contribute her guiding hand, Northeast Wisdom is looking toward an expanded presence now that will amplify her work in emerging teachers and new programs. We are looking forward to an enduring footprint of Wisdom that will contribute to the world’s transformation. Indeed, it is hard to think of a time and place that needs Wisdom more than our world right now.

Your financial gift is one vitally important contribution in supporting Wisdom when we need it most. But we are all also called to integrate Wisdom into the fabric of our lives. Please join with us on the Wisdom Council (formerly the Board) of Northeast Wisdom, as we work to more generously give ourselves and our resources to our work together.

Love,

Bill Redfield


Northeast Wisdom is committed to supporting the Wisdom Community across the country and around the world, and its fount of ‘new arisings’ in the Wisdom lineage of Cynthia Bourgeault. With your generosity and support, Northeast Wisdom hopes to “bear the good new wine of Wisdom to a parched and bewildered world.”

In appreciation for your gift of $250 or more, we would like to send you a copy of the new reprint of “The Mystery of Death” by Ladislaus Boros with a never-before published Introduction and Commentary by Cynthia Bourgeault, which will be sent to you in late March of 2020.

We Invite You to Donate Here

You may make your contribution to Northeast Wisdom directly on this website by following this link to the Donate button, or you may send your check to Northeast Wisdom, PO Box 2133, Darien, CT, 06820-2133. Please note “2019 Annual Appeal” in the memo online or on your check. Northeast Wisdom is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Join us, with your contribution, in the amount that is sustainable to you. Every gift is received as a gift from the heart, growing the community and furthering the work of Wisdom in the world.

 Thank you.                                                       

 

 

Appreciations for photos: of drawing courtesy of Barbara Miller, from the Bruno Barnhart Northeast Wisdom study group; of Paulette and crew courtesy of Molly Weiland; of Thomas Keating Interspiritual Celebration courtesy of Todd Hartley and Matthew Wright; at Claymont Gurdjieff meets Teilhard October 2019 courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault and Marcella Kraybill-Greggo; of the in-process cover of the reprinting of Boros’ The Mystery of Death, photo courtesy of Paul Cohen at Monkfish Publishing; of Thomas Keating’s book of poems The Secret Embrace, courtesy of and available at the Contemplative Outreach website; of the labyrinth at Glastonbury Abbey courtesy of their website; and of the shepherd with sheep photo by Bill Britten, image displayed at Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center. Thanks also to public domain websites max pixel, wikimedia, public domain pictures and pexels.  

With extraordinary joy and gratitude I offer these words of welcome to the wonderful feast now laid before you: the complete video archive of our groundbreaking Thomas Keating interspiritual celebration, which took place at the Aspen Chapel last July 13 and 14 — and of which, I am proud to say, Northeast Wisdom was one of the principal sponsors. You may view the eight videos of the event through the link at the end of this blog post.

The purpose of the gathering was to honor Thomas Keating’s remarkable interspiritual legacy and to inquire more deeply together how to move forward in its light into the challenging and uncertain times now facing our planet. In both of these goals, the gathering far exceeded our expectations. In fact, it blew us all away.

Fr. Thomas Keating–Trappist monk, principal architect of Centering Prayer, and interspiritual pioneer–died on October 25, 2018, leaving behind not only a living treasury of his own final teachings about the emergence into unity consciousness from a Christian perspective, but more significantly, the fruit of that emergence: his continued robust energetic presence among us as an ongoing teacher and guide. I became aware of that presence very powerfully toward the end of his life, and even more so during his funeral at St Joseph’s Abbey at Spencer, Massachusetts, where he presided over the ceremony with all the force of a Moses perched on his mountaintop. If I hadn’t known it before, I knew for certain then I knew then that Thomas Keating was not going away; he simply had to call into being a resonant container of listening hearts to receive his continuing presence and guidance. And I suspected that those hearts would be most powerfully concentrated in the spiritual initiative he always most treasured, his work with the other spiritual traditions. In many of those traditions the subtle energetic exchange between the worlds and powerful infusion of blessing from a realized master is far better understood than in Christianity. I suspected—correctly, it turned out—that the gathering would sense this intuitively and draw on it powerfully; make it manifest.

I was prepared for the outcome, but not for the force with which it came. The love, clarity, and beauty pervading the entire weekend will surely be palpable to you as well as you work your way through these videos.

I am still not yet at a point of having recovered enough from being knocked literally wordless by the event to give you a full chronological description. But at this point I can at least share with you my three biggest impressions, all of which caught me by surprise. Watch for them as you work your way through the videos!

 

  1. The first and most powerful of these was the purity of the love uniting the hearts of our twenty or so invited delegates. That became palpable from our very first gathering on Friday night. The people seated in our circle had come—mostly at significant personal expense–because of a very intense love for Thomas. In all cases they were responding to an unequivocal inner conviction that they simply could NOT be elsewhere. The fourteenth century mystic Julian of Norwich speaks of “purifying the motive at the ground of our beseeching”—and it was the utter purity of the intention that I believe opened the remarkable morphogenetic field that fused among us that weekend.

 

  1. For me, the most surprising takeaway to emerge out of our mutual inquiry was an appreciation of the immense suffering that Thomas had undergone in his final months to arrive at the state of consciousness he arrived at. His was a truly Christian realization of “no self”—but achieved along classically Christian and paschal lines. You’ll hear a taste of this in the second panel. This challenging realization could not have been excavated without the insightful and supportive insights of ALL the traditions gathered in the room. And I believe we all came to understand the centrality of the Paschal Mystery in Christianity in a slightly different and vastly deeper way. Interpiritual dialogue broke powerful new ground that day—over the Eucharistic feast, so to speak, of Thomas’s realized selfhood, broken and given for us.

 

  1. There is a genuine lineage transmission going on—and I think in fact, this was one of Thomas’s unstated agendas for the gathering in the first place, as we presented ourselves for whatever might want to happen. Thomas’s last great spiritual venture in his life was his Younger Contemplatives Initiative, drawing together a powerful task force of younger visionaries and voices. You’ll see them at work in the video, and you’ll see how their style is significantly different from us older mentors who have held the barricades for so long now.You’ll notice it right in the first video: us “old guard” tend to be monological and authoritative, doing our dignified separate pieces sequentially. From the moment Brie and Phileena (two of our younger female contemplatives in the network) burst onto the scene, you’ll see at once it’s a whole new ballgame: earthy, dialogical, and above all collaborative. And the energy just keeps on building, right through the final panel, brilliantly chaired by Matthew Wright. These younger contemplatives ”get” the higher collectivity; they are moving forward not only with new wine, but with new wineskins. There is hope indeed…

 

 

In the very last event of the weekend—alas, too private and intimate to be videoed—an eagle soared overhead as the small group gathered at Thomas’s gravesite for final prayers and prostrations. It was understood by all to be a sign—Melville’s Catskill eagle, perhaps??—

“…who can alike dive down into the blackest gorges and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he forever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop that mountain eagle is still higher than the other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.”

 

I like to think about it that way, anyway. Our Catskill Eagle has swooped. The work will continue.


CBandEB
Cynthia with conference co-organizer Ed Bastian

Father Thomas Keating
His InterSpiritual Legacy and a Vision for the Future
Aspen Chapel, July 13-14, 2019

The Complete Video Archive of this event is available on the Aspen Chapel Video Wall, here. There are eight videos of this conference on the site, with a schedule, list of presenters, staff, volunteers, resource people and donors.

Please feel free to watch and share these videos as much as you like, with no cost attached. Although if you wish to support programs like this at the Aspen Chapel, you may do so through the Video Wall link above.

This event was brought to you by: Aspen Chapel, Northeast Wisdom and the

Spiritual Paths Foundation. Northeast Wisdom was honored to participate, and proud to be a principal sponsor of this event.

The three event photos posted above in this blog courtesy of Matthew Wright.

Part 3 of a three-part blog series by Cynthia Bourgeault

 

I cannot emphasize strongly enough that the word imaginal does not mean “imaginary.” That unfortunate but all too understandable confusion was created by Henry Corbin, the noted Islamic scholar, when he introduced the term Mundus Imaginalis to name that intermediate, invisible realm of causality that figures so prominently in mystical Islamic cosmology. But Corbin was drawing here on a highly technical and quintessentially Islamic notion of Imagination as itself one of those higher and more subtle energies, possessing being, will, objectivity, and creative function. To our modern Western ears, the word “imaginal” may indeed seem to suggest some private, interior, or subjective inner landscape, “make-believe” or fanciful by nature. But while it is typically associated with the world of dreams, visions, and prophecy—i.e., more subtle form—the imaginal is always understood within traditional metaphysics to be objectively real and in fact comprising “an ontological reality entirely superior to that of mere possibility.” (Gospel of Mary Magdalene, p. 153.) It designates a sphere that is not less real but more real than our so-called “objective reality” and whose generative energy can (and does) change the course of events in this world. Small though it may appear to be, it is mighty, as those who try to swim against it will readily attest.

Domenichino [Public domain]

Walter Wink, one of the few Western theologians as yet to deal appreciatively with the imaginal realm, describes how this “generative” causality played out in the events following the resurrection. His comments below offer a clear window into both of these key points: that imaginal reality is “objective” and that it carries real force:

It is a prejudice of modern thought that events happen only in the outer world. What Christians regard as the most significant event in human history happened, according to the gospels, in the psychic realm, and it altered external history irrevocably. Ascension was an “objective” event, if you will, but it took place in the imaginal realm, at the substratum of human existence where the most fundamental changes in consciousness take place. The ascension was a “fact” on the imaginal plane, not just an assertion of faith. It irreversibly altered the nature of the disciples’ consciousness. (quoted from The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, 166-7)

 

One need only to read the Book of Acts to sense the breadth and power of this change in the disciples’ consciousness and to grasp the implications of what Wink is saying here. Not all constructions are illusions, for sure! However and wherever these disciples came to it, they emerged from the post-resurrection events infused with a clear and high sense of purpose, resolve, empowerment, and above all, the unshakable confidence that their Lord was still present with them—which at the imaginal level is indisputedly true. With their oars planted firmly in that kingdom, they moved forward to change the world. This is exactly what Corbin was trying convey by the word “imagination,” understood in the traditional sense. Imaginal reality is a valid construction which, by changing consciousness in its inner ground, changes the nature of reality in the outer world. For this world as we know it is simply the outer form—Isaak Dinesen’s snake skin— within which runs that fiery, innermost aliveness. At least when things are working well, that is.

Because of this demonstrated capacity to affect outcome in this world, the imaginal realm has long been associated with the world of dreams, prophecy, and oracles. To attuned hearts, it does indeed seem to send “messages.” That is why it often is equated with the “subtle” level of consciousness in Asian-influenced typologies such as those promulgated by contemporary philosopher Ken Wilber. There is truth here, to be sure, but remember that these “levels of consciousness” maps are all essentially “upper left quadrant” metaphysics, to use Wilberspeak—or in other words, geared to the individual interior journey and individual transformation. Properly understood through its own Western filter, the imaginal realm is collective and evolutionary; its ultimate purpose is to guide, shape, nourish, and where necessary offer course-corrections to our entire planetary and interplanetary unfolding. As an objectively verifiable realm, interpenetrating our earth plane and operating at a twice-higher frequency of spiritual intensity and coherence (more on that to follow shortly), it is a life within a life, and its laws, interpenetrating our own, provide the inner template by which the outer unfolding can proceed rightly.

Therefore, it is also and primarily supremely the realm of cosmic assistance. It is the “place” from which saints, teachers, masters, and all manner of abler souls reach out across the apparent divide between the worlds to support or where necessary modify earthly outcomes in tandem with willing and attuned hearts here below.

Link to Part I, Introducing the Imaginal

Link to Part 2, “Where ” is The Imaginal Realm Located?

Part 2 of a three-part blog series by Cynthia Bourgeault

 

Traditional metaphysical maps based on “the great chain of being” will tend to situate the imaginal as the station “above” ours, the next more subtle realm in a great hierarchical procession extending from the pure, ineffable will of God through the logoic (causal), angelic, imaginal, and sensible (us). Sometimes—more helpfully, in my opinion—this procession is depicted not as a chain but as embedded cosmoses, like those old Russian nesting dolls.

The nesting can be depicted in either direction. Sometimes the experience is that our world nests within the imaginal realm like a fetus in a womb; sometimes the impression is the opposite: that the imaginal nests within our world as a more subtle and interior reality.

But of course the question is wrongly framed in the first place, still bearing the vestiges of those antiquated “flat earth” cosmologies (heaven above, hell below, earth in the center) that have proved so hard to eradicate from our minds. The language of modern physics encourages us to think in a different way: that these realms are “dimensions” of an unbroken and seamless whole, not occupying an actual geophysical locus, but embedded holographically within the great abyss of consciousness itself. Even this, I admit, strains the imagination, but at least it sets us off on a better footing.

Perhaps the most helpful way to picture the “where” of it is neither in terms of space or time, but in terms of an energetic continuum. Valentin Tomberg, writing in Meditations on the Tarot, re-imagines the classic “great chain of being” in exactly this fashion: in terms of a continuum of energy: “Modern science has come to understand that matter is only condensed energy…Sooner or later science will also discover that what it calls ‘energy’ is only condensed psychic force—which discovery will lead in the end to the establishment of the fact that all psychic force is the ‘condensation,’ pure and simple, of consciousness, i.e., spirit.” (MT, 574). “Psychic force” refers to the subtler energies which science does not yet know how to measure, but which have demonstrable effect in the physical world—for example, the energies of attention, will, prayer, and love; it is the transmission of these energies that furnishes the supreme business of the imaginal realm. The contemporary Jesuit mystic Pierre Teilhard de Cardin describes essentially this same bandwidth by the designation “radial energy”; in contrast to coarser “tangential energy” which moves the physical world, radial energy is that more conscious and purposeful energy drawing the world along its evolutionary trajectory toward its ultimate convergence at the Omega Point, the causal mainspring of our earth realm.

Liquid Sky

Stay tuned for Part 3