These final chapters of “The Wisdom Jesus” is where the rubber really hits the road. Since January more than ninety of us have been traveling along together with this important book. We’ve been invited to imaginatively alter our paradigms of thinking, to really question the foundation on which we live our lives. In a sense, to reconsider Christianity, from a place of inner recognition, inner receptivity and inner authority. We’ve had an opportunity to deconstruct and reconstruct some of our perhaps outdated, unhelpful or fuzzy theology that we’ve been accustomed to living inside of. I love the questions Cynthia poses right at the beginning of the book: What do we even mean by Christianity? What is the filter we’re looking through? To what extent are we sleep-walking through our own version of Christianity, versus actually having a sense of direct knowing and lived experience of the Wisdom Jesus? Do we sense that mutual loving? Do we know who Jesus is? Do we experience that heart-to- heart connection, that inter-abiding?
It’s so interesting to me how we’ve been approaching Jesus both as a historical “moshel moshelim” or master of transformation – a kind of two-dimensional exploration of who and how he was, in his time and place – yet realizing simultaneously, as we delve in to his life and teaching, that the very Jesus we are talking about IS the very same Presence filling us, guiding us, animating our conversation, giving us insights, bringing a sense of inner quiet, love and wonder. At this point Jesus is no longer just the subject matter, but the very subjectivity of our experience. The dynamic Life and Presence inside us. How amazing to realize – to recognize – this Jesus as the very substance and reality of our being together, and of the lives we are all living. Even as I sit here writing, I am aware of this Dynamism inside me and around me – or at least I get enough of a hint of this wonderful Reality, this accompanying Presence – that makes me want to give my entire life and being to this Mystery. To the Wisdom Jesus.
Cynthia points out in Chapter 3 that in order to cultivate this relationship, what’s important is not so much right belief, but right practice. The final chapters of the book give us practical ways of living more deeply into this relationship, this heart knowing. Ways to help us actually “put on the mind of Christ” – the “how” of moving beyond our minds to a greater heart knowingness. As we’ve been reading, Jesus was always inviting people to live into deeper layers of consciousness, really to acquire his consciousness, and these chapters are an essential tool kit to help us on this journey, leading us to deepen into our being, to increase our capacity for loving and knowing. This, after all, is what Jesus was all about. Beckoning everyone he came in to contact with – and now us – to a more abundant, empowered, generative, fulfilling, loving way of living. So what practices are we already engaged in? What new practices could we try out? A more committed centering prayer practice? Individual or group lectio divina? Chanting – discovering our own voice, finding new chants bubbling up from inside us? Perhaps next time we have the opportunity to experience a Eucharist we’ll experience it with a new depth and understanding and ability to hear.
As we conclude (for now!) our exploration with this book, let’s ask ourselves: what is it that has most impacted each of us? What impressions are we left with? What do we want to live in to more fully? How is our relationship with the Wisdom Jesus different now to ten years ago, twenty years ago, and to when we were a kid? Do we experience Jesus inviting us to more subtle insights or ways of seeing? To what extent do we hear him lovingly saying, “and who do you say I am?”. Do we feel beckoned to a life of deeper intimacy with the Wisdom Jesus? Where and how are we recognizing him in our lives, in the world? What mirror is Jesus holding up before each of us? What might be standing in our way to knowing him more?
For myself, I notice how my heart is stirred and beckoned by the “singleness” of Jesus. “Ihidaya” – the “Single One”. The pure and unwavering commitment of Jesus to his path of descent. Self-emptying love – throughout both his life and death. Kenosis. Non-clinging. His willingness to extravagantly give his life away, to respond to the challenges and circumstances of his life by humbly entrusting himself to his Father. “Abba Father”. This relationship with his Father was his Source and strength. There he found the ability to remain connected, and to stay the course. “I and the Father are one”. We too are invited into this relationship, this union, this dance. “I am in you and you are in me. We are all one.”
I am also so struck by Cynthia’s words on page 106, that Jesus could so easily have “put his teachings out there” by being given an easier career path: chief priest, political leader, the Messiah, that people expected him to be. But no. “The path he did walk is precisely the one that would most fully unleash the transformative power of his teaching”. Now this I can trust. His humility. This is why I love Jesus the way I do, and why my heart overflows with such love and gratitude.
“Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. You go through life clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing. And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very very simple. It only costs everything.” Page 70.
Are we willing to pay that cost? To what extent? How far are we willing or able to take kenotic love – in our lives, in our circumstances, in our world in 2021? As Cynthia points out in the last chapter, “although the failures of human vision and nerve can obscure the reality that Jesus exemplified for us, nothing can obliterate it” (page 188). The living water still flows. Christ Consciousness is forever unfurling, and we get to participate in it and as it. What a mystery. What an invitation. What practices do we want to take on in service of this? I cannot think of a more important question for us to consider.
A Note from Northeast Wisdom:
Welcome to a monthly series of posts from the friends and leaders of the Northeast Wisdom/Wisdom Waypoints Book Circle Series on: The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His message by Cynthia Bourgeault.
Check out the other posts in the series here:
The Wisdom Jesus Book Circle & Opening to the Slow Work of God
by Jeanine Siler Jones Chapters 1, 2 & 8;
The Wisdom Jesus Book Circle: What Did Jesus Teach?
by Matthew Wright, Chapters 3~5;
The Wisdom Jesus Book Circle: How Did He—How Do We—Get Here?
by Laura Ruth, Chapters 6, 7 & 12
You may also be interested in the Inner Task to accompany your study:
Wisdom Jesus Inner Task Month I by Jeanine Siler Jones;
Wisdom Jesus Inner Task Month II by Heather Ruce;
Wisdom Jesus Inner Task Month III by Heather Ruce.
We encourage individuals and groups of all kinds to take up this study, and follow along with these monthly postings, and would love to hear your reflections about this post and the book in the comments below. Thank you!
Our next Wisdom book practice circle will begin in August 2021 and will focus on Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. We would love for you to join us! Stay tuned for details.
Image credits in order of appearance: Miguel A. Padrinan, Kelley Lacy, Simon Berger, Felix Mittermeier, Cams Unltd, and Sebastian Voortman.
It’s extraordinary, but of course not surprising, how utterly relevant and pertinent these two chapters are—written before the emergence of the first iPhone, incidentally—right now as we find ourselves in the midst of this pandemic. It is also no coincidence that these chapters are preceded by the chapter on the three centers of knowing. It seems to me that the more poised we are in those three centers, the more we will be able to understand, embody and live out the important truths laid out in Chapters Four and Five.
In Chapter Four Cynthia describes the limits of our “one-brained” operating system, suggesting that our contemporary world “now has the capacity to end itself either in a violent Armageddon or in the slower but no less lethal route of systematically poisoning our planetary environment” (p.43).
Nearly two decades on, here we are.
We will get nowhere trying to address huge cosmological questions with one-brained consciousness. So this begs the questions: are we as a collective still spiritual adolescents? How can we grow up?
I love the analogy of the divine hologram. In a world “starving for coherence and purpose,” that each one of us—and how vital this is right now—has a part to play. That everything depends on us finding out what our contribution is, what our particular manifestation of divine love is, and playing it well. How well do we—can we—connect with the intermediary realms that are all part of the divine hologram? How are we engaging our energies of attention, will, prayer and love? Are our hearts awakened sufficiently to be able to perceive the subtle energies of the psychic realm—that which actually governs our universe? To what extent are we accessing or living in that realm—that kingdom of heaven within us—abiding there, drawing from there, being nourished, sustained, informed from that place? The streams of living water.
Reading these chapters I am so struck by the responsibility upon each one of us. In a sense it is a requirement—that we each need to discover, deepen into, and live out of our own particular “innermost aliveness.” That our every effort, action and thought contribute to the energetic and psychic realms—the divine hologram. How are we enacting and manifesting the “qualities of God?” To me these questions are profoundly empowering and vital, and it is at the intersection with the timeless and time that we are asked to abide. At the still point in a turning world. We each have a crucial and unique role to fulfill and contribution to make.
Cynthia suggests that we humans stand midway between the purely material and purely energetic, with a range of versatility in both. That our real purpose in the cosmos is the extent to which we are able to move back and forth between these two planes. This is where the true secret of our existence is revealed.
This then leads us to ponder what kind of sacred alchemy might take place inside our hearts. It is our job to offer our hearts, bodies and minds to “birth” and “body” the “names of God,” so that the invisible becomes visible. As Cynthia puts it: “Whenever we are able to move beyond the laws of the purely physical while still in form, we set aflame the names of God, releasing the energy and beauty of the divine aliveness to the outer world” (p. 56). We human beings are the consummate artisans of energy. Whether we like it or not, we contribute generatively or destructively to the delicate homeostasis by which the visible and invisible worlds are held in harmony.
And so, in our current situation, with many of us home-bound, perhaps feeling isolated, this chapter is a stark reminder and an enormous challenge to each of us. Faced with “physical distancing” and an unknown, unpredictable future, what are we generating? What are we contributing psycho-energetically? Fear? Panic? Anxiety? Greed? If we could realize that the psychic toxins that we generate in the imaginal realm actually have a direct effect on the sensible world, we would think twice.
As Cynthia put it:
We need to feel the hologram again. To sense the dance of colors that is the real divine aliveness shining through the snakeskin of our outer world. We need to experience our own personal aliveness as part of the greater cosmic aliveness. Above all, however, we need to allow our outer lives to break up, if necessary, in order to release the divine aliveness within and to understand once again the meaning and beauty in this gesture. (p. 59)
How pertinent. Nearly two decades after Cynthia wrote these words. That here we are, facing an enormous leap in the evolution of consciousness. What an opportunity for course-correction.
In this world-wide calamity, what are the seeds of new birth—in our individual lives, as a species, and as a planet? How can we each dig deep into the core of our beings, in to Being itself, to have our hearts broken wide open, to suffer consciously, to fundamentally and foundationally surrender, and live in an abiding state of surrender? Only out of this radical inner stance of committed willingness and availability will our planet be transformed.
Stay tuned for next month’s posting in the study group series, which will open with “Chapter VI, Freedom and Surrender: The Anthropology of Wisdom,” right here on the Northeast Wisdom home page blog.
Heather is a postholder for the Northeast Wisdom Zoom Study Group (Winter~Spring 2020) that is focusing on Cynthia Bourgeault’s 2003 classic The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. That study group is full, but we would love to hear from you if you are interested in participating in a future group. To read the first three posts in this series please see these links: Wisdom Way of Knowing: Northeast Wisdom Study Group begins in January 2020; “Wisdom Way” Study, Chapter 2: How the West Lost Its Wisdom and “Wisdom Way” Study, Chapter 3: Three Centered Knowing.
Heather Vesey comes from a long line of missionaries in China. She grew up in the Himalayas in Northern India, where her father was a doctor specializing in community health care. These were profoundly formative years for Heather, where her Christian faith was nurtured—mainly through family worship with her parents and their colleagues. During these years she also developed and absorbed a deep appreciation of other religious traditions and cultures.
Heather returned to England at the age of eleven—worked in Bolivia looking after street kids and completed a Health Studies degree in London—and then moved with her husband Nicholas to the home of Julian of Norwich, where he was vicar in a parish. Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, and Richard Rohr came to speak at her church, and a deepening interest in the contemplative life began to grow. Heather and Nicholas spent some months in Richard Rohr’s community in Albuquerque before Heather enrolled in the Living School at the Center for Contemplation and Action, and then served as a mentor to Living School students.
Heather, Nicholas, and their two children, Samuel, 16, and Jessica, 14, moved to America in 2014 to help serve in the Aspen Chapel in Colorado where Heather is Director of Contemplative Work and currently leads services and meditation classes.
Heather is involved with both the CAC and the Wisdom Community; and in 2019, together with Cynthia Bourgeault and Ed Bastian, she organized the “Celebration of the Life and Legacy of Thomas Keating,” at the Aspen Chapel, sponsored by both Northeast Wisdom and The Spiritual Paths Foundation. Recordings of the sessions are available at the link above; you may read more about the event in an article Cynthia wrote for the Northeast Wisdom homepage blog here: Thomas Keating: An Interspiritual Celebration ~ and Online Public Video Archive.
Heather’s Seedlings is coming soon to Northeast Wisdom; see also her contribution of written and photo vignettes, in the 2017 Stonington posts on Breaking Ground: Mornings with Teilhard; Celebrating Rhythm & Community; The Voyage with Saint Brendan Begins and Singing Praises on the Journey.
Photo credits in this essay from the top: Earth Nurturer, painting by Havi Mandell; fountain well water, courtesy pxfuel; Seven Sisters image from Spitzer, courtesy of NASA, public domain; Eleven year old Heather in India, above the source of the Ganges.