The first chapter of Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God ends with the above words, Cynthia extending her hand to all who want to travel on a path to the wellsprings that lie far beyond the familiar hope for an outcome, resolution of challenge or difficulty, or wish for change. Listening for words we usually connect to hope, I can taste how these belong together. They are of a particular arena—hope as related to something concrete in the world, outside of ourselves, a circumstance, future event or situation. Hoping for or about something, hoping for something to be different than what it is. The journey Cynthia is inviting us to is of another color, a distinct flavor and fragrance.
I love the tradition in the spiritual life of “hints.” Shakespeare described a hint as “an indirect suggestion intended to be caught by the knowing.” As we set off on this journey to a mystical hope, we are given a hint even before turning to the first page of Chapter One, from Symeon the New Theologian, born in 949. His words speak directly to our contemporary hearts of the most intimate and physically embodied relationship with Christ that we can imagine. What did Symeon know? Feel? Sense? What was his lived experience? Written in a time and place far removed from our modern way of life and radically different culturally, how is it that these syllables can reach into us so far and take our breath away? Our knowing catches them, riveting us into the present moment. Here are some lines from Symeon’s verse:
as Christ awakens our bodies…
enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is…seamless…)…
He makes us utterly real.
…everything that is hurt…
that seemed to us…irreparably damaged,
is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole…
We awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
The poem has no relationship with the hope of tax refunds and vacations, test results and new puppies; nor the hope for the future our grandchildren will inherit. Even the hope for the safe passage of a loved one through crisis is not this. But what a sweet hope it is, so full! Symeon speaks to an awakening, an opening, an embodiment, a becoming.
Symeon’s poem is born of the wellspring of mystical hope. It exists in the aliveness of the present here and now, as well as beyond time. It is immediate, personal, intimate, though it was written a thousand years ago. Mystical hope, Cynthia says, is atemporal. We can feel the relationship between the poem and mystical hope, the contact, the currents coming together in the body, in sensation. Cynthia calls mystical hope a reconnection with Presence. An “experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.” It is known in sensation; fills the body with strength, expansiveness and joy.
Mid-verse, Symeon says:
And let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body…
Call and response. We have our part to play in mystical hope. Our own agency is implicit. It is not about miracles, like the parting of the sea at the last possible moment, or a gift of grace that God bestows upon us, in God’s time, that we have nothing to do with. For Cynthia, the distinction of mystical hope is that it describes a state of being, a change of consciousness, a transformation. It is alive in that it is receptive, responsive, reciprocal. We can receive, genuinely love, wake up. We may begin to create within ourselves a home for the connection, and the exchange; open to trust the wellspring, to become conscious. We will do what we can do. Accept the invitation and learn to dance with what has been given. We can miss the call—or we can respond to it, as Cynthia says, “to become a chalice into which this divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine.”
What Cynthia describes as “a direct encounter with Being itself” is present in the sacred text of all the traditions, and it is also close to us, right now, in our very lives. The hint, what intends to be caught by the knowing, is sometimes simply a place where we recognize the need to pay attention. This chapter provides plenty of opportunities and examples for our attention. Reading it, I remember moment after moment of awakening while in the deep turmoil of inexplicable illness; notice in my own daily life being “surprised by joy,” as a C. S. Lewis quote expresses it in this first chapter.
We can tune in to what is being offered out of the rivers of abundance, joy and presence that run strong under the surface of life and through us in the depth of our hearts and in sensation in our bodies. That is what this little book is about. We can “learn to think and see in a new way;” to enter into relationship with mystical hope.
In a state of both grief and grace, Cynthia heard Rafe’s voice in the wee hours after his death say to her, “I’ll meet you in the body of hope.” Trusting that she would one day understand those cryptic words, she waited, and six weeks later she understood. In the midst of hopelessness beyond hope, an effervescent lightness arose, “a distinctly physical sensation…as if I had been recharged, filled and fueled with an energy so light and buoyant that I simply could not sink even if I wanted to.” It was the beginning of a new life with Rafe, and the embodiment of mystical hope. For a moment, like Saint Brendan, “something is reversed inside…and an inner eye opens that can see the luminous fullness beneath the surface motions of coming, going, striving and arriving,” and in that moment we are changed.
May we be made utterly real.
“Come, are you ready to set out?”
A Note from Northeast Wisdom:
Soon to be Wisdom Waypoints, Northeast Wisdom is offering Tuesday book study groups this fall which are now full. We encourage Wisdom Practice Circles to join us by revisiting Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God in your own Wisdom communities this fall. Whether in small, conscious and respectful groups on the ground or online, as Marcella says, “May we all glean the next layer accessible for each of us as we engage more deeply,” and may Mystical Hope offer new inspiration in these challenging times. To find out how to get the book, and view other recommended books, please visit our Resource page.
Join us, and Spirituality & Practice, for an online retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault, a crystallization of her work with Father Thomas Keating’s final gift to the world—a small collection of poems created literally in the last year of his life. These words are offered out of his own experience in what Cynthia names as “the last stage of Thomas’s own spiritual journey as he emerged fully into what he liked to call ‘unity consciousness.'”
In the first session email yesterday, Cynthia articulates three reasons why this collection is significant: for what he is giving us to see, through both his knowing “belonging,” “suffused in this oneness;” and the cost, what was taken, when he entered into the dark night of a “wilderness journey.” In regard to the importance of the poems for their relevance to us today, Cynthia speaks to how they illuminate the path Fr Thomas Keating lived as he walked with the transformative fire—words that can accompany us as we walk into and through the upheaval, unrest and unknown of these times towards living more fully with “what is required next.”
Only completed in 2018 and recently published, I first encountered The Secret Embrace on retreat at a place called Holy Family Retreat Center in Connecticut in the fall of 2019. It was a large room, with over a hundred people in it. Cynthia’s opening words about the poems came towards the end of our week there, bringing to bear the touch of a tender time at the end of a life lived when death is close and the last movements of a conscious human being’s existence on this earth are precious, full of portent. A visible shift occurred in the room with the first words spoken, the body of participants leaning into a hushed listening, the communal breath quieting almost to the point of stillness, and at times, audible sounds—those emissions of wordless awe and acknowledgment that can slip through from the heart into a room.
A number in that room had known Father Keating, but it was as much the exquisite sensitivity with which Cynthia carefully took the poetry into herself and let it work within her, that opened the room to Thomas Keating’s “final will and testament… his spiritual legacy to the world.” For me, the poems are deeply personal, putting into words a shattering of self and the painful steps into an undying love that took everything into an embrace that never let go. For many of us the lean words of these verses are simultaneously haunting, beautiful, frightening, deeply consoling, riveting, mysterious, galvanizing, tender, humbling, loving, awe inspiring.
Later, in 2020, Cynthia brought the work to a Global Zoom Conference of Oneness in support of Contemplative Outreach in South Africa, at a time when she could no longer lead the retreat there in person—in the spring of the world-wide pandemic. This retreat was given entirely to the poems. Joan Fothergill shared, “I feel absolutely compelled to bear witness to the extraordinary teaching Cynthia brought forth…Piercing the division between soul and spirit, joint and marrow and ushering in a new Octave. It is all still in deep vibration in my own body.” Others spoke of a quality of sacred receiving, deserving pause, steeping the soul, a sacred call to arise, and their gratitude for the opportunity to participate. People have said it is hard to put into words the impact of the poems on their being.
Now you can participate in a month-long immersion with Father Thomas’s poems Spirituality & Practice style, receiving three emails each week of Cynthia’s commentary, with guided reflection on the poems themselves and daily practice to support your encounter with these gems of the spiritual path, revealed through Cynthia’s insight and devotion. The first session was sent out yesterday, but you are welcome to join at any time during the course. Having taken a number of these courses myself, I would encourage you sign up now, to move with the group of people around the world who are gathering their days around this content, sharing comments online and practicing together this September.
Joan Fothergill, who has had the good fortune to preview the entire Spirituality & Practice course, says in her invitation to participate:
It is an extraordinary opportunity to have a good soak in the poems and commentary and allow what stirs within to penetrate surface understanding and enter a greater field of knowing. Cynthia includes marvelous questions at the end of each email for consideration along with a suggested practice. Plus, there will be a practice circle included where individual reflections/questions can be expressed. As I said…its marvelous.
We are living in extraordinary times, requiring great patience, strength and courage…vision! After all, we are living 2020, the year of perfect vision. I find this material to be empowering. Maybe you will as well.
Here is the link to learn more about Thomas Keating’s “The Secret Embrace” course,
and here is the link to join the course offered through Spirituality & Practice.
To purchase the poems you may visit the Contemplative Outreach online bookstore here.
Image and quote credits from the top: What Matters, last poem in “The Secret Embrace” by Thomas Keating, courtesy first session Spirituality & Practice course going on now with Cynthia Bourgeault; all unidentified quotes from first session email from the course. Book Cover, “The Secret Embrace” by Father Thomas Keating, photo courtesy of Laura Ruth; “Tolling the bell to welcome Fr Thomas into the abbey church. The grand vigil begins,” photo courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault; Snowmass, October 2018, photo courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault; Cynthia and Father Thomas, photo courtesy of Cynthia Bourgeault.
Yesterday, my feet hit the dirt road that leads to the trail to White Rocks and Hunger Mountain as the dogs tumbled out and my sister rose from the stone wall which was our meeting point. The morning cool, clear; pierced by the deep blues and greens of the season. There are still certain things we can count on. August still rolls around. It has been particularly hot already, but that which signifies August is still comforting—the suddenly cooler nights, the trees crowned with a mature green; material, substantial. Solid and dark.
The orientation of the light has changed. I imagine it is part of the breathing rhythm of the physical material earth with light—the outside air, the space around the bodies of things, is saturated with a light that both beats down and subtlety wanes. As if the earth is drawing the light to itself, drinking it in. In the Spring of the year it is as if it pours up and out as nature awakens, light radiating from the leaves themselves as they utter forth, light finding form in new leaves and tree flowers, shining from within the substance of earth as she populates herself with new growth. Leaves like woven light. Blessing offered.
Now that light is beginning to make the turn back, into the interior, following the sun down. Now, we receive. The colors are changing, deepening. The garden begins to bow its head, onion greens fall limp to the soil, the last blueberries cool and collect to a dark purple. Under final thrusts and bursts, leaves and stems fade and the life force concentrates itself in fruits and roots. On this side of the globe we anticipate the darker nights to come. Earth is teaching us, guiding us into the cool and dark. Not yet, but preparing us. After all this, she still extends a hand. Through the storm and the wild, she is there.
There is little else to count on these days. The scramble; the unconscious energy these times are demanding of all of us—in daily life—is inescapable. The intensity of the extremes in our lives: of the excruciating trauma of generations of harm caused one to the other, intimately personal and blanketly cultural; a budding acknowledgment and talk of repair. The genocides, the perilous condition of species, languages, human populations, the woeful unbalance of power and resources in our human community. The resiliency of the earth, to rebalance: how quickly the air and water clears when we stand down. The beautiful simple of slowing down. The horror of deaths on machines. Numbers that are literally beyond our capacity to grasp. Incomprehensible actions worldwide and the collapsing of systems and structures. Loss of control and power grabbing. People helping one another, reaching out, pouring out onto the streets to be heard. The joy in the dancing. The inescapable consequences of our greed and our shortsightedness, the loss of livelihood, of home, of security. The grief and helplessness. The greater death in communities of color, in the population of essential workers, in the holes where people are held against their will. The blatancy of a rigged system. Neighbors getting to know one another across fences. Children at home, families isolated together. The exposure of both lies and the truth. Not knowing how. The cost of our arising, visible. The grief, the uncertainty. The world growing more intimate while the poignant awareness of our limitations leaps alongside. Not knowing how to love and care for one another, knowing we must.
Where are we? Where are you? I am yearning for a peace among us. For the simple joys of working with others. I am finding I vacillate between periods of exhaustion and moments of unutterable beauty and awe. I am being turned in, forced in, to “keep within.” Not to stay there, all balled up inside, but to step out from there towards what is calling. To step out without leaving behind the “keep within.” I am finding that there is an imperative I do not understand that is guiding me if I let it. What this is demanding right now is extraordinary trust. It is growing my trust, of necessity. It is backing me into a deeper acceptance. It is strong enough that I do not really have a choice, I have to surrender. I am making my choices throughout the day, but they are limited by forces I do not understand and I am learning to live my faith, to abide and be with what is.
Inside my being, something is being kneaded into another level of right-sized. This is part and parcel of my intimate relationship with God, as well as with the world. I am finding it necessary to support my own knowing, choose what strengthens me from the inside out. I feel as if I am being prepared, not just by the steady and gentle hand of earth for winter, but for the unknown that is to come. My life circumstances brought me decades ago to the point of uselessness, chewed me up and spit me out again with a blessing. I have been moving step by baby step from there; a little place inside growing stronger. Smaller, humbler, more comfortable in the unknown, slower, more loving. Less fearful. There is a way life has always felt like a preparation, a school for the inner being, as all the Wisdom traditions say. We lose ourselves, learn to let go of ourselves, to find ourselves. But these times, right now, where are we? Where are you?
We want to know where your growing edge is. We want to share with you the beauty and grief of our collective humanity. There are lots of changes going on in our world, in our Wisdom community, ourselves. We are each feeling the increasing intensities and polarities, the chasms and the bridges between us—one to the other, our collectivity. Please use the comments section below; share with us what you are discovering. Are you finding changes in your inner and outer lives? How are you meeting them? We want to hear. What are you finding supports you in your day? We are all finding our way in new territories. How is it that many of us feel swamped and emptied, lonely and full, pained and peaceful—at once? What to hold on to and what to let go? What is your inner compass telling you?
As an organization Northeast Wisdom is navigating change as well, with new programs, website updating and upgrading, balancing our resources and various directions. We are both expanding our offerings and honing the pathways. We are looking at a name that reflects our true geographic wingspan, and speaks more directly to our purpose, and to our hope. We are listening for the currents, for how to serve those who are just coming to the Wisdom tradition as well as those who yearn to go deeper into the community experience and into our lives of practice with listening conversation and conscious preparation. As we all move into uncharted territory, as individuals out in the world, in our daily lives, in our innermost hearts, and as a community of lovers of Wisdom, we want to know what is rising in you. What yearns in you? What needs are you noticing? Tell us what works, what doesn’t work anymore. What your heart knows.
A Further Note from Northeast Wisdom:
After being quiet on the surface in the middle of the summer, the website is becoming more active again. Changes will be taking place over time. As well as technical tweaks that make the site easier to navigate, content and resources are growing; for instance, we encourage you to visit the beginnings of the new Inner Practice page in Resources. Making these community generated resources easily accessible for those who want to explore the practices, individually or in groups, is one of the ways we are wanting to further serve both those who are new to the Wisdom tradition and long-time practitioners in the community.
On the home page check out the Latest News announcements and the Events listings for Wisdom lineage offerings worldwide. Keep an eye on the blog for the next post: Cynthia’s series on the last of the Gurdjieff exercises, from her “pandemic homework” detailed in multiple posts beginning in March 2020. These are suggestions of inner work to ground flexibility and resiliency, preparing our whole being, growing our being itself, in order to serve these times. The Four Ideals will be posted as Cynthia gathers a small group on the ground in North Carolina, to explore the exercises, and dig into the material from her new book Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm.
Coherent with these times of taking notice, of listening to your own inner voice, of taking stock of what is being called for from the “keep within” in your particular life, Cynthia emphasizes the intimate nature of personal practice in the upcoming post, the Preliminary to the Four Ideals Exercise:
…take some time revisiting each of the earlier exercises, reviewing these individual components with the awareness that they are about to be synthesized in a whole new way. Practice the skills that come hard; luxuriate in the ones that come easily. Prepare yourself both inwardly and outwardly for the task you are about to take on.
And remember, take your time!!! There is no rush to get through these exercises… students would regularly work for months on a single exercise, each pass-through taking them deeper and deeper into the hidden treasures to be revealed there. A new exercise would be introduced only as the students were ready, and according to no pre-determined order or timeline other than the readiness itself.
Whether you have been working with these exercises or not, practice itself is the foundation of the Wisdom lineage, and we are here to support you in your practice, be it centering prayer, silent meditation, lectio divina, study, chant, three-centered knowing and embodiment exercises, self-observation and conscious practical work—all of it. We welcome your expression of how you engage Wisdom in your daily life in your contributions to the comments sections following posts, and in Breaking Ground, and Seedlings. Visit Growing!—to check out the Breaking Ground page, we welcome posts from the community; and read about friends who are bringing Wisdom into the world in Seedlings.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Image credits from the top: Sunflower Light image courtesy of Jan Gottweiss, Unsplash; Empty wooden pathway image by Leo Wieling courtesy of Unsplash; Compass crop of image by Jon Tyson, courtesy Unsplash; Prayer rug crop of image by Sayan Nath, courtesy Unsplash.
Paulette Meier’s new album, Wellsprings of Life: Quaker Wisdom in Chant is available now for download, offering song medicine for these times. “It seems as if this season of Holy Week is a good time to get these chants out there!” Paulette says, “The words uphold such a deep faith in the power of the Light to overcome darkness and death, a faith that is surely needed in the world crisis we are in now.” In the liner notes to the collection she writes:
“As an activist, when I first discovered the Quaker faith I wondered what enabled Friends to take huge risks to follow their conscience in the causes of religious liberty, women’s suffrage, abolition of slavery, and peace. How did they stay loving in the face of brutal oppression? I found answers in the texts from which these chants come. The practice of deep stillness, alone and in their communal worship, led to a deep sense of surrender and to the “Living Water” of the “eternal Christ spirit.” Friends found sustenance, inner peace, and joy, even in harsh external conditions.”
Hold fast the hope, which anchors the soul, which is sure and steadfast, that you may float above the world’s sea.
~ George Fox, from Epistle #314 (1675).
“…The words of George Fox and others testify to their conviction, grounded in inward experience, of the power of Love to overcome wrong, no matter how evil. My hope is that the testimony of Friends presented in these chants may provide us with reminders to go deep into Presence, to enter that stream of Love and be nurtured by it, even in traumatic times like these.”
In May 2019, at the Pendle Hill Quaker campus in Wallingford Pennsylvania, Paulette joined Cynthia and Quaker scholar Marcelle Martin for a second week-long gathering in the waters where the Christian Wisdom tradition and the Quaker Wisdom stream meet. With musicians from the Wisdom community joining in, Nick Weiland on double bass and Andrew Breitenberg on piano, Paulette’s powerful voice rose throughout the retreat as she was spontaneously called upon by Cynthia, “Paulette, can you share a chant here?” Within moments the room would swell with the sound, often bringing people to their feet in song. As one participant put it “The wonder is still with me! I have not felt this happy and uplifted since I don’t remember when.”
Click on the arrow for a video from Pendle Hill, “Hold fast the hope that is sure and steadfast…” courtesy of Bill Britten photographer
Cynthia writes that, “Paulette’s chants are creating a whole new musical and spiritual art form, introducing mainstream Christian contemplatives to the pearls of transformative wisdom waiting to be discovered in the Quaker mystical tradition, and introducing many Quakers to these treasures as well! This new album adds nineteen new chants to the repertoire and two talented instrumentalists to the mix. The results are lively, inspiring, moving and deeply practical, all at once. Concepts as subtle and challenging as surrender, inner stillness, non-attachment and the indwelling Christ spirit come powerfully alive through these mystical chants!”
Here is joy, unspeakable joy, joy which the world cannot see or touch, nor the powers of darkness come near to interrupt, and this joy is full of glory. “
~ Isaac Penington, from “The Scattered Sheep Sought After” (1659)
Michele, member of a high-church Episcopal congregation says, “I connected in an intimate way with the very different music and “lyrics” of these chants. For me, they had a grounding, deepening, and awakening effect…the Quaker Wisdom words activated my brain and lingered in my heart…(and) opened new understandings of cutting-edge teachings on enlightenment.
“Experiencing these words and tones at full tilt in a large group of seekers was powerful indeed! It created a field of jubilant, focused, hopeful energy, ‘…an infinite ocean of light and love.’ It was a whole-body experience that resonated deeply in my soul…Back in the “real world”—true healing is beginning.
“A question arose near the end of our time together as to how we could sustain the energy of our gathering and carry this learning into the world, kindle this fire in others. For me, the chants were a precious gift that have done just that.”
That spark caught fire, and before the end of the retreat a group dedicated to producing a recording of the chants had gathered a number of funding commitments and a promise from Northeast Wisdom to facilitate the process in any way possible. Now—in the midst of a challenge and potential greater than we have ever seen in our lifetimes—and at the beginning of Holy Week—these chants are now available to all in Wellsprings of Life: Quaker Wisdom in Chant.
Paulette describes her process leading up to the creation of this second album of chants based on selected quotations from the writings of Quaker leaders:
“The first collection, Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong, developed as I ran across texts from the founding 17th century Friends that were so profound I wanted to memorize them. So I set them to song. Since then, I’ve discovered the power of chanting as a spiritual practice, and the emergence of this new album reflects this discovery.
“The publication of that first album occurred right as I was reading a book by Cynthia Bourgeault… Her vision of Jesus as Wisdom teacher who modeled the path of inner spiritual transformation so reminded me of the early Quakers’ experience of the transformative Light of Christ within, that I sent her the CD. This led to us exploring ways to bring the Quaker stream and the Christian Wisdom stream more intentionally together. I began to facilitate chanting in her Wisdom retreats, and out of this collaboration the new album was born. I am excited that the movement of the Spirit has led to this and to the resulting broader awareness of Quakerism as a modern day contemplative path with deep roots in the Christian Wisdom tradition.
“The chants on this album are shorter, more easily sung in groups, and they include vocal harmonies and instrumental accompaniment. Communal chanting is an age old Wisdom practice for centering and opening the body and heart—a perfect conduit into silent prayer.
“My hope is that these chants will inspire more of this practice, and that the deep peace to be found in Quaker spirituality will fill the hearts of all who chant them!”
There is a great difference, between comprehending the knowledge of things, and tasting the hidden life in them. I fed on the sweetness of the former, before finding the true manna of the latter.”
~ Isaac Penington, paraphrased from Memoirs of the Life of Isaac Penington: by Joseph Gurney Bevan.
Check out Paulette’s page here on bandcamp to receive this download now!
Wellsprings of Life will also be available for download here on Paulette’s website in the coming days. We look forward to the CD format coming soon.
When people gather in silence, a deeper kind of collective, synergistic, numinous knowing unfolds. And that’s the only knowing that’s worth a damn, particularly when you’re working with the infinite.
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
On February 25, 2019 Cynthia was interviewed for a podcast on the Encountering Silence website, hosted by Carl McColman with Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson. These recording are available in two parts, as Episodes 58 and 59: Encountering the Heart of Silence: A Conversation with Cynthia Bourgeault (Parts One and Two). You will find all the links to these podcasts at the end of this post. All thanks to Cynthia and to the folks at Encountering Silence for this delightful interview!
Encountering Silence describes the interview in this way:
“Cynthia shares how her love for silence originated with her early education in Quaker schools, where she recognized silence as a “liturgical expression and mode of divine communion.” There she discovered silence not merely as the absence of noise, but as a sacred container of presence. For her, after a long meandering journey from Christian Science to Episcopal ordination, she became (in her words) a “Trappist junkie” as she began to study centering prayer with Fr. Thomas Keating, which for her meant a coming home to the silence she had learned to love as a child.
Silence for me is like the air I breathe; it’s not a place I go to, it’s not a thing to be worshiped in and of itself; it’s a pathway in to something that emerges through it and in it.
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
“She offers keen insight into the dynamic interplay not only between silence and religion, but also silence as a medium by which we can experience inner transformation — a rewiring of our inner “operating system” as we move from the dualistic consciousness that is encoded in our language to the radical nonduality that only contemplative silence can reveal. With insights into the relationship between silence and philosophy, silence and psychology (including the ways in which western psychology misunderstands silence), and how monastic practices have encoded rich tools for using silence as a way to access nondual seeing, Bourgeault offers a rich and compelling statement for how silence is literally crucial for human growth, development, wellness, and knowing.
Centering Prayer, in complete alignment with the radically surrendered heart of Christ, offers Christians a way to jump into the deep luminous river of silence, and to know in a different way… it’s a 100% Christian experience of the deeper waters of silence.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
“Cynthia Bourgeault continues her conversation with the Encountering Silence team in Part II, offering insight into silence as a deeper way of knowing, contemplative Christianity as a unique spiritual path, and centering prayer as a singular practice of deep meditation.
“… when you enter silence, you are never alone, you enter a luminous imaginal stream of help and reality at a higher order of being.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
“She offers us a new way of thinking about what we have, in the past, referred to as “toxic silence” on this podcast, draw(ing) a helpful distinction between true silence and what she describes as “a destroying of the voice.” She also offers insight into what she sees as the important tasks facing our time as we seek to embrace new “artforms” of silence, as alternatives to some of the sexist, authoritarian, or obsolete ways in which silence has been practiced — or marginalized — in the past.
“… the only antidote to toxic anger lies at the level of the unitive heart.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
“Her thoughts on the challenges facing Christians today — particularly the temptation to give in to anger — seem particularly timely, not only for contemplatives but for all who seek to integrate spirituality with the demands of everyday life. Instead of anger and panic, she invites us to stand present, and to remain present with whatever arises, in fidelity to “the highest benchmark of love.”
“The highest benchmark of love, courtesy, generosity and beauty that is put into the world will never vanish from the world. And when it’s time, it will restore itself instantly.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
To access the podcasts, please visit the Encountering Silence website. There you will have the opportunity to listen, download, subscribe and share the conversation.
You can also access the interviews on iTunes.
Bruno Barnhart brought me right into life in the world when he opened the second chapter of The Future of Wisdom with the words, “Wisdom begins in wonder. Something profound awakens when a child opens a book and finds its pages full of light, the words radiant even though their meanings remain indistinct.” He ends this first paragraph of the second chapter, entitled, “Movement I: The Sapiential Awakening,” saying: “spiritual wisdom… is always a beginning… a simple, luminous fullness” and that, in the “cold clarity of the modern West, it is often the poets who catalyze the awakening of a sapiential consciousness.”
Bruno leads us on a spiral journey through the Christian sapiential tradition, beginning with three quick, broad strokes. The first—the Awakening! above—speaks to the reader directly and personally, and comes out of his own spiritual awakening as a young person. It sets the tone, alerting the reader that this is about a living Wisdom, not a concept, or shell of an idea. The second stroke takes us from poets and children, enchantment, eager spirits and new discoveries to the event of Christ as “the coming of the divine Wisdom to humanity as a human person.” This, is real. It is about us.
Bruno places Christ as the incarnation of divine Wisdom at the center; as the mystery that was alive for the early Christians, a sapiential reality. He quotes 1 John 1:1-2, “That which… we have heard… we have seen… we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest and we saw it…” The centrality of the Christ-event was followed by the eclipse of that mystery and Bruno speaks of how quickly that intimacy was forgotten; in his words: reduced, objectified, rationalized and codified, institutionalized, even militarized. What was then unified was divided, and we moved from participation in the mystery to an idea of a wisdom that contains the mystery.
The last stroke Bruno sounds at the beginning of his chapter is a renewal in modern times, a third force, awakening between “a reductionist rationalism” (a “scientism”) and “an immobile institutionalized dogmatism” (contrasted by a “fundamentalism”). As imagery and sacrament, mystery and unity arise from the depths of consciousness, a yielding is occurring—in Bruno’s words, to “allow the mystery to express itself.” Courageously, Vatican II “confidently embraced the mystery of Christ,” refreshing language, freeing meaning, and remembering “its native language as that of Christian wisdom.” This was marked change in the history of the church, a response to a movement already underway, and it cleared the path for a new sapiential awakening.
I am enjoying following the threads that Bruno is weaving through the development of the church, through history, through particular persons, human evolution and personal spiritual life. The golden thread, undulating through this chapter is the Christ-event. The colors that are brought into the light through that mystery weave through the chapter as qualities of an enlivened Wisdom. As Bruno takes us through another trifold round on the spiral, he calls on the work of three monastic scholars: Henri de Lubac, Jean Leclercq and Cipriano Vagaggini. Their studies provide scaffolding for our comprehension of the course of Christian Wisdom over time. We hear Wisdom bursting through the old order through the spiritual understanding of text, the promise of a new unfolding, an emerging symbolic consciousness, clarity and union, a higher knowledge completed in prayer and contemplation, sacred personal experience… and disappear again in the descriptions of the losses, the forgettings, the separations, and the building of rigid dogmas, ascending and descending ladders, institutions and structures.
Underneath, Bruno is working the paradoxes. I feel his commitment to mend, to embrace, to span the distance between what appears as irreconcilable. I was struck by this passage in his discussion of Leclercq, as I found myself standing on both sides of the divide:
Today we may be able to imagine ourselves on either side of the divide—with Bernard or with Ablelard—feeling on the one hand a deep identification with that unitive interiorizing of the mystery that proceeds through an absorption in the Word, and on the other hand experiencing within ourselves the thrill of personal discovery, of a new rational autonomy, of the divine spark of freedom and creativity which is eager to participate actively in the birth of a new world.
Bruno concludes this second turn of the spiral with a call for the “recovery of unity: the original unity of the mystery of Christ,” in this sapiential awakening. He speaks of a “movement of returns”: “return… to the undivided church… to the intimate union of mysticism—and spirituality—with the mystery… we return—but with a modern personalist perspective—to a unitive vision that had prevailed before the separation…”
Bruno then draws us down to another level, and a third turn of the spiral into the heart of the mystery, and our loss of it. Beginning with the “Quaternary Unfolding of the Christ Mystery,” through what Bruno calls “The Revolution of Jesus,” he leaves us with “Rationalization of the Mystery.” It opens with the sobering line from T.S. Eliot, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” This impactful round on the ring prepares us for the deep dive into two contemporary towers of Wisdom, Thomas Merton and Karl Rahner.
It is a bit like being in the labyrinth with our author; the short and long segments of the road each lending their own experience to the whole journey as we are drawn in, closer and closer to the center. There is a sacred geometry that Bruno sees written throughout Christian sapiential understanding, a quaternity re-emerging over and again. The cross locates Christ at the center of everything, here and now, Bruno says, “as the fusion of God and creation, of Trinity and humanity.” It is written in creation.
With a blunt and concise two sentences he then tears right through the heart:
The Christian history of the past two thousand years has been characterized by a continual tendency to reverse the event of incarnation and separate once again the divine and the human, Trinity and humanity, God and creation. This separation is then made permanent in theological and institutional structures.
The evolutionary note sings as Bruno continues, distinguishing Christian sapiential wisdom as the reality that puts this unity front and center again, in the present tense, as well as defining the flowering and fulfillment of creation with God in a “eucharistic plentitude.”
“The Revolution of Jesus” is what Bruno calls “a response to the question: … What is really new in the Christ-event that was not already present beforehand…? It is a series of seven steps or phases which move from the very intimate—in the form of a personal awakening—to creative evolutionary patterns of the cosmos expressed both in a new individual freedom that acts as source, and in the full embodiment of creation as the body of Christ.
In the middle of this unfolding “revolution” are Bruno’s phases IV and V—reversals and embodiment. Following the divinization of phase III, I feel a great beauty in the movements of Bruno’s vision, as he calls with clear voice for the reversal of the ascent. Lovingly, he invites the descent, naming it as “embodiment… the descending path of incarnation in the life of an individual… the life of a community or society.” He speaks about other energetic reversals: one being the movement during a lifetime to living from ‘within,’ rather than from ‘without.’ It has been fascinating for me to notice this in life more and more; what it is to sense an autonomous inner core, and respond and act from kenotic inner knowing rather than from outer expectation, rule or law. Coupled with this, and operating on the level of culture as well as within an individual person, is the new freedom and creativity in the participatory dance with God and creation.
Bruno uses the brilliant phrase “the scandal of particularity” to illuminate what I understand as the mysterious paradox of the Divine as part and parcel of earthly matter in its specificity of form and substance—which opens like a treasure box into the boundless potentiality of life in the divine exchange. We are all, in our particularity, necessary. Quickened between divine spark and earthly substance, Bruno names the purpose of this “revolution of Jesus”: to “initiate a new sacramental creation.”
In “Rationalization of the Mystery,” and as prelude to his discussion of Merton and Rahner, Bruno’s commitment to the living presence of the reality of the mystery becomes all the more tender. The loss of the felt sense of the Christ event is heartbreaking as Bruno presents it more specifically: the fall of the mystery into a ‘religion,’ domesticated and controlled, split, mutilated, and abandoned as the church becomes elevated; mysticism sequestered in an “interior tabernacle of pure spirit;” Eucharist no longer a lived reality, reduced to ritual; and God locked away in a distant heaven while the “three persons” are taken out of the exchange in life and made “immanent Trinity.” The church is now experienced as outer authority, rather than our common living body.
The personal element at the heart of the mystery of the Christ-event draws us nearer, as Bruno takes us deeper into the labyrinth of Christian Wisdom. It is more poignant, given the life Bruno has breathed into the centrality of the unitive force and mystery of Christ, that Bruno then devotes half the chapter to the particular and wildly different ways that Merton and Rahner open up the mystery for us in our time. The tribute to the contributions of both these human beings is beautifully wrought. It is the life of Merton that unfolds over these few pages, as Bruno traces the dance of Merton’s personal encounter with the Divine and the way he brought it to the world, questioning, reconnecting, expressing his inner being. Bruno quotes Armand Viellieux as saying, Merton “will remain known in history not so much by the things he wrote as by what he was.” It is his fullness of being that Bruno captures so fully with so few words. Merton remains, for me, and accentuated through Bruno, an icon of sapiential awakening within an individual human being that then radiates out, in that most particular way that is reflective of his ray, into the world and continuing after his death.
Karl Rahner, too, Bruno paints with a skillful hand. He guides us into Rahner’s work through the fourfoldness of his own vision, the central thread based on the cross that is “inscribed in the cosmos.” He speaks of Rahner’s feeling for God as “holy mystery,” and the way he opens the Trinity and incarnation, inviting us to its participatory nature. Bruno says that Rahner’s gift is that through his work, “While the essential distinctions remain, the boundaries have become permeable, and theology has become once again an interaction of totalities: God, person, humanity, the created universe.” Bruno’s appreciation of that which links and reconnects beyond the binary strikes a chord again––in his embrace of both the distinctions and the permeable boundaries.
This time, what strikes me about Rahner (because The Future of Wisdom is a living text, it will almost necessarily be a different aspect or moment that will catch my breath on the next read), is his use of the word ‘transcendence.’ I realize I have reduced that word to an idea of a dissolving person in a boundless God, and lost the word itself and my relationship to it in the process. In my judgment, the word became empty to me, disembodied, a name for a fabricated “goal,” and unconsciously believing the culture co-opted it, I did not own my part in the loss. It opens and delights me to see that Rahner sees transcendence as including the ground of being, all of our being, and says, “a person, then, means the self-possession of a subject as such in a conscious and free relationship to the totality of itself.” Bruno himself goes on to say, “This human participation in God which Rahner calls transcendence is the source of every truly personal or spiritual act… it locates human life—as well as human consciousness and thought—on a plane of divine immediacy which is implicitly sapiential.” It is an inclusive rather than a separating transcendence, one that does not leave the person behind or God outside.
At the end of Chapter II, we are at the center of the labyrinth of the Christian Wisdom tradition, as it has emerged and been eclipsed and re-emerged throughout its human journey in time. Bruno stands in his conclusion to this first of four Movements, The Sapiential Awakening, with these words: “Wisdom is loving faith, and Christian faith is the dark knowing of embodied light, of incarnation… This is not a specialization, nor does it bring into being a contemplative or sapiential elite. As we shall see, the shape of Christian life corresponds to the pattern of Jesus’ own life on this earth.”
This life on earth that is Jesus’s is participatory, and includes in a sapiential way, my own very specific “scandal of particularity,” and yours. Bruno’s gift in this chapter is the heartfelt excavation and recovery of the Christian tradition in all its glory. “Every cell of this body sings glory!” sounds the chant, as Bruno tenderly places the mystery and the cross in its immediacy and aliveness at the center of the Christian tradition, at the center of all life, our daily life and with all things; and in the center of our very bodies, our hearts.
As the year 2018 came to a close, the board of Northeast Wisdom met several times to discern into the coming year. We noticed a number of things. The creative initiative and growth in the individual and local group lives of the greater Wisdom community is clear. In 2018 we had seen the first publication of Cynthia’s current and immediate talks and writings. The further embodiment of the practices community-wide is telling, as is the growing participation of younger generations. We noted a stronger Northeast Wisdom website, welcoming community participation, and new forms of gathering platforms and materials, coming to the fore as groups study and practice together in their communities and in cyberspace. More Wisdom Schools and retreats are being offered around the country by emerging postholders; and explorations where related Wisdom traditions meet are taking place. A conversation is beginning that is discussing the lineage more directly, without unbending fixation, in small groups and larger retreats. These are but a few of the impulses that were bearing new fruit in 2018 and promise to deepen and grow into 2019. Our work is to support these creative endeavors, and help manifest this Wisdom lineage in the world.
With the passing of Fr Thomas Keating, Cynthia addressed more than a hundred gathered in practice and retreat at the Garrison Institute, saying, like it or not, we have all been bumped up a notch. And so it seems world over, an intensification of the depth and breadth of human experience as the polarities in the outer world appear magnified. Simultaneously, an inner call has been sounded, a quickening, to gather with what radiates from within and through and calls all things into dynamic relationship.
This inner call has born, and continues to bear fruit within each of us in our own particular way, as we become more and more the persons that we are. Walking into the world, as Mary Magdalene reminds us, cognizant of all that has been given, to become fully human; aware of the web that connects us and the sense of an organism forming to bear the emerging consciousness: these are places that we can stand individually and together, and bear witness. In 2019, the Northeast Wisdom Council wants to be conscious of and available to the greater Wisdom community, not only in the northeast, but across the country and around the world. As each of the board members deepens their work with Wisdom in the world, we are reaching out to a wisdom community that is doing the same, developing a place where mutual exchange in the community can root and ground, flower and fruit.
As our plans for 2019 continue to unfold, we welcome your input and invite your suggestions for how to support emerging Wisdom work in your community, and encourage you to share your experiences on the Northeast Wisdom website. Just email Laura Ruth to participate in that way.
Two offerings in new forms are available now from Northeast Wisdom. We have a zoom account now, and will offer the first Northeast Wisdom study group in February. Following the inspiration to continue to take up the work of those who have contributed to the lineage, we will look together at Bruno Barnhart’s The Future of Wisdom. On fire to work with embodied ways of moving more deeply into the material, Bill Redfield has responded to Cynthia’s postings on the Imaginal with a guided meditation that is now available through a link to his website. You will find the information for each of these opportunities below.
Northeast Wisdom feels invited to be part and parcel of the dynamic, reciprocal exchange and is actively listening for how Spirit is moving among and within us, and what is being called for in these times. Please join us with your heart’s call and let us know what is awakening in you, and what is alive for you in the Wisdom community.
A Practice of Guided Mediation:
Authenticity, Alignment, and Assistance: Receiving from the Imaginal
Introduced by BILL REDFIELD
In the last couple of months, Cynthia Bourgeault has written three separate blog entries here on the Northeast Wisdom website that introduce our readers to the Imaginal Realm. She refers to it as, “the realm separating the denser corporeality of our earth plane from the progressively finer causalities which lie ‘above’ us in the noetic and logoic realms.” There is a lot here to take in and to understand. All three posts are well worth reading and re-reading.
I like to consider all of this in this way: The Imaginal is the realm that lies between the visible realms of this material life and the indivisible realms beyond. But rather than functioning to separate, the Imaginal serves to join the realms together by penetrating this earthly life and connecting us to the realms beyond. Indeed, Cynthia suggests that connection with the Imaginal manifests itself as an elusive aliveness, guiding our authentic unfolding. I would like to contribute to this inquiry an experiential taste of this deeper dimension. I offer this possibility in a new practice on my website. It takes the form of a guided meditation and is available for free. It can be found here: https://www.williamredfield.com/practices/. To receive the full effect, please listen through right to its conclusion. It takes a little over 20 minutes. Enjoy!
The Future of Wisdom: Remembering Bruno Barnhart
A Northeast Wisdom Study Group
Offered by MATTHEW WRIGHT, LAURA RUTH AND MARCELLA KRAYBILL-GREGGO
Join us as Matthew Wright, Laura Ruth and Marcella Kraybill-Greggo host Northeast Wisdom’s first electronic platform experiment: a zoom study group to support the launch of the Year of Bruno Barnhart. The Future of Wisdom is not Bruno Barnhart’s easiest work to enter into; all the more perfect for a group exploration, and rich with themes that speak most directly to this Wisdom lineage and to what is emerging in these times. Let us come together to witness what emerges in the group out of the depths of his extraordinary vision.
We will host two free monthly groups, a morning series and an evening series, for five months. Each meeting will focus on one of the five chapters in The Future of Wisdom.
Second Friday of each month 6:00 – 7:30pm EST
February 8, March 8, April 12, May 10 and June 14, 2019
Fourth Wednesday 10:00 – 11:30 am EST
February 27, March 27, April 24, May 22 and June 26, 2019
Please r.s.v.p to Laura Ruth, at firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage you to sign up and participate in the full series, either the morning or the evening sessions. In order to access zoom, download the free zoom app on your computer.
The books are on their way! For those of you who have already donated $150 or more to Northeast Wisdom during our 2018 Annual Fund Appeal, the books have been shipped from the publisher and will be distributed as soon as they arrive.
Any questions? Feel free to contact Laura at the email address above.
This past weekend I spent time in a place of enormous beauty. The room was created for a group to enter into prayer and healing together for several days. I realize its beauty is more than appearance–the beauty is true–it reflects truth. Human beings came together, in the goodness of their hearts, and prepared a space. It was created with a depth of vision born out of and in relationship to the imaginal. Through that effortless patience, beauty and truth were revealed as one. Something unseen became known within me, the moment I walked into it. Interconnections were illuminated, pulsing and alive in the blood; between worlds, yes. And in the cells between us–the room, myself, and the other people gathered there.
Several days before, I had the first dream I remembered in many months:
I walk in to the room, openmouthed. There is a sparkling silence in the air, things have yet to begin, but the space is prepared, waiting. There are places for the musicians, where the music will come through. Children are there, others are coming. The beauty comes into me and fills my being unencumbered. The channel through my mouth completely open to what is there. It is like drinking liquid gold, drinking in the beauty, nothing is in the way of it pouring in. The beauty is true.
The dream spoke directly to the experience, even though it happened in my psyche before I walked into the space in my waking life. This is not so surprising, because when a connection is true it is continuous across the boundaries of space and time. There was a conversation taking place, one that is ongoing still, between and across those boundaries of life, both seen and unseen. The lived experience in the dream informed me while I was in the room, and my experience in the room informed my dream, and that was just one tiny thread of connection among a multitude of connections that have been and are taking place around this one thing: this particular moment in time where magnificent truth was reflected in beauty, visible by way of a human creation.
With precision and care, the people who created the space train their ears to hear, their eyes to see, their mouths to speak from the heart. It is a practice they have given their lives to. An alignment with truth, beauty and goodness. When we are able to attune, reality becomes ‘visible’ in its relationships, patterns, rhythms. In the continuous unfolding of itself like the petals of a rose opening or Saint Teresa’s many rooms. The manifold levels of a thing are revealed. Like jumping into the river, we are carried on its currents deeper into its being, its particularity. It is the language of the heart, and we recognize it. With great care and humility, we are capable of listening, speaking, manifesting out of that dynamic reciprocity.
This time of year the artic colors are often present in the sky where I live. The changing of the light, from night to day and day to night is particularly luminous. There is an online service that offers times of first light, last light, nautical light, the many shades of light and dark coming and going, wherever you are. In the north, where we have already had snow cover for weeks (early this year) and darkness comes so soon, these gradations of air are significant. They breathe me through a daily relationship with the turning that is piercingly present. If I stop for a moment this time of year, it is the air, the quality of the light-dark, that I notice. I search the subtlety in land and sky, even in skin, and watch for what glows from within. Is the light hard or soft, what is revealed? Now my being accepts the shapes of the bones of the trees without surprise; leaves and brush gone, I look further in easily. Funny how the crystalline nature of winter is wrapped in a particular softness that is like no other season.
It is as if the inner life of things becomes more alive, palpable. Even the empty sound of a room sparkles. Let alone the sound of the quiet of life silenced by deep snow.
This time of year, let us create beauty. Join forces with what shines from within. Notice how truth becomes visible. In the little things. Land in the goodness, plant our feet there. My granddaughter is two and more fun that I can say. She is living beauty, beauty in motion, unbound goodness, pure truth. Her beingness as a human person spills out, so much bigger than the space she occupies. She experiences the world in such close connection to it; so visible, is the innocence of her existence. She is in relationship with all that is around her.
I think about the waiting I sensed in the dream and felt in the room last weekend. The waiting I felt in the beauty, the way the beauty connected me to truth. It is reminiscent of the pondering, the mysterious capacity of the human being Mary to hold all that is, the joy, the sorrow, the pain, the love. The expansive heart that she passes on to us. The belly that manifests. Deep beauty is true. The connection is made, and we participate. I talk with a friend and she reminds me of the good. Our work as partners in creation. The good, the true and the beautiful. A circle of life in motion, a trinity. The trinity.
Reverence. A candle generates reverence, a new arising. It is a simple act, to light a candle with purpose. We engage, in all centers, with our whole being. Remember? How it feels to pause for a moment; then feel what happens within when we strike the match, when the wick is lit. Third force.
For years we celebrated Advent with our children by marking each week, as many familiar with Waldorf schools do, with the arrival of the stuff of life. First the mineral kingdom, then the plants, then the animals, and then the child, the human. What flows from there is awe, gratitude, love. How could it not? Slowing down to witness what we blip over daily, our connection and interdependence with the mineral, plant and animal in ourselves and one another, the miracle of life, communicating and relating at every turn. One tiny way to enter in. No words necessary.
I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known.
The above from the below, and the below from the above -the work of the miracle of the One.
The ancient Ones, the newly born, wait for us.
Note: Oft-quoted, the first line above comes from the Hadith, the sayings of the prophet Muhammad; and the second is a line from an Arabic version of The Emerald Tablet, translated by ‘Anonymous.’
How do we stand in ourselves in these times? What do we draw from? What do we have to give? What is our responsibility as humans, and to what? Twenty-five gathered recently at Glastonbury Abbey, where, as Cynthia says, “in a weekend on the Benedictine virtue of stabilitas we wove together Benedict and Teilhard, considering the meaning of this ancient value in our own world plunged onto instability on all fronts.”
We traced the presence, and absence, of the ancient and practiced stabiltas loci (stability of place) and stabilitas cordis (stability of heart) of the Benedictine tradition through our individual lives and lived experience to our common cultural experience in these chaotic and fragmented times. Drawing connections between stabiltas and Teilhard de Chardin’s fidelity––which he defines as the force within that communicates with the life that faith consecrates–– a sense of aliveness came into the room. Through this deep dive, together with Teilhard’s observation of evolutionary complexification, emerging consciousness and convergence, moving towards the Omega point, I felt the growing awareness of an already embedded body of experience rising to meet my deepest questions these days. A felt sense of the potent healing and the inevitable alchemy generated through a commitment to these principles in my life, in community, and ultimately to its place at the center of where we may stand as human beings in service to the newness, the unknown, that is wanting to be born through the tumult.
Returning home, I decided to augment my prayer with the embodied prayer of simply moving a bit and then grounding in; as Cynthia suggested at the close of the retreat, that we visit the depths of earth daily. I found an immediate connection to Cynthia’s specific noticing about the geosphere as separate from the biosphere, the geosphere holding the memory of deep time in stone and element, woven with all that has been given by the ancients. Penetrating the geospheric depths consciously, physically, energetically, I felt another level of connection to myself as born and made of earth matter. Beyond my previous experience of that truth. Allen’s very simple bending the knees helped ground it further, and it was oh so very strengthening; invigorating in a deep-in-the-legs sort of way. Palpable. The resources are given. We have what we need. It is all right here.
At Glastonbury on Sunday morning after vigils I made my way up to the labyrinth on the hill. Pine needles underfoot, tall trees circling close, generous blocks of old stone marking the path. My grief was pouring forth, and it was leading me to place, to earth. I walked into the labyrinth in the quiet, sobbing, and feeling–confession comes closest–the overwhelming grief of being a human and not knowing how, the desire to give to the greater organism and feeling all that has been severed, is being severed. A kind of physically falling into the place, with my confession, my part, as a part of the whole, in the failure of our responsibility. Looking up from the earth at my feet, straightening up and drawing from this point on earth to walk, my eyes met the eyes of a mature old hawk. He was looking at me from a low limb of one of the pines that root into the stones at the edge of the circle, a limb that extended right out over the labyrinth. He seemed comfortable with me and the place, so I wonder if he nests there and the monks know him. He hung out while I walked round, moved to couple of other low limbs in the same tree and finally flew a bit further off.Being together in this new world, the old world crumbling, can we begin to learn one another’s languages? Our common language? Exercise the fidelity that communicates with the life that faith consecrates? Learn to approach one another (and I include earth herself) with enough humbleness and truth and heart? Wait? Stay? Even in our vulnerability? Stabilitas.
I have been touched, as we all have been touched. As we touch one another. Consciously embracing in my daily practice this sense of touching the memory of the geosphere and the heart of the ancient ones, physically, as a creature of earth, can help me personally with that. As we did at Glastonbury together, as I did this morning in my home. Touchstone. Yes, a form of remembering. I can feel its accessibility right here and now, as I write; another portal to prayer without ceasing. With love and gratitude.
In Cynthia’s Note to the Northeast Wisdom fundraising letter, she exclaims, “We’re Here to Make Wisdom Happen!” And Wisdom, as it is born in its unique configuration through each and every one of us into life, into life lived, is certainly front and center in the collective heart of Cynthia Bourgeault and the 2017 Board of Directors. As champion of that call, Cynthia has had a year of speaking and writing about Wisdom’s interface with life in these times that has been reaching back within the tradition with an ever-widening lens; and simultaneously turning into the present moment, making new and immediate connections, and sharing her visionary seeing, in process, as it awakens.
It is to serve exactly that- that which has been taking shape over the course of the year- that the idea for an annual collection arose. To document the arising in Cynthia, as she “stood and turned” to meet the day over the course of the year with courage, honesty, creativity, her brilliant wit, and an ever-evolving living lineage revealing and expressing itself through her.
This little book is a collaborative effort, born out of a sudden arising in a board meeting, followed and discovered along the way. It has been a bit of an experiment. An exercise in trust, that the project will be led, and the necessary help will arrive. Deep breath! It is a work in progress that we hope to have available to donors by the end of February 2018.
The book has been primarily a process of following, and going through the doors as they open. Step by step and moment by moment. The inspiration has been seeing the pieces fall into place, the unfolding of word and action over the course of a year which had been sensed in time, and now may be visible in space.
This annual collection, entitled Love is the Answer: What is the Question? includes many of the short talks and writing Cynthia delivered from the fall of 2016 through 2017. It is truly a Northeast Wisdom Board creation. As primary advocate, and inexperienced in the field, I have been brought right up the edge of my capacity and relied throughout the process on my dear friend and colleague Bob Sabath. He has spent hours on the phone advising me with his collected experience and good sense, patiently steering me through the technical glitches of a complete beginner. And Brie Stoner has generously shared her gorgeous photo of Cynthia teaching in February 2016, for use in the work in progress of a cover image. While Holly, invaluable manager of the Northeast Wisdom website, has tirelessly and artfully jumped on board as the annual campaign has gone live on the website.
Fellow board members have collaborated along the way, Guthrie contributed sound advice and the typeface, Mary Ellen has been so helpful with her innate knowledge, patience with contractual language and experience in the field, Cynthia has brought her immediacy, enthusiasm and publishing expertise to elements of the project from the size and feel of the book to the color and look of the cover. Over and again she has answered my questions, brainstormed material, shared necessary connections and short cuts whenever I have come to a dead end. Patricia has chimed in with her championing of organizational protocol. The three M’s of the current Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors, Marcella, Matthew and Mary Ellen have offered to be the editing body. And President of the Board, and dear friend Bill, produced a gorgeous foreword to the book in record time, and more even than that, has been consistently ready in the moment to offer his endless and openhearted support to this work as it has unfolded. What a team!
The idea for the book arose during a late summer board meeting. The outer question was how to meet the need for a small but meaningful gift for larger donors to the annual giving campaign. The inner question surfacing was something like this: How does this fit with our times? What gift is a real response to the needs, the questions, the uncertainties of this past year? What has already been given? What are people hungry for? How does Northeast Wisdom relate to all this?
A few weeks ago, at the last Wisdom retreat at Hallelujah Farm, Mark Kutolowski was introducing the group to Systema, a practice developed over centuries by Russian monks (among others), that trains the whole person to stay in freely flowing intuitive response in high stress situations or environments. Kerstin Lipke had found a beautiful quote from Cynthia’s Wisdom Way of Knowing to print on the back of the schedule. Over the course of the weekend, one of the participants used a phrase from the quote as a touchstone in her own beautiful way. We went around during the opening circle, sharing just a brief kernel of what was on our hearts in the moment. When it was her turn, she turned to the quote and said, “…either you will brace, harden and resist, or you will soften, open and yield.” Throughout the weekend, she returned to that phrase, each time bringing it into a new context, a deeper understanding. Reflecting on it, letting it live in her. Experiencing it, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, as she danced with it through the long weekend.
It is a beautiful example of something I have been noticing all around me this year. The way that a thought, a gorgeous phrase, can land within a person’s being and then be taken up, lived with, and itself grow through reflection into deeper consciousness. Words that become openings to that cusp where what is deeply personal is ultimately human and universal experience. Words that become windows, for instance, to how “deep hope flows over deep time.” I have been noticing how people turn to certain words and phrases; combinations of words that express truth, beauty and goodness. Finding a home both to land in and launch from. “It is movement and it is rest.”
As the board discussed possibilities for a gift, I remembered being recently struck by how Cynthia’s rendition of her experience at Tintern Abbey had named something very specific, so relevant to the times, that spoke directly to my heart. That had been six months prior, yet it was still fresh. The quality of aliveness in the words had reverberated in my soul. It was a two-part message that the walls of Tintern Abbey delivered to Cynthia that day. The first, a directive about how to listen and what to do: “not … to verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity or carry report.” I could feel myself there, in my humanness, the mind’s habitual retreat from the moment. But “to kneel, where prayer has been valid.” Cynthia was listening, and responding. Kneeling, where prayer has been valid.
Softening, opening and yielding to what was vibrantly alive in that place, Cynthia called it “a living transmission” in her post. One that spoke out of the very stones that had been witness centuries before to terror, to sorrow and to endurance. “Know that what is forged in the alchemy of love is beyond the ravages of time. All else may dissolve; this alone remains. But in your own transfigured heart, you will always find it.”
These words were a gift that readied Cynthia for what was to come on the eve of the United States elections. They resonated later in my heart as truth; truth given out of the imaginal, in a form that, for me, brings the heart into the miraculous territory of paradox. The place where words vibrate as an image-being complete unto itself, and yet is a continuing experience, living, vibrant, fluid, deepening, holographic, resonant. Words that express a becoming, a process, an exchange, that continues to move and deepen within and without. What remains, in the transfigured heart, beyond the ravages of time.
A thread was emerging that was to express itself over the course of the year in a myriad of ways. This was informed of course by the work of a lineage, by the deepening of a growing soul, by lived experience of the meeting of Gurdjieff and Teilhard de Chardin in Cynthia’s heart and mind, by years of practice. How to bring this all into a contemporary conversation? A meeting with the now? The talks and writings that Cynthia shared over the course of the year were of a great variety, a series of call and response that speaks to the times from a number of directions.
In the board meeting, the image of a book was gaining greater clarity: what a gift it would be to gather these together in a volume. A new blog series was underway. There had been talks around the country, articles written and courses offered. A book would be something tangible that people could pick up and hold, turn over in their hands, open to a page. So many questions were surfacing within people. A book could provide a phrase to take up as a question or a study. It could be put on a bedside table, raise a question, turn it over to the night, and see what the night sends back. It might become inspiration for action, help form a guiding thought, or enliven inner practice.
Cynthia herself says in her annual appeal letter, “I’ve had a fabulous year of writing, reflecting, and breaking ground on all these fronts, knowing that I am beautifully supported and accompanied by a living, growing community that truly has my back.” This little book covers the ground between the fall of 2016 through 2017. For many, these times have drawn people closer together. A sense of human and earthly community has become more poignant. Many have plunged into deep and honest self-reflection, and sat with rising questions about how to meet life from an ever-growing place of inner clarity and integrity.
Cynthia has a particular gift for language, and is a brilliant artist of synthesis. Throughout her contributions to this volume, and under the development and interweaving of thoughts and ideas and their translation into comprehensive and vivid pictures that are penetrable and welcoming, Cynthia’s voice is the consistent call of a spiritual teacher who walks the talk and knows the territory from the inside out. The call is to embodied practice, to listen, to see ourselves for what we are, no more, no less, each one a precious and unique part of the whole. To pay attention to a growing, expanding consciousness that has the capacity to bear the greatest joy and the deepest sorrow, to remember and connect to a sense of rhythm and proportion, to humility and to humor, to open to the capacity to enter the heart within that beats with the Divine Heart of Hearts.
When it comes to the Christian Wisdom tradition, Northeast Wisdom’s mission is to transmit, nurture, prepare, and engage, and this year has brought numerous needs and questions to the fore, for each of us as individuals and collectively. Many have been feeling signs of a deeper paradigm shift, with all the hopes and fears that surface in times of change. It is clear that many people are choosing to make more room in their lives for the inner questions that are part of a personal blueprint that is constantly becoming.
We will each find our way on this journey through our times, and we are not alone. Some of us will find a path opening through the Christian Wisdom tradition, and perhaps Cynthia’s contributions to the conversation this year will transmit, nurture, prepare and engage us in a way supports and encourages each of us to reach deeper within and reach further out. Call and response. “Please join us in the dance,” says Cynthia. “Joyfully, playfully, collectively.”
I was laughing at my desk this morning, pre-dawn, the glow in the sky yet to come. Searching for a word to describe the roles taken in this little collective project. Steering committees and spearheads led me from Merriam Webster’s, “sharp-pointed end of a spear”, “leading element, force or influence in an undertaking or development” and “steering head: the assemblages of front-axle and steering knuckle on which a front wheel of an automobile turns” (interesting), to the Trip Advisor’s, “always need the cowboys to keep the steer heading in the right direction”, and possibly my favorite, Urban Dictionary’s (invention?), “steerheading: to take one’s encumbered thoughts and send them off into a pen of productivity.” The technical learning curve has been substantial! Quite the challenge. Makes me laugh, but enough of that.
It has been a joy and a blessing to follow this “leaning” and dive so deeply into what Cynthia has been bringing forth in these surprising and uncertain times. To be intimate witness to her meeting of the often uneasy, ever-hopeful, sense of major paradigm shift happening beneath our collective feet, grounded in Wisdom’s way and emerging from her life’s work in a humble pursuit of the truth and practice of the heart.