How wonderful, that, here we are, discussing “Chapter Nine: The Passion,” “Chapter Ten: The Crucifixion and Its Aftermath,” and “Chapter Eleven: The Great Easter Fast” in The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault. How poignant to be leaning into her writing about Holy Week and the fifty days following Easter—in the thick of it, right now. Ascension, May 13th, and Pentecost, yet to come. We remain. Abide in this quiet thin time of the year when the resurrected Jesus walked the earth visiting and teaching before his final departure as embodied form. Forty days, then ten. Time to pause, to hear what is waiting to come into birth from the absolute depths of us.
Beginning with “the Passion as really the mysteries of all mysteries, the heart of the Christian faith experience (pg. 104), Cynthia walks us through the last days and death of Jesus with fresh eyes. In freely accepting his short and intense life, Jesus en-courages us to “make the passage into unitive life”:
…both modeling and consecrating the eye of the needle that each one of us must personally pass through in order to accomplish the ‘one thing necessary’ here, according to his teaching: to die to self…to grow beyond the survival instincts of the animal brain and egoic operating system into the kenotic joy and generosity of full human personhood…a sacred path of liberation.” (pg. 106)
Holy Week has been a mystery for me for a long time. Rather than succumbing to the angry God, or the guilt that we killed Jesus by being bad and wrong, I was touched as a child by a deep feeling for the words and stories of the Bible and fed upon them as close Friends. Jesus, Mary, and Mary Magdalene were companions in the secret places of my being. Instead of blame or scapegoating, I nursed a sense of mysterious truth and love at the heart of Holy Week, that literally nourished me. That feeling has not died or diminished within, though I have not “understood” it.
Cynthia covers much of the traditional territories of Holy Week, and applies a healing balm with her own affirmation experience of the “indwelling love.” She takes us to John where “Jesus will allow no separation between God and humans, no separation between humans and humans, because the sap flowing through everything is love itself” (109). Assuring his people of a new intimacy, and a greater capacity dawning within, Jesus is preparing his students for the time when they too may say: Yes, Let It Be, and Thy Will Be Done.
There is hope here, faith in this life, in us. We cannot truly utter these potent words without entering into a partnership, an enjoining that is complete if it is sincere. Jesus shows us that there is no other way these words can be actually embraced—they are indeed a wholly embodied declaration of becoming-part-of, of giving the self—not away—but into a greater Beingness. Cynthia ends her chapter on the Passion with the creative, “cosmic sowing of a seed from which will spring forth that impossible livable, the bush that burns but is not consumed” (pg. 112).
I sense a poignant beauty in Holy Week, undeniable but not graspable by the mind. The terror of what we humans are capable of lives right beside love and goodness; we witness both the strength and the weakness of us. The descent of the human-divine into the very heart of matter brings such joy and trembling; for some, an urge to accompany, to sit with the forces in the depths of us and bear witness. Is this not how we love? What we do? Cynthia speaks of this sacred well, recalling us to “the jagged, binary nature of this realm of existence” as home to:
…the precise conditions required to make possible a particular kind of divine self-disclosure. Only at this particular density, within these sharp edges and term limits (the ultimate one, of course, being death), do the conditions become perfect for the expression of the most tender and vulnerable aspects of divine love.
What moves us to destroy, to separate, to take apart? What is operating in us at the poles of life-denying and life-giving? Our personal work with these parts of self is an offering to the Whole. To accept, untangle, relax our grasp. To feel love surge out of the absence of love: this is what the mystical traditions have always said is our “uniquely important contribution to the divine fullness” (pg. 120).
How close this all is to our humanness! To the heart. It is a recognition event—we keep circling back to recognition as a force—the re-membering surfacing, running underground, breaking through again. We see this story all around us, and we know it in ourselves. The whole of it. We know both the ragged emptiness and the abundant fullness, and we have been in some measure with each. Remember the emphasis Cynthia gave in The Meaning of Mary Magdalene to the reality that Jesus was not alone, not forsaken, but continually tracked and witnessed. Alone, and yet in relationship. Loved. A great mystery. We fall asleep, we wake up, garner presence, fall asleep again. We are alone, we are held.
Here in Wisdom Jesus she quotes Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, another deeply archetypal yet absolutely earth-bound and therefore resounding witness to the very nature of life in all its riotous, wild beauty and horror right in the center of creation—from the human-God to the insect, we are embedded in a web of life and death on so many levels. Can we take our part? As we are guided to navigate our relationship with the dualities of this sphere, in and outside of us, we are not alone, we cannot deny What Is, we are embedded within this life and we are not only that. Cynthia says at the close of Chapter Ten:
In those deeply hidden hours of Holy Saturday we find Jesus going to the root of that duality, embracing it, sheathing it in a greater love that will hold it firmly in place under the dominion of that love, and in obedience to the love, if we simply allow the kenotic path to take its course. With that guarantee in place, we can follow where he has gone. (pg. 124)
How do we live these archetypal realities that lace through life? We are here, now, in another forty days, in what Cynthia calls the Easter Fast. We just had Lent! Forty days has been traditionally a time of transformation, of shedding what no longer serves and the slow arising of what is new, a time of purification and preparation, of grounding what is coming to birth before rejoining the world anew. Time to stop. Open our ears and polish the mirror of our hearts. How to walk the spiral of a second forty days. Quiet our beings. Easter’s true nature sets us back upon the earth gently, carefully, in these our days and times, where the “invitation” is to “Come and see,” to “encounter the Wisdom Jesus.”
We are in the Mystical Body, revisited perhaps by that subtle power of recognition, the possibility to trust what makes itself manifest. A knowing that lives deep within and beyond ourselves, in that gorgeous paradox of the personal and the universal; inside of which we do not know more—but our knowing is deeper (pg. 137). A transparency that we cannot touch in ourselves alone because it moves in a dynamic field of living relationship that crosses boundaries and realms both within and beyond our wee selves. In this season, perhaps more potently, we sense that aliveness and intimacy: “That Jesus, the living master, is real, alive, intimately and vibrantly enfolding you right now. He is more present, in fact, than even your breath and heartbeat” (pg. 136).
What good fortune that we meet in the very midst of what Cynthia calls, “these exquisitely turbo charged days” (pg. 126). Alert for what is alive and trembling with truth in the undercurrents of our lives, to sense a Greater Beingness all about us, to allow ourselves to open to the Mystical Body within us as a collective, to be teachable in this thin space:
that during these great fifty days of Easter, the same invitation is extended to each one of us: to catch the drift of what Jesus is really inviting us to and to deepen our capacity to receive the intense spiritual energy available to us during this sacred season as a catapult to our own transformation” (pg. 126).
I began writing this on April 22, 2021, Earth Day. Our planet, beautiful mother of life, that is part of us as we are part of her, that we have ravaged and abused, loved and cherished, been given bodies by. Receive our human journey ground. May we learn to walk, to live, our gratitude! I hear the call to open the ear of my heart during these forty days, and turn, perhaps, with an ever deeper riveted attention to the deeply mysterious chasm-space in the ten days that follow. To spend some quiet moments with the possibility—so alive to the mystics—that Jesus sits at the root of the root:
a ‘pan-cosmic’ saturation of his being into the deepest marrow of this created world… without in any way denying or overriding the conditions of this earth place, he is interpenetrating them fully, infusing them with his own interior spaciousness, and inviting us all into this invisible but profoundly coherent energetic field so that we may live as one body” (pg. 134).
What follows in The Wisdom Jesus are the chapters on praxis. I sit with this today, a day, as all days, when many woes, angers and sorrows, much that remains unresolved, is being marked by our fellow humans. I open to the voices of the Virtual Prayer Tent rising as the people of Minneapolis gather in mourning and hope, am aware of the wails and songs of an online vigil for the Sikh community, suffering from hate-crime, another mass shooting. I sit with these and feel joy with the flowers blooming again in the northern hemisphere, the bird song, the children. I am with people engaged in practices designed to bring us deeper into our three centers of movement, feeling and thinking. Grounding in visceral sensation in the body, we touch the Presence that is alive, always, within us. Hope to offer a breathing companionship and witness to what is broken, what is hurting, to what struggles in us humans. We learn to center and ground in the silent prayer of letting go. To welcome without judging, grasping or rejecting What Is. To gather with the collective in the psalms and touch the ineffable through chant, to Be with sacred text. We hone and practice, grow resiliency and forbearance.
Each of us drawn to this path seems to be working towards more deeply connecting and growing being. I pray that we be strengthened and led to open with compassion to the whole of the world, bear ever greater witness, work on what separates us from ourselves, one another, the whole. I pray that we may face ourselves, the brokenness that is part and parcel of being human, without judgement. May we heal. Learn to track the depths and crevices and nature of love. Take this work into our daily life, and let it work its will with us. Follow more truly and receive the path of being-with and turning-toward that has been carved out for us, resisting the urge to deny, run or turn away.
Walking the jagged byways of this realm with our hearts open, may we meet this ‘pan-cosmic saturation of Being in our deepest marrow’ and in the Whole.
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.
And stay tuned for the next post in the Wisdom Waypoints Wisdom Jesus Book Circle series! Won’t you join us? Please note that the Book Circle is now full. We encourage individuals and groups of all kinds to take up this study, and follow along with these monthly postings through June 2021, and would love to hear your reflections about this post and the book in the comments below. Thank you!
Images from the top: Road to Emmaus, courtesy of the Vatican News; East Wall, She is the Burning Bush itself: mural artist Seraphim O’Keefe, courtesy of Orthodox Arts Journal, Murals for the Burning Bush Chapel and Prothesis at St John of the Ladder in Greenville, South Carolina; Exploring the Cave, image courtesy of Ivana Cajina, Unsplash; Light Keyhole, image courtesy of Leon Lee, Unsplash; Lower Antelope, courtesy of Ameer Basheer, Unsplash.
The Wisdom Jesus asks us to gently question the Christianity of tradition, and turn towards the discovery of what it means right here and now to seek and find the Wisdom Jesus in our lives. To live the path and connect with the person who was called the Single One, Ihidaya, Master. We are being pointed to a path, an unfolding process. The Gospel of Thomas logion quoted on the first page indicates that to seek includes becoming troubled and confused before opening to wonder, sovereignty and rest. And this is all ok. It is real.
It is a path that relies on what Cynthia calls, “our own power of inner recognition” (pg. 3): an inner capacity that can perceive “through a raw immediacy of presence” within which we are able to connect with our “own direct knowingness…Out of this sovereignty is born—our own inner authority” (pg. 7).
“Recognition energy…is the capacity to ground truth a spiritual experience in our own being” (pg. 80).
And this recognition energy is connected to wonder. Cynthia quotes Bruno Barnhart:
“Time after Time we feel the break-through of life, the wave-front of wonder” (pg. 8-9).
Grounded in our own direct experience and sense of wonder the path begins to reveal itself. Opening Wisdom Jesus to Chapter Six, we are met with a threshold question: “But how do (we) make this shift in consciousness?” Chapter Seven concludes with the question, are we willing or not to tolerate the “unmanageable simplicity” (as per Bruno Barnhart, pg. 75) of what Cynthia calls “being present to your life in love?” (pg 88).
Yes, how do we do this? Stay simple and present. To life. In love.
Doing is the definition of praxis, the root of the word. It is embodiment, practice, and the body of that practice that grows within us—in this case, toward the capacity to bear this unmanageable simplicity, and to stay present to our lives in love. Kenosis, self-emptying in love, is a descent down, towards and through that grows with practice.
I first heard Cynthia’s vision of the Trinity when she spoke about flying into Boston over tall windmills turning on the hills, each blade pouring into the next in a great circular dance, fluid, generative, a continual motion. The windmill and the waterwheel.
Cynthia speaks about the root of the word “person” in the Trinity—as the state or substance of being that is underlying each form taken: what stands inside and underneath. The foundation. The dynamic movement of the three persons in the Trinity turning and spilling, one to the other in a continuous giving is the dance. “God is love” and through the dance “love becomes manifest as the unified field of all reality” (pg.72).
How to wake to this love pouring not only through creation but into creation, creating and recreating creation in a constant turn and flow. This is part of us, a reality within us, and an invitation to turn with the wheel of a life lived lovingly—not through anything that we push, intend or hold onto—but through the act of letting go. Letting it slip through our fingers, with love.
The image of standing in the breach comes up; stepping into life in relationship with one’s whole self. Can we humble ourselves to take one small step towards the beloved, unattached to either what we do or what the outcome? To simply give, without looking for an equivalent exchange? To wake up and honestly, simply, be with what is? I make a choice this morning to go first to the brook, because it is changing, because it calls me, because it nourishes me, because I have been not well. It is tending to what is necessary right now. It is what will give me a leg to stand on today, that I may give more in other ways. Kenotic love is not a stepping back in detachment, or a letting go that floats away from it all. It is so deeply an outpouring into, so radical an act of self-giving and self-disclosure, that it cannot help but manifest. We do not have to make something happen. We simply let go and be, letting that which is within us flow. Breathe and follow the gesture, opening, toward.
If we participate with our whole hearts in the raw beingness of the moment, something new comes into being. Because it is real it is a creative moment—to meet life without succumbing to fear and doubt. Rather than repress, we can practice. Breathe and notice what is truly here. Gently relax our bodies around fear. Release our swirling emotions to the stiller pond below. Sink beneath the endless voices in the head, thank them for their warnings, feel them ease. Our minds work so hard to protect us here, assure us of where we are, who we are and where we stand in it all. It takes practice and awareness, to re-train our habitual responses to include a greater love.
Kenosis is about taking an unmeasured step in and giving ourselves fully. Jesus asked his people, can you just stay awake one more hour? Be witness here, to this moment? Mary Magdalene was practiced, she knew how. This self-emptying in love is neither about giving ourselves away or not caring. It is about staying with, with presence, living with the question. It discerns the subtle line of going forth and turning toward without clinging to a process or having an attachment to outcome. It is awake. It is the pause of listening, of true discernment. We find we are breathed.
Isn’t it remarkable that there is something within that can risk, can trust, that knows how to give fully in love without holding on to identity or losing our center, even for a second. This is what I love about this work. There are moments in our lives, when perhaps we recognize this. Small moments of dying to self. Step by step on the path. Peeling towards our un-identified core, that which perhaps has made a silent agreement with God; who knows? Glimpses caught, that we are indeed each a single ray of the whole. Moments of sensing we belong in an unbounded, unfathomable spectrum, whole in itself.
There is a substance that stands under that ray as our foundation, in the sense Cynthia names as hypostasis: the sediment in the original Greek—O blessed material world of ours! body of us! substance of earth! substance of light! Can we experience ourselves standing—part of earth, part of spirit? Can we touch it as sensation radiating through us, tingling and warm? With our attention we may open to the larger Presence—our underlying reality—feel it alive, in relationship: as the persons in the Trinity stand and move, states of being pouring one into the other, manifesting love.
We tread here on the edges of our known world—where the binary takes shape as either and or, where polarities appear irreconcilable. Jesus as tantric master seeks the unitive through kenosis (pg. 78). As human beings we are born to reconcile, but in large part we have forgotten how. Most of us have been busy doing other things. In practice, we breathe, and let go again, soften the boundaries of our postulations, re-ground in and open the heart. Experience how it is that we can both let go and turn toward—stay present to—in one beautiful act of love.
Chapter Twelve is Centering Prayer Meditation. Through it we ground in our bodies what it means to practice and live kenosis, to actually meet each moment with an inner gesture akin to self-emptying. The chapter opens with this beautiful Byzantine hymn, long forgotten:
Serene light shining in the ground of my being,
draw me to yourself.
Draw me past the snare of the senses,
out of the mazes of the mind.
Free me from symbols, from words,
that I may discover the signified:
the word unspoken in the darkness
that veils the ground of my being.
How beautifully Centering Prayer dovetails with kenotic praxis! Working the muscle of the heart through releasing anything clung to, even in the subtlest grasp. Centering Prayer is a way, in Cynthia’s words, of “patterning into our being that continuously repeated gesture of ‘let go, let go, let go’ at the core of the path that Jesus himself walked” (pg. 142). When I was first introduced to Centering Prayer I spent a long long time with Father Keating’s words, “I consent to the presence and action of God.” Drawn to the relational dynamism of self-emptying, I found it both an agreement and an embodiment:
I’m ready my Lord.
(Here I am, Here I am,
I’m ready my Lord.)
~Leonard Cohen, You Want it Darker, chorus
The body remembers through the rhythms we practice, the heart perceives by pattern and resonates with the Greater Heart. Self-emptying becomes pattern with practice; and equanimity begins to take the place of reactivity. Freedom from judgement allows for glimpses of the whole of a thing to emerge and be witnessed, and letting go of identities releases certain boundaries of perception. Perspective becomes available from different angles and from the ground of being in the heart rather than from a score of fixed notions and assumptions. New potentialities shine forth in interaction, come alive in relationship with all things animate and inanimate, manifest in something surprising and new coming into being. Remind us that yes, each moment is indeed a point which has never before come into being, and we are participants in the creative act of living life.
Cynthia reminds us just how close letting go is to letting be: and that it was “through God’s original ‘Let there be…’ that our visible worlds tumbled into existence.” (pg. 68). Wow. The letting go in the brook this morning, in your life today, in mine, is boundaryless. We can track it to the first and the last, and, as offering to the whole, take the next small step. We can keep descending, as Jesus did, relinquishing that which comforts us in our identities, bit by bit, for a deeper solace.
This humanness that we are, it is beautiful and terrible. My prayer is that my wounds, my transgressions, can be offered to the alchemical pot, humble gifts to the gods. My sense is that, just as a cut will heal, we humans do what we can do to heal. Walking between my will and thy will, forgetting and clinging, noticing, letting go. We pause—or we do not—and the moment passes. We rest and wake to life, to what this day brings. Ten thousand opportunities to be.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen, Anthem
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;
The Wisdom Jesus Book Circle: What Did Jesus Teach? by Matthew Wright Chapters 3~5.
You may also be interested in the Inner Task, a post given for January 26 ~ February 23, 2021 to accompany your study:
Wisdom Jesus Inner Task Month I by Jeanine Siler Jones;
Wisdom Jesus Inner Task Month II by Heather Ruce.
And stay tuned for the next post in the Wisdom Waypoints Wisdom Jesus Book Circle series!
Won’t you join us? Please note that the Book Circle is now full. We encourage individuals and groups of all kinds to take up this study, and follow along with these monthly postings through June 2021, and would love to hear your reflections about this post and the book in the comments below. Thank you!
All of the images above were taken this morning, March 23 2021, on the Martin’s Brook path by Laura Ruth.
The Jesus Prayer has been part of my practice for a number of years now, and recently it has taken a deeper dive into the body with the introduction of Gurdjieff’s Lord have Mercy exercise. The practice moves into sensing “an echo” of the words “Lord have Mercy” in each of the limbs, coursing through the body and building in both sensation and feeling. Yesterday when the meditation ended, I gently opened my eyes and experienced the Lord have Mercy echoing, not only from within, but from every corner of the room, each object, from the barn outside the window, the field, the sheep, to the sky itself. It was a glimpse into the Lord have Mercy speaking through the weave of all life, all matter, animate and inanimate.
I have a few Advent prayers, and this exercise is one. I am fortunate to have a little group that practices it together weekly, augmenting my own personal practice of it. It invites me to listen to how Lord have Mercy sings through the body, and now, allows a glimpse of how it resounds through the whole of creation. It is a door to a beautiful Whole of interpenetrating worlds. Here in the north country, it is especially poignant with snow on the ground and the bare bones of trees piercing winter skies.
We each have our work this season. A personal walk into the intersection between our inner and outer lives. We walk between realms—dive down into the cold mechanical habits of being, find our uprightness again in the art and reason of daily life in the world, catch the scent of the gifts of the spirit that keep us on course as we navigate our days. The call from a mysterious Presence bursts into life through wider, deeper sensation, subtle feelings of tender mutuality, the ah ha! of a certain knowing coursing through our awareness. The experiential nature of this path is worth exploring and sharing with one another.
Advent is a time for listening, for bending an ear towards what has been gestating within that wants to issue forth and manifest now. In our community, “Wisdom Waypoints” is taking birth. I am enjoying how much easier those words are on the tongue than “Northeast Wisdom.” There is something static and limiting in the word “northeast.” It served a purpose for our little organization, signifying a reality of its beginnings. Pretty quickly it became a misnomer, and an ongoing struggle for several years. How do you change a name? Who are we really, and what are we becoming?
Northeast Wisdom was incorporated in early 2013, and became a bona fide non-profit in October of 2014. It has literally just completed its first seven-year cycle in the last eight weeks. At the midpoint of that cycle, the Northeast Wisdom Board of Directors became a Wisdom Council, reflecting a new sound from the center as the organization was growing up, stretching into new dimensions and expressions. Both broader and more consolidated, a sense of Wisdom Community was arising, and the Council’s job was changing as we attempted to catch up, name and serve it. More people in the community wanted to embody Wisdom, welcome it into our communities and into our lives. We were eager to work with it from the core of our beings, and listen to it find form from the center of a group in local circles. The work itself was being presented in more experiential and embodied forms—spoken about less as ideas and concepts and more as reality—the practice and path of transformation. These elements of course were within it all along and many devoted to Wisdom were shepherds to an arising coherent community.
“Wisdom Waypoints” expresses this reality in new ways. One of the finest intersections is with the movement of an ever-present stream of Wisdom, both ancient and new, surfacing and flowing on the planet—within which our own particular dynamic, ternary Wisdom lineage is following its course—within which each of us, on our particular paths, are finding our way in the current, alone and together. Myriad byways and tides have their flavor and fragrance, from the trickles of dark woods springs to the place where the two seas meet. We travel these waters, jumping in or taking pause on the bank to watch the flow. Another Advent practice: saying yes. Let it be. Yes.
Waypoints, is a navigation term coined in the English language in the late 1800’s to mark points or places along the way: landmarks, turning points, course changes. They are guideposts, ushering us from here to there and—as on St Brendan’s voyage—may become markers of our relationships to those points, as we go deeper and see with new eyes the places where we have been before. A waypoint helps us to know where we are along our particular course, in the great sphere of the planet and surrounding atmosphere. In fact, in a lovely reflection, waypoints exist in many dimensions, extending to time when figured in outer space. And, this is fun, the fastest way to get from one point to another is a route traced from the origin point to the endpoint within the sphere of the globe, our mother ship Earth. The journey is revealed through the Great Circle and is the most direct route from here to there. Our waypoints nest within a whole.
The new Wisdom Waypoints website is a portal which opens onto many paths. A path for people just getting their feet wet, a path for those who have been in the territory and want to know more, a path for seasoned travelers who long for companions as they go deeper. We have begun clearing trails for people who want to learn more through book study, who love the ancient Christian Wisdom texts, and those who feel drawn to embodying Wisdom or the polishing and transformation of the heart. We have byways for people who want to pray together, and are exploring ways for those who want to bring inner and outer work together in action.
Wisdom Waypoints will provide a balance of offerings—walking with you to create together direction and spiritual nourishment to those who are hungry for it. Our original mission continues: to transmit, nurture, prepare and engage Wisdom, to a community that has grown to be worldwide, where all who are drawn to this lineage are welcome.
The new website is an invitation to join us to clear the trails, maintain paths, and follow streams into uncharted territories together. This means tracking with the community, which so beautifully is forming itself as so many have discovered and created ways to transmit, nurture, prepare and engage Wisdom. Launching the new website over the course of 2021 will yield greater community resources with clarity and ease of navigation. we are exploring novel ways to participate and engage in courses, develop fresh forums for group sharing and conversation; create avenues to receive spiritual sustenance and return, remember, refresh and renew. As well as supporting on the ground communities and retreats, Wisdom Waypoints will offer email, online and live internet group and individual opportunities, and mentoring and formation at points along the way.
Wisdom Waypoints is learning how to meet and engage with the world in new ways and on new fronts, while honing our work with the mysteries—ancient clues, living text and practices that have been given over centuries to take us ever more deeply into life in these amazing and challenging times.
An Advent practice which has accompanied me for as long as I can remember is pondering in the heart with Mary. The deep well within Mother Mary has been my beacon since I was a child. Her enormous holy heart—able to prepare with joy for her newborn and simultaneously hold all the sorrow of her intuitive knowing of what was to come. How to bear the beams of love, as Cynthia likes to remind us. How to keep turning towards the grief, the broken, that which needs to heal—without running in the other direction. How to stay present— embarking on the work that is the request, and accepting what is, as it is. What is it to say “yes” and “let it be” at the same time—in our living?
We have begun pondering at Wisdom Waypoints what it is to be travelers in these precarious times, what paths are ours to carve and what trails are essential to be walking now. For many of us this has been personal, for some it has been the subject of gatherings. As we leave 2020 behind and take our first steps into 2021, celebrating first the descent of night and then the increase of day in the northern hemisphere, the work of Wisdom Waypoints will be to stay awake to who we are becoming in reciprocal relationship with the Whole as we shape together a deeper, broader, more cohesive vessel to hop on and sail these waters together. Lord, have Mercy.
A Note from Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints:
Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints appreciates your contribution to our annual fundraising campaign. Every donation supports the mission to transmit, nurture, prepare and engage Wisdom, as we invite and welcome all who are drawn to this Wisdom lineage into community. Thank you to those of you who have already given. For those of you who would like to read the letter from Cynthia, and the note from Marcella and Matthew, and want to make a contribution now, please visit Contribute, here. We are still sending a copy of Cynthia’s latest book: Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm, as a token of our appreciation for every contribution of $150 or more.
The Lord Have Mercy exercise referred to above was given by Gurdjieff and recorded by Joseph Azize in his book: Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation and Exercises.
Images from the top: The prayer shawl in the room, photo courtesy of Laura Ruth; The stone path curves by the river, photo courtesy of Laura Ruth; Khidr Where the Two Seas Meet, origin unknown; Virgin Mary with Light Within, origin unknown; image of Eye of the Heart book cover, posted on NEW by Holly Hough September 2020.
In the middle of winter I discovered in myself an invincible summer.
~ Albert Camus
This quote is the epigraph for “Dying Before You Die,” the fourth chapter of Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God, by Cynthia Bourgeault. I like to sit with these words that were chosen for this page, allow them to go inside. It’s personal; brings us right into the heart of our own experience. For me, it brings up a flood of warmth and gratitude for the hard stuff. When all is stripped to the very bones, when nothing is left—Merton says—when everything is taken away:
…to that point of final destruction, and the last little bit that’s left before destruction, a little kernel of gold which is the essence of you—and there is God protecting it…
Merton says that we know this: that we will be ok, looked after. That this knowing is “built into that particular little grain of gold,” and that when we are brought to our knees, when all is lost, something in us finds that we have a magnetic center that will always be, that connects to the Source and that from that “everything comes.” Powerful. No wonder the word “wellspring” comes up a lot in this little gem of a book.
The real freedom is the freedom to be able to come and go from that center, and to be able to do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center. Because when you die, that is all that is left…everything is destroyed except this one thing, which is our reality and which is the reality God preserves forever. (pg 70-71)
How do we come near the gold nugget within, surrender to the wellsprings of the innermost ground? How do we begin to touch this center of ourselves which is not simply our own? Throughout the writing Cynthia uses examples—stirring, helpful, beautifully connected by her agile words—that ease forth realities of life, speak to our relationships with our own humanness and one another, with the earth, with the body of Christ. They remind us that what is alive within the whole of things never dies and we are part of that. We forget, but we are always only a heartbeat away.
I find great beauty in our human journey. I find joy in the pain, I find something sustaining, life giving, in the trials and sorrows. I do not always remember this, but somewhere inside I know it, the heart of me knows it: that this earthly life is a path that is allowing, forging, sculpting a greater beingness that is the connective tissue to all and everything. If we are lucky we find our way there, step by step. To what is, as Merton says, our reality.
We can die before we die? Become a person who can “do without anything that is not immediately connected to that center?” I am circling that question a lot lately. The learning has been unfolding over decades; it is whether or not it becomes a way of life. In these times, is it in fact necessary—for the whole—for at least some of us to make that choice, work in that direction? Lately I am drawn fiercely to a central interiority, one that is not isolated, or insulated. It is a sun inside that is calling, that radiates outward, something that wants me to join with it.
This draw to interiority is demanding; says: connect to the point within. It says: stop and do the work. Surrender, pray, practice spiritual exercise, listen, walk. Connect to ground, to earth, to creation, to our human family. Touch the presence inside that grows being substantially. Stand in I Am where I am, undeniably here, now. Listen from that solid footing. Give. Serve.
This is the directive. Whether or not I can do it is another thing. The call keeps coming. The how says: take the step, act on what is received. Let go of anything not immediately connected to center. See where center is lost, far away. Let go. Open to learn. Gather, collect. Listen. Notice where, what, is holding on. Relax, release—more. Soften. Act. Ask for help. Repeat.
Cynthia says in Chapter Four that we must “yield ourselves all the way into” the ground of hope (pg 59). What is there to discover in the yielding? If I stay with the sensation of hope, if I strip away the surface hope, its connection to outcome, to things being a certain way, take away the judgment, and lean into it, yes. There is a relief there. A little burning coal of trust glows. Yield into the hope and let go of every last bit of it that is not connected to the little nugget of gold within. What remains? Is revealed? What is the felt-sense of hope that is free from agenda? This feels like a practice; one that could forge a new relationship with hope. An essence of hope practice.
Leaning into the hope I notice a spark inside, a glimmer of aliveness, a sense of my human capacity to bear, and trust I will be borne. All of it is borne. It is also mysteriously alive in the surrounds, filling space. It is loving. I notice that vibrational presence when my attention hones. An unfettered, simple, pure hope grows up and moves forth. I sense and feel more. Do you have this experience with sensation practice, with feeling practice? That you begin to sense, and feel, more? A fullness—I almost don’t know what to do with it—that grounds me in a great pattern that is in and through all. Grateful.
This generative spark of aliveness can only be sensed without the soft muffling cushion of my defenses and identities. I come to it stripping down. Entering into territory beyond judgment and emotion; the place where all time, all space, is held. It is as a tree is or a stone, infused with an energetic movement of beingness, of What Is-ness. Force of Spirit. Part of the whole. In this trust, in this moment, I accept what is, inner and outer without divide. Nothing stands alone. Can I see the whole that this moment nests with? Sense within it a larger embrace?
There is a doorway within us to the place in the heart that knows. We each find it in our own way; or it finds us. A place within that knows, not in thought but by way of a matrix, or web, of being; knows that there is, as Cynthia likes to say, no falling out of God. Jesus sits at the heart of the earth, at the root of it all, with all that is broken, all that is in pain, all that sings joy. Sits with it, with open eyes, full of love. All, Cynthia says, is “already contained and, mysteriously, already fulfilled” (pg. 64). The incarnational fulfillment mystery of Christianity, offered to us as gift, as Boros intimates, lining the way for us.
Something knows that in the underbelly of our lives, God moves, and, even further, that “a piece of God’s purposiveness coursing like sap though our own being…will lead us (pg. 87).” The archaic meaning of hope is trust—an experience. Putting trust at the root of hope frees it to be more than we imagine, more than what we hold on to. It lets us in the door, gives us the key to a deeper reality where we actually enter into a substance of hope, into an energetic field, a unitive “electromagnetic field of love” as Helminski says.
Hope is a light-force which radiates objectively…
hope is what moves and directs spiritual evolution in the world.
~ Valentin Tomberg
A process unfolds in these chapters, that begins with dying before you die and ends with a living hope, that, as Tomberg says in the epigraph to Chapter Five, moves and directs us into the future. It carries us in mercy. May we surrender, find our feet, re-enter and listen—awake—to be led into the future alone and together as “living members in the body of Christ” which “holds us tenderly in the belonging (pg. 98-99).”
Cynthia relates a story about Rafe knowing that “the work of prayer is ultimately communal…that the principle job of a hermit is to ‘help maintain the spiritual ozone level of the planet (pg. 84).'” He had no doubt. As we shed and learn to do without anything that is not connected to the center, practicing in both our inner and outer lives, we move closer to being teachable, to being carved anew by hope. Twenty years ago, Cynthia said:
If we really wish to change the planet, to become a sign of hope in a broken world, all we really need to do (and it is one simple thing, but it is everything) is to narrow the gap between means and ends: between the gospel we profess and the gospel we live out, moment to moment, in the quality of our aliveness…No unified, consistent energy generated by closing the gap between means and ends ever fails to change the world…
Hope is not imaginary or illusory. It is that sonar by which the body of Christ holds together and finds its way (pg. 94, pg. 98).
May we open to the guidance of the sensation of hope within us. May we learn to listen and act on what we receive, be present to one another and to creation in the wholeness. May we begin to walk alongside one another. May we move closer to an integrity that changes the world, one step at a time. May we feel our belonging in the fullness of time where all is held in the mercy. May we learn to coincide with and move with the sonar of mystical hope.
A Note, and an offering, from Northeast Wisdom/Wisdom Waypoints:
Please stay tuned for a possible post-Wisdom Book Practice Circle reflection to come, from our beloved facilitator Susan Cooper. And check out the audio files offered below:
Mystical Hope Chapter 1
Mystical Hope Chapter 2
Mystical Hope Chapter 3
Mystical Hope Chapter 4
Mystical Hope Chapter 5
These audio recordings of the entire book are offered to you, our Wisdom Community, with love and a prayer for stabilitas in the midst of all!
A GIFT from the Mystical Hope Wisdom Book Practice Circle facilitator team of Heather Vesey, Eilen DeVerteuil, Jeanine Siler Jones, Heather Ruce, Susan Latimer, Elizabeth Combs, Nan Delach, Susan Cooper, and Marcella Kraybill-Greggo…
…with a SPECIAL shout out to Eilen DeVerteuil who had the technical talent to pull this all together so beautifully.
ENJOY! Listen for a special TREAT at the end of chapter 5…
Image credits from the top: Dahlia, image courtesy of Leanna Cushman, Unsplash; Enko-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan image courtesy of Fabrizio Chiagano, Unsplash; Shell, image courtesy of Abishek, Unsplash; Feet, image courtesy of terimakasih0/978 immagini, pixabay
Laura is a member of the Northeast Wisdom/ Wisdom Waypoints Council and is the Community Program Coordination and Publishing staff person. She and Kerstin Lipke co-founded Incarnating Wisdom, leading Wisdom Practice Circles and retreats at Hallelujah Farm from 2014 – 2019 that were dedicated to an embodied, practical Wisdom that is awake and alive in our daily lives. She is grateful for Cynthia’s lineage and the Wisdom community, where a true sharing of embodied practice, hearts and minds creates a living body of spiritual exploration that continues to welcome, grow and mature in untold ways. And grateful too for the course of life unfolding, bearing with it all the surprise elements, both joyful and painful, that have become her teachers over the years. Her prayer today: May I become ever more aware of all that has been given and the cost of my arising, and God help me to give back with love.
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.
Mystical Hope Chapter 1
Mystical Hope Chapter 2
Mystical Hope Chapter 3
Mystical Hope Chapter 4
Mystical Hope Chapter 5
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.