Sojourners has an important interview this month with Cynthia Bourgeault.
Here are four excerpts from the interview. But the whole thing is well worth reading.
I would say that I’m creating a bridge between contemplative Christianity and action. I bring forth some of the skills in the contemplative path to help avoid the usual pitfalls of burnout, violence, judgment, and hypocrisy, and also to bring forth some of the prophetic and compassionate skills in the action traditions to help contemplatives move beyond the sense that the domain of their wisdom is “inner” work. There really is no inner and outer: There’s one world.
The real inner map that’s classically used—the tri-part division—is the exoteric, the mesoteric, and the esoteric. The exoteric is the threshold, the door, where you invite people in through the liturgy, tradition, and sacramental worship. The mesoteric level is about practice. It’s where you begin to really develop an understanding of the inner and more-sophisticated heart transformation that lies behind the external practice. And then there is the esoteric level, which really happens when the exoteric portals are taken deep into a heart that’s been awakened through mesoteric practice.
Community, which is really the important point, is the threshold for the oneness in the collective body of Christ. It will almost inevitably be saturated and infected with lower agendas—clinging ego esteem, affection programs, power, control—until the mesoteric level has kicked in to help people see what they’re doing because of unidentified emotional and spiritual needs. The mesoteric takes the questions deeper, and it begins to till the soil for a whole different level of understanding, in which you see that these three things are organically intertwined. They can’t be separated.
The shadow side of contemplative practice can be a quietism and a spiritual narcissism, a kind of premature oneness with God. But that’s not where it’s intended to go. I would say that everybody needs to sit down on the cushion of practice, whether their initial temperament is toward the more activist side or the more contemplative side, and to understand how each of these pillars holds the space for one another and for something new to begin.
I continue to be deeply rooted in and grateful to the witness that comes through the Christian Benedictine tradition, particularly as it’s exercised in two contemplative branches: The Camaldolese Benedictines and the Trappists. I still find that the whole tradition holds a stability and a compassion that water me very deeply. I’m also grateful to the witness of places such as Taizé and Iona, which are experimenting with the interface between monastic practice, prophetic witness, and beauty. So these are my first line of defense.