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Beatrice Bruteau Archive to Reside at Emory University

Big news, all you Wisdom Seekers. Thanks to the incredible persistence and deft touch of Wisdom student Joshua Tysinger, the priceless collection of unpublished writings by Beatrice Bruteau has come to live at Emery University – alongside comparably priceless collections by such luminaries as Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is an amazing coup, and a blessing for us all.

cynthiabeatricejoshuaBeatrice Bruteau – scholar, nondual Christian teacher, and interspiritual pioneer par excellence – died in November 2014 at the age of 84. Many of you already know of the extraordinary spiritual friendship that developed between Josh, at the time a first-year student at Wake Forest Seminary, and Beatrice, living out her final days behind a thickening veil of dementia. Partly caregiver, partly spiritual son, Josh sensitively helped her navigate the horizontal axis while in return she conferred on him the full luminosity of her spiritual being and wisdom. Josh recounts this remarkable journey in his essay on Beatrice in Personal Transformation and a New Creation (Orbis, 2016). If you haven’t read it yet, don’t miss it!

And yes, I put Josh onto the assignment of keeping an eye on the voluminous archive that Beatrice had left behind her (she and Jim had no children), seeing if he could get it into safekeeping in an archive worthy of her brilliance and influence.

And that mission has now been brilliantly accomplished…but not without the inevitable touching human element, thanks. Thanks, Josh, for all you have done for Wisdom. And over to you for the backstory…

~ Cynthia


Through a series of fortunate and serendipitous events, the Special Collection of Beatrice Bruteau came into my possession earlier this year. This acquisition would never have occurred if it were not for the incredible insistence of my mentor Cynthia Bourgeault who guided my formative steps and movements. First noticing the collection while visiting the Bruteau residence in May 2014, Cynthia charged me with the task of collaborating with friends and family to have it archived in a major academic setting. The burden of responsibility fell upon my shoulders to preserve thirteen binders filled with fifty pages each of uncirculated articles, documents, and manuscripts. This was not without its fair share of obstacles and resistance, for Beatrice and Jim had become quite attached to her collection over numerous years and who was I to pawn off their belongings to an impersonal institution?

joshuabeatrice-2-e1466702429143Although I realized the utter importance of preserving Beatrice’s works for public consumption, I also had to tread a very fine line in securing them. It never crossed my mind that these were ever fully in my possession. As a matter of fact, I attempted to collaborate with Beatrice and her husband Jim to get them housed at an array of potential settings. The universities on my list ranged from Wake Forest University (where they would inevitably have gotten lost in the Baptist Heritage section) to Fordham University (which currently harbors part of her collection), to Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. After discussing the situation with Beatrice’s goddaughter Carla and hearing Cynthia’s input, we collectively determined that Emory was the right fit. At the time, Emory University had just acquired the Thomas Keating collection. Highlighting Beatrice’s works alongside other interspiritual luminaries such as Thomas Merton, the Dalai Llama, and Thomas Keating seemed like an ideal situation. For as legendary as Beatrice is in the realm of contemplative studies, her literature only attracted a modest following; therefore, having them placed aside such literary giants would only increase her exposure. Excited as I was to present this option to Beatrice and Jim, what I did not account for was the amount of resistance to my proposal that Beatrice would demonstrate.

Day after day I corresponded with representatives from Emory University, seeking to make sure that we had chosen the right selection. I collected information, heard their offers, and showed the transfer of documents paperwork to Beatrice and Jim. They wanted to ensure that Beatrice’s works were well looked after, managed and used for the advancement of her body of prestigious works. Ever the man of reason, Jim acknowledged the immediate importance of having Beatrice’s works catalogued and archived. He was my best representative in making the case to Beatrice, even when she could not digest its merit. On one occasion while sitting with them in the living room of their apartment, Beatrice, who was at the time in the throes of dementia, became confused by the practicalities of our dialogue. It became increasingly apparent that the logistics of the transfer were too much for her to bear. Engaging in a round dance of circular conversation for over an hour, Beatrice suddenly turned to me and asked if I were a representative from Fordham – in this situation, she had forgotten who I was. From her perspective, someone had sent me into her house as a Trojan horse to confiscate her belongings on behalf of a library. I instantly regretted the mess that I found myself in and questioned whether or not it was better to let the proposal drop. Increasingly agitated, Beatrice pressed on about the issue of my “true identity” and badgered me until I could no longer stomach lingering around. Because Beatrice and Jim had ties to Fordham University, where Jim had taught philosophy, I immediately quipped back, “The only representatives from Fordham that I see are sitting in this living room!” It was the only time I ever challenged Beatrice over an interpersonal dispute and she sat for an instant staring into space, looking as miffed as ever. That day, I walked out of their apartment wondering if I would ever return, yet I felt resolve in my heart not to let the matter of her collection serve as a wedge between the wonderful relationship we had cultivated.

From there on out, I never brought Emory University back into the equation. It was only when I met with Jim and Beatrice’s power of attorney one year later – after Beatrice had passed – that I was informed that Jim was willing her documents to me. To my surprise, Jim had remembered our exchanges approximately one year prior and felt comfortable enough to entrust them to my care. Vaughn John, the power of attorney, instructed me to wait until after Jim’s passing before retrieving the collection. At that time, the binders were one final reminder of his beloved and a source of consolation during his bouts with loneliness.

Jim died earlier this year two days shy of his 101st birthday, and I have since reflected deeply on the immensity of the gift that they have given me. It has been in large part a stroke of fate being involved with this transfer of documents and preserving them for new generations of Beatrice Bruteau enthusiasts. Her life and legacy will now be displayed at Emory University for any pilgrim with enough time and energy to mine through her impressive collection. And after two years of working on this project, I now close a marvelous chapter that has given so much to me. I hope it will with you, too.

Beatrice Bruteau

 

Love is the Answer – What is the Question?

This blog post first by Cynthia Bourgeault appeared on Ilia Delio’s new website, The Omega Center on September 12, 2016.


I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known. And so I created the world, both visible and invisible.

This famous saying from the Hadith Qudsi, the extra-koranic sayings of Islam, speaks to the question of why God would want to bring creation into existence in the first place. Astonishingly, the reason given is not for majesty or dominion, but for intimacy, the yearning for self-disclosure, to know and be known. Seeded into the cosmos is that same primordial yearning, reverberating as a psychic harmonic of the big bang.

Teilhard de ChardinTeilhard de Chardin probably never encountered this quote. His familiarity with Islam was painfully limited, particularly in its mystical and Sufi branches with which he was ironically so deeply in tune. But in a real sense, this little gem of Islamic wisdom almost perfectly encapsulates Teilhard’s own magisterial understanding of cosmic love, transparency, and the personal.

How did we get to be here? How did anything get to be here? Teilhard judiciously sidesteps the classic metaphysical stipulation of a fall, an “involution” into matter. As a scientist rather than a metaphysician, he does not have to begin with the grand “why” of things; the “what” of them will suffice. And what he actually observes seeded into the stuff of the universe is a paradoxical dialectic: intense atomicity, granulation, the myriad bits and pieces of our materiality—and yet, at the same time, an underlying unity, and a force calling the “unorganized multitude” to move in the direction of “the unified multiple”.¹ However the pieces may have gotten broken in the first place, what he observes everywhere in the universe is a countering force—he names it love—moving beneath the pixilated surface drawing all things together. “Driven by the force of love,” he writes, “the fragments of the universe [continuously] seek each other so that the world may come into being.”

For Teilhard, love is not first and foremost a sentiment, let alone a sentimentality. It is first and foremost a geophysical force, built into the very structure of the cosmos. In an astonishing one-liner toward the end of The Human Phenomenon he writes:

In all its nuances, love is nothing more or less than the direct or indirect trace marked in the heart of the element by the psychic convergence of the universe upon itself.²

love-universe

In other words, if you’re familiar with his theories of complexification and convergence, he’s saying that this primordial impulse toward unification (experienced at the biophysical level as attraction and at the psychic as eros) actually has its antecedent in the physical shape of our planet itself, its perfect sphericity inherently designed to shove things closer and closer together so that they converge, complexify, and grow more conscious. Whether by chance, “intelligent design,” or its own innate teleology, the whole thing seems to be set up like a cosmic gristmill for the extraction of consciousness.

When we love, then—when our own hearts reach out in tenderness, desire, or plain old physical attraction—Teilhard asks us to remember that the cosmos, too, passed this way, seeking at the macro-level what we are now experiencing at the micro.
We are in each another holographically, this world and us: the whole of the “universe story” carved in our own hearts, and the whole of our own story reverberating within the cosmic heart.

jakob_boehmeLike that great other cosmological visionary Jacob Boehme (1585-1624), Teilhard has a penchant for moving back and forth very quickly between the physical and psychic realms. What for Boehme is friction at a physical level very quickly becomes anguish at an emotional level; hence, he can speak of the anguish of creation awakening to itself. In a similar way, Teilhard moves between the “outside” of things and their “inside.” From the outside perspective, love is a form of energy. It is an aspect—no doubt the primary aspect—of what he calls radial energy, the energy of evolution, the energy released in the process of complexification/consciousness. It is the force that runs through the cosmos as an energetic counter-current to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, drawing things to become more unified, vitalized, and whole. From the inside—the psychic perspective—love retains its traditional meanings of compassion, intimacy, and generativity, drawing things to become more deeply themselves—“I am, may you be also,” as Beatrice Bruteau concisely summarizes it. But it also conveys for Teilhard an additional connotation: spiritualization, which means the release of yet another quantum packet of that sum total of consciousness and conscience (and, in French, they are the same word!) seeded into the cosmos in that initial eclosion of divine yearning that launched the whole journey in the first place.

When Teilhard speaks of “harnessing the energy of love,” he is speaking in both senses, both inside and outside. In the end, they are holographically embedded in one another, so the bridge between the cosmic processes and our own hearts is trustworthy.

Thus, we can look to our own hearts to tell us more about what Teilhard sees as the essence of the complexification/consciousness process—and hence, of evolution (and hence, of love): his insistence that “union differentiates.” We often think of love in terms of merging, uniting, becoming one, but Teilhard was wary of such definitions; his practiced eye as an evolutionist taught him something quite different. True union—the ultimate chef d’oeuvre of love—doesn’t turn its respective participants into a blob, a drop dissolving in the ocean. Rather, it presses them mightily to become more and more themselves: to discover, trust, and fully inhabit their own depths. As these depths open, so does their capacity to love, to give-and-receive of themselves over the entire range of their actualized personhood.

The term “codependency” was not yet current in Teilhard’s day, but he already had the gist of it intuitively. He knew that love is not well served by collapsing into one another. It is better served by standing one’s own ground within a flexible unity so that more, deeper, richer, facets of personhood can glow forth in “a paroxysm of harmonized complexity”.³

The poet Rilke, Teilhard’s contemporary and, in many respects, kindred spirit, is on exactly the same wavelength. “For what would be a union of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?” he asks in his Letters to a Young Poet. “Love is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another.”

“To become world in oneself for the sake of another…” Hmmmm. Does love really ask us to become world? Does love make worlds? Is that what love does?

True, Teilhard does not directly tackle the question of first causes. But a clue to the cosmological riddle is surely embedded in his understanding of love as the driveshaft of evolution. Suppose this love is not a pre-existent “property” attributable to God, as in the classic substance theology of the past. Suppose it is instead an alchemical process: a tender and vulnerable journey of self-disclosure, risk, intimacy, yearning, and generativity whose ley lines are carved into the planet itself. The whole universe story has come into being because God is a hidden treasure who longs to be known. And the way—the only way—this knowing can be released is in the dance of unity-in-differentiation which is the native language of love. If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole cosmos to bear forth the depths of divine love.binary-stars2

 


Notes:

    1. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. ed. Sarah Appleton-Weber. Sussex Academic Press: 2003. Page 28.
    2. Ibid. Page 188.
    3. Ibid. Page 184.

 

A Tribute to Beatrice Bruteau by Cynthia Bourgeault

Beatrice Bruteau Beatrice Bruteau—scholar, teacher, interspiritual pioneer, and intrepid explorer of the evolutionary edge of consciousness—quietly departed this earth plane on November 16, 2014, at the age of 84. Her passing exemplified her signature brand of clarity, freedom, and intentionality: traits which for more than five decades have been the hallmarks of her teaching presence among us and which she now bequeaths to us as both a legacy and a continuing invitation.

Mention the name Beatrice Bruteau, and I daresay that most Christian contemplatives will never have heard of her. She never aspired to or attained the “superstar” status of a Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Bede Griffiths, or David Steindl-Rast. By her own choice she preferred to remain slightly below the radar screen, where she exerted her quiet presence as one of the most powerful shaping influences on contemporary mystical theology, interspirituality, and contemplative practice. In her lifetime she was a friend, colleague, and mentor to all the people mentioned above (and dozens more of comparable stature), and a teacher to thousands of appreciative students, myself included. Those who had the privilege of working with her directly speak of the clarity and precision of her mind, the luminosity of her vision, and the down-to-earth practicality of her contemplative practice.

Rigorously trained, she held two degrees in mathematics and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University (the first woman to be admitted to the graduate program there.) In addition to her highly articulate Christianity, she was also a longtime student of Vedanta and one of the early pioneers of East-West dialogue. She wrote books on Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, and was one of the founders of the American Teilhard Association in 1967. Her most important works include Radical Optimism (1993), The Easter Mysteries (1995), What We Can Learn from the East (1995), and God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World (1997). In all of these works she brought her deep understanding of non-dual states of consciousness (as well as her scientific training and rigor) to the mysticism of the West. Her passion was the study of evolutionary consciousness, and over the course of her long teaching career she lived to see this passion come into its own as one of the most significant spiritual movements of our times. In particular, her influence on two fellow Fordham graduates, Ewart Cousins and Ilia Delio, has revolutionized the playing field upon which the venerable intellectual tradition of Christian Humanism is now unfolding.

beatrice-bruteau-252x296 Despite these stellar academic credentials, Beatrice chose to “think globally, act locally.” For most of her long career she lived in and around Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she and her husband, Fordham professor James Somerville, founded the Schola Contemplationis, a center for the study and practice of the contemplative lifestyle according to the classical traditions of both East and West. For more than thirty years, their “mind-bending” monthly newsletter, The Roll, was painstakingly composed in their home office, run off on an old mimeograph machine, and hand-mailed to their small but devoted mailing list. A Southern lady “to the nines,” she dressed impeccably for every occasion, refused to travel by air, and insisted that coffee and tea be served in proper china cups—not, heaven forbid, mugs!

My own relationship with Beatrice Bruteau began in the late 1980s when I discovered her three-part article “Prayer and Identity” in the now-defunct Contemplative Review and had my spiritual universe quietly but completely overturned. Correspondence soon led to a personal visit and a mentoring relationship that would span the next three decades. I am honored to report that the very first public spiritual teaching I ever gave was at her behest, to her Schola Contemplationis group, in the early 1990s. In 2007 I was able in a small way to repay that tremendous debt of gratitude when the Sewanee Theological Review invited me to republish her original “Prayer and Identity” article, together with a short commentary, in an issue dedicated to “Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation.”

On a very personal note, the most powerful debt of gratitude I owe her was her unflagging support during the writing and publication of my first book, Love is Stronger than Death. Still in a very tender place following the death of my hermit teacher Raphael Robin, not fully trusting whether my spiritual intuitions of an ongoing journey between us were on target or simply a concocted fantasy, I shared the manuscript with her, and in a powerful way she offered validation and the encouragement to continue. Her luminous support at this critical threshold of my life is one of the main reasons that I am where I am today.

During this past decade our connection grew a bit more tenuous as my life got busier and hers gradually became more concentrated around that final stage of the journey, “growing into age.” In about the fall of 2013 I began to hear rumors that Alzheimer’s was starting to affect her magnificent brain, and in spring 2014, following a conference in Greensboro, I was able to pay her what turned out to be a final visit. While it was indeed obvious that the disease was making some inroads on the habitual operations along the horizontal axis of life, as soon as we leaped into spiritual issues, her vast mind still took over like the lioness it was. Her teaching continued luminous and more and more vast.

beatrice-bruteau-and-joshua-tysinger-the-contemplative-society-540x540 Little did any of us at the time—maybe even Beatrice—suspect the final surprising denouement with which she would make her exit from this life. As it so happened, one of my younger students, Joshua Tysinger, had begun his seminary studies at Wake Forest, right there in Winston Salem, just about the time that Beatrice’s life was rounding toward its end. I suggested—and Josh was alert enough to follow up on the suggestion—that having a world class spiritual master right in town was an opportunity not to be missed. He began to pay her regular visits, and it soon became clear that a lineage transmission was in process. As Josh willingly and sensitively helped Beatrice and Jim navigate the horizontal axis, her brilliant final imparting of a lifetime of spiritual wisdom and spiritual fire (mostly over lunch at the A & W cafeteria, with, yes, proper coffee cups!) is an exchange that I suspect will not leave the planet unchanged.

I will leave this part of the story for Josh to tell when the right moment arises. For now I would simply like to comment, from my own perspective, on what played out during the last three months of Beatrice’s life. In late July, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized and then in nursing care for several weeks thereafter. During this time, it seemed that she was very much on the decline and “in transition.” She ceased eating, and her already slight frame shrank to 50 pounds. By October a hospice worker had been called in, and Beatrice was seemingly hanging between the worlds.

Nine days before her death, she sat up, got up, resumed eating enough to sustain the physical body a bit longer, and began to teach and transmit in a luminous burst of continuing insight. It was as if the Alzheimer’s had been left behind—or perhaps, if truth be told, she had already “died” to this world and was returning, her own risen and Christed self in her imaginal body to complete what was needed vis à vis this earth plane. While others were astonished at her sudden” improvement,” she had already been extremely clear with Josh that this wasn’t what it was about; it would be an entirely different dimension manifest and operating in her. Teacher to the end, she left us with a luminous, stunningly hopeful demonstration of how a conscious death is already a Risen Life; the two are joined at the hip. With her final magnificent fusion of clarity, will, and freedom—all those qualities her spiritual practice had been about for more than half a century—she went out like a candle going out, filling the whole room with the perfume of her realized being.

That being accomplished, she slipped away quietly into the night, at just after midnight. Her final gifts to us: a brilliant, living testimony to the utter reality of her two deepest convictions: radical optimism and God’s ecstasy, carved in the final sacrament of her life.

Cynthia Bourgeault