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Advent 2016 – Letter from President

Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

Advent: a time of waiting, of drawing more inward, a season of contemplation. It is easy for our personal energies to be dispersed and scattered, especially at this time of year. In the midst of the restlessness, fear, and general noise of day-to-day living, I am mindful of the need to consciously and honestly take a closer look at how we manifest our own energies. Advent is an opportunity to take time, to pause in the midst of all that calls us outward. We have an opportunity at this very moment as we read this to sense the activity and energies within our own minds, emotions, and physical bodies. Can we practice being here now in the midst of all that pulls our attention away from the present moment?

Advent is an opportunity to open to that place within where the deep, the holy, the inexpressible resides. Soon the festivities, celebrations, and joyful outpouring will be upon us providing much opportunity to manifest outwardly in abundance, gratitude, and thanksgiving. The weeks of Advent are a perfect container for allowing the soul to hibernate and quieten for a time. During these last days of Advent might we, like Mary, “treasure up these things and ponder them” in our hearts, or as Fr. Bruno says below, “allow yourself to be gathered into it”, into that place where  “you know within yourself the perfect stability of the universe”?

Fr. Bruno Barnhart died a year ago, on November 28th, the eve of the first Sunday in Advent last year. Fr. Bruno was a Roman Catholic priest at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, and has been on my heart and mind this Advent. Cynthia and Bruno were two of my earliest contemplative teachers. Contemplatives on Vancouver Island were blessed to have a group who annually brought Fr. Bruno here to lead and teach at extended silent retreats at the Sisters of St. Ann’s retreat house, Queenswood, and later at Bethlehem Retreat Centre. The extended sitting, as well as the teaching, deeply nourished me as well as challenged my pre-existing assumptions of what defined a spiritual life. I am deeply grateful to have been the recipient of Fr. Bruno’s words and his remarkable presence which gave witness to a life lived deeply. Those times of deep retreat laid a firm foundation and continue to inform my spiritual practice and growth today.  This section from Fr. Bruno’s book, Second Simplicity (p. 20-21) seems timely for this season of year:

Friend, just for a moment, allow your mind to disengage itself from its surface and to be drawn inward by the pull of its root, its invisible ground and stem. There at the center you are aware of something uncircumscribed, which is one with yourself, which is yourself illimitable. There: we should say here, for in this place there is only here. This is the here of being, the place of the burning bush, the crossing of time and space, of history and possibility, of experience and cosmos.

You cannot think of this, it is not an object of thought. You cannot focus on it, but from time to time it enkindles, it becomes conscious within you, and you can allow yourself to be gathered into it.

…What if it is not a place but everyplace, what if it surrounds you, so that the problem is not that of finding a way to it, but of finding the way out of the ways in which you are stuck? What if is the everywhere that we are imprisoned from, blinded from, the burning reality that we reach toward at every moment through the strong vertical bars of our mind, our will?

But still there are these moments of consciousness. There are moments when you know within yourself the perfect stability of the universe and the absolute sufficiency, the intrinsic rectitude of light.

…Maybe the way is a crazy multiple of love for this thing inside us: the pearl, the treasure. But be careful not to name it in such a way that you bring it home. For you do not live where you think you do. Instead, let it lead you. Let it be wild, an eccentric center, a city hidden in the wilderness, an unspoken name, an unspeakable syllable, a fire burning all the words into a wild and weaving script of smoke. Come back to this again and again.

One practice that can support our intention to open and receive is Centering Prayer. Cynthia’s first book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is one of the best books available on this practice and I eagerly await the follow-up to this book, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice, which is now available for pre-order from Shambhala Publications. Fr. Thomas Keating writes of Cynthia’s newest book, “A masterpiece of spiritual wisdom firmly rooted in the Christian mystical tradition. A brilliant analysis of nondual Christianity in theory and in practice and a major contribution to the Centering Prayer movement and to interspiritual dialogue.”

I am grateful to contemplatives around the world who continue to support the mission of The Contemplative Society in its efforts to encourage contemplative practice and wisdom teaching. May this Advent and Christmas be a holy time for you filled with abundance and joy.

Heather

 

Heather Page, President

Deep practice, deep listening, deep hope

Dear Wisdom friends,

I want to make very clear to all of you that the “keep calm and carry on” tone of my earlier (immediately post-election) post does not imply that I’m feeling sanguine about the course of events now facing our country and our world. Quite to the contrary, I believe over the next several months we’re in for some hard reversals, probably harder than most Americans born post-World War II have ever seen in their lifetime.

I’ve been out here on Eagle Island for a few days of Advent deep listening, trying to second-guess myself. But the premonition remains.

And it’s still Wisdom’s hour. Because I believe that those of us seriously committed to walking the Wisdom path have something to bring to the mix which most of our culture – either secular or spiritual – is simply not going to be able to get at. And it’s the missing piece, I believe, where clarity and resolve are to be found, if at all.

As you know, the two main influences on my overall metaphysical bearings are Teilhard and Gurdjieff. From Teilhard I get the reassurance that deep hope takes place over deep time. So much of our human terror and horror comes from trying to compress the timescale too tightly, insisting that coherence must be found over the course of only a few generations, or at best a few centuries. That’s like a pressure cooker without a steam valve; it will inevitably blow up.

From Gurdjieff, I’ve come to understand that all planetary evolution operates under the sway of the Law of Three – and that, once again, we must look beyond immediate “good and bad” / ”winners and losers” modes of thinking in order to see the deeper lines of causality actually directing the unfolding from within a still-coherent field. What looks in the short-range to be unmitigated catastrophe can prove in the longer range to be addressing serious systemic malformations that need to be confronted and corrected before the evolutionary mandate can truly move forward.

It’s exactly this kind of long-scale and impartial visioning that we need to bring to these up-ended times.

My stubborn foreboding is that in the upcoming months we will witness the substantial dismantling not only of the past eight years of Obama progressive liberalism, or even the past eighty years of New Deal social welfare, but something far more resembling eight hundred years of the Western intellectual tradition – all the way back to the 13th century when the rise of scholasticism and the secular university began to displace the hegemony of the faith-based dogmatism in favor of free inquiry based on rational empiricism.

And the centerpiece in this domino chain of destruction is of course democracy itself, whose whole foundation lies in the sanctity of the above-mentioned principles.

Faced with threats – already underway – to what most of us still take for granted as the unshakable foundation of our national life – freedom of speech, freedom of the press, civility of discourse, and a commonly agreed-on factual data base – I believe that the great American liberal progressive establishment will almost inevitably lose heart. I am seeing it happening already: people simply too numb and disoriented to even know what’s hit them. The possibility that democracy itself might fall victim to the collective insanity now massing on its horizon is too devastating even to ponder; we either dig in our heels, give up in despair, or distract ourselves in a dwindling oasis of “business as usual”.

Let there be no mistake about this: what has just come to pass is a serious blow to the foundations of Western Civilization. To name it at a lesser degree of magnitude is to set ourselves up for mere reactivity rather than understanding. We need to name it for what it is and be able to hold our footings as the edifices of post-Enlightenment culture reel-and-tumble in this seismic shift.

And yet, I think it is precisely at this scale – i.e., eight hundred years – that we can discover the real ley lines of the Law of Three at work, in the situation, and we can understand more powerfully, impartially, and strategically what needs to be done as we hold the space for the course corrections which have necessarily arisen. This is not the destruction of consciousness, but a legitimate and ultimately propitious reconfiguration. We must not lose sight of that hope. If nothing else, we need to keep saying it so that it does not vanish from the face of the earth.

I invite all who feel so moved to join me in the work awaiting at this other scale of magnitude. It will involve a combination of deep practice and wider reading and thinking.

The deep practice is about collecting our hearts so as to be more directly and acutely in alignment with “the conscious circle of humanity” – those of all ages and faiths who help hold the bandwidth of compassionate and wise presence around this fragile earth. It is in this imaginal bandwidth that wisdom comes magnificently into her own, but only as our own hearts grow wide and gentle and calm enough to receive her.

The deep reading: for starters, we need a small group or groups who are seriously willing and able to take on Gurdjieff’s sprawling cosmological masterpiece, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson. If you doubt that our own times are already brilliantly encapsulated there (including an eerily accurate portrait of our POTUS-elect), have a close look at chapters 25-28. (Read Cynthia’s follow-up post to find out more about engaging with this book.)

The other three which are part of my nightly bedtime reading for this retreat and these times: And There was Light by Jacques Lusseyran; Riddley Walker, Russell Hoban’s iconic 1980 post-apocalyptic novel; and of course, The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnus. 

Over the next few months, I will be listening further into how our work wants to take shape “on the ground”: independent small groups? A new round of Wisdom retreats? Online learning formats? Officially rebooting the Omega Order? Road not clear at this point. But I do know that the real Wisdom step is not to pre-design the format, but simply to put the heart out there and see how it seeds itself.

So that’s what I’m doing here, dark and cold time of the year, commemorating this weekend Advent III and the 21st anniversary of the crossing over, into that conscious circle, of Rafe [see Love is Stronger Than Death], in all things my teacher and lightholder.

Let me hear from you if you’re in.

Blessings and love,

Cynthia

That’s How the Light Gets In (by Matthew Wright)

Dear Wisdom seekers,

I’d like to share with you some reflections on what’s happening in this (post-) election cycle here in the United States. There has been so much pain and confusion these last few days and, at the same time, I have felt an amazing upsurge of deeply grounded, newly energized, committed and emboldened hope, rising up through my heart as if from the heart of the earth itself – and I see it rising up and radiating out through so many others as well. I’m naming it an upsurge of “bodhisattva consciousness” – a deep and resolved commitment to work in the world for the liberation of all beings, and particularly for the most silenced and oppressed among us.

After December 19th, when the Electoral College electors cast their ballots, it is almost certain that Donald Trump will be our president-elect. How did we get here, and what is happening? First, let’s scale way back and take the big-picture, long-range view (or, at least, MY big-picture view!): this planet, this entire cosmos, is the unfolding and awakening of God-Incarnate, God-embodied, God-in-form. For those of us who work in a Christian stream, there is the particular point of Incarnate-awakening and initiation that begins and unfolds from the heart of Jesus, and we take our stand and work in that lineage.

incarnationAt the same time, there is a cosmic dimension to Incarnation – the universe itself, the whole shebang of material existence, is God-Incarnate – and through a fourteen-billion-year process of unfolding, God has been evolving outlets with the capacity for self-reflexive consciousness. That’s us. Through us, evolution is awakening to itself. As our hearts stretch, expand, grow, we’re developing the capacity to bear and express, to speak into being the very names, the qualities, closest to the Heart of God – universal love, infinite mercy, tender compassion. Through us, the Heart of God is speaking itself into form. And through our very bearing of those names – in and as that bearing – we awaken in Love, and Love awakens in us, to the absolute unity of all that is. This has been the goal of the entire fourteen-billion-year unfolding.

We, along with this planet, are the deepening self-disclosure of God-in-form. We are the revelation of the Heart of God. We are the manifest, incarnate life of God – ever-moving, through evolution, towards a deeper, fuller, and more conscious expression of Incarnation, of oneness and love awakened-in-form. And for the past 100 years, through the process of globalization, that process has been accelerating, as our hearts grow to embrace a deepening experience of unity-in-diversity (religious, ethnic, cultural, sexual), and a softening or erasure of old boundary lines.

At the same time, fear arises. We feel safer behind our old lines. They are comfortable, familiar. The forces of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia – they are the denying forces pushing back against the arising unity. These forces experience themselves as “protecting” the world-as-it-has-been. When that world feels threatened, these forces express themselves as fear, dig in, and work to maintain the old boundary-lines at all cost. THIS IS A NATURAL AND UNAVOIDABLE PROCESS. It is the road by which evolution winds. While taking our clear stand with the forward movement, can we hold even these denying forces in compassion as they enter their death throes – yes, even as they inflict violence and pain on others in the process? It is a high calling to hold to this kind of seeing, and it cannot always be maintained. But simply knowing that it’s possible is an achievement.

As for where we are now: over the past decade, following the election of a (fairly) progressive president, progressive, global values have been the affirming force within our wider culture – resulting in marriage equality, increased climate change awareness, etc. Conservative values have been the denying force, pushing back and resisting (Read Cynthia Bourgeault’s post on the Law of Three and the election). That grinding, painful process is simply the way a gradual, growing shift in consciousness takes place.Trinity-300x300

With progressive values in the ascendant these past eight years, the fear-based currents of racism, homophobia, etc. have been pushed underground – where they’ve been brewing and building. And now, with the advent of this election cycle – and it must be seen and named clearly: through the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign – those forces, previously suppressed, have been given voice and hope: “Yes, we can take the world back to what it was! We can maintain the old lines!”

This, however, isn’t possible. The evolution of consciousness and the forces of globalization are simply a rising tide. The current of evolution can be resisted, but not ultimately prevented or diverted (short of global, nuclear destruction) – quite simply because God is the One driving it (and to be clear: from WITHIN, not from “above”), not us. We awaken into and serve the current that is already coursing through the planet. Or we resist it. But it is building.

This is seen both in Hillary Clinton’s staggering win in the popular vote (well over one million now and continuing to grow as absentee votes are counted) and (even more so) in the profound surge of energy from Millennials around Bernie Sanders’ campaign. And to be honest, a great deal of the denying force comes from an older generation that is dying out, and from a privileged white population that is rapidly losing sway as our country’s demographics shift. Given time, it will quite simply fall away.

As for those of us standing with the rising tide of global, progressive values, we have in many ways become complacent – and many of us (mostly white) naïve as to the degree to which regressive values are still alive, well, and entrenched within the wider culture. And now with this flip in the affirming/denying poles seen with the rise of Trump, all of that changes.

light-and-shadow-kumi-yamashita-10Now our collective shadow has been unleashed and brought clearly into the light. That shadow includes, yes, the forces of conscious racism, etc. but also unconscious, systemic racism bolstered by white privilege not consciously wielded for the good. It includes complacency hidden behind self-righteousness, blame, and judgment. While this shadow remained hidden, lurking, it was easy enough to ignore. But now that we are seeing it, WE MUST KEEP SEEING IT. We must keep shining clear, clear light. There are constant siren calls now for “peace” and “unity” – which are really calls to silence the oppressed. A “unity” achieved by pushing the oppressed back into silence is no kind of unity at all.

We must be clear: minority populations are not in a state of denial because “their candidate lost” – they are in deep fear because Donald Trump won. We have seen a massive rise in hate-crimes since election night, and this is tied directly to the hate-rhetoric used by the Trump campaign. These suppressed forces have now been given permission to come into the public discourse and are fighting to be normalized.

We have unleashed our shadow. In one sense, this is necessary – because it’s happening. It’s easy to point fingers and find someone to blame (out-of-touch liberal elites! racist homophobes!), but can we instead step back and see this as life unfolding, as God awakening, through a very painful and messy evolutionary process? The gift is that now we are SEEING. Seeing what’s been there all along. Seeing our shadow. And so our work now is to simply keep shining light where it needs to be shined. We must not let this rhetoric become normalized, and we must not let it go back into hiding.

Two-thousand years ago Jesus said, “There is light within a person of light, and it enlightens the whole world. But if you fail to become light, there is darkness.” We must hold in light and clear-seeing the forces at play, not backing down but also remaining grounded deeply in love and in our own contemplative hearts. When truly seen, darkness cannot long survive.

Anti-Semitism was a powerful undercurrent within Christian thought and theology for almost 2,000 years – and it is still not dead. But following the horrors of the Holocaust during the 20th century (lest we forget, THIS PAST CENTURY), a bright and terrifying light was shined on where those forces can and WILL take us. And almost overnight, in response, the mainstream Christian traditions worked to expunge anti-Semitism from their theologies. It took truly seeing. Would the churches have done this work if both the light and the terror had not reached such intensity? While the transformation can in no way justify the immense pain and suffering, it does show us how we can harness our moments of clear and terrifying seeing and use them as opportunities for change.

img_0682-3We are being called out of our complacency. Bodhisattva consciousness is rising. And without this flip of poles, that might never have happened. This moment is a terrifying gift. In the words of my friend Bob Sabath, posted the morning after: “Trump does not know it yet, but he just gave birth to a movement, just not the movement that he thinks. I imagine that a lot of people woke up this morning, got down on their knees, and asked what is theirs to do at this time. Business as usual is over. Time to weep. Time to dig deep and find ways to connect our lives more fully with what is broken in the world. Time for risk-taking in our own lives. Time to quiet our fears and panic and despair, and listen deeply for the third force needed in our own lives and in the world.”

Listen deeply, friends. I am no fan of militaristic metaphors used for the spiritual life. Nevertheless, a battle is coming, and is now here. Our weapons are light (sharp, clear-seeing), love (non-judging, compassionate awareness), resistance (refusing to fall backwards into complacency, instead joining the forward movement of evolution on its messy way through struggle and pain), and relationship (holding our hearts open – within our capacity – so as to allow for authentic connection, born of deep and vulnerable listening). As Jesus constantly says in the Gospels: be sober, be vigilant, be watchful. But do not fear.

I’m reminded of the assurance given by the Blessed Virgin Mary to the shepherd children at Fatima at the onset of WWII: “In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph.” Yes, in the end the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the One Heart of God – the One Heart of Humanity – will triumph, and is triumphing even now. Truly, I feel it as an immense hope surging through our planet. Breathe into and through that hope, and let it take flesh in your life. The work ahead of us will not be without pain and struggle. In the face of it all, let us speak into being the names of God: mercy, compassion, and love.

Ring out the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

(Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016)

Love,

Matthew

Transmitting and Transforming

Brian Mitchell, The Contemplative Society’s Audio Ministry Coordinator, connects the relationship between you and the ministry, and how you can play your part. Also, a note from Cynthia Bourgeault, and a selection of our customers’ testimonials.


cam00124As you perhaps already know, one of the most unique contributions of The Contemplative Society to the Christian Wisdom path is our Audio Ministry. Each year we take old versions of our recorded talks and retreats, as well as new recordings, and transform them into audio teachings available for purchase on our website ensuring that contemplative Wisdom is transmitted to all who yearn to hear it. Usually, we edit and distribute Cynthia Bourgeault’s teachings (such as 2015’s In the Wake of St. Brendan or 2016’s The Holy Trinity & the Law of Three), but last year we were honoured to expand our offerings to include Matthew Wright (The Wisdom Path: Contemplative Practice & Evolving Consciousness) and look forward to recording his retreat in the spring of 2017. We also continue to revise previous teachings for improved quality and coherence.

032_cropI consider my role as coordinator of the Audio Ministry as both a blessing and a little bit of a curse. It’s a blessing because I have the privilege of listening to and disseminating teachings that enliven my body, mind, heart, and spirit. The teachings never get old, as there is no bottom to the Wisdom well from which they emerge, and I also get to work with absolutely wonderful volunteers. On the other hand, it sometimes feels like a bit of a curse because it’s a lot of work to do with very few resources!

What you may not know is that our Audio Ministry operates virtually on volunteer hours alone. Though we have had limited success in the past, last year we decided to once again put a call out for more help to relieve the load on our current volunteers and hopefully to increase the volume and speed at which we produce the teachings. Holy Spirit seemed to have decided to intervene on this occasion, and we found ourselves inundated with people willing to help either in the capacity of editor or final listener.

cam00121

This last attempt to recruit help has proven to me how important the Audio Ministry is to The Contemplative Society community (check out these testimonials from our customers). This knowing motivates me to remain vigilant and imbues the work with great meaning. And that is why I ask for a different kind of help today.

cam00123In addition to volunteer hours, producing these audio sets is also costly in terms of materials, technical equipment, and the occasional service of professionals. The Contemplative Society strives to keep the cost of the recordings as low as feasible in order to have the teachings remain accessible to as wide an audience as possible. With the help of our donors, we have been able to strike a healthy balance. The more support we have, the more we are able to offer.

We currently have a significant backlog of tapes waiting to be edited, and a number of sets that need to be revised. My hope is to match our resources with the passion our community has shown for these teachings. In that spirit, I hope you will consider supporting The Contemplative Society by renewing your membership, or becoming a new member or donor. All donations can be applied to membership which, in addition to sustaining our various programs including the Audio Ministry, gives you the benefit of applying early to The Contemplative Society’s retreats where you can experience the teachings that we offer as audio sets in person. If you are already a donor, we encourage you to consider increasing your previous gift or considering a monthly donation to help us reach our goals. Please visit our Membership page to learn more, or our Support Us page to give directly. (And if you need a bit more convincing, read what Cynthia has to say about it!)

I hope you will join me in our endeavour to bring ancient Wisdom to our modern students of the heart.

With thanks,

Brian Mitchell
Audio Ministry Coordinator

Support The Contemplative Society – Support the Contemplative Future!


For more information on donating or membership, please visit contemplative.org/about-us/membership, or contact Miranda at admin@contemplative.org or 250-381-9650. Enquiries about your current gift can also be directed to Miranda.
 
 

Saying “Goodbye” to Felicity Hanington

Dear friends in The Contemplative Society,

It is with great sadness that I must share the news with you of the death of Felicity Hanington in Victoria last Saturday, October 29th. Felicity was one of the earliest members of The Contemplative Society, and I owe both her and her amazingly talented family an enduring debt of gratitude, both professionally and personally.

Felicity fought a long and hard fight with cancer. It was 1999, nearly 20 years ago, when she first received her diagnosis of breast cancer. At that point she herself was barely 40, and her young children Charlotte and Mathew were 9 and 4 respectively. Opting for fiercely aggressive chemo, Felicity fought the beast into remission – and then proceeded to totally remake her life, with spiritual growth and inner authenticity at the center of everything. It was a gamble that paid off profoundly. She lived to see her children grow into amazing, productive adults, and to face both life and death as gift.

EagleIsland2012Feb2My own most powerful interface with the Hanington-Dawe family came in 2001, when Felicity and husband Larry Dawe discerned that they were called to help me build my hermitage on Eagle Island. They came, Felicity still barely recovered from that first bout with chemo, and proceeded to give their hands and their hearts to raising my hermitage. That it stands and has housed me for more than a decade is entirely their profound and mysterious gift to me. I am still awed by their generosity – and fortitude. Perhaps from her now-more-spacious viewing platform, the beauty of this gift will shine through even more clearly.

Felicity evidently completed her life just as she had lived it: with openness, receptivity, grace, and gratitude. I share her obituary with you here as a small token of the gratitude and awe I feel for this Wisdom seeker who has exemplified the path in better ways than I will ever know.

felicity-hanington

To Larry, Charlotte, and Mat, my deep condolences, but a gratitude as well for the precious additional years you were able to be together. And, for her spirit, which I know you all carry within you with equal grace and fortitude.

En christo,

 

Cynthia


The board also wishes to share our condolences with Felicity’s friends and family.

We invite you to share your sentiments below in the comments.

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

 

Thanksgiving 2016 – by Heather Page and Jennifer England

Soon after the recent Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, retreat participant Jennifer England (Integral Master CoachTM with sparkcoaching.ca) wrote a piece reflecting on Omega, Teilhard de Chardin, the process of evolution, and love. Heather Page, president of The Contemplative Society, provides the introduction, a Thanksgiving letter, also inspired by the Wisdom School. 


Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

Canadian Thanksgiving will be celebrated this weekend. As many gather around the table to celebrate family and abundance I am reminded of a passage Cynthia referred to in her recent Teilhard Wisdom School here on Vancouver Island.

Cynthia made reference to a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

choirCynthia reminded us that the force of love cannot be contained in one person; we need to bear the beams of love together. She used the illustration of a choir as an example of how every voice is necessary for the expression of the whole. Each individual brings a distinct quality adding to the magnificence of the combined expression.

Jennifer England attended this recent Wisdom School and I have included her beautiful reflection below. In her own authentic and distinct voice, Jennifer captures a unique expression of the Wisdom week.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving, or simply pause in gratitude, may we sense the wondrous ways we are connected to a larger body of family, friends, and colleagues as well as to all of creation. I am particularly grateful at this time of year for the body of contemplatives who share, as Jennifer writes, the yearning “to become intimate with the active force of love”. 

Bless you all,

Heather


Consciousness Rising

On all our ski trips, Dad drew the Omega symbol in a snow bank with one of his poles every time we stopped. There were so many, you could have found your way home just by following the symbols. He drew it in every birthday card, Easter Sunday drawing, and I’m sure on our country mailbox and my first bottle of scotch. Whether it was embellished with eyes, a pointy nose, and a half smile, it has been with me since I was a young girl.

Even though I knew I should read before Wisdom School, I was reluctant to delve into my $1.95 copy of The Phenomenon of Man by Teilhard de Chardin.¹ I had his work jostling for room on my nightstand, but couldn’t get into it late at night – it felt too intellectual and heady. But on the first night of the retreat, Cynthia helped me find a way in. Wisdom School, she pointed out, is not about downloading information but about wisdom formation. Knowing with more of you.

Photo by Sher Sacks, Wisdom School 2016 participant

Photo by Sher Sacks, Wisdom School 2016 participant

As the first night descended, we gathered with our sheepskins, meditation quilts, journals, and mugs of tea. A framed photo of the Teilhard, the French scientist/Jesuit priest, was nestled among lit candles, rocks, and fossils on a nearby table. And we, of all ages, were ready to find our way to the Omega.

Teilhard was a keen observer of evolution, expressed through the dynamism of planet life. Everything is in motion, he said, and he called this cosmogenesis. Over 4 billion years on Earth, evolution has brought us the geosphere, the biosphere, and more recently, the noosphere. Throughout this evolution, Teilhard observed a pattern of increasing complexity in life structures on the outside and increasing consciousness on the inside. As I reflected on the changes in my brief lifetime, I can see and feel this motion and complexity: industrialization, time/space compression, globalization, the internet and smart phones, climate change, mass migrations…

Whether it is through our awkward groping in the dark or the constriction that comes with too many people in a limited space, evolution works because it’s under tension. As long as things have their own space, there is not motivation or impetus for change. From here, Cynthia took us through Teilhard’s ideas on convergence – whereby humans are the “axis and arrow of evolution”. Like lines on the globe merging at its poles, so too is the direction and pulse of transformation. So, as the planet becomes dense with humans and space and resources become limited, we naturally experience increasing tension. For me as a hopeful humanist, I’d like a bit more space and less stress on our globe, but for Teilhard, he saw this as a good thing and would have loved densification of neighbourhoods and sweaty subways.

And this is where I began to really pay attention with Teilhard. Because, if you are a bit like me, and have felt fear listening to the news – whether on Syria or US politics, it’s easy to feel discouraged as to where we’re collectively headed. But for Teilhard, our dissonance and difference is where unity begins. With friction between the parts of a system, we experience more exchange, connection – enabling the radically personal to emerge, those deep and vulnerable places of being human when faced with anguish, grief, uprootedness.

What is it on behalf of? Intentional design or sentimental hope? Resurrecting a deeper quality, Cynthia reminds us it’s the drive shaft of love wanting to become revealed and known in the granular, the personal, and the messiness of everyday human life. And this active force of love is the undercurrent of it all…leading us to a collective experience of increasing interiority, where all things are joined.

alpha omegaThis is the Omega. And, Teilhard quietly says in the Epilogue of The Phenonemon of Man, the Cosmic Christ. Simply, as I understand it, the incarnation of Jesus in human form – where the movement of Divine love became holographically part of this planet.

How to know more of this, with more of me?

The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Byron is one of my favourite stories to read to my kids. It’s about a young boy and an old man who talk about what they can hear. The Old Man says he can hear a cactus flower bloom in the desert. The boy wants to learn. The Old Man tells him he has to learn another way to listen. Only then will the rock speak. The lizard howl. The cactus sing.

I am groping my way to listen differently. And this is the wisdom formation that Cynthia talks about. The path of wisdom is to become intimate with the active force of love within that yearns to be known and related to the yearning in another.

At the retreat, I was staring up at the millions of fir needles in an old growth forest, watching raindrops fall from hundreds of feet up. In that moment, I remembered the Omega in the snow. All of the Omegas. Hundreds of them carved into the frozen water, sliding over billions of years of layered bedrock.

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Jennifer is an Integral Coach who lives in the Yukon with her family. She was one of the 50 people, and one of the youngest contemplatives, who attended this year’s Wisdom School. Read more about her on sparkcoaching.ca.


Notes:

    1. Cynthia Bourgeault recommended the following translation for our Wisdom School: Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. ed. Sarah Appleton-Weber. Sussex Academic Press: 2003.

Two become one…

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault was originally posted on Northeast Wisdom’s website on July 19, 2016.

Stonington - TWO_closeupLast Tuesday, July 12th, the massive granite sculpture named “Two” by its creator, Maine sculptor Roy Patterson, took up its new home on my front lawn. Instantly it looked like it had been here for eons.

I’m still in a bit of shock at what could have led me to shell out what, from my perspective, is an astronomical chunk of change for this assemblage of granite blocks. And yet there was something so compellingly right about it – so natural – that I could only keep moving ahead with this decision-less decision that seems to have emerged from some intentionality deeper than my own. So when my friend, Lindsay Bowker, pressed me a bit further on this point in preparation for an article on its installation she’s cooking up for the local paper, I put my thinking cap on, and this is what I came up with…


From the moment I bought the little house on School Street in Stonington, I knew I was placing myself in a very public location. Everything I did here would be on display. That’s the nature of the site.

I was also aware that I was assuming a profound gift and responsibility from Michie O’Day, the former owner. Michie is a talented artist and an awesome gardener, and she loved this little house dearly and did the best she could during her decade on watch to bring it along. She adored Stonington – in fact, she would never have left were it not for chronic health issues. Michie and I became friends during the course of the sale, and have remained so, and it’s both a privilege and a debt of honor to carry on the vision that she had for this place.

One of the things that I was able to bring off early in my time here was to buy a swathe of the adjacent property from my next-door neighbors, Phil and Heidi Anderson. That allowed me to secure my view down School Street and to become the owner of that striking, prow-like front corner of the property, sitting high above the intersection of Church and School streets like the bow of a ship.

I’d long thought that a piece of sculpture might be perfect there: partly because plants don’t grow well on that spot (lucky for me; otherwise, I would have immediately succumbed to the temptation to put an apple tree there) and partly because I deeply appreciate fine art as well as the proud heritage and physical beauty of this tiny fishing village I have called home on and off for more than twenty years now. Fine art transforms physical beauty into spiritual beauty, touching deep archetypal currents (at least, if it’s good art) without ever being too blatant or ideological about it, without forcing people to see in a certain way. Fine art simply evokes the heart.

Stonington - TWOThe idea of placing Roy Patterson’s sculpture on that site grew on me gradually as I passed by it year after year, season after season, sitting there in the dooryard of the Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle. I never really decided to; it just seemed more and more obvious that the piece would fit perfectly there. It is solid and familiar, built of the very granite blocks and shapes that all the walls up and down School Street are built of, including the one it sits atop. So it dialogues well with the natural world here, and with our local history and heritage. But it has another level of meaning as well, much more subtle, allusive, and archetypal.

Roy Patterson calls the piece “Two”, and, as its creator, he has his own unique and deep relationship with this sculpture. For him, it speaks of maternal tenderness and nurturance. The “two” are the granite mother and child.

But, precisely in the measure that a work of art is genuine and deep, it also graciously receives the interpretations of the beholder. And, for me, given my background as an Episcopal priest, this work is quintessentially (though allusively) an altar, the stone circle sitting on it a host, and its granite solidity reverberates in my spiritual imagination with Teilhard de Chardin and his archetypal “Mass on the World”, offered not in bread and wine, but in human labor and human suffering. To me this sculpture is supremely Teilhardian, bringing together geology, solidity, universality, and an implicit offering of gratitude and petition for our one world, at once hauntingly particular and sweepingly universal.

And so I place this small “altar” at the prow of this property I am stewarding: facing downhill toward the fishermen, quarrymen, and townsfolk who have made our village what it is, all the while allusively affirming that there are dimensions of our common life that go deeper than even civic or public duty. They touch the sacred.


Stonington - TWO_boomPost-installation P.S.: Well, for the record, it is an absolutely powerful altar! That was clear even as its granite pillars were being swung into place from the boom truck. And now, as I stand behind it facing down School Street toward the fishing boats, the islands and ocean stretching beyond, and our one world stretching still “beyonder”, I sense that it is indeed for the offering of The Mass of the World – in whatever physical or imaginal space this ritual may transpire – that this mysteriously beautiful and compelling piece has found its way to me. Whatever else unfolds during the time that “Two” and I sojourn together here on the corner of School and Church Streets, it has already called me in its quiet and insistent way to a renewed seriousness of commitment to our common humanity, and to our one beautiful and fragile planet, hurtling toward either transfiguration or destruction. Like Teilhard, as I stand every morning before its solid, sheltering pillars, I will send my blessings and prayers out over those shining waters with that same fervent plea with which Teilhard’s Mass reaches its climax: “Lord, make us One!”

“…When you can make TWO become one,” says the Gospel of Thomas…Could that be what it’s all about? Seriously?

Stonington - TWO_CB

Advent 2015 – Letter from President

As Advent draws to a close, Heather Page, President of The Contemplative Society, reminds us of how love was and is made manifest. Also, a special announcement regarding Cynthia Bourgeault’s plans to visit Vancouver Island in 2016. 


Dear Members and Friends,

As we approach the final days of Advent and move into Christmas celebrations, I am filled with gratitude for those who support The Contemplative Society in a variety of ways: from our faithful volunteers to those who offer steady financial support, as well as those who bear witness to the mission of the society through their steady contemplative practice. Although based in British Columbia, Canada, TCS is a global community offering and receiving support from contemplatives throughout the world.

Advent - Christ Church Cathedral

I am also grateful to Cynthia Bourgeault, our principal teacher and advisor, who continues to teach and model incarnational Wisdom to a growing audience worldwide. Through Wisdom Schools, retreats, workshops, books, on-line e-courses, and audio and video recordings, this teaching continues to reach people hungry to hear and practice the ancient wisdom which is at the heart of early Christian practice but often forgotten in our culture today.

We are delighted that Cynthia has agreed to be with us on Vancouver Island, September 19-24, 2016, when she will teach on the writings of Teilhard de Chardin. Cynthia says she aims to make Teilhard’s writings “less dense and see how he is carried through in liturgy and practice…” We will begin taking registrations in the spring. Be sure your membership is up-to-date so you will be the first to hear when registration opens. Cynthia’s retreats fill quickly!

As Christmas approaches, I am reminded of Cynthia’s teaching on love made manifest in the midst of “density and jagged edges”. God chose to incarnate, to suffer constriction, and to carry divine love and sorrow together in a finite body as witnessed and embodied in the Christmas story. I want to share a beautiful passage from The Wisdom Jesus that seems appropriate for our day:

Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of, but because of, its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way? This world does indeed show forth what love is like in a particularly intense and costly way. But when we look at this process more deeply, we can see that those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love, which require the condition of finitude in order to make sense – qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, fidelity, and forgiveness. These mature and subtle flavors of love have no real context in a realm where there are no edges, no boundaries, where all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge, and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. There, God has spoken his most intimate name.

Let me be clear here. I am not saying suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions…

…Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for.

[Source: Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus (Shambhala, 2008), 99-100.]

My prayer is that we might be given courage, patience and great humility so “that we may learn to bear the beams of love”. May we be conscious of how this love manifests in the days ahead.

With sincere gratitude,

Heather Page
President