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From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 4

This post continues our series of bringing you more Wisdom from your fellow students of the contemplative path. We hope you will find these posts enriching, enlightening, and inspiring for your own journey. If you would like to submit a post for future consideration, please email admin@contemplative.org.

Read on for the fourth and last part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Previous posts are below:


Post 3 ended with the wisdom formula representing the movement from the Endless One to matter. Also, we have reframed the Divine Plan of making creation in order to know itself to a Divine Trajectory toward re-unification. From the reframing, with the help of Boehme and Teilhard, we can approach this formula, its extension, and the Trinity in a way that may contribute to current interests in bridging the scientific and spiritual camps.

The reframed formula depicts materialization of the spiritual followed by spiritualization of the material as it flows through the same elements in reverse order:

Endless Unity > dispersed psychic forces > spirit > energy > pre-life matter > living matter > energy > Holy Spirit > re-unified psychic forces > new humanity

The word “dispersed” captures Boehme’s vision of the implosion resulting from “the concentration of desire” — i.e., Endless Unity bringing “itself into somethingness” (HT, p. 97). His progression is: concentration of desire leads to movement (agitation), which leads to anguish from which the tension/friction ignites the fire, which leads to light/love and “now manifesting in the dimension of separability and perceptivity” (p. 110). Anguish “is simultaneously sensibility” (p. 98) or the headwaters of “perceptibility and feelingness” and “a primordial state of self awareness” (p. 109), as arranged by Cynthia Bourgeault in her first three dynamic Trinity diagrams unfolding according to the Law of Three. Interestingly, Boehme sums up the three properties of desire, agitation, and anguish in a first principle of creation that he names “fiery” or “wrathful”. This mirrors the thought in part 2 that the divine quality expected to dominate first would be wrath, as encountered by Job.

Our reframing requires departing from Boehme in the following ways:

  • The Big Bang from impressure is from the internal concentration of psychic forces, not a divine desire creating something to know itself.
  • What implodes outwardly are all the Unity’s diverse characteristics rather than light already in a realm of perceptibility.
  • Unlike Boehme, who slips readily “between physical description and its emotional counterpart” (HT, p. 98), the energy in our reframing on the way to matter is not just light and its emotional association with love but the invisible vibrational stage of densifying psychic forces.

From our perspective, perceptibility and the primordial state of awareness entered the picture further along in the process of creation. Nevertheless, Boehme’s intuitive grasp of the proto-stage of movement and primordial implosion initiates the suggested reframing of the dynamic Trinity. From here on, the influence of Teilhard is notable.

First off, as a naturalist, rather than a physicist, Teilhard develops his description of pre-life matter (“the stuff of the universe” or its “bits and pieces”; HP, p. 11) by “sound analogy with the rest of science” (HP, p. 24) from the observable structure and properties of life. In the same way, we propose approaching that elusive subtle domain of pre-matter. Support for this approach is the idea held across diverse spiritual traditions that nature is the first revelation of the Divine.

Because of “the world’s fundamental unity” (HP, p. 24) and nature’s observable “homogeneity and continuity” (p. 26), Teilhard posits the following:

  • The “stuff” of the universe has both an outer face and an inner face, each with its own energy field, which “roughly speaking” finally comes down to being “equivalent respectively to matter and spirit” (p. 230).
  • The outer face operates under the law of complexification. As the “bits and pieces” connect they transform into a more complex structure. Meanwhile, with increasing external complexity, the inside face operates under the law of centricity, an increased interiorization that evolves into higher and higher states of awareness all the way to thought and reflective consciousness.
  • The outer face evolutionary process and the inner face involutionary process operate independently from each other but “they are constantly associated and somehow flow into each other” (p. 30).
  • The “somehow” of the associated physical and psychical energies repeatedly shows up in the reconciling interplay of such factors as biological divergence/psychical convergence, tangential/radial energies, body/soul energies, “unified multitude/unorganized multitude” (p. 28), and mechanization/freedom.
  • The “somehow” is “a kind of homogeneous primordial flux” that is “an active medium of direction and transmission” toward “the less probable direction of higher forms of complexity and centricity” (pp. 14, 13, 32).
  • All the stuff of the universe has aspects of unity within and in relation to the “totality of space” (p. 16). Thus, the random trial and error of chance is a “directed chance” (p. 66).
  • At certain points the evolution/involution interplay leaps creation into a new “state” or “order” of “being” (pp. 231, 237).
  • The net effect is that the universe is moving from a state of the outer face predominating to the inner face predominating as humanity approaches a collective reflexive consciousness at the Omega Point.

The applications of these Teilhardian principles to the wisdom formula are perhaps already apparent. The homogeneous flux is comparable to the Divine Trajectory toward reunification. The increasing degrees of densification is analogous to the conjugation of the complexification law and convergence or centralization intensifying process. The aspects of unity in the “stuff” of the universe may be regarded as remnants of the Endless Unity essence within each psychic force as it implodes out of the antinomy in totality. The diffusion and outward movement of the psychic forces are within the flux of the “totality of space.” And those leaps into new creations are indicated by the formula’s arrows. As we adapt the formula to a reframing of the Trinity, the leaps may be likened to that Law of Three alchemical reconciling power bringing about a new arising.

The reframed Trinity presented here follows the four ground rules of the Law of Three stipulated in Holy Trinity and the Law of Three (p. 131). Also, we will make use of the Law of Three principle that the quality/nature of the third or neutralizing force can change (HT, pp. 28-30). (Note: in linear format, the triangle looks like first force > second force > third force > new arising.)

First Triangle: Unity > impressuring antinomy > Big Bang > psychic forces

Unity (the Absolute, Divine Source, God, etc.) is totally “other” and transcendent. Its undifferentiated antinomy due to the immeasurable power of its centric state implodes out into separated psychic forces. The Big Bang separating movement relieves the tension and amounts to a creation of space and time. Instantaneously, Teilhard’s “somehow” goes to work. It brings about a space that is a whole in itself — “universal space is the only space there is”; i.e., “we have no choice but to admit that this immensity represents the domain of action common to all [that is in it]” (HP, p. 16). The “somehow” or homogeneous flux, as noted earlier, is the divine trajectory toward re-unification. The psychic forces are moving, thus entailing duration and, therefore, time, within a space of homogeneous flux.

Second Triangle: Unity > Big Bang > psychic forces > spirit

Psychic forces are now in the binary/dualistic dimension of space/time. Space, although seemingly infinite from our scientific lens, functions as a container preventing endless outward dispersion. The random yet directional psychic forces diverge and converge and thus condense into spiritual flows.

In Teilhardian terms, the outer and inner “faces” (in evolutionary and involutionary fashion) function independently but are “associated” by both being within the flux of space. In the alchemical moment, impressure is transformed into a centrating function and the totality of the antinomy is transformed into a complexification function.

Third Triangle: Unity > psychic forces > spirit > energy

Spirit takes the reconciling position as the new field of play of conjugated outward and inward forces. It junctions as a “holding field” or stabilizing environment for alchemizing Unity’s rest and the psychic forces’ movements into a vibrating structure, namely energy. All this may be seen as preparatory to the emerging particle/wave paradox. With the new vibrating expression of the psychic forces, the potential for primitive felt sensation and awareness (perceptivity) is set up. 

Fourth Triangle: Unity > spirit > energy > matter

As the pivotal triangle, with three before and after it, it is packed with happenings. Two key ones are the movement of pre-life matter into living matter (inorganic to organic) and the rise of thought from rudimentary communication to Darwinian  instinctual communication, and then to self-reflective consciousness.

Not delving into pre-matter matters, Teilhard summarily describes a “phase of granulation which abruptly gives birth to the constituents of the atom, and perhaps the atom itself” (HP, p. 18). We can only speculate here by extending Teilhard’s principles into pre-matter times that the universal complexification and centric forces are involved. At any rate, the granulation process now provides substantiality. In short, the new arising finally is matter existing in a dualistic dimension. Moreover, with this new creation comes the element necessary for perceptivity and communication, for exchanging information.

For Teilhard pre-life matter is in a pre-conscious state yet primed with the universal “powers of synthesis” (HP, p. 34), the conjugation of complexification and centricity. In the unique case of earth, the outer faces of elements follow the process of “ultracondensing and intercombining” all according to the first two paradoxical thermodynamic laws of the conservation of energy and entropy (p. 20). Meanwhile, the inside face becomes more and more interiorized until it is no longer just lining the outer face but a psychic center: “What was still only a centered surface became a center” (p. 113).

In our reframing language, along with all the other psychic forces, the split antinomy of unconsciousness and consciousness is now subsumed in energy (HT, p. 126). In this reconciling position, it gets pricked — Yahweh meets Job face to face. How does this pricking happen? And where have Sophia (Wisdom), Logos, and evil been during all this creating? Answer: the Biblical and Wisdom traditions have assured us that Sophia and Logos have been functioning behind the scenes ever since the Big Bang. With visible matter, they can be observed as they come increasingly to the fore. Logos and Sophia are present hand-in-hand as the ordering and directing principles, respectively — the universal synthesis on a re-unification trajectory.

In energy’s vibrating field, Logos (encapsulated in words) is sound carrying Wisdom’s messages. The suggestion here is that evil provides the situation (as held by Jung and others). Logos is the means, as each microcosmic kenotic surrender of the second force opens it to a new way of being. And Sophia is the catalyst for the way of re-unification in each leap to a new arising. The leaps are characterized as being abrupt and out of nowhere, which is how we experience hits of wisdom — those “aha” moments of suddenness and “surprise, satisfaction, elegance” (HT, p. 43).

One other key happening needs recognition. Through the first three triangles, the transformation of psychic forces as emanations of the Unity has been predominant. Yet, within these emanations (the stuff of the universe) is a remnant of Unity’s essence as aspects of unity in each element as well as in space as a whole as a universal flux as discussed earlier. With the appearance of matter in the fourth Trinity formation, immanence overtakes emanation as the operating system. Yahweh must be his creation (see post 3).

Fifth Triangle: Unity > energy > Jesus > Holy Spirit

Because we are regarding the Trinity being modeled here as a Christian icon, the dramatically evolved matter in the fourth triangle is represented now as Jesus, a life form of matter with a highly evolved consciousness operating out of non-dual perception. Recalling that consciousness is communication which, when undertaken as an intentional give and take for the good of the whole, we can equate Jesus’ consciousness with love. He is in the position to reconcile the transcendent, at rest in Unity with the split psychic forces manifesting in matter and energy. The outcome of his five roles is the pervasive presence of the Holy Spirit.

Sixth Triangle: Unity < > humans < > Holy Spirit < > re-unified psychic forces

Immediately apparent here is the addition of the two-way flow of the arrows. This indicates the now direct communication with the divine provided by the Paraclete. Thus, the shift from a covenant to a consciousness relationship is established.

A second crucial addition is humans are now in place of Jesus as representing the highest evolved organic matter. When humans operate out of a non-dual perception open to the Holy Spirit a new arising occurs. The Holy Spirit mediates between the self-reflective consciousness of corporeality and the non-conscious no-thingness Unity. As a result, for every evil (life-denying, divisive, tense, closed off, etc.) situation in this dualistic world the Christosophanic means and way carried in the Holy Spirit transforms the separated materialized psychic forces. The new arising is re-unification of the Divine’s qualities — the living expression of Unity in a space/time dimension.

Seventh Triangle: Unity < > Holy Spirit < > One New Humanity < > Oikonomia

Under the assumption that humans as a whole put on the mind of Christ, sixth triangle new arising of re-unified psychic forces moves into the reconciling position as the One New Humanity. The push-pull tension between Unity’s absolute unity and the Holy Spirit’s re-unifying promise can only continue to be reconciled through the medium of One New Humanity, the body of Christ. This is Oikonomia: the realization of the Unity’s essence in diversity, the consummation of the Divine Trajectory. In Teilhard’s words “cosmogenesis has become Christogenesis” (HT, p. 80; HP, p. 213) The spiritualization of matter is complete, including perhaps a transfiguration of the physical body, which is a subject for a separate discussion.

This overly succinct reframed journey through the dynamic Trinity stages has avoided Boehme’s associative leaps and employed Teilhard’s synthesis. It is offered to stimulate thought about ways to bridge science and spirituality. It also demonstrates once more not only the versatility of applying the Law of Three to the Trinity, but also how it all finally comes down to us, the microcosmic pinnacle on earth. Let’s pray that the macrocosmic journey through billions of years has not been for (to borrow a word from Satan) “naught” (Job 1:9).


Peggy Zimmerman has been as a technical editor, environmental and urban planner, university instructor, mental health counsellor, and human resources manager. Since retiring sixteen years ago, she has participated in environmental activist work. In that time she also rediscovered her Christian roots and set out on deepening her spiritual life, largely through a personal study of the Christian wisdom tradition. She arranged for the introduction of Centering Prayer to the Comox Valley, facilitates a weekly sit at her church, initiated and continues to facilitate a monthly Taizé service.


References:

  • Alden, Robert L. Job. Vol. II in The New American Commentary series. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1993.
  • Anonymous. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Robert Powell, trans. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 1985, 2002.
  • Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. NY: Random House, 1993.
  • Barr, James. “The Book of Job and Its Modern Interpreters”. Lecture delivered in the John Rylands Library, 10 February 1971. Available at www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk.
  • Boehme, Jacob. Genius of the Transcendent: Mystical Writings of Jakob Boehme. Michael L. Birkel and Jeff  Bach, trans. and eds. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Boehme, Jacob. The Way to Christ. Peter Erb, trans. Toronto and NY: Paulist Press, 1978.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (HT) The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2013.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (MMag) The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. Teilhard for Our Times. Spirituality & Practice, 2016. Available at https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/course/view/10182/teilhard-for-our-times.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia.  (WJ) The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind — A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2008.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia.  (WWK) The Wisdom Way of Knowing. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
  • Bruteau, Beatrice. God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World. NY: Crossroad, 1997.
  • Clement, Olivier. The Roots of Christian Mysticism. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993.
  • Delio, Ilia. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013.
  • Gospel of Thomas. Lynn Bauman, trans. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2004.
  • Hart, David J.H. Christianity: A New Look At Ancient Wisdom. Kelowna, BC: Northstone Publishing, 1992.
  • Jung, C. J. Answer to Job. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
  • Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. NY: Vintage Books, 1995, 1996.
  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed. Michael D. Coogan, ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre.  (HP) The Human Phenomenon. Sarah Appleton-Weber, trans. Chicago, IL: Sussex Academic Press, 1999, 2003, 2015.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York, NY: Image Books Doubleday, 1990.

From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 1

This is our second post in the continuation of our series bringing you more Wisdom from your fellow students of the contemplative path. We hope you will find these posts enriching, enlightening, and inspiring for your own journey. If you would like to submit a post for future consideration, please email admin@contemplative.org.

Read on for the first part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Subsequent posts will be listed below:


Since learning about Jacob Boehme and Teilhard de Chardin through Wisdom School teachings, I have a new appreciation for Carl Jung’s Answer to Job and have been led to reconsider the “law of three” unfolding of the Trinity. This blog initiative by The Contemplative Society provides a welcome opportunity for me, as a layperson, to gain input on my thoughts from a group of seasoned wisdom seekers. If this first post has any merit, I would like to submit a second post incorporating these thoughts into another look at the revolving, evolving Trinity.

William Blake – Job’s Tormentors

The Book of Job raises questions about erratic justice, undeserved suffering, might over right, and the existence of evil. Most commentaries provide answers along the traditional Christian track. Misfortunes, suffering, and injustices happen even to “good” people as “a discipline for misbehavior” if we know the larger picture, “training for their spiritual maturity”, and “an opportunity to glorify God by their faith”, as neatly summarized by Robert Alden (p. 41). He displays his own orthodoxy in his conclusive statement, “But the message of Job is that nothing happens to us that is not ultimately controlled by the knowledge, love, wisdom and power of our God of all comfort” (p. 41). All these commentaries rest on a theology that God’s omnipotence and omniscience are not to be doubted or questioned and that God has a divine plan that is beyond human understanding. Such readings of Job lead us to the dead end of a distant, unapproachable, and inaccessible totally “other” God.

Jung provides a way out of this impasse and recovers the Book of Job as a treasure of the ancient Wisdom stream beyond the mainstream practical Jewish wisdom tradition. Jung’s premise is that the divine plan is for Yahweh to become man, that is to know himself (i.e., become conscious) through his creation. This is in line with the often quoted saying attributed to God: “I loved to be known so I created worlds both invisible and visible.” Without manifestation, the Unity rests eternally as an antinomy (“a totality of inner opposites”; Jung, p. 7), a coincidentia oppositorum (p. 57) rather than a composite of dualistic opposites. All opposites – light/dark, good/evil, unconsciousness/consciousness, etc. – are undifferentiated in the Unity. Differentiation is required to know one’s attributes, qualities, aspects, features, or whatever term is used to identify/define the components of one’s essence.

If the Unity made creation to know itself, how could the divine plan remain inscrutable and the Unity remain unapproachable? If Yahweh is to know himself through his creation, creation would need to evolve into consciousness.

Jung’s answer to Job is basically that Yahweh (the divine Unity) has no answer to Job and therein lies the answer to Job: “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me” (Job 30:20). What is going on internally for Yahweh at this point? Is he simply judging in stern silence the audacity of Job to doubt him and claim Yahweh has no interest in him? Or is this a cosmic moment of the Unity’s consciousness stirring beneath the dominating shadow of its omnipotence in this manifested realm? Jung would say the latter. Confronted by a creature whose suffering has reached absurd levels and who persists (“stand,” as per the Gospel of Thomas) in his innocence, Yahweh faces the unconscionable results of his bet with Satan and hence experiences a flicker of self-awareness.

Credit: catholicnewstt.com

Yet, it is only an inkling. Yahweh’s reaction, when he finally deigns to speak out of a whirlwind, is to regress and give no real answers. He bombards Job with rhetorical questions and saves face by bringing the divine-human relationship back to the status quo, at least tentatively, for the reader is left unsatisfied. Yahweh’s relentless grilling amounts to challenging Job to surpass the unmatched powers of the supreme Almighty. He does not focus on his goodness and glory by waxing poetic on the beauty and abundance of his creation. Instead, the predominant attribute of Yahweh presented and referenced throughout Job’s ordeal is raw power. Even Alden admits, “Less prominent are mercy, love, and goodness” (Alden, p. 38).

Significantly, nearly two-thirds of Yahweh’s spoken lines to Job (77 out of 123 verses) are devoted to comparisons with wild creatures. And tellingly, he concludes his interrogation of Job by closing with 44 verses about the biggest, fiercest, and most untamable beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan, created and controllable only by the Almighty. Here are some of Yahweh’s words about the Leviathan:

No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up.
     Who can stand before it?
Who can confront it and be safe?
    – under the whole heaven, who?
. . .
It surveys everything that is lofty;
     it is king over all that are proud.
(41:10-11, 34)

Psychologically, one might say Yahweh is projecting onto these animals his own mindless (without awareness) potency. Presumably, his intended message to Job is that even the dumb beasts know better than to question their lot, so you better close your mouth.

Indeed, that is Job’s final gesture. He had already put his hand over his mouth (40:46) before these last words of Yahweh. Now, either consciously or unconsciously, Job knows that the only saving response in the face of intemperate, non-self-aware, cornered fury is to be submissive and back away. Job says,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
     but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
     and repent in dust and ashes.
(42:5-6)

These all important final lines of Job elicit several observations. First, the single eye suggests a perceiving beyond the normal senses. He has indeed heard by ear the invisible Yahweh, but now he knows something new about his Lord. Second, as the Oxford annotated NRSV notes, “I despise myself” might better be translated as “I relent” or “I recant”, and alternative meanings of “repent” are “regret” and “console” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 733 HB). Third, Job’s backing off is not a surrender of letting go in equanimity, but a surrender of giving up and defeat.

Exactly what Job “sees” is what Jung declares:

Here Yahweh comes up against a man who stands firm, who clings to his rights until he is compelled to give way to brute force. He has seen God’s face and the unconscious split in his nature. God was now known, and this knowledge went on working not only in Yahweh but in man too (Jung, p. 34).

Job sees and plants deep in humanity for the first time that the supposedly all-good God has a shadow side carried in his unconscious. The possibility of this planting being a cosmic happening on the order of Jesus’ cosmic act I would like to discuss in a second post along with the roles of Sophia and the Holy Spirit. For now, by giving Job no direct or solicitous answer, Yahweh shows his true colors, at least two of his true colors – his lack of self-awareness and “dark underbelly”.

Jung is clear that, at least in his Answer to Job, we are not dealing with some subjective archetypes rising from humanity’s collective unconscious. He is emphatic that the Book of Job presents metaphysical archetypes having “spontaneity and purposiveness”, “laws of their own”, and an “unknowable metaphysical background”. The images, symbols, and statements wrapped around the figures in Job “are psychic processes which are different from the transcendent object: they do not posit it, they merely point to it” and what they point to is the Ens realissimum (Jung, pp. xiv-xv). As Evelyn Underhill states, symbols are “the clothing which the spiritual borrows from the material plane” (Underhill, p. 80). Furthermore, as Cynthia Bourgeault notes, the integration of metaphysical archetypes “is always an objective union of two different realms of being –a szyzgy (‘not one, not two, but both one and two’) of the finite and infinite” (MMag, p. 247, fn. 9); again, evidence of the Job story being a testimony to a cosmic act.

Thus, we may move from metaphor to metaphysics. Is the Job tale witnessing a significant point in what Teilhard calls the complexification-consciousness process – consciousness on the cusp, so to speak? In the next post, both Teilhard and Boehme provide guidance in this direction and a way to account for evil.

Read on – Part 2.


Peggy Zimmerman has been as a technical editor, environmental and urban planner, university instructor, mental health counsellor, and human resources manager. Since retiring sixteen years ago, she has participated in environmental activist work. In that time she also rediscovered her Christian roots and set out on deepening her spiritual life, largely through a personal study of the Christian wisdom tradition. She arranged for the introduction of Centering Prayer to the Comox Valley, facilitates a weekly sit at her church, initiated and continues to facilitate a monthly Taizé service and a monthly One World service (incorporating chants and readings from the world’s spiritual traditions), leads book studies on Cynthia Boiurgeault’s texts and the Gospel of Thomas, and edits Contemplative Society retreat recordings. At her church she serves on the Congregational Education Committee and the Pastoral Care Committee.


References:

  • Alden, Robert L. Job. Vol. II in The New American Commentary series. Broadman & Holman Pub., 1993.
  • Anonymous. Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism. Robert Powell, trans. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman, 1985, 2002.
  • Armstrong, Karen. A History of God. NY: Random House, 1993.
  • Barr, James. “The Book of Job and Its Modern Interpreters”. Lecture delivered in the John Rylands Library, 10 February 1971. Available at www.escholar.manchester.ac.uk.
  • Boehme, Jacob. Genius of the Transcendent: Mystical Writings of Jakob Boehme. Michael L. Birkel and Jeff  Bach, trans. and eds. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Boehme, Jacob. The Way to Christ. Peter Erb, trans. Toronto and NY: Paulist Press, 1978.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (HT) The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2013.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. (MMag) The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity. Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia. Teilhard for Our Times. Spirituality & Practice, 2016. Available at https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/ecourses/course/view/10182/teilhard-for-our-times.
  • Bourgeault, Cynthia.  (WWK) The Wisdom Way of Knowing. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
  • Bruteau, Beatrice. God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World. NY: Crossroad, 1997.
  • Clement, Olivier. The Roots of Christian Mysticism. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1993.
  • Delio, Ilia. The Unbearable Wholeness of Being: God, Evolution, and the Power of Love. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2013.
  • Gospel of Thomas. Lynn Bauman, trans. Ashland, OR: White Cloud Press, 2004.
  • Hart, David J.H. Christianity: A New Look At Ancient Wisdom. Kelowna, BC: Northstone Publishing, 1992.
  • Jung, C. J. Answer to Job. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973.
  • Miles, Jack. God: A Biography. NY: Vintage Books, 1995, 1996.
  • The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 3rd ed. Michael D. Coogan, ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001.
  • Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. Sarah Appleton-Weber, trans. Chicago, IL: Sussex Academic Press, 1999, 2003, 2015.
  • Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism. New York, NY: Image Books Doubleday, 1990.

The Developmental Soul

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault is the fourth in a series beginning with “A Surprising Ecumenism“, her response to Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism“, an article published by La Civiltà Cattolica. The second is “Abortion, Pro-Life, and the Secular State: A Modest Proposal and the third is “When Does Life Begin?


Essence

According to Gurdjieff, the mysterious “X-factor” that enters in the moment of conception is not yet soul but essence. Think of it as the hand of cards you’re dealt at the start of a card game. It comprises a set of unique characteristics including race, gender (and most likely gender orientation), basic body type and other genetic factors, influences emerging from more distant ancestry and bloodline – and yes, that unquantifiable legacy “from the stars” – all combined primarily according to what Teilhard would call “tatonnement” (“trial and error”): evolution’s predilection for trying out any and all possibilities. Cumulatively, all of the above will combine to confer on you what is commonly known as your “nature”.

Notice how there is no need to stipulate an “artist” God here, specifically designing a unique human being; what’s being pictured here is simply a lawful playing out of a freedom already inherent within Creation itself. Essence is not customized, not micro-managed – at least according to most schools of inner work I’m familiar with. (That may take some getting used to, and for those of you finding yourself already in resistance mode, I encourage you simply to let this new perspective settle in a bit. Rest assured that I do intend to talk about the origin of the personal in due course.)

Once formed, essence will take its place as one of the three constituent terms in an ongoing dynamism of becoming which, not surprisingly, will play out according to the Law of Three. The other two terms, according to modern Sufi master Kabir Helminski (who reflects this same Wisdom lineage that I myself was trained in) are spirit and heart.

Spirit is that ever-roving, unboundaried, invisible divine dancing partner, participating in every movement of our life according to its own deepest teleology, namely, self-disclosure (remember “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known”?). It generally plays the role of first force, Holy Affirming: ever prodding, nudging, unfolding.

Essence will typically play the role of Holy Denying, the bloc résistant in which Spirit will reveal its face. Through its very embodied finitude, essence provides both the necessary raw material and the necessary friction to allow the pure movement of spirit to reveal itself in time and form.

Heart – or conscience – is the alchemical  “third term” that is catalyzed in us through a life lived in growing consciousness, authenticity, obedience (as in ob-audire: “listen from the depths”), and that active cultivation of the self-reflective potential miraculously gifted to human consciousness. Heart is the unique fruit of a life wisely and fully engaged. More important, from the perspective of the road map I’m laying out here, it contributes the crucial third force, or “holy reconciling”, which makes possible that ultimate desideratum, namely, the fully arisen soul. Soul (or as Helminski calls it,  “the essential self”) is precisely that “fourth in a new dimension” which arises out of conscious weaving of those other three – spirit, essence, and heart —within the great womb of life.

While this statement may sound jarring, note how it is already well embedded in early Christian tradition. The Gospel of Thomas puts it as starkly as possible in logion 70: “If you bring forth what is within you, that which you bring forth will save you. If you fail to bring forth that which is within you, that which you fail to bring forth will destroy you.” “That which is within you” is your embryonic soul.

Jesus seems to be reinforcing this teaching in his celebrated parable of he talents – once you recognize, of course, that the “talents” are not our aptitudes and gifts (which belong to essence) but, rather, these soul potentialities transformed and quickened in the light of conscience/heart. This message comes through powerfully as well in the medieval mystic Jacob Boehme; it is in fact the driveshaft of his entire metaphysics. But it peers out as well from any number of other Christian mystics, even those of much more theoretically “traditional” metaphysical training and temperaments. One of the most powerful statements of this principle I know comes in contemporary Jesuit Ladislaus Boros’ spiritual classic, The Mystery of Death (p. 60-61):

By Alden Cole

From the facts of existence and the surrounding world an inner sphere of being a human is built up. This inner man is brought about by a never-ending [conscious] daily application, on the treadmill of duties, annoyances, joys, and difficulties. From these insignificant actions freely performed, the decisive freedom is built up – freedom from oneself, freedom to view one’s own existence from outside…From the crowded days and years of joy and sorrow something has crystallized out, the rudimentary forms of which were already present in all his experiences, his struggle, his creative work, his patience and love – namely, the inner self, the individual, supremely individual creation of a man. He has given his own shape to the determinisms of life by a daily conquest of them; he has become master of the multiple relationships that go to make him up by accepting them as the raw material [italics mine] of his self. Now he begins to “be”.

As far as I know, Boros never directly encountered the Christian inner tradition, let alone the teachings of the Asian spiritual traditions. Yet he has eloquently described here what would be easily recognizable in any of these other streams as “Witnessing Self”. He has captured precisely the same nuance articulated by The Gospel of Thomas, Boehme, Gurdjieff, and Jacob Needleman – namely, that our “soul” is not our raw essence per se, but something of an entirely different nature which is alchemized through the active engagement of essence with heart/consciousness. It is not so much a substance (at least in terms of corporeality as we understand it in this life) but more a process – or as Jacob Boeheme had it, a tincture, a quality of our essential aliveness which shines through the lineaments of this life like a shaft of imperishable light. Above all, it is not conferred at the start, but brought into being in this life through the quality of our conscious work. 

“Food for the moon”

Within the western Wisdom tradition this imperishable “other” is sometimes known as second body or “the wedding garment”. Actualizing it is seen – with some urgency – as the real business of our earthly sojourn.

Admittedly, there is a hard edge to this teaching, jolting us into responsible stewardship of our own time in human consciousness. We can choose, if we like, to drift downstream on the currents of pain or pleasure. We can invest our whole life’s energy worshiping the golden calf of ego. Or we can get with the cosmic program and come to grips with the real purpose of our time here as we humbly acknowledge that soul is not an automatic birthright but, rather, the final alchemy of a life lived here in conscious alignment with higher cosmic purposes.

Furthermore, the tradition states – essentially unequivocally – that this second body, or wedding garment, must be formed in this life. That is why it is called a wedding garment: because it is the appropriate and necessary regalia for the “wedding banquet” of eternal life – which, incidentally, does not begin after we leave this body, but here and now as this new substantiality we bear within us increasingly allows us to perceive, that the gates of heaven are, truly, everywhere.

This is soulwork in the true sense of the term: not the “soft” version that passes for soulwork today, preoccupied with unraveling dreams and deciphering messages from our “inner guides”, but the adamantine work of bringing something into existence here that will have coherence and substantiality beyond just this realm. Gurdjieff called it our “Real I”. [And, as Sandra brilliantly pointed out in the comments of my seventh post, Margery Williams Bianco’s character the Skin Horse reiterates this same concept in the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.]

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

“You must find that in you that already lives beyond death and begin to live out of it now”,  my teacher Rafe taught me, encapsulating the essence of this teaching in his own plain words. To defer this project till after we die is too late; for, as Jacob Boehme bluntly puts it, “everything lies where it has fallen”. This is not, by the way, a question of “final judgment”, of some higher being deciding you are “unworthy”. It’s simply that the conditions in the next realm out, sometimes known as the Imaginal, are finer and drawn to far closer tolerances than in this life. Only something of a similar fineness will pass through the sieve.

I am theologian enough to know that the immediate argument conventionally trained Christians will raise against this is that it seems to defy the promise of Psalm 139 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” – and replace the intimate and personal nature of our lifelong human relationship with God with an impersonal and even harsh algorithm. I do not believe this is actually so. I will have more to say about the personal in my next blog, with the intuition that this alternative vision, certainly strongly intimated by Jesus, is actually far more merciful and cosmically nobling.

The second objection, of course, is that this sounds like a classic recipe for spiritual materialism – I can already picture the internet ads for second-body-building nutritional supplements and “wedding garment” consultants! But the checks-and-balances factor, built right into this equation, lies in the fact that the requisite food for building second body is, in Gurdjieff’s famous formula, “conscious labor and intentional suffering”. Second body cannot be attained through self-maximization, but only through the classic route variously known in the sacred traditions as kenosis and humilty. “We ascend by descending,” as the Rule of St. Benedict succinctly observes. There is no other way.

For those who opt out, preferring to live out their days in their egoic comfort zone (a condition known in the inner tradition as “sleep”), the potentiality offered at birth to become a soul is simply returned, stillborn. Nothing has germinated here of permanent substantiality; nothing has become viable beyond the womb of this life. Such existences, in Gurdjieff’s words, become “food for the moon”. At death their temporary selfhood dissolves back into its original physical components and takes its small part in the vast network of reciprocal feeding, by which the cosmos bootstraps itself. Nothing is finally wasted.

From the Work perspective, then, abortion is not something that befalls merely a fetus. It happens at all stages, and is in fact the tragic outcome of most human lives. Lulled into complacency by the illusion that we already “have” souls, we fail to engage the real task of spiritual germination and wind up dreaming our lives away.

Only when this inconvenient truth is finally, fully faced will the real question of what it means to be “pro-life” find its authentic balance.

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