November 2022 Newsletter
“Winter is settling in and we’re all responding in our own God-given ways to the changing of the seasons.”
Star at the Centre by Paula Pryce
Outside, Douglas fir and larch are dancing in a brisk wind, ruffling themselves like chickadees in winter…
Innermost Hope – and a special offer
“The wound is the place where the light enters you”
Dear contemplative friends,
Rumi’s words are a reminder that in 2020 we’ve felt deep wounds in the body of the world. Just like we await the birth of the Christ light in this shadow time of year, the world is aching for healing Light amid its myriad wounds. The Light is manifested as radical hope in each of us and shines as divine love in all our global body. Cynthia Bourgeault reminds us:
“Hope’s home is at the innermost point in us, and in all things. It is a quality of aliveness. It does not come at the end, as the feeling that results from a happy outcome. Rather, it lies at the beginning, as an impulse of truth that shines forth. When our innermost being is attuned to this impulse it will send us forth in hope, regardless of the physical circumstances of our lives.” (Mystical Hope, pg 87)
The Christian wisdom tradition is well equipped to resource us with all that we need to live into this hope, and to awaken to the ground of divine love that sustains us. We are so blessed with teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault who help us reflect us on our spiritual unfolding and with eloquence and lived wisdom guide us on our spiritual journey.
This Christmas season, starting on Dec 22 2020 and lasting for 20 days until Jan 11 2021, we are offering a 20% reduction on our MP3 digital downloads, to give you access to all of Cynthia’s audio recordings, and those of other teachers who are part of our audio library. We hope you will check out these valuable MP3 resources by following this link to our Audio page. And when you order, use the coupon code “gratitude2020” to get the 20% reduction.
Wishing you all a most blessed Christmas and aliveness of Hope and Love in the coming year.
The Contemplative Society Board & Staff
Your year-end charitable donation to The Contemplative Society is gratefully received – visit our SUPPORT page here.
Fostering our Connection
Dear Friends and Members of the The Contemplative Society,
Mercy. An old-fashioned word that conjures up so many contrasting images. Mercy is “a bond,” writes Cynthia Bourgeault in Mystical Hope, “an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together.” Far from condescension or political power, the origin of the word mercy points instead to a flow of connectedness, reciprocity, and exchange.
Mercy is the great weaver that binds us together. With your assistance we will continue to work on the tapestry of conscious belonging, connectedness, and reciprocity – the binding love – that our world so needs.
Your ongoing support of The Contemplative Society is especially important this Advent. For many years, we have been grateful recipients of annual resources. A number of those resources are no longer available, and we are increasingly dependent on you, our donors, to help fund our work of supporting and teaching Wisdom Christianity.
Please consider a monthly, annual, or single donation to The Contemplative Society. Your donation matters.
Kindling a Light in the Darkness
Strengthening our members’ experience of connectedness and belonging has become a growing centre of the TCS mandate during this year of turmoil. Our first online event was an example of how we are adapting. In a late summer Zoom retreat, beloved teacher Matthew Wright led a hundred of us with his characteristic intimacy and heartfulness. Together we chanted, meditated, and studied fourteenth-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, whom Matthew described as the “patron saint of sheltering in place.” Especially poignant were Julian’s teachings on the transformation of brokenness and helplessness to awakening love. Participants were so enthusiastic that we have been encouraged to offer more virtual retreats.
This time of in-between has prompted us to develop a closer connection to sister associations. Many of you know that The Contemplative Society is the seedbed organization that helped launch Cynthia Bourgeault in her work to revitalize Wisdom Christianity. Since the 1990’s, we have watched with delight as communities have sprung up in many of the places where Cynthia has taught. Nearly twenty-five years later, we are now in discussion with like-minded contemplative groups such as Northeast Wisdom (soon to be Wisdom Waypoints) to collaborate in providing resources for a flourishing global network of Wisdom Christianity. By decreasing duplication of our collective work, we will be able to do more together to foster steadiness and compassion in an uncertain world.
This Advent signals the Board’s movement towards encouraging local leadership, contemplative circles, and retreats throughout the Pacific West region, while continuing to provide opportunities to learn from well-known teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault, Matthew Wright, Ward Bauman, and David Frenette.
A Vibrant and Responsive Community
“During these days when it’s hard to know what we can actually do for each other,” she and her local contemplative group have been practicing remotely to enkindle “the dialysis machine of which Cynthia has spoken: breathing in the suffering of the world into our own deepest heart, which is the heart of Christ, and breathing out compassion.”
Jennifer, another TCS member, similarly depicts community connectedness in her online Centering Prayer meetings with others from Ontario, England, and British Columbia. She writes,
“We are an improbable gathering, but a COVID-induced blessing. With the intensity of isolation now stretching over many months our holy and healing space in contemplation has strengthened my practice and given true solace – like a deep, clear pool of water.”
Brian also writes of the healing power of communion:
“I now trust more than ever in the connective tissue that I have with my contemplative community – within The Contemplative Society and in the world at large. No matter how alone this little old self may sometimes feel, I know more fully now that my ‘Real I’ is never alone.”
Henri Lock, President
Christmas 2017 – Letter from President
Dear Members and Friends,
This time of year often propels us into a vast amount of “doing” in an attempt to recreate an atmosphere that might reflect the transcendent mystery celebrated at Christmas. I have recently been reminded that the only doing which can open us to the Hope and Light of this season is the doing of waking, noticing, and trusting the present moment in all its fullness, mystery, and wonder. There is no need to attain anything, all is given and is available as we become aware of our subtle resistance to stopping right now, allowing ourselves to drop into the fullness of this present moment.
Recently I was sent a poem by Sylvia Plath which reminds me of the importance of keeping our eyes open to the subtle and hidden nature of the Divine as revealed in our midst. The Christ Child was revealed to us in the humblest of settings, within the mundane stuff of life. How easy to forget this and seek instead a brighter more transcendent star rather than allowing our subtle senses to be touched by that still point available through a deeper noticing, even of a “black rook”.
I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear…
In a world that seems so often to be tilting towards harshness and violence, it is ever more important that we hold the light for the gentle art of listening and opening deeply. As Cynthia said in an Advent address in Aspen Chapel in 2009:
The eye of our mind can only see separation and feel ourselves to be in competition to everything else.
But, when the eyes of the heart open, we see the connection and alignment which we really participate in. As we enter that which is really true, we begin to prepare ourselves for the Christmas message of peace on earth and good will to all humanity.
We on the board are grateful to you for sharing with us in the ministry of The Contemplative Society as we provide support for contemplative practice that might guide us into deeper seeing. Your faithfulness makes it possible for us, through Wisdom Schools, retreats, workshops, books, on-line e-courses, and audio recordings, to continue reaching people hungry to hear this ancient wisdom of the heart.
God bless you all in this season of hope, peace, joy, and love and may our attention be drawn to “whatever angel may chose to flare suddenly at my elbow.”
If the work of The Contemplative Society inspires you, please consider making a tax deductible gift!
On Beelzebub’s Tales
Dear Wisdom friends,
Wow! What an amazing heart-outpouring from all of you! I feel the energy, the strength and, most important, the clarity. I believe that in the space of merely a week we have already become a “morphogenetic field” out there in the cosmos. And the space which the “conscious circle of humanity” needed to have occupied is now activated and beginning to make its presence felt.
I see that many of you are already gearing up for the deep dive into Beelzebub’s Tales, so I did want to briefly share with you these few clarifications and tips. Teaching and reading groups are already starting to self-organize, both formally and informally, on the ground and in cyber space. I hope that by shortly into the New Year we will be able to put together a resource directory helping our keen band of wisdom seekers find their way to the most appropriate venue. But meanwhile…
First, you should all know that I will, myself, be offering a Lenten e-course with Spirituality and Practice on “The Obligolnian Strivings”, the heart of Gurdjieff’s brilliant vision of human purpose and accountability, and the ethical climax of the first book of Beelzebub’s Tales. So stay tuned! The course begins with an orientation on February 27, then kicks off on Ash Wednesday, March 1. Shortly after the New Year it should be available for sign-up on the S & P website.
Now, if you’re determined to forge ahead on your own, know that what you’re dealing with here is Gurdjieff’s sprawling cosmological masterpiece: brilliant and outrageous in equal measures – and definitely not an easy read. Beelzebub’s Tales is also the reason Gurdjieff is sometimes hailed as one of the founding fathers of modern-day science fiction! Set in a vast, intergalactic universe and narrated by the now-nearly-redeemed fallen angel Beelzebub, this cosmological epic unfolds the “tragical history of the unfortunate planet earth”, gradually revealing how human conscious development went so badly off course here. It lays out an alternative history which may at first appear totally mad – but it’s curious how many cosmological facts first “spun” by G in this epic yarn have subsequently been scientifically confirmed…So, caveat emptor here!
It’s largely Book I we’ll be concerned with in this study, which basically lays out the mythic narrative. I am interested in it chiefly because it furnishes some important alternative concepts and images as we engage the work I envisioned in my former post: i.e., exploring the ley line (or is it a fault line?) of causality that runs through 800 years of Western intellectual history. The serious questions I want to explore this spring will be easier to grasp if you already have under your belts:
- some idea of what a real Wisdom School is (i.e., the ancient Society Akhaldan of Atlantis versus the later Babylonian “talking heads”);
- the roadmap of human purpose laid out through “the saintly labors of the holy and Essence-loving” Ashiata Shiemash; and,
- the destruction of those saintly labors by the “democratic” reforms of the “Eternal Hasnamuss” Lentrohamsanin (chapters 25-28). That in and of itself will furnish more than we need to get ourselves to 2020, the year of perfect vision.
That’s what you’ll find in Book I. Meanwhile, a few more tips:
- Unless you’re already a diehard Gurdjieff fan, I’d recommend skipping the Introduction, “The Arousing of Thought”. Begin with Chapter 2.
- Forget “analytical mode”. This is middle-eastern story-telling in flavor, extended to epic scope. Gurdjieff’s father was an ashok, a local bardic poet who could recite the oral history of the world back 1000 years. Think in this mode: playful, mythologic, humorous; not “buttoned down” mental/esoteric.
- Take it little at a time. Reading out loud with a partner, at least in certain sections, can extend and awaken the range of meaning.
- There is a very good introductory summary in Part II of James Moore’s Gurdjieff: The Anatomy of a Myth that will help get you oriented.
Remember that there is some method in my madness here. If this big unwieldy tome doesn’t speak to you, don’t feel obligated to wade through it just to get to some concepts that I’ll be unpacking in my own teaching in due course. But since many of you are itching to get underway, I thought I’d at least throw you these few leads.
With Christmas blessing and love,
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.
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.
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,