The Planetary Pentecost – Part III

BONUS! Gabrielle (Brie) Stoner contributes a third installment in her series, inspired by her trip to New York City for the American Teilhard Association’s annual meeting, in which she ties together the liturgical holiday with the dawning of a new “Church”. See Part I and Part II for more.


We’ve been exploring the idea that we are in the midst of a Planetary Pentecost: the arrival of a new church that is as big as the cosmos. We’ve also been challenging the perception that rising generations lack an interest in God, but may instead be (as Teilhard describes) “unsatisfied theists”. Humanity, it seems, is ready for a larger, more inclusive, and dynamic language of God.

Trinity-300x300The fact that this Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost illustrates an apt progression in our Teilhardian explorations of a Planetary Pentecost: the Trinity, representing Divinity as a dynamic and creative interdependent community, points us in the direction of how we might begin thinking of world religions in this dawn of the Second Axial Age.

If the language of God doesn’t need to be thrown out but, instead, evolved, what role – if any – does religion have as we continue toward unification in this Planetary Pentecost? Do we ditch existing religious paths and form a new, global, trans-religious amalgam? Or are we being invited into a deeper understanding of the unique role of each spiritual tradition?

This was precisely the topic of Ilia Delio’s talk at the American Teilhard Association gathering: Teilhard de Chardin and World Religions: Ultra Catholic or Ultra Human? In her talk, Delio addressed the question, “Did Teihard have Christian bias?” Did he insist that other religions needed to be Christianized in order to have a role in evolution?

Delio maintained that Teilhard approached world religions primarily as a scientist, interested in the evolutionary role of religions. Teilhard believed that the evolutionary role of religion is to animate the “zest” for life. To that end, Teilhard insisted that we have a critical role to play: we need to be observant of where doctrine and theology have become stuck in outmoded cosmologies and are no longer energizing humanity toward a deeper union with God and with each other.

Church-shadows-223x300In other words, we’re being asked – by Teilhard, and perhaps, the Spirit of evolutionary growth herself – not to divest ourselves of the traditions. We’re not being asked to pour all our unique religious colors into one bucket resulting in the murky pigment of the “baby blow-out” variety (if you’re a parent you know the particular glory of this hue). Instead, I believe we are being asked to maintain the essential pigment of each tradition, but bring them all into a greater cohesive wholeness, like that of a vibrant stained glass window.

I would venture to say that each spiritual tradition carries an indispensable “color,” an irreplaceable essence that is integral to the greater whole. Likewise, we could view this transition into the Second Axial Age of religion as the movement out of the individual dye boxes of the traditions, and into the skilled hands of the artist who will sand off rough edges and place us in the same planetary frame, so that we can exist as a collaborative, interdependent whole: forming one vibrant, illuminating vision of God together.

In other words, the key to transcending the cliquishness, strife, and violence that has characterized the worst of humanity’s religious impulse is surrender: it’s the praxis of confidence and humility that says we can be faithful stewards of our revelation while gratefully joining hands with others in theirs.

But imagine, instead, that in the formation of the stained glass masterpiece, the red pieces of glass said, “Sorry, our dye requirements insist we remain in our red box forever! We don’t believe in being taken out of our box and certainly don’t believe in working alongside yellow and blue.”

This is where I think we find ourselves in Christian theology; we must introduce dynamism back into our understanding of God to keep us from being stuck in the box.

Did Teilhard have a Christian bias? Undoubtedly! Could Teilhard have had a more immersive understanding of other religious traditions? Of course!

But he would have had to exist in our time, or had a radically different life and, therefore, ceased being Teilhard. Let’s not forget that Teilhard was – gasp! – human, and that all of us are limited by our humanity and the constructs of our particular space/time configuration. Teilhard worked from within Christianity because this was his tradition.

Enraptured with a mystical understanding of Christ-as-evolver, Teilhard leveled his theological critiques at the church and did so from a scientific lens with eye toward the trajectory of evolution. Teilhard’s heart was able to perceive beyond duality, and intuited the whole image that was wanting to emerge in our consciousness.

If we want to remain faithful to Christianity’s heart and message, we too must begin the sacred labor of setting loose those aspects of the tradition that are simply incompatible with our revealed cosmos. We must be stewards of the evolutionary responsibility that philosopher Ken Wilber describes as transcending and including.

After all, we really only find the depth dimension from within a tradition, not outside it, where we often wind up reinventing the wheel poorly. Kind of like digging to create an artificial pond on a beach so you can swim in water that is “cleaner”: eventually you realize that evolution has been at this a bit longer, so you toss your shovel and plunge into the ocean.

It is up to us to locate and evolve the doctrines in our Christian tradition that continue to create an “intellectual and emotional straight-jacket”¹ within which the creative force of an evolving humanity refuses to be restrained. It is imperative that, as socially responsible, intelligent followers of Christ we ask with Teilhard, “What form must our Christology take if it is to remain itself in a new world?”² What Teilhard meant by this is not that we must be slaves to each new trend, thus trading chains to orthodoxy to the whims of capriciousness, but rather that we must always use evolution itself as the yardstick by which to measure how we define orthodoxy. As Teilhard says, “Nothing can any longer find place in our constructions which does not first satisfy the conditions of a universe in process of transformation.”³

What Teilhard invites us into is a non-dual dynamic understanding of this next age of religion: one in which we do not simply get together from time to time to show how tolerant we are of one another. Neither are we being asked to dilute the unique gifts of each tradition by giving up on religion, or combining them into an undifferentiated amalgam. We are being invited into an era of understanding our traditions as forming a symbiotic ecosystem, recognizing that our futures are interdependent in forming a new and vibrant whole: together we must deepen human consciousness and collaborate to create lasting solutions to the social and ecological crisis of our times.

As T.S. Eliot describes:

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion.

Or as Teilhard would describe it, true union differentiates. The more we enter into an era of religious communion and collaboration, the more the essential pigment of each of our traditions will be distilled, highlighted, and become useful to the evolution of our human family.

Is this the Planetary Pentecost? I believe so. Just as in the early church, the winds of change are afoot, and just like the biblical account, the “birth” of this new church makes us all midwives: we must each seek out how we are being asked to mediate this change in our lives, and as participants in the whole system.

We must be still enough to recognize the wisdom alive in our traditions, and “still moving” in the humility that recognizes the work ahead of refining, clarifying, and polishing each unique gift in our lineages. Only then, as we move from the millennia of dye-taking and into our new window “setting”, can we move into another “intensity” and become something entirely new together: a riot of brilliant colors illuminated by the fiery heart of God.

Veni Sancte Espiritus. Veni.

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  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Christianity and Evolution, trans. René Hague (New York, NY: Harcourt, 1971), 80.
  2. Ibid., 76.
  3. Ibid., 78.

The Planetary Pentecost – Part II

Hot on the heels of Pentecost and the American Teilhard Association’s annual meeting, Gabrielle (Brie) Stoner ties together the liturgical holiday with the dawning of a new “Church”. This is the second installment in her two-part series (see Part I for more).


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St. Ignatius of Loyola, New York City

Being the good Teilhard-geek that I am, and since I found myself near Teilhard’s NYC stomping grounds this past weekend, I figured it would be a momentous experience for me to celebrate communion and Pentecost at one of the churches where he was in residence, St. Ignatius of Loyola on Park Avenue. The church building did not disappoint, and housed a clearly seasoned choir taking on some stunning Gregorian chant to boot. I geared myself up for what I expected would be a totally Teilhardian Pentecost celebration.

But that day, the New York weather had dropped 20°, and it was cold in that building. Even when the pews filled up more, I still found myself shivering a bit. The priest’s homily was on how Pentecost was the continuation of God’s “sticking it out with us”: “God didn’t give up on the disciples, and God isn’t giving up on us yet.”

The idea brought to mind a parent who is still buying their “goth” daughter preppy clothes with the hope that she’ll come around and remove her piercings and die her hair back to blonde. The country club hasn’t given up on you yet, dear! Or a boyfriend who is sticking to his relationship even though his heart has gone out of it, still going through the motions as though his not leaving is the same thing as deep intimacy. He brings her flowers and a card that reads “Don’t worry, I’ve resigned myself to sticking it out with you.” 

Oh, gee…thanks?

Shortly after faking being Catholic enough to take communion (which included a nearly empty chalice resulting in a rather difficult time swallowing the wafer), the service concluded. As beautiful as the music and building were, as I walked down the steps of the church, I felt somewhat a sense of relief and glad to be back in the fresh air, cold as it was. Teilhard may have once been in residence at St. Ignatius, but his essence was clearly not hanging around inside those marbled walls.

I decided to cut through Central Park, figuring that Teilhard might have also once taken these very paths, wrapping my jean jacket tightly around me and bracing myself against the wind. I wondered what it would be like to walk alongside Teilhard and talk to him about all the thoughts that were swirling around inside me as I walked: the millennial search for language of a God we can believe in, the sad and rather depressing homily, and how I was still trying to swallow bits of that stubborn wafer down…when suddenly I heard sirens up ahead.

From a distance I also started to make out the sounds of chanted phrases, music, and the sound of people—LOTS AND LOTS of people. Finally, as I rounded the bend, I saw them in the distance: it was hundreds and hundreds of New Yorkers walking in the AIDS Walk.

New York City AIDS Walk – May 15, 2016

The closer I got, the louder the roar of human voices became, like the thunderous sound of a waterfall. I picked out English, Spanish, French, and possibly Mandarin—and those were just the voices that happened to be walking by me. I saw different ages, ethnicities, races, and genders: people singing, laughing, chanting, and talking. Some quietly holding pictures of loved ones lost from AIDS, and some who were celebrating their departed loved one’s lives by dancing their way through the street, and likely some whose lives may not have been directly affected by AIDS but who were walking in solidarity all the same.

Memories wafted in of my own Spanish “uncles” who died of AIDS, and how my parents insisted on bringing us to the hospitals to be with them, defying the hospitals which, in that time, prohibited children from visiting AIDS patients. I remembered being little enough of to be carried on the shoulders of another “uncle” through an AIDS walk in Madrid, and how just a few short years later he, too, lost his fight with the disease.

I had no idea that there was an AIDS walk that day, but the poignancy of it being held on Pentecost was not lost on me. There may not have been literal tongues of fire above the folks that were in the procession before me but, I promise you, I got swept up in the warmth and light that was cascading off them.

This is the Pentecost that is spreading across the planet: people gathered outside church buildings together in solidarity and action, in remembrance and a shared commitment toward a more loving present and a better future. Men, women, gay, straight, queer, transgender, rich, poor, legal immigrants or not…the vibrancy and beauty of the Divine heart seemed to shine diaphanously through every face, every uniqueness, every “difference”, forming a vibrant whole out of all of the many parts.

We need language for the God that is big enough for this church, I thought to myself.

And then, as if he was standing directly behind me, Teilhard’s words came suddenly rushing through me with the heat of a fiery wind, making my heart burn within me:

…let there be revealed to us the possibility of believing at the same time and wholly in God and the World, the one through the other; let this belief burst forth, as it is ineluctably in process of doing under the pressure of these seemingly opposed forces, and then, we may be sure of it, a great flame will illumine all things: for a Faith will have been born (or reborn) containing and embracing all others—and, inevitably, it is the strongest Faith which sooner or later must possess the Earth.¹

“Veni Sancte Espiritus,” I said quietly in response to Teilhard and the happy crowd before me.

Bring it on.


  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Future of Man, p.268.

To read more of Brie’s millennial perspective on Teilhard, check out her blog www.becomingultrahuman.com.

 

 

 

The Planetary Pentecost – Part I

Hot on the heels of Pentecost and the American Teilhard Association’s annual meeting, Gabrielle (Brie) Stoner ties together the liturgical holiday with the dawning of a new “Church”.


Ilia Delio, guest speaker at ATA annual meeting - May 15, 2016

Ilia Delio, guest speaker at ATA annual meeting – May 15, 2016

This past weekend, I made a brief escapade to the Big Apple for the American Teilhard Association annual meeting featuring guest speaker, Ilia Delio.

The brief trip was as crammed with experiences as Manhattan is crammed with people, and Pentecost Sunday wound up being an unexpected culmination of the three days.

As many of you know, Pentecost is the celebration in the liturgical Christian calendar of the arrival of the Holy Spirit ten days after the ascension of Jesus, and celebrates the “birthday” of the church. According to the gospels, the Holy Spirit came down in the form of tongues of fire that rested above each of the disciples and, in turn, gave them the capacity to speak in different “tongues”. People who heard them started gathering and, as they heard all these languages being spoken, it created a lot of confusion (like it would), and some even chalked up these “fiery fluent crazies” as being drunk (a most rational conclusion). The traditional phrase that you’ll often hear on Pentecost is “Veni Sancte Spiritus” which translates as “Come Holy Spirit,” an ancient invocation of the “Bring it on!” variety.

American Teilhard Association annual meeting - May 15, 2016

American Teilhard Association annual meeting – May 15, 2016

While I have been following the liturgical calendar a bit more closely this year, I wasn’t thinking particularly about the unique correlation between this special day and the American Teilhard Association gathering. During the question and answer time following Ilia Delio’s address, however, someone raised the question about why young people don’t seem interested in the church, and what that might mean evolutionarily for the future of world religions. Ilia gave a response in which she criticized (as Teilhard did) the outdated theology and doctrine that is simply becoming incompatible with the future generations of humanity.

Mary Evelyn Tucker (a board member of the ATA and one of the hosts of the event) jumped in to add that this is why she, Mary Evelyn, believed it was important to just “take the God language out” in projects such as her “The Journey of the Universe” project to make it more appealing to younger generations.

While I do agree that “God language” is often off-putting to those of us who might be in the “spiritual but not religious” camp, I have to disagree that the answer is to simply take “God language” out of the equation. Omission is not evolution, and while many among us are atheists, there are also many who, as Teilhard describes, might be more aptly called “unsatisfied theists”:

We are surrounded by a certain sort of pessimist who continually tells us that our world is foundering in atheism. But should we not rather say that what it is suffering from is unsatisfied theism?…are you quite sure that what they are rejecting is not simply the image of a God who is too insignificant to nourish in us this concern to survive and super-live to which the need to worship may ultimately be reduced?¹

Rather than throwing out “God” with the dirty bathwater of what no longer serves humanity in religion, it is our task to transcend and evolve the language of a “God who is too insignificant for us to worship”. Our ideas must expand and deepen in order touch upon the mystical heart that so enraptured and informed Teilhard: the fiery center of the universe he called the heart of God, the beating personal center of all traditions and whose fabric we shape with our very lives.

I happen to think that many of us in the Millennial cohort believe in God, just not of the white-bearded-up-in-the-sky variety. What we are leaving behind is tribal exclusionary religion and instead intuiting our way forward into a faith that believes whomever God is, God has to be the dynamism and sum of all relationships in this great system in the process of evolution. Whomever God is, God has to be intimately and inextricably shining through every facet of this incredible material world. And whatever that faith is, it has to include everyone, everywhere, and must offer us solutions of the salvation of the planet NOW, not later. 

Some scholars describe this as the birth of Second Axial age religion and, unsurprisingly, this new vision and language of God is spreading like wildfire and is creating a lot of confusion for those that prefer the older language of God. 

Fire, new language, translation issues, confusion. Now where have we heard that before?

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Welcome to the Planetary Pentecost and the birth of a church as big as the cosmos itself. 

Veni Sancte Espiritus. Bring it on.

(to be continued…)


  1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Activation of Energy, p.239-240.

Contemplation and the Christian Faith: An Interview

This piece was originally posted on Christopher Page’s blog, In A Spacious Place. Christopher was interviewed by a Year 11 Australian student in Brisbane. Her class was investigating contemplation as the highest expression of intellectual and contemplative life, identifying the intra-religious connections of contemplation between three religious traditions.


Recently I received an email from a student in a Study of Religion class asking me “to answer some questions about contemplation and the Christian faith.” She may have got a little more than she bargained for as my reply to her questions exceeds 1,000 words.

Having put down these thoughts, it seemed worthwhile to share them here:

 

Responses to a Study of Religion Class Students Questions on “Contemplation and the Christian faith”


– What is contemplation to Christianity?
It is important to be clear about how we are using words. The noun “contemplation” is not synonymous with “contemplative practice”.

Contemplation is either:

  1. a state of awareness of God’s presence and action in all of life to which we open through contemplative practices, or
  1. one form of silent spiritual practice in which the practitioner intends to open to an awareness of the presence and action of God at work in all of life.

In these two senses, “contemplation” in Christianity is used to refer to the inner path of faith and practice in which a person of faith seeks to open more deeply to an awareness of the Divine at the heart of all creation and to surrender to God.

– Is contemplation/contemplative practice the best way to connect to God as the suprasensuous (above/inaccessible to the physical senses)? Why/why not?
There is no “best way to connect to God”. In fact there is no way “to connect to God.” All human beings are connected to God. There is no way to be alive and NOT be connected to God. God is the breath of life, the well-spring of all being, apart from Whom there is no life.

all-sacredThe issue is NOT “connection”; the issue is awareness. The question is not, “Are we connected to God?” but “Are we conscious of God, open to God’s work in our lives, and responsive to God’s Spirit?” All spiritual practice aims to enable the practitioner to open more deeply to the presence and action of God and to live more responsively to the flow of love that is the fundamental life-force of the universe. Every person must find the path that works best for them to help them become more sensitive to the secret hidden inner stirrings of the Spirit.

The anonymous author of the 14th-century English spiritual classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, wrote:

Should it seem that the way of prayer I have described in this book is unsuited to you spiritually or temperamentally, feel perfectly free to leave it aside and with wise counsel seek another in full confidence.

(Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing And The Book of Privy Counselling. trans. William Johnston, S.J. NY: Image Books, 1973, 143)

This is wise and gracious advice. Every person needs to be encouraged to find the way that resonates with their lives to deepen their consciousness of God.

– What are the spiritual benefits of actively participating in contemplative practices?
It is important to be cautious in speaking about “spiritual benefits”. Spiritual practice is NOT just one more form of self-help discipline. The aim is NOT to make us better people. The aim is to open to an awareness of the presence and action of God in all of life. Contemplative practice seeks to help the practitioner become more sensitive to the subtle moving of God in all of life. It aims to support us in surrendering more deeply to the energy flow of life and loosening our resistance to the realities of life as they are.

With this caution in mind, it is likely that following a spiritual path that genuinely nurtures surrender and acceptance will deepen a sense of peace and groundedness in our lives. Faithfully following a life of spiritual practice will probably make us more compassionate, more open, more flexible, and help us to live more gently in this world. We will likely find ourselves less bound to external circumstances, less dependent upon the feedback of other people as a source of motivation for our lives, and less anxious and driven. We will probably find that we are able to live more freely independent of the constant driving power of likes and dislikes.

There is always a danger of turning any practice into an idol. Jesus said, “It is written,’Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him'” (Luke 4:8). This means that God is the only goal of spiritual practice. The orientation of spiritual practice is letting go, not getting somewhere. We do not aim at peace, harmony, a sense of well-being; we aim at God. These qualities for which we long may follow, but they are NOT the goal.

The goal is to surrender to God and to open more fully to God.

– How often should someone participate in contemplative practices?
One of the goals of spiritual practice is to move beyond “should.” There are no “shoulds” in spiritual practice. Every person’s life is different. We are all at different places in our spiritual journey. The Spirit of God works in every person’s life in unique ways that are particularly suited to that person. God is a great respecter of persons and honours where each person is in the journey of life.

We need to be deeply aware of our personal life circumstances and to respect the realities of our lives. It is not realistic to ask a young parent with small children to spend twenty minutes twice a day in silent prayer. A retired person who lives alone and has a relatively orderly life may have the freedom and space to give more time to intentional spiritual practices than a person who is in the early stages of establishing themselves in the world.

Life has seasons. There are some seasons in which some practices are appropriate and feasible. There are other seasons when such practices are not possible. We each need to open to the guidance of God’s Spirit and find the practice that is suitable for our lives in the season in which we are living.

Contemplative practices are always gentle and respectful.

– How does Centering Prayer connect to contemplation?
Centering Prayer is one particular form of contemplative prayer practice. It aims to develop in the practitioner a greater ability to surrender to the presence and action of God at work in all of life.

– How do you know the right time to do contemplative practices, and how do you prepare yourself for them?
See comments above on “should”.

There is no “right time” to do any practice. The only goal is to find a life pattern that works for the particular person. The spiritual life is guided and governed by the Spirit at work in the person’s life. There is no pattern that fits every person. We must live in response to the specific working and call of God’s Spirit in our lives.

Having said all that, it is important to note that setting aside a specific time and place for one’s practice does help to develop regularity and discipline. We are more likely to develop healthy life-giving spiritual habits if we regularly sit in meditation and reinforce this intention by showing up consistently in the same place at the same time every day. We humans are embodied spiritual beings; so our physical surroundings, time of day, and body patterns will help or hinder our spiritual practice.

Meditation-Group-at-UVicIt can also be a substantial support in meditation practice to connect with a community of people who regularly sit together. The exercise of meditation in a group deepens the experience of silence and is a great encouragement to regular practice.

All of life is preparation for contemplative practice and all contemplative practices are preparation for life. Spiritual life is a sacred circle into which we are drawn when our hearts are open.

– Why is it important to understand our spirituality?
It is not “important to understand our spirituality”. When we enter the realm of spirituality, we are entering the realm of mystery. Spiritual practice draws us to the limits of the human capacity to understand. In spiritual practice we stand on the edge of the great deep darkness of unknowing that resides at the heart of all existence.

Spiritual practice may lead to greater wisdom; but it is not a path to understanding in any rational, cognitive sense.

In spiritual practice we intend to open to human faculties that are deeper than the intellectual and emotional functions we use to navigate a great deal of life. This is what Jesus was speaking about when he said, “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:6).

We go into the “room” of the human heart when we step aside for a moment from the distractions and preoccupations of daily life and open to an awareness of the deeper moving of God’s Spirit. This awareness comes not primarily at a cognitive or emotional level. It comes “in secret,” in a subtle hidden realm that, while including thought and feeling, transcends both thought and feeling. Spiritual life aims to open to and be sensitive to this subtle hidden realm that is the true nature of all human existence.

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Dialogues One and Two)

This post was originally published at Parabola.org on January 29, 2015.


Manuscript - Mary MagdaleneIt is amazing that something so tiny could pack such a punch. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is tantalizingly brief—and, frustratingly, two major sections are missing, reducing the original seventeen manuscript pages by more than half. Yet what remains is more than enough to radically overturn our traditional assumptions about the origins of Christianity. In four tightly written dialogues, the gospel delivers powerful new revelations on the nature of Jesus’ teachings, the qualifications for apostleship, Mary Magdalene’s clear preeminence among the disciples, and the processes already at work in the early church that would eventually lead to her marginalization. Since it also contains a unique glimpse into the actual metaphysics on which Jesus based his teachings, this is a foundational text not only for devotees of Mary Magdalene but for all students of sacred wisdom.

The manuscript was not recovered among the Nag Hammadi trove. It first came to light in 1896, nearly half a century before the Nag Hammadi find, when it was discovered by a German collector in an antiquities market in Cairo. But, due to a series of lengthy publication delays, the first German scholarly edition did not appear until 1955. It would be twenty years longer before an English version appeared and still another twenty years before popular editions became available.

For all practical purposes, therefore, the Gospel of Mary Magdalene entered public awareness at the same time as the Nag Hammadi material, and since they clearly belong to the same spiritual stream, it makes sense to consider them together. Particularly with the Gospel of Thomas, there are striking overlaps in both content and theology.

The manuscript itself is a fifth-century Coptic (i.e., Egyptian) version of what had almost certainly been an earlier Greek or even Syrian text.1 In 1917, and then in 1938, two Greek fragments dating from the third century were indeed discovered, confirming the antiquity of the original text and the esteem in which it was held by the earliest Christian communities (only important manuscripts are recopied)…Karen King assigns the original text to the first half of the second century. If her argument is correct, this would place the Gospel of Mary Magdalene within the earliest strata of Christian writings, roughly contemporaneous with the Gospel of John.

Unfortunately, the Greek fragments did not yield any new material to fill the holes in the Coptic version; barring some unforeseen miracle, what was written on those ten missing manuscript pages (pages 1–6 and 11–14) is lost to us forever. But, because of the thematic and structural tightness of the remaining material, the second of these two holes lends itself easily to imaginative recon­struction and, depending on how closely one assumes that this text echoes the Gospel of Thomas, the first six pages of Jesus’ introductory metaphysical dis­course can also be fairly well construed.

Mary Magdalene and JesusEntering the Text

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is in many ways much closer to drama than to narrative. It is constructed entirely in dialogue, and the exchanges are so lively that they lend themselves easily to a staged reading or even a full-fledged reenactment…2

The manuscript’s four dialogues (or “scenes,” if you prefer to think of them that way) lay out as follows:

(Pages 1-6 missing.)
1. Jesus’ final teachings and instruc­tions to his disciples (Manuscript pages 7-9).
2. Mary Magdalene’s words of encouragement to the disciples (page 9).
(Pages 11-14 missing.)
3. Peter’s invitation to Mary Magdalene to share with them some of the “secret” teachings of Jesus, and her visionary recital of “the soul’s progress” (pages 10, 15-17).3
4. The dispute among the disciples and its resolution; Levi’s charge and words of dismissal (pages 17-19).

There are several translations now available to choose from…I will be working from The Luminous Gospels, a new translation of the gospels of Thomas, Mary Magdalene, and Philip prepared by Lynn Bauman, Ward Bauman, and myself, published in 2008.4

Dialogue One

…”[T]ell us about matter. Will it survive or not?”

The Savior answered:

“All of nature with its forms and creatures exist together and are interwoven with each other. They will be resolved back, however, to their own proper origin, for the compositions of matter return to the original roots of their nature. Those who have ears, let them hear this.”

Then Peter said to him:

“Since you have explained everything to us, tell us one more thing. What is the sin of this world?”

The Savior replied:

“Sin as such does not exist. You only bring it into manifestation when you act in ways that are adulterous in nature. It is for this very reason that the Good has come among you pursuing its own essence within nature in order to reunite everything to its origin.”

Then he continued:

“This is also the reason for sickness and death, because you embrace what deceives you. Consider these matters, then, with your spiritual intellect.

“Attachment to matter gives birth to passion without an Image of itself because it is drawn from that which is contrary to its higher nature. The result is that confusion and disturbance resonates throughout one’s whole being. It is for this reason that I told you to find contentment at the level of the heart, and if you are discouraged, take heart in the presence of the Image of your true nature. Those with ears, let them hear this.”

Having said these things, the Blessed One addressed them:

“Peace be with you. May my peace reside within you. Guard carefully that no one misleads you saying, ‘Look, he is here,’ or ‘He’s over there,’ for the Son of Humanity already exists within you. Follow him, for those who seek him there will find him. Go forth, now, and proclaim the Good News concerning the Kingdom. Beyond what I have already given you, do not lay down any further rules nor issue laws as the Lawgiver, lest you too be dominated by them.”

Having said this, he departed.

As we enter this dialogue, we are literally joining a conversation in midstream. From textual clues in this dialogue and the one following, it appears that the conversation takes place in temporal history sometime between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension—the Gospel of Mary Magdalene’s version of the “upper room” appearances in John and Luke.5 In this energy-charged encounter, Jesus gathers his students around him once again to reflect on the meaning of his passage through death and to leave them final instructions and encouragement before his departure from physical form.

The teaching style is clearly sohbet: “spiritual conversation” between a master and his students. This is a classic Near Eastern teaching style that even today is a mainstay in many schools of Sufism. In contrast to the “Socratic” method more familiar to those of us in the West, sohbet is not merely intellectual discourse, but rather it is a deep meeting of hearts and minds that also includes a direct energy transmission. For those familiar with the art form, the context of this first dialogue is unmistakable and speaks once again to this gospel’s probable Semitic origins.

As manuscript page 7 opens, a student is clearly asking Jesus a question about the permanence of matter, and Jesus responds with a brief but remarkable metaphysical statement—something that occurs nowhere in the canonical gospels and offers a fascinating glimpse into the theoria (theoretical knowledge) on which his practical wisdom rests. The student’s question is probably not theoretical; it follows directly from the resurrection appearance itself with all its inherent paradoxes and consternation. Is Jesus really here? Is this material body in which he stands before them a solid reality or merely a veil that will soon dissolve? Jesus responds by affirming very strongly that the origin of nature (i.e., the material world) does not lie within this earthly plane. What we take for solid reality is a mixtus orbis, a “mixed” (or “mixed up”) realm in which everything is “interwoven” (a statement that contemporary physicists and metaphysicians would heartily applaud). At the end of their physical term, the forms of matter return to the original “roots of their nature.” But by this, we will learn shortly, he does not mean they dissolve into their component atoms, quarks and/or humors. Instead, they return to an original template—or “image”—whose place of arising is in another realm.6

Peter immediately jumps in with the next question. What is sin? This is, of course, the classic Jewish philosophical preoccupation; you will find it vividly imprinted on nearly every page of Old Testament prophetic and wisdom teaching and as the driveshaft of the Pauline metaphysics upon which orthodox Christian theology rests. Whose fault is it that suffering and evil came into the world? Who is to blame? How is it atoned for? Jesus rejects that question out of hand: “Sin as such does not exist.”

His answer would initially seem to place him solidly within what we would nowadays identify as an “Eastern” rather than a “Western” mindset: not sin, but ignorance of one’s true nature, is to blame for the sufferings of this world. But we must listen carefully to where he is headed in his comment. He does not go on to state that sin is therefore an illusion, the typical Eastern thought progression. To the contrary, he affirms that sin does indeed come into existence—that is, it becomes objectively real—when one acts in ways that are “adulterous in nature.” And within his particular frame of reference, acting in ways that are “adulterous in nature” will prove to have a very specific meaning. It signifies a failure to stay in alignment with origin: with that mysterious “root” (or template) of one’s nature he has already alluded to, which, while arising beyond this realm, seeks its full expression here.7

He quickly assures his students that this world is valuable and precious; indeed, this is the very reason the Good has come among them in the first place—“pursuing its own essence within nature [i.e., within this transitory realm] in order to reunite everything to its origin.” There is important integrative work to be done here. But it all depends upon keeping a right alignment along what wisdom tradition typically refers to as the “vertical axis”: the invisible spiritual continuum that joins the realms together. Nearly sixteen centuries later, the German mystic Jacob Boehme would express this cosmological insight with poetic precision and beauty:

“For you must realize that earth unfolds its properties and powers in union with Heaven aloft above us, and there is one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all.”8

When the realms are in spontaneous resonance—“one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all”—the music of the spheres bursts forth. When they are not, disease and disharmony inevitably ensue. As he quickly points out (again, with a contemporary feeling to the teaching), “Confusion and disturbance resonate throughout one’s whole being,” and sickness and death are the inevitable result…

Seeing with the Heart

The remedy Jesus sets forth for this cosmic malaise is to “find contentment at the level of the heart…in the presence of the Image of your true nature.” The key to deciphering this all-important instruc­tion lies in recognizing that the word “heart” is being used here in a highly specific way. In the wisdom traditions of the Near East, the heart is not the seat of one’s personal emotional life, but an organ of spiritual perception. I have spoken about this extensively…so I will be brief here, but the essential point is that the heart is primarily an instrument of sight—or insight, as the case may be (“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”). Its purpose is to navigate along the vertical axis and stay in alignment with “the Image of one’s true nature.” Itself a vibrant resonant field, it functions like a homing beacon between the realms; and when it is strong and clear, it creates a synchronous resonance between them.

May Magdalen - foot of the Cross“Those with ears, let them hear this,” Jesus continues—his characteristic “heads-up.” But as we remember our primary topic of interest,…Mary Magdalene, his warning is particularly well-timed: because how well you are able to grasp his teaching is exactly how well you will be able to grasp the basis of their relationship. To say that their hearts are intertwined is not at all to speak sentimentally. Rather, it is to affirm that Mary Magdalene has fully understood this principle of spiritual alignment through the heart and has been able to personally corroborate it within herself. This will directly explain her ability to stay present when he appears to her in visions and her ability to go about her earthly business with the serene confidence of one whose life is always flowing within that greater life.

The Unitive Ground

How would I characterize this teaching of Jesus? It definitely belongs to the wider stream of sophia perennis in its acknow­ledg­ment of many and more subtle realms of being whose energies impact our own—a concept traditionally known as “the great chain of being.”9 But it parts company from classic Gnosticism (and even classic sophia perennis) by refusing to claim that this world is illusion, or fall, or error; or that its density places it at the tail end of the chain. We are not in Plato’s cave. Rather, this world is good, worthy, and fully inhabited by the divine energies—“the Good comes among you”—so long as it stays united with its root. The blending of incarnational and Platonic elements is a distinctive mix, which I believe is Jesus’ original contribution to the metaphysics of the West. It presents itself as a profoundly incarnational, warm-hearted, and hopeful path, where the realms support and interpenetrate each other and divine fullness is accessed simply by keeping the heart in natural alignment with its invisible prototype. Unfortu­nately, his teaching went right over the heads of nearly all his followers, both then and now.

The subtlety of Jesus’ metaphysics remains largely unknown to Christians—and sadly so, for it is the missing ingredient that makes his path comprehensible and doable. It is no secret that Jesus’ teachings resonate with an extraordinary trust in the divine abundance and generosity, and Christians are asked to emulate that trust. But to try to do so without seeing what it is founded on is a bit like asking an elephant to fly, and Christians find themselves frequently caught in the gap between the incredibly high spiritual ideals of this path and their own ability to carry them out. In reality, the secret is simple. When the heart is aligned with its eternal image, abundance cascades forth from that place of origin, infinitely more powerful than the scarcity and constriction of this world. It is not a matter of believing in flying elephants so much as of purifying the heart.

“Lay Down No Further Rules….”

In the final lines of his discourse Jesus reinforces this teaching yet again. His parting instruction to his disciples opens with the plea that they remain present within themselves rather than chasing after mirages in the outer world, for “the Son of Humanity already exists within you…and those who seek him there will find him.”10 To remain in continuous union—the kind that Mary Magdalene will shortly demonstrate—is a matter of releasing the outer clamor and tuning in again and again through the homing beacon of the heart.

Then, as if knowing already that this is somehow beyond them, he adds a final practical caution: “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I have given you, lest you be dominated by them.” From a textual criticism point of view, as Karen King rightly observes, this instruction situates the Gospel of Mary Magdalene at an early stage in the history of Christianity, when the contours of externally imposed hierarchy are just beginning to become visible in the dawning light of a brave new Christian world. From an artistic standpoint, it moves us directly into the second dialogue while at the same time setting the stage for the gospel’s surprising and decisive conclusion.

Dialogue Two

His students grieved and mourned greatly saying:

“How are we to go into the rest of the world proclaiming the Good News about the Son of Humanity’s Realm? If they did not spare him, how will they ever leave us alone?”

Mary arose, then, embracing them all and began to address them as her brothers and sisters saying:

“Do not weep and grieve nor let your hearts remain in doubt, for his grace will be with all of you, sustaining and protecting you. Rather, let us give praise to his greatness which has prepared us so that we might become fully human.”

As Mary said these things their hearts opened toward the Good and they began to discuss the meaning of the Savior’s words.

Mary Magdalene - book coverIn this second and crucial dialogue, the predictable happens. The subtlety of Jesus’ teaching is lost on his disciples, who return quickly to their conviction that Jesus is gone and that they are in extreme danger. They have completely missed the point of what he has just said.

As Mary Magdalene steps forward to encourage them, she demonstrates that she has fully understood what Jesus is saying and can apply it to her own life. “Do not let your hearts remain in doubt,” she says, cutting immediately to the spiritual chase. For a heart in doubt—in two-ness and self-sabotage—becomes useless as that organ of alignment. To reconnect to the grace he has promised them is as simple a matter of opening to his presence right then and there in their inmost depths—“for those who seek him there will find him.” And as she pointedly reminds them, “He has prepared us for this.”

Becoming Fully Human

In fact, her actual words are, “He has prepared us so that we might become fully human.” “To become fully human” is a modern translation of the words “to become an anthropos,” a completed human being. Both here and in the Gospel of Thomas this notion is at the very heart of Jesus’ vision of transformation.

In modern psychological parlance building on a Jungian foundation, the concept of anthropos is generally interpreted in terms of an integration of the opposites within oneself—specifically, a bringing together of the male and female principles within the individual human psyche…

Obviously, there is far more at stake here than simply integrating masculine and feminine principles within one’s finite humanity. The integration takes place on a cosmic scale and is accomplished through learning how to anchor one’s being in that underlying unitive ground: that place of oneness before the opposites arise. Some traditions would call this the “causal level.”11 However one defines it, its origin is on the vertical axis, in a realm and mode of perception far more subtle than our own. It has less to do with what one sees than with how one sees; it amounts to a fundamental shift in perception.

When this level is attained, either by sudden spiritual insight or by a long, tough slog through the mine fields of ego, a person becomes “a single one” (in Aramaic, ihidaya: one of the earliest titles applied to Jesus): an enlightened or “fully human” being. The union of opposites Jesus is speaking of really pertains to the union of the finite and infinite within oneself, or the bringing together of the vertical axis with the horizontal so that there is “one Heart, one Being, one Will, one God, all in all.” When this happens, the world does not pass away, but one is able to live in it as master, re-creating its external forms (“making one image supersede another”) out of the infinite generativity of the One.

It is important to keep this wider definition of the anthropos firmly in mind because it is the key to everything in this gospel. Mary Magdalene moves among the other disciples as one who has “become fully human.” She does not merely parrot the Master’s teaching back to them, flaunting her specialness. Rather, she serves the situation. Flowing through the spiritual energy of her own alignment is a baraka—a grace that is able to actually shift the other disciples’ emotional state. She is able to “turn their hearts to the good.”

This short dialogue is the thematic epicenter of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene: the apostolic moment par excellence. “Apostle is as apostle does,” one might say, and it is clear that in both her words and her deeds—her ability to compre­hend, to calm, to convey blessing—Mary Magdalene has just proven herself an apostle: not just “first among the apostles,” but in fact, the only one of them to authentically merit the title.

As we move into the challenging (and decimated) dialogue 3, it is important to keep firmly centered on this point. If Mary Magdalene does, in fact, enjoy a privileged access to the Master, she has certainly earned it: not because she is his special favorite (as Peter will shortly imply), but because she has been able so deeply to absorb and integrate his spiritual methodology. She has learned the secret of unbroken union with him across the realms, and she teaches from the same fount of living water that flowed in him—in fact, still flows in him, only now in a different energetic form. And thus, doing as real apostles do, she is able to lift her brethren out of their psychological paralysis and focus them once again on “the meaning of the Savior’s words.” Dialogue 2 ends on a note of strength and unanimity; for the moment, all is once again well…

Mary Magdalene praying

Notes:

1 For more on this point, see Karen King, The Gospel of Mary of Magdala (Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press, 2003), 184.

2 We in fact did exactly this as a project of the Aspen Wisdom School during the winter of 2008 and in Collegeville, Minnesota, the following summer. The results were rewarding and in some cases enlightening, clarifying interpretive difficulties that could not be resolved by textual analysis alone…

3 It is more typical of modern editors (including Lynn Bauman) to extend dialogue 2 to include all the text up to the second set of missing pages. But Mary Magdalene’s opening words about meeting Jesus in a vision seem so clearly to belong to the third dialogue—in fact, they furnish its underlying theme—that I have divided the sections accordingly…

4 Lynn Bauman, Ward Bauman, and Cynthia Bourgeault, The Luminous Gospels (Telephone, TX: Praxis Institute Publishing, 2008).

5 These appearances take place immediately after the resurrection and are recorded in John 20:19–29 and Luke 24:36–43.

6 In this idea of the “interwoven” material world unraveling at the end of its term into its elemental components, there are fascinating resonances with the teachings of Empedocles and Parmenides as laid out by Peter Kingsley in his remarkable book Reality (Inverness, Calif.: Golden Sufi Center, 2005). Kingsley proposes a radical revisioning of the origins of Western philosophy as lying not in intellectual speculation, but rather in the sacred practices of a long wisdom lineage of shamanic healing. There are distinctive overlaps between this tradition and the teachings and spiritual practices of Jesus….

7 Jean-Yves Leloup perceptively paraphrases: “when you act according to the habits of your corrupted nature” in his The Gospel of Mary Magdalene (Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions, 2002), 25.

8 Jacob Boehme, Confessions (Kila, MT: Kessinger, n.d.), 41.

9 For more on the great chain of being, see Ken Wilber’s voluminous writings, particularly The Eye of the Spirit (Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 1997), 39–40.

10 This instruction is repeated almost verbatim in the Gospel of Thomas, logion 3. See Bauman, The Gospel of Thomas, 10.

11 That is why one is able to make “one image supersede another”: because one has accessed the level from which the images originally arise….

Unless otherwise noted, all major gospel citations are from The Christian Community Bible (Liguori, MO: Liguori Publications/Claretian Publications, 1995). Short gospel citations and all epistle and Old Testament citations are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).


Adapted from The Meaning of Mary Magdalene by Cynthia Bourgeault, ©2010 by Cynthia Bourgeault. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. www.shambhala.com.

Matthew Wright on the West Coast: A Report

This is a re-post of an article written for Northeast Wisdom by Sher Sacks on December 21, 2015. Shortly after Matthew spent time with us at Shawnigan Lake, BC, he hosted a similar retreat in Sechelt, BC.


“I think some of you will be happy to hear how Matthew is playing in my old British Columbia stomping ground.” ~ Cynthia

On November 23 and 24, 2015, Matthew Wright, an Episcopal priest from St. Gregory’s church in Woodstock, NY (yes that Woodstock) presented a group of about two dozen with a remarkable range of material about the Wisdom teachings of Yeshua (the Hebrew name of Jesus). We have long been taught what we are to believe about Yeshua but far less about how the teachings of Yeshua can transform our lives. And Matthew offered this option.

The workshop was not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply. We are often told to “get out of our heads and into our hearts” which is problematic given the nature of the English language which equates heart with emotion. As Matthew pointed out, the heart is not the emotional centre, it is rather the organ of spiritual perception. It would be more accurate to say “get into your HeartMind”. This understanding makes Yeshua’s phrase “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (become conscious of God), make more sense.

2015-11-24 - MatthewWrightWmeditationMatthew spent some time discussing what is now being referred to as the second axial age. The first axial age occurred around 800 to 200 BCE, when there was an enormous increase of spiritual understanding. It was the period in which the Buddha taught, Lao-Tzu (the founder of Taoism) was teaching in China , the Rishis (writers of the Vedas) were active in India, and Monotheism arose in Israel (Abraham and Sarah left their tribe to “follow God” and the Abrahamic covenant was born). Out of this incredible upwelling of spiritual awareness came a sense of transcendence and an individual quest for spiritual understanding or enlightenment. The ultimate goal became escape, or liberation from the world of matter, which was considered lesser or even evil. The problem became one of how to escape from samsara (cycle of rebirth in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism) or to repair the rift created by “the Fall” (Christianity). The end result was the sense that something was wrong with this world. Our spiritual consciousness became dominated by images of separation and exile.

However, slowly, over the centuries, according to many thinkers, including Matthew, there has risen the deep indwelling knowledge that “we belong”. We have begun to pick up the very real connection with the earth and each other that existed in pre-axial times. This sense combined with the first axial age sense of transcendence, gives us the opportunity to move into a synthesis of the transcendent and the immanent to create a new world order. During the workshop Matthew pointed out that multiple strands of knowledge point us in this direction. Quantum physicists have discovered the deep interconnection of all things at the most subtle levels of matter; environmentalists are pointing out that we are part of a global ecosystem; evolutionary biologists, reveal that life is unfolding as a vast, single process.

2015-11-24 - MatthewWrightWorshop - groupMatthew also pointed out that this “second axial current” didn’t just start recently. It is present in the Bodhisattva vow of Mahayana Buddhism (the vow to remain in the phenomenal world until all beings are awakened) and in Incarnational theology (elimination of the boundaries between the sacred and the profane – “God so loved the world” and “the Word became flesh”). Yeshua rejected the asceticism of John the Baptizer and pointed us to a path that fully embraces the world. He partied, feasted, and associated with those identified as outcasts and sinners. He broke the purity laws. Yeshua prayed “Thy Kingdom come on Earth”. His teaching indicated that we belong deeply to this world; we are interwoven into its fabric. As a teacher within the Wisdom tradition of the east, Yeshua taught us about compassionate, loving intelligence where attention (alertness, spaciousness) and surrender (a humble letting go) meet in the heartmind. It is not so much about what Yeshua taught but about where he taught from. What he taught was not a moralistic, but a transformative path.

Matthew spent some time describing the reasons why this basic teaching of Yeshua morphed into the moralistic, judgmental teaching within which most of us were raised. He followed the growth of Christianity out of its eastern foundations toward Greece and Rome, with martyrdom leading to “we/they” thinking, and finally to the moment that Christianity became an imperial identity marker within the Roman Empire with its counsels of Bishops. What one believed became all important and led to the inquisition, witch trials, and the crusades. Yeshua’s path of inner transformation was almost lost.

Now we have the opportunity to move beyond a belief and belonging system to the recognition of Yeshua as the archetype of the full union of human and divine – Christ consciousness. Yeshua is not the exclusive union BUT the fullness of the human and divine union (Christ). In reference to this concept we discussed some of the Christian and Sufi mystics and their practices, kataphatic prayer (prayer with content), and apophatic prayer (emptying the mind of words and ideas and simply resting in the presence of God). We discussed how we can learn from each other using homeomorphic equivalency, looking for deep correspondences that go beyond the words and concepts of our distinct religions or cultures to find the same or similar experiences.

We also considered the phrase “the Kingdom of God” not as a place (Heaven) or existing at a particular time (after death), but as a state of consciousness, here and NOW. We turned our minds to Christophany (all reality as a manifestation of Christ) and reflected upon Raimon Panikkar’s concept that reality is Cosmotheandric (a totally integrated and seamless fabric that is the undivided consciousness of the totality). We examined Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of Christogenesis, within which Christianity is not a path of ascent but a path flowing out from God. Matter is not a distraction from God but an outworking of God in form. Incarnation awakens to itself in Christ (Form). The world is not static but constantly changing. God is committed to that change, since as the creator God embedded it in the world and now sustains it. Christ consciousness is its goal. As Paul stated in Romans 8:22, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”.

Finally we considered the concept of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as the Heart of the universe, the evolutionary driveshaft of all creation; the second coming as the coming of conscious union with the divine. Referring back to the omegaconcept of axial ages we noted the rise in non-dual consciousness. We noted that evolution has been acting unconsciously up till the present but now we have the opportunity to act consciously in it. Evolution has become aware of itself. We must choose to deepen the disclosure of the Heart of God. Christ is the endpoint (the Omega). However this convergence is not inevitable. If the second axial age is to manifest we must choose and act!


Originally posted on NortheastWisdom.org

The Year of Teilhard continues – A report by Cynthia Bourgeault

Dear Wisdom friends,

Almost exactly this time one year ago, I launched my “Teilhard Challenge,” inviting as many of you as felt so moved to join me in diving into the magnificent, challenging writings of Teilhard de Chardin. I know that many of you have taken the plunge, and the Teilhard buzz out on the planet is palpable and steadily growing. Thank you!

This comes to give you a short “year-end report” on my own work here, and a heads-up about what’s on the docket for 2016.

I did manage to chew my way through most of the Teilhard canon this past year: beginning with a fairly quick read, followed by a more detailed immersion once my inner dowsing rod struck water. That turned out to be with The Human Phenomenon, which is clearly Teilhard’s master work and is now available in a magisterial new translation by Sarah Appleton-Weber. I was also lucky enough to get hold of French versions of four or five of his major works. If you can read French even a bit, I’d highly recommend you follow this strategy as well. Even if you book-end the French translation with the English one, Teilhard is simply…well…French! And his thought is somehow much more lucid and compelling in his mother tongue.

AspenChapel-2015-12-17-18The teaching season got off to a bang a couple of weeks ago with my pilot Wisdom school in Aspen, where I offered a two-day seminar called “The Divine Milieu” on December 17 and 18, attended by nearly 100 people (the presentations were also live-streamed; see “Cynthia Bourgeault Day 1 – Dec 17, 2015” and “Cynthia Bourgeault Day 2 – Dec 18, 2015”). Despite the title, the teaching was really focused on The Human Phenomenon and attempted to lay out the “Teilhardian synthesis” via his four successive (and increasingly challenging) propositions about cosmogenesis:

  1. Evolution (understood as cosmogenesis) is the non-negotiable baseline for all intellectual, scientific, and spiritual discourse.
  2. Evolution has a preferred axis, or line of direction, carried by the principle of “complexification/consciousness.”
  3. Evolution is convergent, culminating in an “Omega Point.”
  4. This Omega Point is identical with the mystical/cosmic Christ.

This structure will form the backbone for the series of Teilhard Wisdom Schools that will shortly start to run in 2016: in New Zealand; Santa Barbara; North Carolina; Washington State; Stonington, ME (stay tuned!); and British Columbia, respectively.

MatthewWright2015_nobordersThere will also be a more intimate and reflectively-oriented retreat which I’ll co-lead with Matthew Wright at his home community, Holy Cross Abbey in West Park, NY, on April 7-10. April 10 will mark the anniversary of Teilhard’s actual death (on Easter Sunday, 1955), and since Holy Cross Abbey is directly across the Hudson from Teilhard’s burial ground in Hyde Park, we will hope to include a short pilgrimage to his grave site in our work together that weekend.

Longer range, I’m not sure what’s in store: probably a book, but its focus is still “under development” as I sense my way into the deeper feeling ground of my attraction to this singular and deeply needed Christian mystical teacher and teaching. I continue to feel that there is work here that needs to be done (my usual job description of making connections!) for this vision, despite or even because of its significant blind spots and interspiritual “groaners” – is still by far the best thing going – certainly in the Christian tradition – for a roadmap that will allow us to comprehend the “depth and breadth and length and height” of the mystical tradition we stand in, and embrace the future with compassion, courage, and spiritual intelligence. It’s the roadmap we sorely need to get the caravan moving forward again.

I am not an unmitigated devotee. There are, indeed, significant liabilities to his work, particularly in terms of the ongoing dialogue with Evolutionary Spirituality (à la Ken Wilber and the Integral Community) and the InterSpiritual community. The biggest weakness, as far as I can see, is Teilhard’s inability to recognize levels of consciousness, and to realize that the “self-reflexive” consciousness that he saw as the new evolutionary turning point is itself but a stage (and a relatively immature one at that) in the deepening evolution of consciousness itself. Much of his most outdated and polarizing thinking is trapped firmly within the boundaries of the egoic operating system and its peculiarly dualistic way of structuring the world, and he simply doesn’t see the squirrel cage he is running inside. But that can all be recalibrated once the source of the blind spot is identified, and I firmly believe that the Teilhard canon will survive the transposition into nondual categories of thought and actually thrive there.

And that’s basically my task for the next few years, as I see it…I want to look more closely at Teilhard’s understanding of consciousness, and to see how my own core intuition that nonduality is a mode of perception, not a philosophy of monism, might heal some of the misunderstanding in Teilhard’s summary dismissal of the Eastern spiritual traditions as a source of wisdom and guidance for our own time…

I also have to say that the most illuminating and poignant part of the reading list for this year was the time spent plowing through the Letters between Teilhard and Lucile Swan, his soulmate and dakini during the long years of exile in China. A heart-wrenching story, which somehow conveys the “within” of Teilhard’s voyage in a way even more powerful than the “without” of his polished philosophical studies.

teilhard and lucile swan

Anyway, that’s the progress report for now. Do stay tuned – and keep on reading!

New Year’s blessings,

Cynthia

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


 

Remembering Bruno Barnhart

Cynthia Bourgeault, OSB Cam oblate reflects on how Fr. Bruno Barnhart (April 10, 1931 to November 28, 2015) touched her life after news of his passing on the first day of Advent.

 

Fr. Bruno Barnhart, former prior of New Camaldoli Monastery, mystic, hermit, and my friend and spiritual father for more than thirty years, is now officially on the other side. He chose the auspicious occasion of the eve of Advent for his transition to the infinite. I imagine him now happily reunited with his old friends Beatrice Bruteau, Raimon Panikkar, and Bede Griffiths, who are no doubt already showing him the ropes in his new celestial habitat.

 It does seem that Bruno died a conscious death. When the physical body could no longer do what was needed to sustain his hermit independence, he simply let it go in slow and gentle increments. Over the course of the fall, he slowly dwindled until his monastic brethren finally carted him off to a hospital for emergency re-stabilization, and then to a nursing care facility for appetite enhancement and physical therapy. When neither did any good, they brought him back to hospice care at his beloved New Camaldoli, no doubt expecting to hunker down for at least a few more weeks over Christmas for final farewells and blessings. But Bruno evidently had other plans. The very next morning he embarked upon his transition and, just before midnight, his consummatum est was achieved. He departed this earth plane, surrounded by his monastic brethren, to greet the dawn of Advent in his new and infinite corporeity. As always, his timing was exquisite. 

Bruno Barnhart - Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

Bruno Barnhart – Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

As I reflect back on my own years with Bruno, I can’t remember actually meeting him for the first time. It must havehappened, but I can’t for the life of me remember when. Our parallel tracks just sort of converged, I guess, during my increasingly frequent visits to the monastery during the 1980s. Suddenly he was in my life, and it was as if it had always been that way. What I do know is that he was powerfully, fiercely present during the decade or so of my own explosive spiritual awakening from 1987 onwards. He was spiritual father and mother both, guiding me with a gentle and deeply intuitive clarity. He was there to receive me when I finally released myself from my decade of self-imposed exile on Swan’s Island to return to the seeker’s path. He was there when I discovered Centering Prayer and the Gurdjieff Work, when I began my work as a spiritual teacher, when my marriage broke up, when my friend Tony Burkart and I first launched the Maine Monastic foundation. He and I grew particularly close during those years he served as prior at Epiphany Monastery, the Camaldolese experimental community in New Hampshire, when he made himself regularly available as a retreat leader for our earliest proto-Wisdom Schools on Eagle Placentia islands. He helped me work through my anguished decision to cast it all to the wind and move to St. Benedict’s Monastery to be with my hermit teacher Rafe, counseling me wisely in words I’ve never forgotten: 

“All those magical, predestined, and irreplaceable people and places are not really that, not really the answer. Rather, we have to stay with the hunger of the question and from its energy fill the space with our own choices, and then with the new things that will be called forth from us in the unexpected new poverty and limitation in which our own necessarily imperfect choices necessarily situate us.”

Bruno Barnhart with members of The Contemplative Society - Salt Spring Island Contemplative Centre, July 2000

Bruno Barnhart with members of The Contemplative Society – Salt Spring Island Contemplative Centre, July 2000

He was there as well to help me pick up the shattered pieces of my life when Rafe died in Advent 1995, and to begin to shape my grief into a life’s path of teaching and writing. He read all my books and contributed endorsements for a few of them. And he championed my move to British Columbia and offered himself as retreat master at one of our first Contemplative Society retreats on Salt Spring Island in 2001 and periodically thereafter. Many of our British Columbia retreatants became his personal students as well, and several became oblates of the monastery. He blazed a brilliant path for us all, and the bonds he forged have proved to be strong and enduring.

Bruno did not write that prolifically – his continuing monastic duties and voracious correspondence and spiritual direction network kept his waking hours pretty well occupied, and his nights disappeared into luminous depths of solitary prayer. But what he did write is extraordinary, books that you return to again and again to refresh your soul and renew your faith in truth.

 More than any other spiritual writer I know, he is the one who has most perfectly integrated the distinctly different Western and Eastern understandings of non-duality. As a personal friend of Bede Griffiths and Henri LeSaux (Abishiktananda), Bruno understood deeply the Advaitic non-duality of the East and was powerfully attracted to it. But his deep grounding in Christianity’s incarnational epicenter made him unwilling to conflate Christian Wisdom with the basically monistic traditions of Sophia Perennis, or “perennial wisdom.” As he wrote perceptively in his The Future of Wisdom (p. 186), “The wisdom of Christianity does not find itself quite at home among the sapiential traditions of the world.” In contrast to that great upward thrust of the perennial philosophy, “the unitive wisdom that has become manifest in Christ disappears into – more boldly we might say, metamorphoses into – an immanent historical dynamism that transforms all of created reality.” Even more boldly, he suggests that our modern Western world in all its sprawling untidiness is not a deviation from the path of Christ but its legitimate and in fact inevitable trajectory. His innate grasp of the dynamism implicit in incarnation allowed him to embrace all those things which classic sapiential monism rejects: modernity, Teilhard, technology, secularity. Better than anyone I know, he weaves together a robust sense of incarnational dynamism with a piercingly brilliant grasp of non-dual consciousness to blaze the trail toward an authentic Christian non-duality. I suspect he will be increasingly discovered and revered as our planet blazes toward its imminent axial leap. For the meantime, he is one of our own best kept and most cherished contemplative secrets.

                I remember him as well for his wry, fiv-ish humor (which featured Calvin and Hobbes right up there alongside John of the Cross and Meister Eckhart as attained spiritual masters), his gentle art of understatement, and his piercing but sly capacity to see where I was at any point in time no matter how hard I tried to hide from myself. “There’s something in a person that knows when they’re not free…” he would simply comment, leaving me to find my own way out of the corner I’d painted myself into. And yes, those sermons of his that packed the monastery church with everyone literally straining on the edges of their benches to catch those bursts of pure radiant brilliance mumbled rapid-fire, and almost always, with his hands directly in front of his mouth. I hope the amplification system is better in heaven. 

 Bruno was the prior of New Camaldoli for nearly twenty years and raised up many spiritual sons. One of my favorite of these sons is Fr. Isaiah, the longtime guestmaster, who conveyed his sense of Bruno to me in a comment that pretty much nails the essence of Bruno – not just in what it says, but where it comes from: “Fr. Bruno,” says Isaiah, “reminds me of a line from Tolkien: ‘He was as noble and fair as an elf-lord, as strong as a warrior, as wise as a wizard, as venerable as a king of dwarves, and as kind as summer.’”

Thank you, beloved teacher, and blessings on the next phase of your unfolding. The cosmos is richer for your sojourn here.