You Are the Change: Help Sustain the Contemplative Future

How things change.

 Just two years ago, I had never heard of Cynthia Bourgeault. At the age of 26, I was only a fledgling in the meditation world, meeting regularly with a group I had joined while studying at the local university. Through that group, I had the opportunity to go to a retreat on a scholarship.

UVIc meditation

Five other people from the university also received this gift, and we affectionately became known as the “young people” at the Poet’s Cove retreat in 2013. 

That retreat changed my life. Not only did I find a practice that began strengthening my ability to simply be and allow, I found a community that celebrated and actively cultivated surrender, an ingredient I now consider crucial (and often underestimated) to a fulfilling life. I soon joined the board in early 2014, serving as a liaison between the university meditation community and TCS. I started practicing Centering Prayer regularly and joined others doing the same at other TCS events. The highlight for me was receiving another scholarship to attend the Wisdom School with Cynthia on The Holy Trinity and Law of Three held last year at Cowichan Lake, BC. Without the support TCS has offered me, both in practice and financially, I doubt I would have been exposed to the Christian wisdom tradition in the way that I have as early in my life as I did.

Miranda Harvey

I now co-teach Centering Prayer at the university to an audience of primarily “young people”. It gives me a great sense of hope for our future that the teachings of the Christian wisdom tradition continue to be carried forward. And it gives me a deep sense of gratitude and belonging to know that I am part of a community that shares this mission. 

Change is present in the contemplative community as well: you may have heard of a “consciousness shift” on the horizon, and I believe that the “young people” today are the stewards of this shift. You might consider Matthew Wright, the leader for this year’s main retreat, an example of this shift. A major priority of TCS this year is being able to offer support to the younger generation of burgeoning contemplatives and their leaders so that we can ensure the luminous future of the Christian wisdom tradition. 

How can you help? By joining The Contemplative Society’s family of donors, you will actively help us maintain and expand our ministry, as well as support our principal teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault (read her letter). Your financial support of TCS has enabled us to weather our own changes, such as the recent website upgrade and transition in staff – changes that help all of us to participate fully in a changing world. This fall, we are asking you to consider supporting TCS by becoming a member or donor. A monthly gift is enormously appreciated as it helps us to plan ahead, but all gifts help us to be even more inclusive and accessible, particularly by ensuring our ability to offer more scholarships. Please visit our Support Us page to give a gift today that will continue to make vibrant change tomorrow. 

bird-in-flight

With gratitude and blessings, 

 

Miranda Harvey
Administrator

 

For more information on donating or membership, please visit contemplative.org/about-us/membership, or contact Miranda at admin@contemplative.org or 250-381-9650.

Cynthia on Surrender

This is a re-post of one installment of Christopher Page’s four-part series focusing on Cynthia Bourgeault’s quotes and teachings on Surrender. Please visit his blog, In A Spacious Place, for more.


Cynthia Bourgeault on Surrender #3

Cynthia Bourgeault offers an important caution for practitioners of Centering Prayer.

Cynthia says:

“Surrender is a conscious embracing of what is. At times, what looks like surrender can be to withdraw from a little bit of your reality – ‘that’s just him, that’s the way it is, that’s the way it’s going to be, we’re never going to be close, live with it.’ That’s not surrender.

“You can’t surrender to a situation. You can only surrender to what is present in the moment. You can only surrender into the now. And so, trying to surrender to a situation brings victimization and manipulation. Surrender is not passively resigning yourself to something.

“Centering Prayer doesn’t emphasize attention; it emphasizes surrender which is the other core motion you need on a spiritual path, so that’s okay. But it means that for those of you who are working with Centering Prayer as your core practice, you have to learn to re-double your efforts to pay attention in waking life and to work with your inner observer and to develop the skill of attention. And again, you can use surrender to leverage attention. Because when you surrender into the present, it’s a way of paying attention. It’s coming at it from the other side, but it’s a really good way to do it.

“…in my own preferences in things, I would rather see people develop will through repeated surrender than through repeated tightening and clinching around an aim, which is usually an egoic aim anyway. You’ll get there by repeated surrendering of your self which will lead you to true will.

“True will for me is not very far different from conscience. In other words, you see the whole; you see what must be done and your heart connection to the whole is so strong that you can’t not do it. So the choice drops out in true will, which is why I often say there’s only one will; there’s not two wills. And the seeing is the doing, the seeing is the being; and this comes from being completely immersed in and aligned with Being. But you get there with surrender, I think, not quite as fast but a lot more reliably.

“…through the constant practice of the letting go, of the surrendering of thoughts – not for any reason other than the pure gift of surrender – something develops in us, in the solar plexus area that learns this gesture. And experienced practitioners of Centering Prayer rather quickly come to the place where they feel at the centre of their being this tug, this visceral tug in the heart, this honing in on the Divine Presence. And it has nothing to do with thinking about it in the mind. It’s not in the mind. It’s totally visceral.

“But something, through the process of yielding, through the actual act of surrender, develops a very clearly magnetic centre. And then you have your honing beacon in you and you can follow. You can follow reliably the Divine hologram, the pattern of your life as it unfolds from the point of God and not screw up the pattern and the unfolding because you’re frightened or hiding something or have something in denial – all those things. You go with the pattern.”

 

A “Negative Space” Eucharist based on Teilhard’s “Mass on the World” by Cynthia Bourgeault

Eucharist” literally means “thanksgiving”: an offering up of praise and gratitude. Only in recent liturgical usage has the term come to be an accepted synonym for the Mass or Holy Communion.

In 1923, on an geological expedition deep in the Ordos Desert of Mongolia, the newly minted priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin pondered his obligation to offer a daily celebration of the mass – but how to do so in the middle of the desert, with neither bread nor wine (let alone the sacred vessels of the altar) available to him? His solution: the whole earth would become his altar, with the human toil and sufferings of the day to be offered up as his bread and wine.

The result of this profound reflection is Teilhard’s “The Mass on the World.” The original seed of this work actually dates from Teilhard’s stretcher bearer days behind the French lines in World War I, but the work became a lifelong project – and a practice as much as a text. The most complete version (composed at Ordos) is a brilliant, five-part prose poem which you will find in its entirety in The Heart of Matter, Teilhard’s brilliant final autobiographical work. A slightly abridged version of the introductory (“The Offering”) section is included in Ursula King’s anthology, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Writings Selected with an Introduction by Ursula King (Orbis, 2008).

This striking altar based on Teilhard's "Mass on the World," was created by Mary Southard, CSJ, and adorns the Chapel of the Congregation of St. Joseph in LaGrange, IL.

This striking altar based on Teilhard’s “Mass on the World,” was created by Mary Southard, CSJ, and adorns the Chapel of the Congregation of St. Joseph in LaGrange, IL.

In our own times it seems that we have now arrived in strangely parallel circumstances. It’s not that bread and wine are literally unavailable, but the blessing and sharing of bread and wine – one of the few spiritual practices specifically mandated by Jesus – has become so problematic in today’s embattled institutional church that it often feels more like a minefield than a “communion,” let alone a holy one. There are questions of priestly power and control – who can celebrate and who can’t – and increasingly exclusive and rigid rubrics around who can receive and who can’t. On top of that, there is the growing cultural discomfort with the primary symbols themselves – wine is, after all, alcohol, and bread is gluten – and a rising demand for politically correct, chemically appropriate substitutes leaves the former stark simplicity of the communion table now looking like a cafeteria line, filled with a profusion of “self-service” alternatives.

At our most recent Wisdom School on Holy Isle in Scotland, we were dealing with yet an additional layer of complication: the whole island, run by Tibetan Buddhists whose intention is to maintain a uniform, very high planetary vibration, is explicitly “intoxicant free,” communion wine included. Everyone who visits or attends program on the island specifically agrees to this covenant.

So what’s to be done under the circumstances? The obvious solution is simply to use nonalcoholic wine (and gluten free bread) and dispose of the problem for once and for all. But if you’re like me, suspecting that Jesus’ use of transformed substances (wine and bread have both been through an alchemical process that transforms their nature) is both intentional and central to the meaning of the ritual, you don’t mess around with the designated primary symbols quite that lightly.

Sunset in Victoria by Mary-Clare Carder, showing the use of negative (dark) space to highlight the sunset

Sunset in Victoria by Mary-Clare Carder, showing the use of negative (dark) space to highlight the sunset

The alternative: a “negative space” Eucharist based on “The Mass on the World.” (“Negative space,” incidentally, is a term from the art world: it means empty or open space deliberately built into a painting which is not “negative” at all from a compositional standpoint, but essential to the shape, meaning, and overall feel of the whole.)

I have offered this Teilhard mass three times now – at Wisdom Schools at La Casa de Maria in Santa Barbara, Valle Crucis in North Carolina, and Holy Isle in Scotland – and each time the impact has been powerful and utterly clean. It can be done without priests, without bread and wine, and across denominational and even interreligious lines: the only qualification for participation is to be “a member of the human race.” Drawing on the finest of Teilhard’s mystical/evolutionary vision, it touches the heart of the earth and the heart of humanity in a way that is not only fully Eucharistic, but under some circumstances (such as on Holy Isle) even more universal and compelling than its official liturgical counterpart.

At any rate, I pass this on to you for further exploration and experimentation in your own Wisdom circles. At the very least, it’s another simple step forward into bringing Teilhard’s work into more active liturgical use.


Requirements:

• Group gathered in a circle;

• “Mass on the World” text from King (p. 80-81);

• Two readers (reader 1, “priest,” reads paragraphs 1-3, 6-7; reader 2, “deacon,” reads paragraphs 4-5, 8). Ideally, the two readers are sitting opposite from each other.

In my own version of this ceremony, I have found it highly effective to read the text over the music “Essence” by Peter Kater. This single, free-flowing piece of white music somehow dialogues poignantly with the Teilhard text and draws the whole event into an integrated liturgical experience, not just a recitation (note: the piece is longer than the Mass itself: just use as much of it as you need and fade to silence when the recitation is finished; it accommodates easily).

At the end of paragraph 6 (“Once upon a time…the world borne ever onward in the stream of universal becoming…”), reader stands, and invites all in circle to do likewise.

At the invocation in paragraph 7 (”Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers to you at this dawn of a new day”) all raise their hands above their head, making their own oblation. Position is held for two minutes or so in silence, and while deacon reads the final paragraph. At the last words of this paragraph, “Lord, make us one,” all in the circle are invited to join, separately and/or in unison.

Then priest/reader sits and all sit. Music fades, meditation follows for as long as is desired.


Give it a try and share your feedback. My blessings to you!

~ Cynthia

A Tribute to Beatrice Bruteau by Cynthia Bourgeault

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cynthia Bourgeault