A New Place to Call Home

Christmastide greetings to you all!

Surprise!!! I have a new home. On the Monday before Christmas I slipped off of Eagle Island in the trough between two storms, and early that afternoon closed on a little house in Stonington, Maine, a picturesque little fishing village about five miles from Eagle. It will serve as the staging platform for my hermit times out on the island, and for my travels and local teaching during the other seasons of my life.

Eagle Island Hermitage

Eagle Island Hermitage

I was as surprised as anyone else that this all dropped into my lap, and I admit it represents a compromise between my dreams of hermit solitude and the lived reality of a life given increasingly to travel and teaching. Getting to and from Eagle Island, even in summer when the mail boat runs daily, is always a bit of a push, and in the off-season when the boat runs two days a week at best (with wind and weather determining which two these will be), trying to schedule teaching and travel commitments made months in advance is simply not sustainable.  The only way to be on Eagle Island in the off-season is to BE here—clear the decks and simply hunker down.  I am planning to do exactly that this coming February and have cleared the decks accordingly. But my intuitions—and now my commitments—have indicated that this will be the exception rather than the rule.

It’s taken a lot of discernment to get to this point. I love this little hermitage I’ve gradually built out here on Eagle, on which I hold a lifetime lease (but don’t actually own.) As I write this, it’s a luminous beautiful, calm night on the first day of the “gaining” of the light. Yep, it’s still functionally dark at 4 pm and pitch black by 5. But each day we’ll be gaining now…And my little Advent wreath burns brightly with its four candles, and I chant the psalms and slip into silence in this magnificent, mystical heart of a Christmas season and am happy to be absolutely nowhere else… Read more

Christmas Blessings

Dear friends and fellow contemplatives,

 We would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a joyous and blessed Christmas – and to share this brief excerpt of Cynthia’s writing capturing how one very special, timeless moment can glow “with the fullness of God.”

 

There was one evening, almost eventless in its own right, that somehow stands out in the constellation of my Rafe memories like a first-order star. It was late October, about six weeks before Rafe’s death, with the first real snowfall of the season. Earlier that week he had brought his tractor and woodcart up the mud-slicked road for a major run-up on getting the winter wood in. We’d spent the afternoon together working in the woods, but I was dragging and a little sick, and although he was not in much better shape himself after an afternoon of chain-sawing in the snow, he insisted on bringing me down the hill. He fired up the tractor, dusted the snow off; then, carefully laying an old poncho in the cart for me to sit on, he boosted me in, and we took off down the hill. Somewhere around the first bend, we both became aware of something extraordinary going on, as if this little voyage were suddenly trekking across the face of a far vaster deep.

Twelve hours later, the vividness still only barely receding, I tried to capture some the feeling of it in my journal: Read more

Remembering Margaret Haines

In early December Margaret Haines, founding president of The Contemplative Society, slipped peacefully from this life on her beloved Salt Spring Island, surrounded by family and close friends. She was 86 years old.

Margaret was my mentor and my midwife. She entered my life at a critical point in my own spiritual journey and with her signature combination of clarity, honesty, and tough love pushed me through. Virtually everything I have learned, accomplished, and brought into being in these past fifteen years I owe to her.

Margaret Haines and Fr. Thomas Keating 2007

Margaret Haines and Fr. Thomas Keating, 2007

When she first walked into my life back in late spring 1994, it was actually Thomas Keating she was looking for. The Anglican parish of Salt Spring Island, of which she was a loyal member, was at that time wrapping up its ambitious expansion of the church in Ganges Village, and Margaret had decided that a proper inauguration of the new facilities would certainly entail a spiritual dedication as well, led by no less than Fr. Thomas Keating himself. This was not entirely a fantasy, since she was at the time one of Thomas’s most dedicated students, in regular correspondence with him. But Thomas, overcommitted and in poor health, eventually convinced her to accept me as his substitute, and that is how I first made the acquaintance of both Margaret and the Anglican Parish of Salt Spring Island. Read more

Reflections on Suffering

One of the things I most love about the line of work I’ve fallen into—writing books that push the Christian theological envelope—is that it brings me into conversation with so many fascinating people around the world. The majority of these folks belong to the general category of what I’d call “heartbroken Christians:” thoughtful, prayerful, sincere spiritual seekers, often deeply committed to other spiritual paths, who have found in my books permission to re-open their own deep questions and take a second look at Jesus and the Christian path. At any given time, I’ve probably got a half-dozen of these conversations going on. I particularly enjoyed the following one last week with Robert Perry in New Zealand, who has graciously given his permission to reproduce it here.

Dear Cynthia,

Your stunning book, The Wisdom Jesus, which I purchased only three weeks ago, has had a profound effect on me, and the opportunity to ask you a few questions about it directly has felt like an important thing for me to seek.

I understand that you receive a lot of email and that you may not be able to reply straight away – no problem. I also want to clarify that, contrary to possible appearances, when I ask the questions below, I am not “in my head”. I’m thirsty for clarification on a heart level more so than on the level of intellect.

Before I begin with the questions, I just want to add that I met you a few years ago when you spoke at St Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace in Wellington. I certainly don’t expect you to remember me, but, as a Gnostic-Christianity-loving Buddhist, I was inspired by your emphasis on the wisdom aspect of Jesus’ teaching, and the practice of kenosis, so essential to Buddhism under a different name. This talk of yours, and your book, have provided a doorway for me into a more mature take on Christianity which my heart has always known to exist and been in love with, but has, for thirteen years, had a great deal of trouble finding.

So here are my questions: Read more

Fall Triduum

Helen Daly, one of our Wisdom students in Brattleboro, Vermont, emailed me last week to ask if I could write a couple of paragraphs by what I mean by the “Fall Triduum.”  Aha! A question! Happy to oblige.

Triduum, of course, is the name applied in Catholic liturgical circles to those great three days that form the heart of the Holy Week celebration: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the great Vigil of Easter (Triduum means “three days.”) The solemn passage through this sacred space is experienced not only as a set of external observances, but as a journey deep within the interiority of our own hearts.

Many years ago, it occurred to me that the fall also offers us a Triduum in those great three days encompassing Halloween (October 31), All Saints Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2). Though Halloween is by and large celebrated only as a secular holiday and All Saints and All Souls are relatively unknown beyond monastic circles, they do in fact comprise their own sacred passage, which is not only authentic in and of itself, but also a powerful mirror-image of the energy flowing through the spring Triduum.  For several years now I have led silent retreats at the time of this fall Triduum, most recently for the monks and lay community of  Our lady of the Holy Spirit Abbey in Conyers, Georgia. The original “Fall Triduum” retreat was pioneered—as with so much else in my life—with The Contemplative Society, at a retreat house on Vancouver Island.

Read more

Off We Go!

Cynthia Bourgeaut Dear friends,

Welcome to our brand new Contemplative Society blogspot! All morning as I’ve pondered about how best to launch this initial post, I find myself wondering what Thomas Merton would have done if this technology had been available to him. I chuckle to think of him sitting there in his little cinder block hermitage swapping comments with correspondents all over the world in instant cyber-style. Somehow I think he’d be right at home.

There are a number of ways we can go with this blogspot, of course. I first suggested it to my wonderful friends in The Contemplative Society as a way of increasing the interactivity of our website, and of keeping in touch with you all at a tempo a bit faster than just those semi-annual membership letters.  Certainly I’ll be hoping to keep better in touch with you all by posting accounts of some of my travel and teaching adventures and developments on both the personal and spiritual fronts. This winter, for example, I am looking forward to finally being able to clear the decks for six weeks of solitude in my little hermitage on Eagle Island. I’ll hope to be able to take you along on some of this journey (can you believe, my off-the-grid island nonetheless has satellite internet?), and to share meanderings and milestones if any. Read more