Remembering “the Goodness of God” – Reflection by Linda Coggin

 

The following reflection has been provided by Linda Coggin from Victoria BC.  Linda was one of 100 people who participated in the recent virtual event with Matthew Wright, where he offered his heartful and profound insights, teaching, and practices on the theme of “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times.” For a prior post from another participant at Matthew’s retreat please see Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller.

We will circulate a notification as soon as the recordings from Matthew’s event are ready and available on our AUDIO  page (where you can find audio recordings from previous events with Matthew Wright and our other teachers).

Thank you so much Linda, for sharing your experience here!

 


Julian Norwich Cathedral windowJulian of Norwich seems to be everywhere. At least, since The Contemplative Society’s online retreat in August, I have noticed this. I have noticed Julian’s presence in conversations with friends, in books I’m reading, and while listening to podcasts. Since the retreat, Julian’s teachings have woven their way into my everyday contemplative practice.

In Isaiah 37:5, the prophet reminds, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.” This year more than usual, it seems, I have been lost in the words I hear, in the paralyzing rhetoric of these times, and in the personal what-ifs and unless-es of the story I’m narrating about my life now.

So, when Matthew Wright began the first session with his own sense of spiritual disconnection during this time and offered that Julian of Norwich is stepping forward to teach us, I was listening.

Matthew went on to say that:

“the fear and disconnect brought on by the pandemic, the divisiveness and sense of incoherence heightened by the global political moment describe our experience, valid as it may be, but not reality, that is Reality with a capital R.”

Matthew reminded us not to mistake our experience of fear and confusion for the reality of love and trust calling to us. With this awareness, I was opened to Julian’s teaching about prayer that has urged me forward in that call to trust.

The first realization that engendered deeper trust in my practice was Julian’s teaching that the highest form of prayer is the Goodness of God. Chapter VI of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love begins:

“This showing was made to learn our soul wisely to cleave to the Goodness of God… the Goodness of God is ever whole; and more near to us, … and that we be evermore cleaving to His Goodness. For all things that the heart may think, this pleaseth most God, and soonest speedeth [the soul].”

open handsFor me, “cleaving” has taken the physical form of holding my prayer hands open at the palms to invite awareness of that Goodness, or I imagine being surrounded by God’s Goodness like the warm wool blanket I use for praying on cooler days. In centering prayer I abide in that goodness where, as Julian says, God is the doer.

Matthew explained that Julian invites us to trust this gaze of Love that never judges us. That “meaningless incoherence” we sometimes feel is from our side and so are my what-ifs. Julian teaches that the Goodness of God keeps us in all circumstances, in “woe as well as weal.” Love is the ground that holds both. In my own experience of “woes” and “weal,” I can trust that unfolding.

I was unsure how the online retreat would compare to the other Contemplative Society Wisdom School and day retreats I have attended. I joined the “Voice for Our Times” from my contemplative corner in my basement with almost 100 other people from around the globe. Matthew intuitively created a purposeful balance between teaching and practice and, alongside the community of participants, generated a welcome that was palpable. Matthew lead from heart filled chants and centering silence that surrounded guided teaching and discussion. His leadership threaded the “Goodness of God” through the introduction of Julian of Norwich’s life and path through her teaching on prayer, the parable of Lord and Servant, and revealing understanding of the Cross.

As we began with what Matthew called “the thick veils” of incoherence, fear, and confusion that is now, in the last session he ended with Julian’s wisdom that God is at work in both weal and woe. Matthew summarized that Julian:

“is inviting us to really see and trust that what we experience in time is only the surface of reality, and that we are eternal souls unfolding eternally in God.”

Note: I am grateful to The Contemplative Society’s recordings of events that enabled me to more faithfully reflect and return to this experience.

 

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Image credits:

Julian of Norwich (window in Norwich Cathedral) from Wikipedia

Hands image by Avelino Calvar Martinez from Pixabay

 

 

 

 

 

Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller

The following reflection has been provided by Martha Keller from Victoria BC.  Martha was one of 100 people who participated in the recent virtual event with Matthew Wright, where he offered his heartful and profound insights, teaching, and practices on the theme of “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times.”

We will circulate a notification as soon as the recordings from this event are ready and available on our AUDIO page (where you can find audio recordings from previous events with Matthew Wright and our other teachers).

Thank you so much Martha, for sharing your experience, and Matthew for guiding the event so beautifully!

 


In August, with a global pandemic in full swing, I signed in to an online Zoom retreat sponsored by The Contemplative Society.  I felt a certain amount of trepidation.  It was titled, “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times”.  I knew little of the Christian mystic, Julian, and had never attended a virtual retreat.  Needless to say, I felt a little out of my depth.  One by one, others from as far away as Australia joined the Zoom gallery of attendees, some perhaps feeling apprehensive as I did.

Soon Matthew Wright, the retreat leader, appeared and filled the screen with his generous spirit of grace and good will. He welcomed us to the retreat against an image of the church in Norwich where Julian spent much of her life.  I knew he was a gifted teacher and spiritual leader and suddenly felt I was in a sacred space.  As he led our first silent meditation, doubts about a Zoom retreat began to dissolve.

Matthew Wright

But I still wondered about spending 3 days with a Christian mystic I had barely heard of.  Who was she, and why was she being lauded as “a voice for our time”?  Matthew helped us understand: Julian was a woman who lived through waves of the plague that swept through Europe in the 1300’s. As many as half the inhabitants of her own town of Norwich died.  At the age of 30, she had her own health crisis. Near death, she had a series of revelations, or “showings”, that fueled her lifelong passion to share her mystical vision and minister to the spiritual needs of others.

Julian of Norwich In mid-life, she became an anchorite, voluntarily secluding herself in an “anchorhold”, a sealed cell, attached to the local church.  She lived as an anchoress for the rest of her life, meditating, praying, writing, and giving spiritual counsel to townspeople through a window in her cell.  It was in this period of her life that she found the greatest sense of joy and freedom.  

Oh!…I was beginning to see why Julian might have something to say to us as we sheltered-in-place during our own pandemic.  Peering out from the Zoom gallery, we appeared to be in cells of our own, isolated from one another, but still connecting through a window into the retreat community of around 100 participants.

What followed were three days of Matthew’s deeply engaging teaching about Julian’s words, along with periods of silent meditation and restful Taize music.  I cannot do justice to this special time in a blog post, but here are some of the words and thoughts that offer spiritual sustenance for the days ahead: 

 

  • Essentially, Julian reset the dial from a wrathful, punitive God she had known as a child, to one of Divine Love– a love that was expansive, generous, and endless. All the “fruits of the spirit” flowed from this Source.
  • She spoke of the “falls” that we all suffer in life as “behovely”, an archaic term meaning “necessary or advantageous”.  Through the parable of the Lord and the Servant, she illustrated that faults and failure can be helpful for greater connection and spiritual deepening.
  • She counseled that life’s repeating cycle of “weal” and “woe”, joy and pain, is education for the soul, a way of learning to trust a Divine Love that is deeper than everything.  We were challenged with the question:  How would your life be different if you learned to trust the Source who called you into being?

 

Matthew reminded us that the contemplative Prayer of the Heart practice is essential for cultivating the “fruits of the spirit” — hope, faith, love, kindness, compassion, and trust. It is what allows us to work on ourselves so we can serve from within and engage with healing in the world.  As Julian wrote, “Prayer soothes the soul and shapes us for grace”.

In this retreat Matthew opened a path forward for us with a comforting and hopeful message:

 
“Julian brings us back to trust, coherence, love, and meaning in a bewildering time.”  

 

Gratitude to Matthew Wright for his exquisite blend of scholarly teaching and heart wisdom.  And gratitude to The Contemplative Society for trusting that even Zoom could create a sacred retreat space!

 

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Christmas 2018 – A Fond Farewell

Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

I have had the great privilege of serving the society for the last 3.5 years as your administrator. Back in 2015, I was a fledgling meditator and fairly new to the contemplative side of Christianity. Since then, I have learned much and made many friends, and I am grateful to the board who have given me this opportunity to say thank you to you all.

As I pack up my things here at the office and prepare for a new chapter in my professional life, I am given many opportunities to reflect on my time with the society. From sunny board retreats on a small island off the coast of Sidney, BC to building a walkable enneagram with Cynthia Bourgeault, this job has given me so many opportunities to explore my academic interest in spirituality as well as my own personal path, and have fun while doing it! The people I have worked most closely with have mentored me and given me hope for the future, while brief exchanges with members and community members penetrated days of bookkeeping, event organising, and website maintenance with flashes of the unity we are all taught to trust in and cultivate.

I was also a fledgling at life when I started this position, already 28 but only a few years out of university and still gaining my adult “sea legs”. Two traumatic events that occurred in 2013 and 2014 respectively prompted me to spend my time more meaningfully, and it just so happened that the administrator position was opening up at TCS. I don’t think it was a coincidence. While these years have been very difficult personally, I can only imagine how cold and bleak they might have been without the love and support of this community holding me up and propelling me forward. While I probably can’t claim to be a wise adult now (I think I’ll continue to be singled out as the youngest person at retreats for a while yet!), I certainly have learned much from the society and the contemplative path to bolster me through the next stages of my life.

While I am moving on work-wise as I pursue my goal to become a clinical counsellor, I am not leaving the society behind. I sincerely hope to continue to see many of you at TCS events and retreats. In the meantime, I leave knowing that I am very much part of something cosmically good, and thank you all for showing me that.

Your generosity to the society in financial support, volunteer help, sharing resources, and loving one another is a wonderful Christmas gift to me and all those you serve. Have a wonderful holiday season and please give a warm welcome to the new administrator, Sharon Taylor, in the New Year.

Blessings and warm wishes,

Miranda

Miranda Harvey, administrator

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Our reframing requires departing from Boehme in the following ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Triangle: Unity > psychic forces > spirit > energy

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

Fourth Triangle: Unity > spirit > energy > matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Triangle: Unity > energy > Jesus > Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


References:

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

Reflections of a Wanderer: Unpacking the “Way of Union” Retreat

You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck

~ Rumi

Wandering, hunting, seeking, yearning…sometimes I think that what is around my neck is a heavy burden…yet I am invited to treasure the beautiful necklace that is there, and has always been there.

My 65th year has been a year of wandering, pilgrimaging, seeking to make sense of my life of yearning, seeking. I started the year by walking the Camino de Santiago and shared in the pain and exaltation of thousands of other pilgrims, with thousands of different reasons for pilgrimaging. I began to get a very slight but visceral sense of embodiment…could this be what it is to embody Christ? How could I sustain this? I came home to a deeper commitment to my Catholic roots and my contemplative practice in the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) tradition.

But it is so hard to be Catholic in these times and, while I feel an enduring whisper to stay, there is also anger and deep frustration, despite positive changes in recent years. So the questions always are there: Is this what Christ intended? Is this what God created us to be? Why is change taking so long? In seeking answers, I am drawn to Christian mysticism and Sufism, particularly the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and Rumi.

So I was very interested when I learned that the “Way of Union” retreat was to be offered on Vancouver Island by The Contemplative Society. Nonetheless, I hesitated about going because of time and cost. But everything seemed to conspire to draw me there, including the generous offering of a scholarship, so I signed up. As the weekend began, I felt immediately embraced into a community of spiritual explorers, men and women of diverse ages seeking understanding of how to bring Christ’s love into our day to day lives and thus be “agents of social change”.

Shortly after the retreat was over, and with barely time to gather my breath, I left for three months to volunteer at the new WCCM community at Bonnevaux, France. And with three times per day meditation and physical labour, I unpacked what the learning of the Way of Union retreat, and this whole year of wandering, means to how I should live each day, indeed each minute. And I saw that they are integrally connected.

The day I left Canada, Fr. Thomas Keating died. The WCCM honored his life in prayer and in virtual participation in the celebration of his life. Bonnevaux sits on the French Camino and we explored ways that we can support pilgrims on their way to Santiago. I began reviewing my notes from our time with the “Way of Union” teacher, Matthew Wright.

The notes from the retreat highlight that community is “grist for the mill of transformation.” What transformation am I invited to in community with The Contemplative Society and the WCCM? I am reminded that, in contemplative practice, wisdom is recognized as perennial. How do I reconcile that with ubiquitous suggestions within Christianity that Christ alone is our Saviour? What does it mean to embody the “bridal chamber” or place of union in a world dominated by separateness and power-over? I often feel deep fatigue with the need to turn away from dominant messages. Our days of exploration with Matthew encouraged us to hold our emerging awareness in spaciousness, as non-identified witnesses. It reminded us that, in the perennial traditions, there are several levels of self-hood or different mansions. And the level I am at in this moment is where I need to be. Right here. Right now.

According to the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: Let him who seeks not cease from seeking until he finds; and when he finds, he will be disturbed, he will marvel, and he shall reign over the All.

One month after the retreat, I am beginning to embrace what it might feel like to be disturbed in this search and look forward to continued exploration. 

But most importantly, I am much more appreciative of the diverse contemplative traditions within Christianity and outside of it, the support The Contemplative Society provides through scholarships and other accessible resources, and the role it plays in fostering interfaith dialogue and mysticism around the world. The people supporting The Contemplative Society truly are diamonds on my necklace.  

With deep and heartfelt gratitude!


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Kathleen’s perspectives are shaped by a diverse background living and working in Canada’s North and in inner-city communities in Vancouver, BC. Having raised three sons as a single mother, she has an enduring commitment to social justice and community development. Now retired, Kathleen seeks to link her passion for contemplative experiences with a commitment to inclusive communities and her family involvement as a grandmother. She now lives in Gibsons, BC and co-facilitates a weekly Christian meditation group there.

From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 3

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

Read on for the third part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Additional posts are listed below:


By the end of our last post, the Job story has led us to three happenings:

  • Yahweh has had a prick of self-awareness, reflective consciousness.
  • His dark side has been uncovered and now planted in human and Yahweh’s knowing or, in Job’s words, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 1:10).
  • Yahweh is faced with a choice of relating with his creation in a new way or letting creation collapse back into an ineffable unity.

So far, we have approached and understood these ideas from the premise that creation is all about the Endless Unity yearning to know itself, to become human — the divine plan. This post will continue our explorations from a slightly revised take on this plan. But first some terms need defining.

A “plan” implies thought or consciousness, which raises the discussion about the state of consciousness in the Absolute. To remain true to the antinomy of the Endless Unity, it is a state of neither identifiable consciousness nor unconsciousness, but rather non-consciousness. Consciousness, as ultimately some form of communication between “somethings” (as per Ilia Delio’s insightful definition), cannot be in the no-thingness of the Absolute. Likewise, unconsciousness has nothing to be “un” about. While both may be regarded as latent or potentials, they have no meaning within the antinomy of Unity.

With this understanding, the divine plan may be more precisely called the divine trajectory. We can have some confidence in substituting this word as we boldly state our premise that the fundamental a priori essence of the ineffable Absolute is Unity. It will eternally move to reestablish its Oneness. Thus, the ontological journey may be reframed from God yearning to know itself to an inevitable irrepressible trajectory of God’s diverse features moving toward the essential state of unity. However, with the totality of antinomy split outwardly, that essence must actually be a re-unity in a different state; i.e., a space-time reality evolving toward Oikonomia — the “reunion of created and uncreated realms” (Bourgeault, HT, p. 182). The unmoving Alpha is ever-moving toward Teilhard’s Omega Point.

While this reframing may seem like semantics or reasoning in a circle, the focus on a trajectory and reunification provides a different position for viewing the incarnation and the Trinity. Otherwise, we are led too quickly to simply seeing God as love and as longing to know itself.

Given the three Job happenings listed above, Yahweh’s long-distance relationship with creation can no longer be justified— self-aware humans now know too much, as does Yahweh. His antinomy has split apart and omnipotence is ruling the roost destructively. His creation could no longer be what we might call a virtual reality operating from an obedience-based software program. The covenant relationship has been too prone to failures to assure his dispersed and opposing qualities will be united again. In short, Yahweh could longer relate as a long-distance creator of cosmic reality; he had to be that reality throughout its invisible and visible realms. More precisely, Yahweh had to be forever becoming, unfolding and enfolding the cosmos through stages of rising consciousness and finally to transformed consciousness; i.e., Teilhard’s superconsciousness accumulating in the noosphere and culminating in Oikonomia. Emanation had to transition into immanation.

Yahweh’s features (or “names”) emanate out in their own separate ways, primarily vibrating to their independent subtle energetic frequencies as psychic forces. To gather these psychic forces together, Yahweh’s essence of Oneness had to reside in a conscious being who could contain and live from a unified, non-dualistic knowing. Enter Jesus. How does the infinite become finite and restore its perfect wholeness forever? The way and the means are revealed in the life and acts of Jesus the Christ, but not as directly as first appears and has traditionally been understood. Moreover, as wisdom students we know that the Jesus events did not take the divine trajectory to its destined target point — Oikonomia.

So what was the role of Jesus? First, he embodied his “father’s” essence not in a state of unity but as a flow of unifying energy. At the same time in history, he embodied the consequences of psychic forces run rampant. In his Job encounter, Yahweh ran smack into (or, in wisdom speak, witnessed) the consequences of the conditions and endless choices imposed by separated opposites entrenched in a reality of “hard edges” — a dualistic reality (Bourgeault, WJ, pp. 97-98). The full implications of Yahweh’s exposure to the dark side of creation have to be experienced by him in some experiential (i.e., incarnated) way, not just virtually.

A second role of Jesus was to be a sacrifice (an act of making sacred). For Jung, this sacrifice served to expiate Yahweh’s immoral treatment of Job — divine mercy must finally correct a divine wrong (Jung, p. 43). We can from our reframed position go a step deeper and see the sacrifice as an atonement for the Endless Unity’s initial violation of its essence, the rupturing of its perfect wholeness and rest. On the micro level this amounts to expiating the original state of separation (sin) that humans are born into.

With his embodiment role and redemptive death, Jesus as the first anointed self-aware being was prepared for his third role — his reconciling act in the “harrowing of hell,” as Cynthia insightfully suggests (WJ, pp. 119-124). Expressed through our reframing, Christ carried the unifying vibration into the manifesting world’s center (heart) where the psychic forces enter physical reality as spiritual realities. Thus, Christ is not only the model of divine re-unification, he is the initiator of it — the Holy Reconciler. He has established a way for re-unification in the new dimension of creation.

Let’s pause here to make some associations explicit. With consciousness being any form of communication, Christ through self-aware intentional consciousness has set up a specific line of communication by embodying the flow of unifying essence. Through his unflinching steady position (as demonstrated by Job), Christ holds all dualities together and stirs the deeply buried spirit of Oneness embedded in every psychic force. Thus, with this conjunction, the exchange between opposites is grounded in a mutual give and take to restore wholeness. This is in the Christian wisdom tradition called love, relieved of any emotional fixation. It involves kenotic giving and humble taking in the unfolding of unity in diversity.

Thus, the way is established by Christ, which is integrated into the means for walking the way. In a fourth and fifth roles, Christ resurrects and leaves humanity a Paraclete, a mediator — the Holy Spirit. His resurrection is the penultimate reconciliation as death (suffering, pain, evil) becomes intrinsic to the transformation of mortality into immortality. Thus, Christ’s resurrection is not so much conquering or denying death (i.e., anti-life) as it is transforming physical life into transfigured being.

Could it be that the energy involved in the cosmic reconciling and the third force alchemizing of the life-death collision into the new arising of a transfigured risen Christ was densified by, or even created, the Holy Spirit? Perhaps this idea about the Holy Spirit brings together the paradoxical first and second laws of thermodynamics by injecting in them the spiritual law of a cosmic trajectory toward re-unification. The heat loss (entropy) from the reconciling “work” is gathered in the Holy Spirit.

At any rate, by whatever process, the Paraclete (mediator) can be viewed as a reconciling force flowing and accessible in this world’s reality. By opening our centers of being (our hearts) to this spiritual energy, we have the means of becoming complete humans working toward a new humanity, as envisioned by Teilhard. The creator’s means of communicating with its creatures is no longer restricted to visions, dreams, myths, and symbols as with all his previous spokespersons. We now have a direct and personal party line, carrying the unifying spirit between us and the Endless Unity. We can experience this direct line in such practices as Centering Prayer, during which heart/mind connections and neurological re-patterning are occurring, as being verified by a growing body of research.

The bottom line is the infinite and finite have a new relationship built on reflective consciousness entering into creator/creature exchanges (communications) with the mutually beneficial intention of re-unification. Moreover, as Christ taught, our transformed consciousnesses of non-duality are forming a body, a new (transfigured) humanity, referred to as the body of Christ or the Oikonomia manifested.

With the reframing developed so far in these posts, we can approach with renewed wonder the wisdom formula depicting the flow of the Absolute into matter where each factor is a densification of the previous factor:

Endless One > psychic forces > spirit > energy > matter

In this formula we can see Boehme’s idea of the big bang and Teilhard’s observation that “particles can now be treated as transient reservoirs of concentrated power” (Teilhard, p. 13). Also, although “for science energy currently represents the most primitive form of universal stuff” (p. 14), Teilhard posits that “all cosmic energy is fundamentally psychic [spiritual]” (p. 30 and p. 230). Thus, “some rudimentary psyche exists in every corpuscle (in the infinitely small, that is infinitely diffuse, state)” (p. 217).

With these thoughts we can extend the above formula as a starting point for reconsidering the Trinity in the final post. As a confirmed scientist, Teilhard eschews metaphysical inquiry, but he repeatedly flirts with it and challenges us to take up the task of broadening the boundaries of science.


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


References:

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

From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 2

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

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


By the end of Part 1 of this exploration, we were prepared to consider the story of Job from a metaphysical perspective — and in particular Jung’s analysis of the story as a grand metaphor of Yahweh coming to consciousness. Both Boehme and Teilhard provide some direction for this still largely ignored avenue for exploring the Book of Job.

A helpful starting point is Boehme’s brilliant early recognition of the inner tension of the Divine. For him this tension is an impressure or “‘unequal pressure’ in the equilibrium of the divine will” resulting in movement (Bourgeault, HT, p. 97). Boehme calls this first principle of movement the wrathful principle. A less affective term may be unbridled power, as Job encountered it. Jung understands Yahweh’s antinomy as “the indispensable condition for his tremendous dynamism” (Jung, p. 7) and sees God’s “inner instability” (p. 66) as the cause of creation:

But the pleromatic split is in turn a symptom of a much deeper split in the divine will: …God wants to become man, the amoral wants to become exclusively good, the unconscious wants to become consciously responsible (p. 62).

The inner tension between the pulling in of Unity and the pushing out to differentiate for self-knowing brings to mind Teilhard’s diffusion-convergence interplay observed in creation. These repelling and attracting forces lead into his complexification-consciousness concept. As long as the unconscious-conscious antinomy remains undisturbed Unity can be eternally at rest. But Satan’s bet, which is actually challenging Yahweh to be self-aware, occasions Unity to face its manifesting expression. For the latent capacity for becoming (the lived expressing of Unity) to flower into being, the impulse toward consciousness must be realized — in both senses of the word “realized”. Moreover, the overall direction of the interactions of these opposing forces is imbued with the essence of Unity; that is, a trajectory back to unity as a reuniting in a new dimension. This would be Jung’s “regenerated God”, Boehme’s body of Christ, Teilhard’s Omega point, and fulfillment of Oikonomia, the divine plan.

Could the big bang be the splitting of the unconscious-conscious antinomy of the Unity (perhaps like the splitting of the atom in the material realm)? I realize we are wading into the deep waters of the debate over whether the Source (Unity, God, One) is unconscious or pure consciousness or both. While Jung, Boehme, and Teilhard all have their positions on this topic, it is another area for a separate discussion. Regardless, in the Book of Job an intimation of self-awareness occurs. This is even suggested by Yahwah himself, according to Jung, in his judgment of Job’s friends: “they have not spoken of me what is right as my servant Job has” (42:7). The friends have argued on the basis of conventional wisdom, which may apply to pragmatic everyday moral situations but simply doesn’t cut it with the big questions of life — paradigmatic and personal ontological questions.

Two implications of this apparent motion toward awareness as a result of unconscious behaviors are:

  1. A new divine-human relationship is being forged.
  2. Evil is an essential part of the process.

Job in his righteous stand has put a new wrinkle in the human relationship with God by boldly going where no human has gone before (Star Trek allusion is intentional). The Old Testament covenants rooted in laws, obedience, and judgment do not hold ground in Job’s case. As Jung points out, “Yahweh displays no compunction, remorse, or compassion, but only ruthless brutality…he flagrantly violates at least three of the commandments he himself gave out on Mount Sinai” (Jung, p. 14). The whole scheme of retribution/rewards and salvation through an outside source is collapsing under Job’s experience. The divine-human relationship is shifting from covenants to consciousness. Integrating the micro and macro, the know-yourself theme in The Gospel of Thomas can be at the same time the Unity knowing itself, or Jung’s regenerating God. Just how wisdom and kenosis factor in, again, must wait until another post.

Regarding the existence of evil, the two basic positions are: 1) evil is the absence of good, privatio boni (the privation of good); that is, the absence of God, or 2) evil is an aspect of God and is the necessary initial movement of creation or the evolution of consciousness. Jung, Boehme, and Teilhard all support this latter position from their own perspectives. Not surprisingly, the outward expression of Unity’s inner struggle manifests with omnipotence taking precedence over omniscience. As demonstrated repeatedly in micro reality, blind fury (shock and awe come to mind) is the immediate reaction for resolving tensions — war rather than negotiations, might to enforce right.

Boehme characterizes the wrathful principle as “hardness, harshness, and sharpness” (Bourgeault, HT, p. 97). Teilhard associates evil with disorder, failure, and decomposition (i.e., death as part of life); the toil and suffering necessary for growth; and the anguish “of a consciousness awakening to reflection in a dark universe” (Teilhard, pp. 224-225). Materially, this is the initial diffusion of random, disorganized bits and pieces; that is, energies that eventually condense into matter along the re-unifying trajectory. Teilhard also directly connects the unconscious with evil: “We have glimpsed that unconsciousness is a kind of ontological inferiority or evil.” Teilhard makes this statement as a scientist governed by the idea “that the world will only find its completion insofar as it expresses itself in a systematic and reflective perception.” In a near reversal of the Job story, Teilhard sees the need “to know for the sake of power,” but as a religious he goes on to emphasize that this power for the advancement of humanity must be “put to the service of the spirit” and “for the purpose of being more (Teilhard, p. 176).

Credit: hoodmystic.com

While unconsciousness, evil, the dark, the shadow and sin have been used interchangeably by Jung and others, the unconscious should not be equated with evil. Evil (and sin as evil in action) is a content of the unconscious and can manifest in ugly ways. But goodness can also spring from the unconscious, as in spontaneous heroic acts. Evil is understood as separation or differentiation from good. It is ultimately non-life giving; it is Scott Peck’s people of the lie. Nevertheless, given the initial fight/flight instinct in the face of tension and threats, Yahweh is certain to not flee and is saved by Job’s judicious backing off. While Job retreats, Yahweh regresses.

The answer for Job is to not enter a clearly unwinnable power struggle. If his victim won’t engage, the perpetrator must either continue the stalemate to its bitter end (the death of Job) or own up to his monstrous behavior of allowing his bet with Satan to go to such untenable lengths. But Yahweh’s owning up is just a prick, however momentous. His omniscience is still too overwhelmed by his omnipotence. It is noteworthy that Satan disappears after the prologue, never heard from again as a separate character (Barr, p. 41). For Jung, God “is hiding [Satan] from his own consciousness in his own bosom!” (Jung, p. 19). Thus, Jung can say, “Job is no more than the outward occasion for an inward process of dialectic in God” (p. 16).

By the end of the story, Yahweh finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. Either he must continue in “the torture of non-existence,” that “hellish loneliness” (Jung, p. 11), or pursue “a personal relationship between himself and man,” whom he needs “urgently and personally” (p. 8). In other words:

Existence is only real when it is conscious to somebody. That is why the Creator needs conscious man even though, from sheer unconsciousness, he would like to prevent him from becoming conscious (p. 11).

Just before this unorthodox announcement, Jung makes a comparable intriguing statement: “Yahweh regrets having created human beings, although in his omniscience he must have known all along what would happen to them” (p. 10) and not only what would happen to humans, but what might happen to his divine plan. For all his omniscience, the One could not know if humanity as a whole would finally choose to align with that inner spark of divinity or remain stubbornly disobedient. Is it any wonder that the initial divine-human relationship was an obedience-based covenant, admittedly on the gross level of rules and laws as it is for children? For the mature spiritual person, obedience, as derived from its root of ob (L. toward) and oedire (L. to hear), is to fully take in and follow the Unity’s message. Despite the trajectory toward conscious unity, there is no guarantee that humanity won’t fall off the curve as the manifesting One carries on without us in other worlds.

As the stuff of the universe enfolds on itself (Teilhard’s involution), evolution is irrepressibly progressing. Built into the involution-evolution interplay is the very essence of “God”; i.e., unity, informing and embedded in the trajectory toward re-unification. Will we join the dance and participate in unconscious Unity becoming conscious Unity? After all, it’s just one giant step to move out of the dosado with an obedience covenant and to swing into transformed consciousness. Future posts will offer a way to bolster our stepping forth by reconsidering the Trinity and keeping in mind Jung’s answer to Job.

Read on – Part 3.


Boehme-for-Beginners-Cynthia-Bourgeault-473x454To honour the date of death of Jacob Boehme or if you are interested in learning more, please see our Boehme for Beginners audio teaching by Cynthia Bourgeault.


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


References:

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

 and a monthly One World service (incorporating chants and readings from the world’s spiritual traditions), leads book studies on Cynthia Boiurgeault’s texts and the Gospel of Thomas, and edits Contemplative Society retreat recordings. At her church she serves on the Congregational Education Committee and the Pastoral Care Committee.

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

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

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


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

William Blake – Job’s Tormentors

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

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

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

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

Credit: catholicnewstt.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exactly what Job “sees” is what Jung declares:

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

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

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

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

Read on – Part 2.


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


References:

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

Photography as an Act of Faith

While we have featured many guest posts in the past, we are setting the intention to bring you more Wisdom from your fellow students of the contemplative path. We hope you will find these posts enriching, enlightening, and inspiring for your own journey. If you would like to submit a post for future consideration, please email admin@contemplative.org.

Read on for an enlightening testimonial to art as a spiritual practice by Cynthia Bourgeault’s student, Diane Walker.


Back in the days when I was living in Vermont and heating my house with wood, we used to say wood warms you four ways: once when you cut it down, once when you drag it home, once when you chop it into kindling, and once when you burn it. For me, contemplative photography works the same way: you get several opportunities to be warmed by that spark of the sacred. 

That divine spark expresses itself as a kind of recognition, and it happens for me at four different points in the process: when the subject calls to me; when I’m deciding how to photograph it; when I develop the resulting image, either in the darkroom or on my computer; and, finally, when I decide to engage with the image and see what it has to teach me. And in each case, the key to the process lies in paying attention: being present, being mindful, and not trying too hard to control the results.

If you’re a professional photographer, you may well have been taught that an amateur photographer takes a picture and a professional makes a picture. But if you are a contemplative photographer, it’s more about making yourself available for what needs to be revealed; a matter of showing up, keeping your camera handy, and being consciously present, listening for what calls to you.

So what does that mean – to be a contemplative? What does it mean for photography to be an act of faith? According to Ed Bastian,

“Contemplation is not an aimless meandering of thought, but a disciplined activity by which one explores and investigates an idea, an insight, a sacred persona, or a truth, in a thoroughgoing way, pursuing its consequences for all aspects of our lives.” 

Once I looked at it that way, I could begin to see parallels between his definition of contemplation and the way the spirit was moving through my photography.

Photo by Diane Walker

So what do I mean by that? To be a contemplative photographer is essentially an act of faith, and it has these same four contemplative components.  The discipline lies in being aware and open; it’s a commitment to listen for that divine spark – even to seek it out – and to keep my camera with me so that I can respond. The activity is the response to the spark, the conscious act of composing the photo in a way that allows the subject to speak most effectively through the camera. The idea, truth, or insight then appears – somehow – in the finished photo. And the consequences become clear when I engage with that photograph and try to understand and write about what it could possibly have to teach me.

When approached from this perspective, the photo can begin to serve as a metaphor for some aspect of the spiritual life. And the whole process is about faith and trust: confirming my heartfelt belief that somehow, in engaging with the photo and exploring the metaphors it suggests, I can learn something about that truth or insight and the consequences it has or will have on my life and the lives of those around me.

Sometimes the moment is accidental; the feeling, the impulse to see and respond, comes first, and you just have to hope you have your camera with you (and that’s one kind of discipline). But you also need to be conscious about showing up; to make the effort to go out with your camera, in faith that there might be something there that needs to voice itself through your work.

It may not initially be obvious, when you’re taking the picture, where the process is leading you. Sometimes the true meaning of the work only emerges when you bring the image to life – whether in a darkroom or on a computer. It may be that the key element will emerge in that process, in whatever manipulations you feel led to perform as you bring the image onto the page.

Photo by Diane Walker

And sometimes, it’s not until you meditate on the final image itself, that whatever truth it has to offer may be revealed – and, having come to that understanding, over time I developed what is now my daily practice. Each morning, after I awaken, I read a chapter or so of something spiritual with my cup of coffee. After 20 minutes of Centering Prayer, I sit down at my computer, wander through my photos and look at them to see what might be calling to me today.

I then spend time engaging with that photo, asking what it might have to teach me. Sometimes the words come quickly, and sometimes it takes a lot of pondering, but eventually I post that response on my blog along with the photo and send it out into the world. And there’s that contemplative process again: the discipline of sitting down and meditating, the activity of finding a photo, the time spent examining it to search for the idea or the truth, and then the writing itself, exploring and sharing the consequences of that truth.

So that’s it; that’s how contemplative photography as an act of faith has become, for me at least, a journey to the Sacred. The four ways in which the spirit moves through the process – finding a subject, taking the picture, evaluating the image, and then writing about it – nicely parallel the four steps of contemplation. There’s a discipline to it, then an active exploration, usually some truth or insight to be gained, and, in the end, some consequences to be learned and shared along the way.

And in conclusion:  if I were to share any last words about contemplative photography, I think they would be this: all creativity – not just photography – is really an act of faith. So I invite you to explore your own creativity – whatever form that may take. Take on a practice, a discipline. Have fun with it! Release your need for control, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Stay open to possibility and trust in the process – because here’s what I believe: there’s wisdom everywhere, all around you. You just have to pay attention.


Diane Walker is a contemplative photographer, painter, and writer with an extensive background in journalism, religion, and marketing. She is the former Communications Director for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Washington and has served on the faculty of the Diocesan School of Theology. She has lived on four different islands in Washington state, and has served as the volunteer exhibitions director at ECVA, a national artists registry with online exhibition space. A regular practitioner of mindfulness meditation/Centering Prayer, Diane pairs her writing and spiritual practice with her art, producing a daily blog of photos, paintings, and meditations at contemplativephotography.com. She is the author of Illuminating the Mystery: Photographic Meditations on the Gospel of Thomas.

Diane’s work can also be found on the cover of our audio teaching with Mirabai Starr, One Heart: Weaving a Tapestry of Interspiritual Community.