Last week, we received an alert about Fr. Bruno’s health. Please see Cynthia’s message below, as well as the original note from Fr. Cyprian.
Father Bruno Barnhart, OSB Cam, has been a friend and spiritual mentor to many of us here in the Pacific Northwest through his close involvement with The Contemplative Society and his deep influence on my own work. Now approaching 85-years-old, Bruno has been struggling over the past few years with chronic health issues and, in the past couple of weeks, things evidently took a serious downturn. I have no information beyond what Prior Cyprian has so honestly and lovingly shared with us [see message below] in the accompanying notification. But Bruno is obviously in good hands and resting well, and he seems very determined at this point to get back on his feet and return to his beloved hermitage as soon as he can.
While I suspect he is not yet quite at the point of leaving us, it seems clear to me (and has for some time now) that Bruno is entering a new season of his life, the time when profoundly attained spiritual masters prepare for their final conscious leave-taking from this planet. I saw it with Rafe, with Raimon Panikkar, I’m seeing it now in Thomas Keating, and I sense it dawning in Bruno. It is a holy time, a time for “becoming all flame,” for pure incandescence. As his devoted students, the best we can do is to send him continual prayers for strength, transparency, hope, and a sure sense that he is loved and held as he does the work that the great ones are called to do in this sacred thin place. I invite you to join me in meditating, on his behalf, on these remarkable words from T.S. Eliot:
“Old men ought to be explorers.
Here and there does not matter.
We must be still, and still moving
into another intensity
for a further union, a deeper communion.”
Bruno, we are sending you our love and gratitude! May you truly become all flame!
Fr. Cyprian’s update (from October 30, 2015):
Dear oblates and friends,
Thank you for all your concerns, care and prayers for our beloved Fr. Bruno. Let me update and clarify the situation for you.
Bruno grew increasingly, frighteningly weak over the last week, and so we finally decided, in keeping with Bruno’s wishes and in consultation with our good friend and doctor, John Clark, to take him into the emergency room. He has been in the hospital for two days now. They have stabilized him, and he is resting very comfortably. I was with him last night and he is very serene. I helped him eat a good dinner (he ate the marinated chicken breast, some potatoes and bread, but he let me eat all the broccoli). The nurse this morning told me that he is alert and in good spirits today.
Today Bruno is going to move to a skilled nursing facility near the hospital, where they will continue to strengthen him and do some physical therapy to get him up on his feet again. He has chosen this option, a move toward wellness and healing. This is a very good sign of life, and we look forward to getting him back to the Hermitage as soon as we can.
It has been hard for us and me personally to keep up with all the questions about Bruno’s health, so we will try to send out regular updates, and also perhaps an address if you want to send well wishes once he gets settled. We will be actively discouraging visitors during this time, though. In the meantime, I send my thanks, and you please send your love and prayers his way.
As always, your friendship means a great deal to us.
The Contemplative Society has yet to hear more about Fr. Bruno’s condition. If you are interested in further updates, please send your request firstname.lastname@example.org.
In May 2015, Cynthia Bourgeault shared a recent experience of a sudden health problem through the beautiful letter below. Thank you to Wisdom Way of Knowing (formerly Center for Spiritual Resources) for sharing the letter.
Dear Wisdom Friends,
I guess you’re all wondering what happened to me last week.
The long and short of it is that on Saturday a week ago, while driving down from Maine to Massachusetts for our upcoming Ascensiontide Wisdom retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, I began to feel decidedly strange behind the wheel, needing to muster my entire concentration to keep from passing out. I spotted one of those blue hospital signs at a freeway exit and decided to follow it. A good intuition, it turns out! I was admitted with what’s known as acute third degree heartblock (which means that the heart’s electrical system is essentially in total meltdown), and emerged from the ordeal three days later with a new pacemaker happily ticking away in my chest.
It’s not exactly as if this came out of the blue. For a couple of years now I’d been complaining about difficulty with shortness of breath walking up hills, and I could tell inwardly that something was off. But my cardiologist had been focused on arterial issues rather than electrical ones, and the electrical system gave no outward signs of misbehaving. Just last January I’d been given a clean bill of heart health.
Glad I didn’t take his recommendation to begin a regular cardio fitness regime!
This has all turned out as well as possible. While a heartblock is definitely a serious condition (worst case scenario is progression to sudden cardiac arrest), it is also one of the most easily treatable. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am literally bionically reborn! My new high-tech pacemaker is programmed to cue off my natural atrial electrical impulse (the “top half” of the heartbeat) and help the ventricular impulse (the “lower half,” which was getting blocked) to synchronize. The result is that I am simply, fully “me” again, back in the ballgame with the old familiar pizzazz, and my eyes still blinking in wonder.
There is so much to be grateful for. If you have to have a medical emergency, this is about as cushioned as it gets. I was under 24-hour cardiac surveillance at a fine hospital until the surgery could be arranged, with the emergency pacemaker (if it came to that) right in the room. My daughter Lucy lives nearby, and was there at my side throughout the whole adventure — and now, is providing a wonderful space for recuperation while my new device and I settle in together. Best of all, my brilliant senior wisdom students, spearheaded by Bill Redfield and Patricia Speak, rose to the occasion magnificently and jointly co-created a memorable Ascensiontide retreat.
And from around the world, your love and prayers poured in. I felt deeply “carried” by a higher hand.
Everything being equal, I will receive the “all clear” from my pacemaker surgeon tomorrow and make my way back to Maine over the following two days, slowly resuming my normal activity (on which there should be no limitations). Thank heavens it was already a “hermit time” in my schedule, deliberately left wide open for writing and family visits.
The spiritual implications will take a bit longer to sink in. But for the moment, this is what’s uppermost in my mind:
For many years now during my evening psalmody I’ve chanted the line from Psalm 139: “the number of my days was appointed before one of them came into being.” And I think it’s Ecclesiastes where one finds the line, “Lord, make me to know the number of my days.” I know I’ve sung it in the Brahms Requiem. In fact, just six years ago at my first husband Cal’s memorial service.
Well, for better or worse, I now know the number of my days: 68 years, 2 months, 3+ days. Without being overly alarmist, it’s pretty clear to all concerned that the situation I experienced this weekend was not going to self-correct. Without those equal infusions of grace and modern technology my life would even now be winding down, or wound down already. As it is, I apparently have a 10-15 year medical extension, easily renewable if the rest of the one horse shay holds up.
It’s not like I’m now living on borrowed time, for this second wind that’s been given to me is fully my own life in this skin and bones, on this precious planet, and I intend to make the most of it. But you could say, perhaps, that it’s borrowed time from the Imaginal realm, a bit more space to explore the crucial dimensions of being finite, of bringing this all to a conscious fulfillment. And as I gradually get back into the rushing river of my life, I will try not to let this precious realization slip away.
Boundless thanks to all! In both realms. May I use this extension consciously and gratefully.
On November 16 The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation presented its 2014 Contemplative Voices Award to the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault. The Shalem Contemplative Voices Award was created to honor those individuals who have made significant contributions to contemplative understanding, living and leadership and whose witness helps others live from the divine wellspring of compassion, strength, and authentic vision. Past honorees have been Father Richard Rohr, OFM, the Rev. Margaret Guenther and Rev. John Philip Newell. The evening included a web-streamed (video-taped) recording of Cynthia’s presentation. Cynthia Bourgeault, a modern-day mystic, writer and internationally known retreat leader was honored by Shalem with a special benefit evening on November 16, 2014 at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Rockville, MD. Cynthia is an Episcopal priest and a founding director of both The Contemplative Society and the Aspen Wisdom School. She continues to contribute to The Contemplative Society in her role as principal teacher and advisor and is dedicated to promoting the practice of Centering Prayer. She is a past Fellow of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, and an oblate of New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur, CA. Cynthia is also the author of eight books including: The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three; The Meaning of Mary Magdalene; The Wisdom Jesus; Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening; Mystical Hope; and The Wisdom Way of Knowing. In addition, she has authored or contributed to numerous articles and courses on the Christian spiritual life. “Cynthia is passionate about recovering the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path and is one of the clearest contemplative voices today,” says Leah Rampy, Shalem’s executive director. “By her life as a hermit and teacher, she witnesses daily to the value of the contemplative path, and we are honored to acknowledge her in this way.” From Cynthia’s presentation:
“Contemplation was originally in the Greek and early patristic understandings reserved for a kind of higher or noetic knowing, knowing through the nous, the eye of the heart. Sometimes it takes the form of visionary seeing, images, but more typically it is simply a kind of luminous, situational knowingness that can’t be attributed to any outside source. It becomes part of one’s own being… …We need to begin to claim the slowly growing collecting reservoir of noetic insight and draw on it consciously in service of the continuing evolution of humanity and the life of the planet. Contemplative reawakening may have begun on the ground of personal healing and transformation, but it has now found its authentic wingspan in the prophetic and the collective.”