The Planetary Pentecost – Part III

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As T.S. Eliot describes:

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

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

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

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

Veni Sancte Espiritus. Veni.

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

The Planetary Pentecost – Part II

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


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St. Ignatius of Loyola, New York City

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

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

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

Oh, gee…thanks?

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

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

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

New York City AIDS Walk – May 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bring it on.


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

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

 

 

 

The Planetary Pentecost – Part I

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


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

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

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

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

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

American Teilhard Association annual meeting - May 15, 2016

American Teilhard Association annual meeting – May 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

pentecost_web1-1024x461

 

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

Veni Sancte Espiritus. Bring it on.

(to be continued…)


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

Matthew Wright on the West Coast: A Report

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Originally posted on NortheastWisdom.org

The Year of Teilhard continues – A report by Cynthia Bourgeault

Dear Wisdom friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

teilhard and lucile swan

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

New Year’s blessings,

Cynthia

Remembering Bruno Barnhart

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

 

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

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

Bruno Barnhart - Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

Bruno Barnhart – Bethlehem Retreat Centre in Nanaimo, November 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Requirements:

• Group gathered in a circle;

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

~ Cynthia

Launching The Year Of Teilhard by Cynthia Bourgeault

A letter from Cynthia Bourgeault, January 3, 2015

 

Dear Wisdom Friends,

Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: Renowned scientist, theologian, writer, mystic. 1881-1955

Here’s an unusual New Year’s resolution! I’d like to propose that all of us in the Wisdom network declare 2015 The Year Of Teilhard de Chardin and take on the collective task of getting to know his work better.

There’s no specific milestone to celebrate here. This year will mark the 60th anniversary of his death, but that’s probably looking in the wrong direction. The important thing is that Teilhard’s star is now rising powerfully on the horizon, heralding the dawn of an entirely new kind of Christian theology. Misunderstood in his own times, silenced and exiled by his Jesuit superiors, he is finally coming into his own as the most extraordinary mystical genius of our century and the linchpin connecting scientific cosmology and Christian mystical experience on a dynamic new evolutionary ground.

Teilhard is not easy, but there are very good guides out there who will ease the entry shock. My recommendation is that you begin with Ursula King’s Spirit of Fire: The Life and Vision of Teilhard de Chardin. King is probably the foremost Teilhard scholar of our times, and her very well-written biography gives a good overview of Teilhard’s developing vision and a useful way of keeping track of the chronology of his works. Kathleen Duffy’s Teilhard’s Mysticism is also an insightful introductory guide, introducing the major phases and themes of Teilhard’s work in five expanding “circles.” And of course, for a succinct and clear overview, you can hardly do better than Ilia Delio’s chapter on Teilhard in her Christ in Evolution.

From there, I’d dive directly into Teilhard by way of Ursula King’s stellar anthology, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (in the Modern SpiPierre Teilhard de Chardin by Ursula Kingritual Masters series, Orbis Books, 1999). King’s well-chosen selections and helpful introductory commentary will help get you up to speed as painlessly as possible. From there, go to The Heart of Matter, Teilhard’s magnificent spiritual autobiography, written near the end of his life, which offers a moving recapitulation of his lifelong themes as well as a reflection on his earlier work.

From there, wander as you will. Those of more devotional temperament will find his The Divine Milieu, Hymn of the Universe, and “The Mass on the World” moving and accessible. Those of more scientific temperament may gravitate toward Christianity and Evolution and The Future of Man. His magnum opus, The Phenomenon of Man, is notoriously challenging, but if you’ve worked your way up to it gradually, you’ll be more able to take it in stride.

Most of these volumes are easily available at Amazon.com and other internet websites, and Hymn of the Universe, officially out of print, is available for download.

During my upcoming Wisdom Schools this year, I will be intending to “ease in” some Teilhard where appropriate: particularly in our Glastonbury Ascensiontide retreat and our Advanced Wisdom School in North Carolina this April—so if you’re signed up for either of those schools, be sure to get an early jump of the reading trajectory I’ve just laid out. I’ll also be introducing these materials in the some of the “Communities of Practice” sessions in New England later this year, and probably in an official Teilhard Wisdom School in 2016. So be sure to stay tuned.

 “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I’m a relative newcomer to Teilhard myself, still working my way through this remarkable corpus like a neophyte spelunker in a vast crystal cave. Not surprisingly, it’s “the kids” in the Wisdom Network—Matthew Wright, Brie Stoner, and Josh Tysinger—who seem to have the best handle on the material and are already grasping its implications for the future (their future!) and unlocking its potential in sermon, song, and drama. I mention this simply to encourage you not to be intimidated by the material, or the apparent lack of an authority figure to interpret it for you. Form a reading group, use your well-patterned lectio divina method to break open a short section of text, and dive in with your energy, your insights, and your questions. How you get there is where you’ll arrive.

Okay, who wants to take me up on this New Year’s Challenge?

 

Love and blessing,

Cynthia