Our Wisdom Lineage

“WHUR WE COME FROM… “

~ Br. Raphael Robin


Teachers of contemplative Christianity, who acknowledged the limitations of human knowledge and the inconstant nature of human sentiment, instead encouraged a commitment to practice. A scripturally grounded commitment to practice and service – rather than a reliance on unsteady belief and feeling – is the fulcrum of contemplative Christianity.” 

~ Paula Pryce, The Monk’s Cell


From time to time in the unfolding life of a lineage, it becomes important to stop and ponder together “whur we come from” (as my teacher Rafe used to call it); i.e., the fundamental understandings that called us into being as a particular expression of the wider tradition of Christian contemplative Wisdom. As The Contemplative Society, our flagsghip Wisdom vessel, now celebrates its twentieth anniversary and a new generation of seekers and board members assume their turn at the helm, it seems like an appropriate occasion for just such a moment of reflection.

Wisdom, like water, is itself clear and formless, but it necessarily assumes the shape and coloration of the container in which it is captured. Between formless essence and manifesting particularity there is a reciprocal dynamism; you can’t have one without the other.

Our own particular branch of the great underground river of Wisdom came to the surface about twenty years ago, flowing within two major riverbanks: a) the Christian mystical tradition of theosis – divinization – particularly as lived into being in the Benedictine monastic tradition; and b) the practical training in mindfulness and non-identification as set forth in the Gurdjieff Work. The fusion of these two elements was the original accomplishment of my spiritual teacher Br. Raphael Robin, who formed me in this path and, just before his death in 1995, sent me off to Canada to teach it. It is a distinct lineage within the wider phylum of sophia perennis – perennial Wisdom – and, as with all particular containers, it has its own integrity and its own heart.

Here, then, is my own quick shortlist of the eight main elements – or defining characteristics – for our particular branch of this Wisdom verticil:

  1. We are founded on a daily practice of sitting meditation, predominantly but not exclusively Centering Prayer, anchored within the overall daily rhythm of “ora et labora”, as set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict.
  2. We are rooted in the Christian mystical and visionary tradition, understanding contemplation in its original sense as “luminous seeing”, not merely a meditation practice or a lifestyle. In service to this luminous seeing, we affirm the primacy of the language of silence and its life-giving connection with the subtle realms, without which spiritual inquiry tends to become overly cognitive and contentious.
  3. We incorporate a major emphasis (much more so than in more conventional contemplative circles) on mindfulness and conscious awakening, informed here particularly by the inner teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and by their parallels and antecedents in the great sacred traditions, particularly in Sufism.
  4. We are an esoteric or “gnostic” school to the extent that these terms have come to be understood as designating that stream of Christian transmission through which the radically consciousness-transforming teachings of Jesus have been most powerfully transmitted and engaged. But we eschew esotericism as simply mental or metaphysical speculation, and we affirm the primacy of the scripture and tradition as the cornerstones of Christian life.
  5. Also in contrast to many branches of the Wisdom tradition based on Perennial or Traditionalist metaphysics (with its inherently binary and anti-material slant), we are emphatically a Teilhardian, Trinitarian lineage, embracing asymmetry (threeness), evolution, and incarnation in all their material fullness and messiness.
  6. We are moving steadily in the direction of revisioning contemplation no longer in terms of monastic, otherworldly models prioritizing silence and repose but, rather, as a way of honing consciousness and compassion so as to be able to fully engage the world and become active participants in its transition to the higher collectivity, the next evolutionary unfolding.
  7. We are an integral school, not a pluralistic one, (to draw on Ken Wilber’s levels of consciousness); our primary mission field is teal, not green. Our work concentrates not at the level of healing the false-self, woundedness and recovery, substance abuse, equal rights, restorative justice, or political correctness (although we acknowledge the importance of all of these initiatives), but rather at the level of guiding the transition from identity based primarily in the narrative or egoic self to identity stabilized at the level of witnessing presence, or “permeably boundaried” selfhood.
  8. Our most important teachers and teachings are Jesus, St. Benedict, the canonical and Wisdom gospels, The Cloud of Unknowing, the greater Christian mystical and visionary tradition (including Eckhart, Boehme, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Ladislaus Boros, Bernadette Roberts), the Desert and Hesychastic traditions, Bede Griffiths and the Christian Advaitic traditions (including Raimon Panikkar, Henri LeSaux/Abishiktananda and Bruno Barnhart), Rumi, Sufism, G.I. Gurdjieff, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And, of course, my own teacher, Br. Raphael Robin.

Please know that this list is intended to start a conversation, not end it. In the upcoming months I hope to unpack each of these points more fully in a format yet to be determined (blog posts? video? on-the-ground teaching retreat?). I invite others in our Wisdom network to do likewise, both in your larger organizations (The Contemplative Society, Northeast Wisdom, Wisdom Southwest, Wisdom Way of Knowing, etc.) and in your smaller practice circles. Collectively, let’s see what we can discover about our lineage, as we midwifed it through a first generation and now transmit through a second.

Blessings, Cynthia

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.

An Introduction to The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three

Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault recently provided an introduction and thorough overview of The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three at the Cathedral of St. Philip Spirituality Conference in Atlanta Georgia. This presentation has been recorded and is available here:

Click HERE for Part 1: Cynthia addressed the question “Why explore the Trinity?” (57:35 min.)

Click HERE for Part 2: Cynthia describes the Law of Three as providing a template of change, and introduces Christian writers that identified this dynamism within the Trinity. (70:28 min.)

Click HERE for Part 3: Cynthia explores more deeply the fundamentals of the Law of Three as a framing structure and governing principle for the emergence of new arisings, and its practical application to challenging situations or to navigate an apparent impasse. A question and answer period completes the presentation. (96:06 min.)

We are grateful to the Cathedral of St. Philip for recording this presentation and making it widely available.

The_Holy_TrinityThe Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity – By Cynthia Bourgeault, is available through Shambhala Publications as well as local and online booksellers.

 

“‘Searching for Sugar Man’ and the Law of Three”

I recently watched the Oscar award-winning documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man.” Walking in knowing nothing about the film, I was immediately taken by the storyline of the search for one of the most talented rock musicians of all time…

Not long after seeing the film I began reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s new book, “The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.” All of a sudden it became clear: the Rodriguez story is a parable of what Bourgeault calls the Law of Three.

To read the rest of this post by Martin Schmidt visit:

http://martinschmidtinasia.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/searching-for-sugar-man-and-the-law-of-three/