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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I just wanted to apologise for my low level consciousness rants and the way I’ve gone about saying things. Part of me wishes to ask for all my comments to be taken down but I won’t. One day i think I’ll look back on them with less embarrassment and more understanding and compassion towards the transition I’ve been going through recently. Richard Rohr made the comment once that if a person begins with a “no” they can spend the rest of their lives trying to get out of the pit that “no” put them in… That’s my experience. I was introduced at the age of 13 to a God who hated me and was keen to see me suffer for ever but if I accepted that Jesus took my place instead then I’d be accepted (in a nut shell)…. That was the beginning of hell. I was put in the hole and have been searching for a way out ever since.
Anyway, you were right. Unless you do contemplative prayer you can’t know… Well, I’ve been doing contemplative prayer, and am beginning to see just how blind I was (and still am)…. Hopefully the animosity of my previous comments are understood in light of where I was standing.
Craig, we are so happy to hear your story and what you’ve been going through. Contemplative prayer helps to strengthen non-dual awareness and response (which is a concept difficult to convey to someone who has not experienced that kind of awareness), so I hope most of our readers can put your more challenging comments in context – and that’s why we posted them! The contemplative journey is not always an easy one, but we are thrilled to hear you’re still on it 🙂 Do get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want some help exploring resources that can support your practice.
Thank you for your offer in regards to resources. About two months ago I woke with a perpetual feeling of having misplaced my step while walking next to a cliff that saw all sense of support fall away… It’s been tumultuous to say the least. I haven’t been able to differentiate between the physical, mental/emotional or spiritual. It was as if I’d woken up into an invisible whitewash of darkness, like I’d awoken into a tsunami, bearingless.
Only recently did I come across a short article by James Finley describing the stages of spiritual healing i.e. purgative, illuminative and unitive. Since that day I awoke into the storm I’ve spent much time in contemplative prayer simply because I have known of nothing else to do (apart from also journaling the journey) and slowly I seem to be emerging from what seems to have been the purgative stage of spiritual healing and into the illuminative, with shards of unitive light piercing through. I’ve actually been through this several times during my life but without any understanding of what was going on, not the foggiest idea. But this time around it has been by far the most intense. In fact, I don’t know if I’d physically survive going through it again, which has burned into me the importance of nurturing this place, this practice, this oasis in the midst of what has and is for me a deep liminal space.
Slowly God has been illuminating the darkness. I first tasted it almost twenty years ago through G.K. Chesterton’s chapter Ethics of Elfland in his book Orthodoxy, which opened my eyes to the truth that when I look at a bird or a tree or an ant I may as well be looking at a flying tiger or burning bush or a miniature alien for all I understand about what it is I’m looking at. The world filled with enchantment and mystery, which brought both a mixture of deep joy but also a lot of pain. Joy because my eyes had been opened to something I knew in my bones was real and pain due to the immense oceanic doubt I experienced if I tried to share it with anyone… It’s like having your heart ripped out over and over again… I’ve been looking for a framework with which to stay there, in the seeing, ever since, which eventually led me here.
So I think my past attacks have arisen from the fear and pain of having what I think Merton described as “what I glimpsed at my most childlike hour” ripped from me again. It’s too painful… In other words, I think I was kicking the tyre, so to speak, shaking the tree, throwing stones from a distance to see if what is being taught will hold the enchantment of that sight I received years ago or once again rip it from me…
Little was I aware that’s not how it works… It has been as if I’ve been kicking and pacing around the edges, wanting to jump but not being able to… and God decided it was time to just push me in. I’m through the worst of it, I think. So I’m very content to just continue my letting go in contemplative prayer and allow the insights and illuminations to bubble up out of that. That’s not to say that I’m not also open to guidance from those who are far further along the path than I but I’m also kind of just really relieved to stay on holiday from myself and my mind and let God continue to unravel me.
I think it will be cool to read back over my “arguments” later on down the track. I see the wisdom now of standing back and allowing my flailing about to exhaust itself. I’m not out of the woods yet, though I suspect it’s about getting used to living there, but I can feel the gentle North Wind now and am happy to rest here for a while looking out onto a universe I’m a part of come alive with mystery and permeated with Teilhard’s love energy, letting it flow in and through and as me while the kinks continue to be straightened out.
G’day, I do have a question and thought I’d put it here so as to keep up with the journey. I’m not sure whether it was James Finley or Merton who said it but somebody said, “The sole measure of God’s love for us is the measureless expanse of God completely giving Itself away in and as the concrete immediacy of our lives.”
I’ve not been able to stop thinking about that at least ten times a day recently. If the universe is God’s Body and we are therefore God’s body, if God is closer to us than our very selves, giving God’s self completely away in and as the concrete immediacy of our lives, then any understanding of our union with Her/Him must mean that God experiences everything we do, every pain, every fear, every shame, every confusion, every anxiety, every rejection, every nagging ache, the wind brushing on our skin, the feeling of a dog’s pelt, our feelings of alienation, everything, the whole kit and caboodle. Can you point me towards some resources that speak about in what sense does God experience our unconsciousness of our union with Her/Him? God has always been one with us though we haven’t with God or rather we haven’t been aware, have been living convinced of the illusion of separation. In what sense does God experience our anger and greed and lust, etc.? I keep thinking of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus, that this is an image of how God experiences our unconscious separation and all it’s fruits… is it in that sense we are “healed by His stripes”? We can receive the consciousness of union with God because with that consciousness comes the realisation of what that means when we’ve lived unconscious of that union, as if we were separate… God doesn’t hold it against us…
I realise the the immediate rebuttal (that is if dialog was part of you system of belief) is that “we’re not talking about Buddhism” but that is so obviously a cop out. You’re talking about something other than Christianity and then claiming you’re Christian. The following quote is simply a clarification (one of innumerable if you were inclined to seek the truth) in regards to the shallow re-interpretation of other religions under the umbrella of Buddhism, one of which (the primary) you clearly seek a supposed unification of all…
“To the Buddhists was given a conception of God of extraordinary intellectual purity; but in growing familiar with the featureless splendour, they have lost their heads; they babble; they say that everything is nothing and nothing is everything, that black is white because white is black. We fancy that the frightful universal negatives at which they have at last arrived, are really little more than the final mental collapse of men trying always to find an abstraction big enough for all things. “I have said what I understood not, things too great for me that I know not. I will put my hand upon my mouth.” Job was a wise man.
Buddhism stands for a simplification of the mind and a reliance on the most indestructible ideas; Christianity stands for a simplification of the heart and a reliance on the most indestructible sentiments. The greater Christian insistence upon personal deity and immortality is not, we fancy, the cause so much as the effect of this essential trend towards an ancient passion and pathos as the power that most nearly rends the veil from the nature of things. Both creeds grope after the same secret sun, but Buddhism dreams of its light and Christianity of its heat. Buddhism seeks after God with the largest conception it can find, the all-producing and all-absorbing One; Christianity seeks after God with the most elementary passion it can find—the craving for a father, the hunger that is as old as the hills. It turns the whole cry of a lost universe into the cry of a lost child.” G.K. Chesterton
Or better yet… I’d ask why Mrs Besant hasn’t been acknowledged but as I’ve said these weren’t new ideas in her time either…
“A short time ago Mrs. Besant, in an interesting essay, announced that there was only one religion in the world, that all faiths were only versions or perversions of it, and that she was quite prepared to say what it was. According to Mrs. Besant this universal Church is simply the universal self. It is the doctrine that we are really all one person; that there are no real walls of individuality between man and man. If I may put it so, she does not tell us to love our neighbours; she tells us to be our neighbours. That is Mrs. Besant’s thoughtful and suggestive description of the religion in which all men must find themselves in agreement. And I never heard of any suggestion in my life with which I more violently disagree. I want to love my neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I. I want to adore the world, not as one likes a looking-glass, because it is one’s self, but as one loves a woman, because she is entirely different. If souls are separate love is possible. If souls are united love is obviously impossible. A man may be said loosely to love himself, but he can hardly fall in love with himself, or, if he does, it must be a monotonous courtship. If the world is full of real selves, they can be really unselfish selves. But upon Mrs. Besant’s principle the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person.
It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division. It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself. This is the intellectual abyss between Buddhism and Christianity; that for the Buddhist or Theosophist personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea. The world-soul of the Theosophists asks man to love it only in order that man may throw himself into it. But the divine centre of Christianity actually threw man out of it in order that he might love it. The oriental deity is like a giant who should have lost his leg or hand and be always seeking to find it; but the Christian power is like some giant who in a strange generosity should cut off his right hand, so that it might of its own accord shake hands with him. We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed. Yet there is another and yet more awful truth behind the obvious meaning of this utterance of our Lord. According to Himself the Son was a sword separating brother and brother that they should for an aeon hate each other. But the Father also was a sword, which in the black beginning separated brother and brother, so that they should love each other at last.” G.K. Chesterton
Thank you for your comments, Craig. It sounds like you wish to be heard, and we hope you know that you are. We apologise that our limited resources prevent us from replying to all comments on this blog, but we keep comments open so that readers may support each other in their journeys as peers. Cynthia reads these comments but is not able to respond to them personally; they do, however, inform her thinking and work. We encourage everyone to continue engaging in thoughtful and respectful dialogue with each other.
As to your recent theme, you may find this blog post a worthy introduction to the similar thinking of Teilhard de Chardin: https://www.contemplative.org/love-is-the-answer-what-is-the-question/ We think you will find common ground in his ideas which run counter to the notion of Oneness as a “melting pot”, but rather as a celebration of our diversity and the unity underlying it, and how Christianity is a path to loving “my neighbour not because he is I, but precisely because he is not I” as you quoted above.
Cheers. Yeah I’ve read it and within it’s own context, I like it. I’m a fan of Teilhard and it was that kind of commentary that first got me interested in Bourgeault and associates. It’s the greater context I have issue with. There seems to be a lot of contradictory thinking, many other comments made that say the opposite to that article… Perhaps (likely) I’m simply picking fights with people way above my intellect and understanding. But hey, I’m not on social media and am not in a position to do courses so I do this when I can. My philosophy is that “you always want to play someone better than you”, “call it as you see it” and “follow the crumbs”. I figure nobody comments anyway and you’re obviously not a snowflake who can’t see the harmlessness of it otherwise you wouldn’t post my comments. So I pick fights, say what’s on my mind and couldn’t give a rats arse if at the end of the day I’m just making a fool of myself. Like I’ve said, I’m a happy nobody in pursuit of the truth (the best I can grasp it) and there’s always the possibility of having a bone thrown my way every now and then. In the mean time, I may make more arguments just because it’s helpful for me and probably be on my way again… then possibly back 🙂
Actually, the more I think about it the more that article isn’t saying what you’re suggesting. It twists the concept of which Chesterton speaks. There’s a coldness and indifference that, like a lot of Bourgeault’s articles, paints a poetic picture that seems to be agreeing with orthodox Christianity on the surface but upon deeper reflection (in many cases not that deep) is deliberately missing the point.
Underscoring the writings of people like Chesterton, Lewis, Tolkein, etc. is the reality of the Personal as the culmination of the evolution of the Universe, the essential substance represented in the symbol of material reality that infuses it all with magic. In their writing they see and point to where material reality points and know well that where it points is best expressed through Fairy Tale for Fairy Tale is rooted deeply in the Personal (which is far more real than what scientism makes out to be real, which is the problem of pantheism (or panentheism if you prefer)). Bourgeault points in the opposite direction by doing everything possible to keep it from entering into the truth and magic of the Personal, the realm of the Fairy Tale. Love is not a force though it is represented by force, symbolised in material reality. It is willing the good of the other as other. Chesterton sees the the difference between the symbol of material reality and the thing itself. Bourgeault does not.
C.S. Lewis actually predicted this whole thing in the last book of his cosmic trilogy. What Bourgeault, Delio, Wilber, Rohr and the like are trying to do is bridge the gap between what has previously (and still is in orthodox Christianity) been understood as two separate realities (the physical and the spiritual) with consciousness (a term people throw around as if they have the slightest idea what they’re talking about). It’s not new. It may seem new in the blinding light of humanity’s ultra-enlightenment today, so new in fact that the term pantheism has been replaced with the term “panentheism”. Yet both present exactly the same problem, that of mistaking the symbol for the thing it symbolises. When that happens it is a very quick fall into the reductionism of science or simply put scientism, where the “why” really isn’t important anymore. The fact that it is dismissed so arbitrarily in that article speaks to that.
When love is redefined as a form of energy on the “outside” and on the “inside” as compassion, intimacy and generativity as if they are just two forms of the same thing rather than seeing energy as symbolic of compassion, intimacy and generativity, you’re pulling those very terms out of their orbit. It’s like trying to glue a bird to a painting of it.
Here’s a little exercise. Go and read the academics at the beginning of the 1900s. It’s almost identical to the kind of ideas western society is being promulgated with today but on a much, much more grandiose though subtle scale (this site’s a perfect example on the spiritual front). In essence it is a radical departure from the metanarrative of the Christian story (which is not rooted in theory or scientific/social re-interpretation but in a real people, with a real history, declaring the existence of a Personal God who has created separate, though dependent, eternal personal beings in His/Her image). The departure from this foundation at the beginning of the 1900s was rooted in the growth in power (along with intellectual arrogance) humanity was beginning to experience with its accumulation over the previous 150 to 200 years of technological advancement. Compare that advancement to what we’ve seen in the last 25 years and the growth is incomparable. Did you know that almost all your conversations around smart phones (among a growing list of other everyday tools) are recorded and stored? These very comments are recorded and stored. How I use this computer, where I travel, who I visit, what stores I go to and products I purchase… all recorded and stored. This isn’t conspiracy stuff. It’s actually occurring and has been for some time. All your emails are read, stored and “relevant information” shared and it’s all being pushed upon society at such a rate that we essentially have no choice if we want to continue participating in it. Hell, a lot of people are oblivious to it. And that’s not even the “crazy” stuff…
If you don’t think this has much relevance to our immediate lives apart from being bombarded with advertising you’re badly mistaken. Not only does the Trump election (not the only political party to use it btw and Facebook is just the tip of the iceberg) speak clearly of the manipulative and controlling power of such a reality but more and more police stations actually have what’s called a threat level attached to your personal information (who interprets the information?). Again, this used to be the kind of talk associated with conspiracy nuts. But that is no longer the case. It’s common knowledge… which is the point. Like frogs cooking in water slowly being brought to boiling point, western society is being conditioned for something on a scale the world has never known. The human condition is clearly expressed in the Christian metanarative and the last century clearly verified it…
Extreme liberalism is no longer extreme. The rights of the human individual are being eroded. Laws introduced to bind people’s words and thoughts. If a person from 20 years ago could be time-traveled to today, he/she’d think we’d lost our minds (because to a large extent, we have and are). Whatever is thought of republicans and conservatives I guarantee you this is their fundamental argument. It’s why they’re against gun control. It’s why they’re against abortion. It’s why they’re against teachers whose teaching produces more and more dependence of the “student” upon the “teacher” and who promote the collective above the individual. It’s why they’re against laws that control what you say.. America (along with a lot of western society) was great because it saw, promoted and protected the reality, significance and rights of the personal individual because their experience had been refreshed by the fire of what they’d seen and fought against, the dangers of socialistic idealism, group identity politics and mere intellectual liberalism.
None of what is being taught on this site is the least bit new. Boutgeault wasn’t the first to come up with the “law of three” (that’s embarrassingly deluded) or promote the idea that Jesus’ significance was primarily that of a wisdom teacher or that we’re just the particular expressions of the One Great Consciousness and all the great religions are essentially saying the same thing. Wilber/Beck weren’t the first to discover the evolution of consciousness. Gurdjieff isn’t radical beyond his application of egotism and pressure to spirituality. If there were websites at the beginning of the 1900s I guarantee you, someone else would have been promoting these very ideas. In fact, they’ve been promoted at many times throughout recorded history… almost always before the fall of a society.
We are individual separate, though utterly dependent, images of the Word. It’s why freedom of speech, expression and debate of ideas made the western world great. I suspect many here have been convinced to give that up for inclusion into the “inner circle”.
I don’t expect to convince anyone of anything on this site. I comment because out of all the teachers I’ve discovered thus far, this one epitomises what’s going on in more and more of our society. I’m a happy nobody in this world. My significance and meaning are rooted in something beyond it. And as I’ve said before, at least they have the integrity to post criticism… though at times I wonder if the purpose of this particular one of three sites isn’t to do just that while ignoring them on the other two… but hey it doesn’t really matter if it is. Like I said it’s not my purpose. Not having a debate with anyone can be more rewarding than debating those who don’t know how 😉
Oh and by the way. In reference to nobody replying on this site. Immoderate liberals are so good at redefining reality (it’s their bread and butter) that I have absolutely no doubt that they’ve redefined the cowardice of not responding to criticism as a kind of pious moral enlightenment lol. It’s why Richard Rohr doesn’t even have a blog. He knows that if he were challenged on his stance in regards to the teachings this blog (and associated blogs) he wouldn’t be long in the catholic church. And why Cynthia Bourgault has “Ask Cynthia” (not once has she met criticism on her blogs) Oh and just on a side note, have a look at the documentary “Wild Wild Country” on Netflix… see if you can’t spot any correlations 😉
It’s quite incredible how criticism is automatically lumped in the “hate speech” box these days. You only need to bat an eyelid and people scream bloody murder. We’re living in an era of popularism where “safe places”, “trigger warnings” and basic science itself is being redefined in light of supposed minority rights and the inept social sciences (inclusive of many “spiritual teachers”) who have somehow forgotten (or simply choose to bury their heads in the sand) to the horrors of the 20th century’s pursuit of the same marxist socialism that dissolved the personal individual in the idealistic acid bath of the collective. They all think they’re saying something new 😉 The kind of “spiritualism”, scientism and group identity politics being promoted on this site is precisely the kind of drivel promoted by the precursive intellectuals responsible for the radical transformation of entire societies in the lead up and during the many wars of the last one hundred years. There are other sites and supposed teachers associated with this one, a group of people working together to redefine the Christian message in light of their own bias, praise of leftist elitists living in ivory towers and book sales to those looking for spiritual worldview that has lost all its salt and offends nobody.
When you’re no longer permitted to make an argument due to even the slight possibility of causing offence then all communication and freedom of thought has come to an end… history is very clear about what comes next…
Dear Cynthia – dear All. I have a question regarding centering prayer. I want to explore its possible meaning in a “collective” sense — how centering prayer can move in the collective space — the “WE space” — perhaps in the spirit of the Teal meme. And could this collective approach help empower or guide a much-needed spirit-led political activism?
By way of introduction, I have a long background in interspirituality, know Kurt Johnson and Ed Bastian, and heard you speak at an Ed Bastian event at La Casa de Maria. My own “lineage” began with Yogananda, then moved to Church Universal and Triumphant (Ascended Masters, Theosophy, a particular take on interfaith), expanded in many ways through the insights of Conscious Evolution (Barbara Marx Hubbard), passed through many versions of the Sophia Perennis, then generally became strictly interfaith and interspiritual. I have built many spirit-related web sites, including one that emerged just before the “Dawn of Interspirituality” conference, where I met Kurt in person. That site is http:/interspirit.net Plus I have regularly attended the centering prayer ritual at La Casa de Maria, as led by Sr.Jeanette Love.
A collective approach to Centering Prayer in a context of high diversity would enter into the real or experience of co-creativity — as the participants sought to somehow fuse their understanding in a common bond of mutual respect and sacred creativity. I am reminded of a potent quote from Teilhard, where he says (from Writings in Time of War):
“Precisely because there exists in all beings a common centre, scattered and separable though they are in appearance, they meet together at a deeper level. The more they perfect themselves naturally and sanctify themselves in grace, the more they come together and fuse into one, within the single, unifying Centre to which they aspire: and we may call that Centre equally well the point upon which they converge, or the ambiance in which they float. All these reachings-out that draw beings together and unify them constitute the axis of all individual and collective life.”
I associate this common center with the Axis Mundi and see it as a profound guiding force for collective alignment in a context of high social diversity. When I experience “Quaker Circle”, I think I am seeing something like this process, as a substantial group of people (their congregation) undertake to form a common decision under the spirit of the Quaker teaching and endeavor to find a common center — a common understanding — guided by God.
I cannot help but feel today that our fractious and turbulent and less-than-virtuous politics might be most beneficially influenced by this kind of contemplative approach. And perhaps this process could conceivably tend to “converge towards a common center” if we understand and follow Teilhard’s quote on “common center”. Maybe separate convergent centering prayer circles could possibly be said to “all have the same center” in some highest sense. That might be a wonderful and most blessed force for creating an inspired unity in culture.
This page from the Interspirit Alliance reviews this thought, and shows Father Keating and Barbara Marx Hubbard standing in this alignment as I understand it:
Any thoughts you might have on this subject would be most appreciated.
– Bruce Schuman, Santa Barbara
Keep going, and goodlife to you…
On Sufism – the article is nice; tasty and relishable product.
In other words…
1. We work and pray
2. We pray in silence, think God speaks to us in that silence and make a point of avoiding thinking contentiously about it.
3. We follow the teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, an egotistical non-Christian with a lot of critics who promoted a self-perpetuating refusal to question anything pertaining to esoteric knowledge supported by the teacher… kinda like what cults do.
4. We agree with Christian scripture insofar as it supports any esoteric knowledge we may have received via teaching or praying in silence without contentious thinking.
5. We’re unashamedly up ourselves because we think we’re the only ones who understand the Trinity, incarnation and that evolution is real.
6. Again, in line with the arrogance of the teaching we follow, thanks evolution for your part but we’ll take over now 😉 oh and unlike all those morons who didn’t really know what contemplation is, we’ll sort that out too 😉
7. The “personal individual” is bullshit. You and the life you think you’re living isn’t real… but again, we’ll sort that because we’re at the top of Ken Wilber’s spiral dynamics and realise that how to do socialism right.
8. And just to back up that we’re still “Christian”… we like these guys 😉
Some profound stuff 😉 You’re certainly right about one thing… you’re students of Gurdjieff
Honestly, (and this response is for the Administrator also) I’m quite done with all this stuff. I came here because I’m still on the emailing list (which would probably be best for everyone if I were simply taken off) read it and couldn’t help but comment. I’m all for free speech and having people think whatever they choose to think but I’m fed up with stuff like this being called Christian when it is so clearly and easily proven not to be. I personally think you’re a cult who has hijacked and misinterpreted the Christian mystics in an effort to espouse a perennial tradition that is as popular as sugar, has lost all its salt and created a cultish dependency on a its teachers (just like one of the traits Gurdjieff was criticised for). I realise there’s no point debating. The only response I’ve ever received is nothing at all or “You just don’t get it,” which is as helpful as blowing raspberries and is exactly what cults say. So yeah, I’m happy to just be left off the emailing list and leave you all to it.
I’ve been reading and listening to the likes of Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgault, Thomas Keating, Ken Wilber/Don Beck and Ilia Delio among others for several years. I pursued their teaching with genuine interest for some time. I’ve found Richard Rohr to be a very good teacher in the areas of personality and some very basic psychology along with an alternative view to the atonement theory of Christianity (which is essentially the reason for his popularity among evangelicals though isn’t really written about in a very scholarly fashion by Rohr. There’s much criticism). I’ve found Thomas Keating’s teaching on Centring Prayer to be outstanding though it really only reinforced my understanding of prayer as presented by Andrew Murray, “Man’s (sic) chief care, his (sic) highest virtue and his (sic) only happiness now and for all eternity is to present himself (sic) to God as an empty vessel in which God may dwell and manifest His power and goodness.” Don Beck is responsible for Spiral Dynamics, which is an outstanding framework used by diplomats around the world for understanding and applying Jung’s psychology and teachings on collective consciousness (I misspoke when I said “Ken Wilber’s Spiral Dynamics”. Wilber is responsible for Integral Theory, which Rohr and Bourgeault use in their pursuit of the perennial tradition, but has been largely ignored within academia). Ilia Delio is a brilliant scholar from whom I’ve learned a great deal though her view and understanding of evolution and therefore relationship to spirituality is only one of varying perspectives within that community of experts.
In a way I’m quite grateful for Cynthia’s part. She is essentially where the rubber meets the road as far as all these people (certainly excluding Don Beck and perhaps Keating) are converging together in the pursuit of establishing the perennial tradition, which at first offers a very attractive view of spirituality, under the umbrella of Christianity. The problem is… it’s just not true. And it is starkly obvious in Cynthia’s views of reality and especially her understanding of the person of Jesus Christ.
While there are several universal truths shared by the great religions of the world, science and psychology, it is willful blindness to suggest that this proves the perennial perspective. The foundational false premise of the entire thing is that we understand what reality is, which is the very powerful illusion the western world lives within as a result of its wealth and mastery of technology. But the truth is, we don’t. C.S. Lewis put it this way, “Miracles are the retelling in small letters of the very same story written across the entire universe in letters too big for most of us to see.” I would suggest that this “not seeing” is at the heart of their teaching and the platform from which they view actual orthodox Christianity as being naïve, simplistic and fundamentalist (in the derogatory sense). There are huge differences between the great religions and especially Christianity but they simply ignore them.
As far as Christianity is concerned there are far more skillful teachers to build your worldview and spiritual practice upon. N.T. Wright, William Lane Craig, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton among many, many others. And as far as Cynthia and Richard Rohr having a “massive following” is concerned, I wouldn’t be so sure of that. The internet is a deceptive thing when it comes to popularity especially among groups of people who really don’t read or learn outside of a handful of teachers that espouse the dominant narrative of that group.
I will say, however, that I am impressed that Cynthia does have a blog and posts criticism like mine but I’m also curious as to how long that will last given that there really hasn’t been anyone criticising her views as yet. I suspect this is largely due to the reality that she doesn’t have as big a following as you might think. Richard Rohr for instance does not have a blog though there are any number of well-written critiques of his work to be found on the Internet. Although he seems to enjoy telling people that he has as yet not been classified as a heretic by the Catholic Church, this seems to be true only because, one, he doesn’t seem to be taken too seriously as a scholarly Christian writer and, two, he is a master at being vague on some very key points.
Sorry, one last thing in regards to your last comment about levels of consciousness. This is precisely why Ken Wilber ‘s Integral Theory is not highly regarded within academic circles unlike Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics. Integral Theory’s entire foundation is based on the assumption that the perennial tradition is true. Don Beck is a huge critic of Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory precisely because it uses Spiral Dynamics to promote esotericism. In other words, people who use Integral Theory use it to defend ideas without actually defending them at all by simply saying, “You can’t understand what we’re talking about because you’re not at our level.” Be very wary of such teaching. There has not been a cult in history that hasn’t been built on that very logic and why very intelligent people get caught up in them.
Apologies, Catherine. Our website’s settings were only allowing comment threads to be five levels deep. I have changed that to the maximum which is ten levels deep. Rest assured, we do not censor comments as long as they are deemed in the spirit of respectful dialogue. We moderate our blog’s comments primarily to ensure spam is not getting through. All comments deemed respectful and not spam are visible to everyone.
Wow. That’s sounds like a very interesting journey, Catherine. Fair enough to all of it. I’m 100% for freedom of thought, freedom of speech and freedom of experience. I too have enjoyed my own personal journey into a number of different perspectives. My main issue has been with the melting pot presented via these teachings that not simply includes Christianity but is seeking to redefine it.
Simply put, and like I’ve mentioned, I’m happy to simply leave this site and allow for everyone to believe and think what they want. But as far as I’m concerned I strongly disagree with the definition of Christianity being portrayed (among a growing list of other things).
Christianity is about the Messiah Jesus Christ. He is the unique Son of God and the one true representative of humanity. It is by accepting the truth of who He is and what he came to accomplish, that no human being on this planet can live in true relationship with the Holy God apart from being wrapped in the righteousness of Jesus Christ who took our place. We’re not accepted on any other basis than this. Now you and any number of people on this site may very well disagree with that but that IS Christianity. If the standard for acceptance required by God were to be represented by the distance between the earth and moon then it matters not if one person is able to jump 50 feet towards the moon and another 1 foot (you can do all the “work” you please, it makes no comparative difference). All are separated from God. That is precisely why God sent His Son to be our representative. It is He and He alone that measures up and nobody comes to the Father apart from faith in His free gift of Jesus Christ. That’s Christianity. What I find absolutely horrifying is that these people are literally teaching a different Gospel. They’re not simply disagreeing with Christianity. They’re trying to redefine it.
Firstly, I said nothing of worshiping Jesus. I simply laid out the Gospel of orthodox Christianity and Jesus didn’t say to defend Christianity because Christianity didn’t exist at that time though it’s not at all difficult to present several biblical passages in regards to dire warnings for anyone preaching another Gospel than the one I just presented. As far as worship goes I choose to reverence my Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and what He has done for me and the world in order that I may have a relationship with God and consequently my fellow human beings. I don’t do it because I have to or because someone hasn’t told me to.
Secondly, I’ve spent the majority of my life working with people on the fringe, people from horrific backgrounds at Drug and Alcohol centres and with people with disabilities. But thanks for the tip on where to spend my energy 😉 As for not finding Jesus anywhere in contemporary Christianity I would suggest looking a bit harder, perhaps on the fringes. In my experience that is where the Gospel shines most brightly. But then I see very little of that with Bourgeault or Rohr.
Thirdly, as far as changing definitions and adapting to new information and knowledge I’m all for that. That has occurred over and over within orthodox Christianity. But to change the fundamental message of Christianity is called heresy for a reason. Your storm example is fine as far as it goes but that is not what is happening in Bourgeault’s teaching. It’s more akin to refusing to acknowledge the storm even exists or painting. I think you’ll find all the people I’ve listed are very open to a variety of different views but also hold to the fundamental structure of the Gospel message. Evolution, contemplative prayer, mystical experience, miracles, quantum physics and much more of what i being used to change the Gospel is ALL completely at home within the real Gospel. The teaching of Cynthia Bourgeault on the other hand (I’ll leave Rohr out of this simply because he’s so deliberately ambiguous on any number of key points and is why he’s not taken very seriously in the academic world) is seeking to redefine Christianity at its core.
But like I said, I’m happy to leave you all to it. Ask Cynthia who she thinks Jesus is and see what response you get (good luck with that ;))
While Cynthia Bourgeault tries to read all the comments on her posts, she is not always able to respond to them. You may find that your question about whom Cynthia thinks Jesus is is answered in her book, The Wisdom Jesus.
Yes, I concur. That will definitely answer the question.
Just as an example of what I’m talking about lets look at just one aspect of Cynthia’s foundation. In the light the evolution of the human ego, that is that the human being is essentially the universe become conscious of itself, it would seem as if (if the Biblical story of the Fall is representative of that evolution) that process was somehow inevitable, part of God’s plan for the creation of self-conscious beings. You could even go so far as replacing the apple with some kind of psychedelic substance that enhanced the animal brain to become self-conscious. That’s certainly a valid argument about adapting one’s understanding due to acquired knowledge. However, it is also a massive, and I mean gargantuan, leap. Our understanding of evolution is nowhere near able to support such an idea. To suggest that the human being evolved in the naturalist sense (without supernatural intervention) or even with the Teilhardian sense (panentheism) is pure conjecture, as much as some would wish it not so. Progressive evolution is far more likely based on what we do know, that is, that God periodically supernaturally intervenes in the evolutionary process. which completely fits with orthodox Christianity. My point is the kind of knowledge required to redefine the Gospel in the way that Bourgault is suggesting is not in the least bit anywhere near and I mean it is light years from being able to support such redefinition. It is the very definition of hubris.
However, let me go on. Under that line of argument based on that massive leap in logic, it could be deduced that Jesus was like Cynthia Bourgeault is suggesting, a first fruit of the next stage of evolution (though not unique), an example of what we are all capable of achieving (and of what others apart from Jesus have achieved), which is transcendence of the ego self. One of the problems in regards to Cynthia however is this is not even what she is suggesting at all. She is suggesting that there is no afterlife, that the human individual is naught but a temporary expression of the Oneness from which it came and will be dissolved back up into that Consciousness, of which we are but small random particularities, once our particular “job” is done. She is far more Hindu than Christian in that respect. She actually goes backwards in her logic. This is why the bible is so adamant that people do not preach a different Gospel. Cynthia’s entire view is based on conjecture after conjecture, being taught as fact and being defended by Wilber’s “You don’t see because you’re not at my level” defence. It’s unreal.
One other thing, it may be quite confronting to hear the true Gospel. There may be any number of objections and questions. That’s utterly fair enough. Billions and billions of people have wrestled with those objections and questions. But don’t think for a minute that by changing the Gospel (which makes it no Gospel at all) to make it more palatable and “politically correct” you’ll be doing yourself or anyone else any favours. There is a kind of wisdom that comes and only comes via the humility required to accept that you need God’s Son Jesus Christ, that you don’t measure up, that He is the way, the truth and the life… And then there’s the kind of wisdom this site presents. I dread to think what awaits such arrogant teachers that think they’re at the forefront of “finally understanding how things really are.”
One last thing, I just wanted to state once again. There’s Don Beck’s Spiral Dynamics which is highly useful in understanding levels of consciousness and then there’s Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory which is just a spiritualised version of Spiral Dynamics that assumes from the start that Jesus’ unique claims and stance of orthodox Christianity is false and used primarily as a cop out. I’ve heard Rohr’s take on this in regards to understanding atonement theory (which is by far the dominant narrative of the Bible). Rohr is very popular but he’s not all that highly regarded as a theologian or philosopher in academic circles and resorts to the cop out defence often. I would highly recommend N.T. Wright (a recognised Biblical Scholar) when deciding whether to actually do some investigative work on the issue or simply accept the old “You’re seeing it that way because you’re not at our level of consciousness”.
I think you missed my point on that one. Yes, I agree in regards to what you’ve said about models. My point was that Wilber’s model IS Beck’s model. Beck’s model is certainly built on observation. It can be understood, discussed and learned. But Wilber’s model is built on the assumption that the perennial tradition is true. Applying Beck’s model to the realm of the spiritual distorts it. Hence why Wilber’s model (which is really Beck’s) is used as a cop out, as a “You can’t see because you’re not at my level”.
“Some people simply Be.”
Thanks for your comments, Catherine, which I’ve enjoyed reading. As I’m someone who seems to have had more of an investment in “being” rather than in “doing” (in this life, anyway), I am wondering what your Taoist discernments might be regarding any distinctions between the two… Thanks again.
Just a heads up, Catherine. I’ve reached the end of any use for this site. Although I appreciate your willingness to engage in dialogue there’s really no point furthering the discussion here, which is I’m sure a relief for everyone else, and will be for me too. I’ve checked out your far less precocious blog and will read some more of your stuff and may comment there. But I have dusted my feet and I am on my way. In the mean time. All the best. I enjoyed your interaction 😉
whoops, I meant far less pretentious blog
Brilliantly expressed as always, Cynthia. Took me into the basement of Aspen Chapel – your words and laughter holding spell bound.
Martin Buber’s I and Thou came to mind. Blessed Be.
I’ve appreciated your writings since the day I ran across your statement in the introduction to The Wisdom Way of Knowing about 7 or 8 years back – that you at some point realized you’d been on a search for “the headwaters of all religions” – BINGO! Large seemingly unrelated chunks of my life came together in an instant. Now that I knew what I was about, I could do it more deliberately, with more focus and clarity, and more responsibility. Thank you! As to this post (and I’m presently in the midst of The Hly Trinity and the Law of Three), I find myself asking Why is it valuable to define a subset of people, an “us”, in this way? What is the purpose of carving out a little subset of Reality and tethering a rather tiny group of people to it…? I rather like Richard’s commentary above. I’m aware that tracing lineages of transmission is (has been?) useful in spiritual evolvement, but I’m not sure of its value here-now. I can choose a particular vehicle to drive into the world of Form (as I am in beginning the path into the Diaconate), but it is not an effort to distinguish my beliefs (tenets) out from all others, but rather is a form I’m deliberately choosing to employ for its ability to channel an intention to walk, as much as possible for this life-stream, as Jesus did in this world.
Thank you Cynthia, this is an extremely helpful honing down of guiding principles and borders. I will reflect on it all further, in the meantime there is just one thing I’d like to clarify, or question. In your list of guiding teachers, I wonder about the omission of Fr Richard Rohr. The work of Fr Richard and the CAC, and particularly your collaboration with Fr Richard and James Finley with the Living School, seems to me to be of great prophetic and practical significance for the recapitulation of the Christian contemplative tradition and the nurturing and formation of an evolutionary movement of transformed hearts and minds. Fr Richard is definitely one of my core teachers, and I take a lot of inspiration and guidance from his teachings and ministry. Is the omission something to do with Fr Richard being somewhat more contemporary than those you have listed? I hope it’s a helpful question to raise.
This set of reflections found me in a place that I sort of knew implicitly but had not articulated. With Cynthia’s brilliant points of light here I see I have a home I never realized – an integral, messy, asymmetric one.
Click ! ! !
Feels a lot more like Easter now . . . .
Thank you, Cynthia. I find my self resonating strongly with element 7. Perhaps this is because I have experienced a version of what you so beautifully explained to another student in Is sacred reality really real? In almost 20 years it has never left me, and quietly, almost unnoticeably informs my life. Until now I have never found any description or even a mention of this mystery that I had seemingly stumbled upon and knew to be real, without any understanding of how or why. For anyone who may read this, I would say there was no fear whatsoever because the “me” that might be afraid was not present. Also, there were no thoughts. I was an observer of a deep vastness that seemed to be its own source with an internal visibility.
Hi Cynthia. Your Wisdom Lineage description resonates with my understanding of trinitarian dynamics except my approach to the wisdom is based in the Goethean phenomonlogy and science of embryogenesis. I appreciate scripture less than the innate Wisdom of the body and the process of coming into form.
Here in the UK, CANA (Christians Awakening to New Awareness) is gradually putting together a body of material called ‘Towards Universal Spirituality – Journeying with Christianity’ part of which is an annual Wisdom School run along the ‘Bourgeault’ lines. We are coming from much the same place, drawing on the same spiritual teachers in the Wisdom lineage.
Jesuit trained dualist here heading slowly toward your teaching. St Ignatious was a lot more than I realized, same with St Francis.
When I think of tenets, defining characteristics or defining elements, my attention reaches for a statement that does not depend on references to other traditions, to literature and sources, but is free-standing. Then everything can be added, often with a personal slant or insight, but in a way that enhances the basic shared ground.
Such core statements are notoriously hard to create. They tend to be very short, stripped back and simple without qualifications, parentheses or references all of which come later, but each phrase containing everything essential to allow these things to be developed or adduced. The Lord’s Prayer comes to mind – not a wasted word.
This may not be what you intended; and even if it were, I hesitate indeed to step towards exemplifying what I have just said. However, having come this far, my first go at the essential elements would be something like:
1. Christ is our source
2. We seek to know Christ’s presence through silent contemplation [and prayer]
3. The universe is an evolutionary expression of Christ in which we have an active part to play
4. We recognise the goal of this evolutionary process as unity within a realised Christ
5. We support this process through work on ourselves towards non-identification and conscious awakening
6. We seek to live Jesus’ presence by embracing a unitary view in a trinitarian world.
Once stated, if they are clear, all the references to literature and relativities to other teachings have a context against which to be placed.
With best wishes,
I like this, Richard; thanks.
Just to let you know, Teacher, you have fully engaged me and I want to participate in the transition to “higher collectivity, the next evolutionary unfolding.” I just pray to even catch up to you!
An interesting survey you have laid out, to one such as myself who is still a bit new to your way of cultivation. I suppose that I should be able to discern enough from your list of teachers (in no. 8) to have some overall sense of direction being offered. Nonetheless, I can’t help wonder what opinion you might have of theosophical teachers such as Alice Bailey, or even Rudolf Steiner, who seemed convinced that anthroposophy would be the “Christian path” most appropriate for the modern seeker in the 20th century.
Cynthia Bourgeault seems to like relying on Ken Wilber now and then for a somewhat dubious vision of human evolution. In my other comment in this thread, it was my intention to ask about where someone like Rudolf Steiner fit into her scheme of things. He also spoke about spiritual evolution (like Wilber), and about a cosmic Christ (like Teilhard), but found that the reliance on early prayer techniques, such as those which hark back to the desert fathers, were no longer appropriate for advancing the level the “consciousness soul” finds itself in at this time… was he wrong?
Now, I am not an anthroposophical acolyte, but I sometimes wonder: was Steiner wrong or “off” somehow, and if so, in what ways? No mention of him shows up at all in her books, and from someone who has been very adroit at contextualizing every thing or person in its proper place, the omission is unusual. Or in the end, is it just that some choose Steiner, others choose Tomberg or Gurdjieff… some Freud, others Jung… some Wilber, Gebser, or Teilhard, and others Rene Guenon, Wolfgang Smith (or anyone else from the Traditionalists)?
Hi–Thank you so much for this post and the invitation to dialog! Have been introduced to this work primarily via nonduality circles–listening to Cynthia’s presentations from SAND events (and cheering on the blending of nondual & Christian mystical teachings), as well as experiencing relational practices of a few SF Bay area teachers. There can be powerful & awesome beauty in the mystical unfolding that comes about with certain forms of mutual practice, both with a partner and in larger groups. I wonder if it might be similar to what Cynthia experienced with her beloved teacher Rafe. This mutual relating feels tender and rich and loving, opening the shared space up to a deepening Presence. Could this be seen as another potential meditative gateway?
Your heart-mind giftedness for integrating contemplative experience into conceptual language without the limits of concepts, defining without enclosing, guiding us forward and calling us toward our evolving purpose without controlling, is a unique expression of God’s image which invites me away from words into union. Few people can use words for the Wordless like you Cynthia. Lead on!
In your view, was the historical Jesus of Nazareth physically resurrected from the dead on the third day after his death?
“Sufism” may have to be defined to a greater specificity as the lineages can be quite different: e.g. Chisti, Naqshbandi, Mevlevi. Or, word it as “various Sufi traditions”? (I know you have at least a couple of people you can run this idea by!
Otherwise, this is sounding good.