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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Our reframing requires departing from Boehme in the following ways:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Triangle: Unity > psychic forces > spirit > energy

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

Fourth Triangle: Unity > spirit > energy > matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fifth Triangle: Unity > energy > Jesus > Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


References:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: hoodmystic.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read on – Part 3.


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


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


References:

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

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

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 Developmental Soul

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault is the fourth in a series beginning with “A Surprising Ecumenism“, her response to Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism in the USA: A Surprising Ecumenism“, an article published by La Civiltà Cattolica. The second is “Abortion, Pro-Life, and the Secular State: A Modest Proposal and the third is “When Does Life Begin?


Essence

According to Gurdjieff, the mysterious “X-factor” that enters in the moment of conception is not yet soul but essence. Think of it as the hand of cards you’re dealt at the start of a card game. It comprises a set of unique characteristics including race, gender (and most likely gender orientation), basic body type and other genetic factors, influences emerging from more distant ancestry and bloodline – and yes, that unquantifiable legacy “from the stars” – all combined primarily according to what Teilhard would call “tatonnement” (“trial and error”): evolution’s predilection for trying out any and all possibilities. Cumulatively, all of the above will combine to confer on you what is commonly known as your “nature”.

Notice how there is no need to stipulate an “artist” God here, specifically designing a unique human being; what’s being pictured here is simply a lawful playing out of a freedom already inherent within Creation itself. Essence is not customized, not micro-managed – at least according to most schools of inner work I’m familiar with. (That may take some getting used to, and for those of you finding yourself already in resistance mode, I encourage you simply to let this new perspective settle in a bit. Rest assured that I do intend to talk about the origin of the personal in due course.)

Once formed, essence will take its place as one of the three constituent terms in an ongoing dynamism of becoming which, not surprisingly, will play out according to the Law of Three. The other two terms, according to modern Sufi master Kabir Helminski (who reflects this same Wisdom lineage that I myself was trained in) are spirit and heart.

Spirit is that ever-roving, unboundaried, invisible divine dancing partner, participating in every movement of our life according to its own deepest teleology, namely, self-disclosure (remember “I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known”?). It generally plays the role of first force, Holy Affirming: ever prodding, nudging, unfolding.

Essence will typically play the role of Holy Denying, the bloc résistant in which Spirit will reveal its face. Through its very embodied finitude, essence provides both the necessary raw material and the necessary friction to allow the pure movement of spirit to reveal itself in time and form.

Heart – or conscience – is the alchemical  “third term” that is catalyzed in us through a life lived in growing consciousness, authenticity, obedience (as in ob-audire: “listen from the depths”), and that active cultivation of the self-reflective potential miraculously gifted to human consciousness. Heart is the unique fruit of a life wisely and fully engaged. More important, from the perspective of the road map I’m laying out here, it contributes the crucial third force, or “holy reconciling”, which makes possible that ultimate desideratum, namely, the fully arisen soul. Soul (or as Helminski calls it,  “the essential self”) is precisely that “fourth in a new dimension” which arises out of conscious weaving of those other three – spirit, essence, and heart —within the great womb of life.

While this statement may sound jarring, note how it is already well embedded in early Christian tradition. The Gospel of Thomas puts it as starkly as possible in logion 70: “If you bring forth what is within you, that which you bring forth will save you. If you fail to bring forth that which is within you, that which you fail to bring forth will destroy you.” “That which is within you” is your embryonic soul.

Jesus seems to be reinforcing this teaching in his celebrated parable of he talents – once you recognize, of course, that the “talents” are not our aptitudes and gifts (which belong to essence) but, rather, these soul potentialities transformed and quickened in the light of conscience/heart. This message comes through powerfully as well in the medieval mystic Jacob Boehme; it is in fact the driveshaft of his entire metaphysics. But it peers out as well from any number of other Christian mystics, even those of much more theoretically “traditional” metaphysical training and temperaments. One of the most powerful statements of this principle I know comes in contemporary Jesuit Ladislaus Boros’ spiritual classic, The Mystery of Death (p. 60-61):

By Alden Cole

From the facts of existence and the surrounding world an inner sphere of being a human is built up. This inner man is brought about by a never-ending [conscious] daily application, on the treadmill of duties, annoyances, joys, and difficulties. From these insignificant actions freely performed, the decisive freedom is built up – freedom from oneself, freedom to view one’s own existence from outside…From the crowded days and years of joy and sorrow something has crystallized out, the rudimentary forms of which were already present in all his experiences, his struggle, his creative work, his patience and love – namely, the inner self, the individual, supremely individual creation of a man. He has given his own shape to the determinisms of life by a daily conquest of them; he has become master of the multiple relationships that go to make him up by accepting them as the raw material [italics mine] of his self. Now he begins to “be”.

As far as I know, Boros never directly encountered the Christian inner tradition, let alone the teachings of the Asian spiritual traditions. Yet he has eloquently described here what would be easily recognizable in any of these other streams as “Witnessing Self”. He has captured precisely the same nuance articulated by The Gospel of Thomas, Boehme, Gurdjieff, and Jacob Needleman – namely, that our “soul” is not our raw essence per se, but something of an entirely different nature which is alchemized through the active engagement of essence with heart/consciousness. It is not so much a substance (at least in terms of corporeality as we understand it in this life) but more a process – or as Jacob Boeheme had it, a tincture, a quality of our essential aliveness which shines through the lineaments of this life like a shaft of imperishable light. Above all, it is not conferred at the start, but brought into being in this life through the quality of our conscious work. 

“Food for the moon”

Within the western Wisdom tradition this imperishable “other” is sometimes known as second body or “the wedding garment”. Actualizing it is seen – with some urgency – as the real business of our earthly sojourn.

Admittedly, there is a hard edge to this teaching, jolting us into responsible stewardship of our own time in human consciousness. We can choose, if we like, to drift downstream on the currents of pain or pleasure. We can invest our whole life’s energy worshiping the golden calf of ego. Or we can get with the cosmic program and come to grips with the real purpose of our time here as we humbly acknowledge that soul is not an automatic birthright but, rather, the final alchemy of a life lived here in conscious alignment with higher cosmic purposes.

Furthermore, the tradition states – essentially unequivocally – that this second body, or wedding garment, must be formed in this life. That is why it is called a wedding garment: because it is the appropriate and necessary regalia for the “wedding banquet” of eternal life – which, incidentally, does not begin after we leave this body, but here and now as this new substantiality we bear within us increasingly allows us to perceive, that the gates of heaven are, truly, everywhere.

This is soulwork in the true sense of the term: not the “soft” version that passes for soulwork today, preoccupied with unraveling dreams and deciphering messages from our “inner guides”, but the adamantine work of bringing something into existence here that will have coherence and substantiality beyond just this realm. Gurdjieff called it our “Real I”. [And, as Sandra brilliantly pointed out in the comments of my seventh post, Margery Williams Bianco’s character the Skin Horse reiterates this same concept in the classic children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.]

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

“You must find that in you that already lives beyond death and begin to live out of it now”,  my teacher Rafe taught me, encapsulating the essence of this teaching in his own plain words. To defer this project till after we die is too late; for, as Jacob Boehme bluntly puts it, “everything lies where it has fallen”. This is not, by the way, a question of “final judgment”, of some higher being deciding you are “unworthy”. It’s simply that the conditions in the next realm out, sometimes known as the Imaginal, are finer and drawn to far closer tolerances than in this life. Only something of a similar fineness will pass through the sieve.

I am theologian enough to know that the immediate argument conventionally trained Christians will raise against this is that it seems to defy the promise of Psalm 139 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” – and replace the intimate and personal nature of our lifelong human relationship with God with an impersonal and even harsh algorithm. I do not believe this is actually so. I will have more to say about the personal in my next blog, with the intuition that this alternative vision, certainly strongly intimated by Jesus, is actually far more merciful and cosmically nobling.

The second objection, of course, is that this sounds like a classic recipe for spiritual materialism – I can already picture the internet ads for second-body-building nutritional supplements and “wedding garment” consultants! But the checks-and-balances factor, built right into this equation, lies in the fact that the requisite food for building second body is, in Gurdjieff’s famous formula, “conscious labor and intentional suffering”. Second body cannot be attained through self-maximization, but only through the classic route variously known in the sacred traditions as kenosis and humilty. “We ascend by descending,” as the Rule of St. Benedict succinctly observes. There is no other way.

For those who opt out, preferring to live out their days in their egoic comfort zone (a condition known in the inner tradition as “sleep”), the potentiality offered at birth to become a soul is simply returned, stillborn. Nothing has germinated here of permanent substantiality; nothing has become viable beyond the womb of this life. Such existences, in Gurdjieff’s words, become “food for the moon”. At death their temporary selfhood dissolves back into its original physical components and takes its small part in the vast network of reciprocal feeding, by which the cosmos bootstraps itself. Nothing is finally wasted.

From the Work perspective, then, abortion is not something that befalls merely a fetus. It happens at all stages, and is in fact the tragic outcome of most human lives. Lulled into complacency by the illusion that we already “have” souls, we fail to engage the real task of spiritual germination and wind up dreaming our lives away.

Only when this inconvenient truth is finally, fully faced will the real question of what it means to be “pro-life” find its authentic balance.

Love is the Answer – What is the Question?

This blog post first by Cynthia Bourgeault appeared on Ilia Delio’s new website, The Omega Center on September 12, 2016.


I was a hidden treasure and I longed to be known. And so I created the world, both visible and invisible.

This famous saying from the Hadith Qudsi, the extra-koranic sayings of Islam, speaks to the question of why God would want to bring creation into existence in the first place. Astonishingly, the reason given is not for majesty or dominion, but for intimacy, the yearning for self-disclosure, to know and be known. Seeded into the cosmos is that same primordial yearning, reverberating as a psychic harmonic of the big bang.

Teilhard de ChardinTeilhard de Chardin probably never encountered this quote. His familiarity with Islam was painfully limited, particularly in its mystical and Sufi branches with which he was ironically so deeply in tune. But in a real sense, this little gem of Islamic wisdom almost perfectly encapsulates Teilhard’s own magisterial understanding of cosmic love, transparency, and the personal.

How did we get to be here? How did anything get to be here? Teilhard judiciously sidesteps the classic metaphysical stipulation of a fall, an “involution” into matter. As a scientist rather than a metaphysician, he does not have to begin with the grand “why” of things; the “what” of them will suffice. And what he actually observes seeded into the stuff of the universe is a paradoxical dialectic: intense atomicity, granulation, the myriad bits and pieces of our materiality—and yet, at the same time, an underlying unity, and a force calling the “unorganized multitude” to move in the direction of “the unified multiple”.¹ However the pieces may have gotten broken in the first place, what he observes everywhere in the universe is a countering force—he names it love—moving beneath the pixilated surface drawing all things together. “Driven by the force of love,” he writes, “the fragments of the universe [continuously] seek each other so that the world may come into being.”

For Teilhard, love is not first and foremost a sentiment, let alone a sentimentality. It is first and foremost a geophysical force, built into the very structure of the cosmos. In an astonishing one-liner toward the end of The Human Phenomenon he writes:

In all its nuances, love is nothing more or less than the direct or indirect trace marked in the heart of the element by the psychic convergence of the universe upon itself.²

love-universe

In other words, if you’re familiar with his theories of complexification and convergence, he’s saying that this primordial impulse toward unification (experienced at the biophysical level as attraction and at the psychic as eros) actually has its antecedent in the physical shape of our planet itself, its perfect sphericity inherently designed to shove things closer and closer together so that they converge, complexify, and grow more conscious. Whether by chance, “intelligent design,” or its own innate teleology, the whole thing seems to be set up like a cosmic gristmill for the extraction of consciousness.

When we love, then—when our own hearts reach out in tenderness, desire, or plain old physical attraction—Teilhard asks us to remember that the cosmos, too, passed this way, seeking at the macro-level what we are now experiencing at the micro. We are in each another holographically, this world and us: the whole of the “universe story” carved in our own hearts, and the whole of our own story reverberating within the cosmic heart.

jakob_boehmeLike that great other cosmological visionary Jacob Boehme (1585-1624), Teilhard has a penchant for moving back and forth very quickly between the physical and psychic realms. What for Boehme is friction at a physical level very quickly becomes anguish at an emotional level; hence, he can speak of the anguish of creation awakening to itself. In a similar way, Teilhard moves between the “outside” of things and their “inside.” From the outside perspective, love is a form of energy. It is an aspect—no doubt the primary aspect—of what he calls radial energy, the energy of evolution, the energy released in the process of complexification/consciousness. It is the force that runs through the cosmos as an energetic counter-current to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, drawing things to become more unified, vitalized, and whole. From the inside—the psychic perspective—love retains its traditional meanings of compassion, intimacy, and generativity, drawing things to become more deeply themselves—“I am, may you be also,” as Beatrice Bruteau concisely summarizes it. But it also conveys for Teilhard an additional connotation: spiritualization, which means the release of yet another quantum packet of that sum total of consciousness and conscience (and, in French, they are the same word!) seeded into the cosmos in that initial eclosion of divine yearning that launched the whole journey in the first place.

When Teilhard speaks of “harnessing the energy of love,” he is speaking in both senses, both inside and outside. In the end, they are holographically embedded in one another, so the bridge between the cosmic processes and our own hearts is trustworthy.

Thus, we can look to our own hearts to tell us more about what Teilhard sees as the essence of the complexification/consciousness process—and hence, of evolution (and hence, of love): his insistence that “union differentiates.” We often think of love in terms of merging, uniting, becoming one, but Teilhard was wary of such definitions; his practiced eye as an evolutionist taught him something quite different. True union—the ultimate chef d’oeuvre of love—doesn’t turn its respective participants into a blob, a drop dissolving in the ocean. Rather, it presses them mightily to become more and more themselves: to discover, trust, and fully inhabit their own depths. As these depths open, so does their capacity to love, to give-and-receive of themselves over the entire range of their actualized personhood.

The term “codependency” was not yet current in Teilhard’s day, but he already had the gist of it intuitively. He knew that love is not well served by collapsing into one another. It is better served by standing one’s own ground within a flexible unity so that more, deeper, richer, facets of personhood can glow forth in “a paroxysm of harmonized complexity”.³

The poet Rilke, Teilhard’s contemporary and, in many respects, kindred spirit, is on exactly the same wavelength. “For what would be a union of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?” he asks in his Letters to a Young Poet. “Love is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another.”

“To become world in oneself for the sake of another…” Hmmmm. Does love really ask us to become world? Does love make worlds? Is that what love does?

True, Teilhard does not directly tackle the question of first causes. But a clue to the cosmological riddle is surely embedded in his understanding of love as the driveshaft of evolution. Suppose this love is not a pre-existent “property” attributable to God, as in the classic substance theology of the past. Suppose it is instead an alchemical process: a tender and vulnerable journey of self-disclosure, risk, intimacy, yearning, and generativity whose ley lines are carved into the planet itself. The whole universe story has come into being because God is a hidden treasure who longs to be known. And the way—the only way—this knowing can be released is in the dance of unity-in-differentiation which is the native language of love. If it takes a whole village to raise a child, it takes a whole cosmos to bear forth the depths of divine love.binary-stars2

 


Notes:

    1. Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Human Phenomenon. ed. Sarah Appleton-Weber. Sussex Academic Press: 2003. Page 28.
    2. Ibid. Page 188.
    3. Ibid. Page 184.