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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 3

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 third part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Additional posts are listed below:


By the end of our last post, the Job story has led us to three happenings:

  • Yahweh has had a prick of self-awareness, reflective consciousness.
  • His dark side has been uncovered and now planted in human and Yahweh’s knowing or, in Job’s words, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad” (Job 1:10).
  • Yahweh is faced with a choice of relating with his creation in a new way or letting creation collapse back into an ineffable unity.

So far, we have approached and understood these ideas from the premise that creation is all about the Endless Unity yearning to know itself, to become human — the divine plan. This post will continue our explorations from a slightly revised take on this plan. But first some terms need defining.

A “plan” implies thought or consciousness, which raises the discussion about the state of consciousness in the Absolute. To remain true to the antinomy of the Endless Unity, it is a state of neither identifiable consciousness nor unconsciousness, but rather non-consciousness. Consciousness, as ultimately some form of communication between “somethings” (as per Ilia Delio’s insightful definition), cannot be in the no-thingness of the Absolute. Likewise, unconsciousness has nothing to be “un” about. While both may be regarded as latent or potentials, they have no meaning within the antinomy of Unity.

With this understanding, the divine plan may be more precisely called the divine trajectory. We can have some confidence in substituting this word as we boldly state our premise that the fundamental a priori essence of the ineffable Absolute is Unity. It will eternally move to reestablish its Oneness. Thus, the ontological journey may be reframed from God yearning to know itself to an inevitable irrepressible trajectory of God’s diverse features moving toward the essential state of unity. However, with the totality of antinomy split outwardly, that essence must actually be a re-unity in a different state; i.e., a space-time reality evolving toward Oikonomia — the “reunion of created and uncreated realms” (Bourgeault, HT, p. 182). The unmoving Alpha is ever-moving toward Teilhard’s Omega Point.

While this reframing may seem like semantics or reasoning in a circle, the focus on a trajectory and reunification provides a different position for viewing the incarnation and the Trinity. Otherwise, we are led too quickly to simply seeing God as love and as longing to know itself.

Given the three Job happenings listed above, Yahweh’s long-distance relationship with creation can no longer be justified— self-aware humans now know too much, as does Yahweh. His antinomy has split apart and omnipotence is ruling the roost destructively. His creation could no longer be what we might call a virtual reality operating from an obedience-based software program. The covenant relationship has been too prone to failures to assure his dispersed and opposing qualities will be united again. In short, Yahweh could longer relate as a long-distance creator of cosmic reality; he had to be that reality throughout its invisible and visible realms. More precisely, Yahweh had to be forever becoming, unfolding and enfolding the cosmos through stages of rising consciousness and finally to transformed consciousness; i.e., Teilhard’s superconsciousness accumulating in the noosphere and culminating in Oikonomia. Emanation had to transition into immanation.

Yahweh’s features (or “names”) emanate out in their own separate ways, primarily vibrating to their independent subtle energetic frequencies as psychic forces. To gather these psychic forces together, Yahweh’s essence of Oneness had to reside in a conscious being who could contain and live from a unified, non-dualistic knowing. Enter Jesus. How does the infinite become finite and restore its perfect wholeness forever? The way and the means are revealed in the life and acts of Jesus the Christ, but not as directly as first appears and has traditionally been understood. Moreover, as wisdom students we know that the Jesus events did not take the divine trajectory to its destined target point — Oikonomia.

So what was the role of Jesus? First, he embodied his “father’s” essence not in a state of unity but as a flow of unifying energy. At the same time in history, he embodied the consequences of psychic forces run rampant. In his Job encounter, Yahweh ran smack into (or, in wisdom speak, witnessed) the consequences of the conditions and endless choices imposed by separated opposites entrenched in a reality of “hard edges” — a dualistic reality (Bourgeault, WJ, pp. 97-98). The full implications of Yahweh’s exposure to the dark side of creation have to be experienced by him in some experiential (i.e., incarnated) way, not just virtually.

A second role of Jesus was to be a sacrifice (an act of making sacred). For Jung, this sacrifice served to expiate Yahweh’s immoral treatment of Job — divine mercy must finally correct a divine wrong (Jung, p. 43). We can from our reframed position go a step deeper and see the sacrifice as an atonement for the Endless Unity’s initial violation of its essence, the rupturing of its perfect wholeness and rest. On the micro level this amounts to expiating the original state of separation (sin) that humans are born into.

With his embodiment role and redemptive death, Jesus as the first anointed self-aware being was prepared for his third role — his reconciling act in the “harrowing of hell,” as Cynthia insightfully suggests (WJ, pp. 119-124). Expressed through our reframing, Christ carried the unifying vibration into the manifesting world’s center (heart) where the psychic forces enter physical reality as spiritual realities. Thus, Christ is not only the model of divine re-unification, he is the initiator of it — the Holy Reconciler. He has established a way for re-unification in the new dimension of creation.

Let’s pause here to make some associations explicit. With consciousness being any form of communication, Christ through self-aware intentional consciousness has set up a specific line of communication by embodying the flow of unifying essence. Through his unflinching steady position (as demonstrated by Job), Christ holds all dualities together and stirs the deeply buried spirit of Oneness embedded in every psychic force. Thus, with this conjunction, the exchange between opposites is grounded in a mutual give and take to restore wholeness. This is in the Christian wisdom tradition called love, relieved of any emotional fixation. It involves kenotic giving and humble taking in the unfolding of unity in diversity.

Thus, the way is established by Christ, which is integrated into the means for walking the way. In a fourth and fifth roles, Christ resurrects and leaves humanity a Paraclete, a mediator — the Holy Spirit. His resurrection is the penultimate reconciliation as death (suffering, pain, evil) becomes intrinsic to the transformation of mortality into immortality. Thus, Christ’s resurrection is not so much conquering or denying death (i.e., anti-life) as it is transforming physical life into transfigured being.

Could it be that the energy involved in the cosmic reconciling and the third force alchemizing of the life-death collision into the new arising of a transfigured risen Christ was densified by, or even created, the Holy Spirit? Perhaps this idea about the Holy Spirit brings together the paradoxical first and second laws of thermodynamics by injecting in them the spiritual law of a cosmic trajectory toward re-unification. The heat loss (entropy) from the reconciling “work” is gathered in the Holy Spirit.

At any rate, by whatever process, the Paraclete (mediator) can be viewed as a reconciling force flowing and accessible in this world’s reality. By opening our centers of being (our hearts) to this spiritual energy, we have the means of becoming complete humans working toward a new humanity, as envisioned by Teilhard. The creator’s means of communicating with its creatures is no longer restricted to visions, dreams, myths, and symbols as with all his previous spokespersons. We now have a direct and personal party line, carrying the unifying spirit between us and the Endless Unity. We can experience this direct line in such practices as Centering Prayer, during which heart/mind connections and neurological re-patterning are occurring, as being verified by a growing body of research.

The bottom line is the infinite and finite have a new relationship built on reflective consciousness entering into creator/creature exchanges (communications) with the mutually beneficial intention of re-unification. Moreover, as Christ taught, our transformed consciousnesses of non-duality are forming a body, a new (transfigured) humanity, referred to as the body of Christ or the Oikonomia manifested.

With the reframing developed so far in these posts, we can approach with renewed wonder the wisdom formula depicting the flow of the Absolute into matter where each factor is a densification of the previous factor:

Endless One > psychic forces > spirit > energy > matter

In this formula we can see Boehme’s idea of the big bang and Teilhard’s observation that “particles can now be treated as transient reservoirs of concentrated power” (Teilhard, p. 13). Also, although “for science energy currently represents the most primitive form of universal stuff” (p. 14), Teilhard posits that “all cosmic energy is fundamentally psychic [spiritual]” (p. 30 and p. 230). Thus, “some rudimentary psyche exists in every corpuscle (in the infinitely small, that is infinitely diffuse, state)” (p. 217).

With these thoughts we can extend the above formula as a starting point for reconsidering the Trinity in the final post. As a confirmed scientist, Teilhard eschews metaphysical inquiry, but he repeatedly flirts with it and challenges us to take up the task of broadening the boundaries of science.


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. 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.

Wagner, Einstein, and Teilhard

Dr. Rudy Hwa Rudy is an emeritus professor of Physics at the University of Oregon as well one of my one of my senior Wisdom Students, both chronologically (we’ve been traveling this path together for nearly two decades now) and in his recognized eldership in the scientific and Wisdom communities. This delightful blog post seamlessly weaves together his scientific rigor with his passion for music. It’s a delight and a privilege to share it with you here.

~ Cynthia Bourgeault


At a symposium held many years ago on a day between the performances of the third and fourth operas of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the musical director of the Ring said in answer to a question about Wagner, “Music without Wagner is like physics without Einstein.” That statement struck such a chord in me that I have been exploring its implications ever since. As a physicist I know Einstein’s work more than I do about the works of Wagner and Teilhard [de Chardin]. But my love for music, especially for Wagner’s operas, and my journey in spirituality put me at a place where I can enjoy a panoramic view of all three. My words to describe that view, however, will be inadequate, like any description of something beautiful or profound.

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner was not just a musical genius but also a unique dramatist. He described the realm beyond worldly experiences through his musical dramas in ways that have never been done by anyone before nor afterwards. He wrote the poetic libretto of his operas himself. His Ring of the Nibelung, which consists of four operas that add up to more than sixteen hours, is conceptually connected to his last opera Parsifal in the context of redemption. The Ring is about the greed for power and the cleansing of that corruptive human inclination by love through self-sacrifice, but the redemptive process is not completed until the fool Parsifal gains wisdom through compassion in the next opera. Parsifal is a mystical journey of deep spirituality described in ethereal sublime music. The transformation that occurs in the five-opera sequence Ring/Parsifal is an outward manifestation of the change in Wagner’s own inner life, at the later stage of which he turned favorably to the Christian belief in redemption through suffering and love. Actually, he was more influenced by Buddhism than by the traditional Christianity ruled by a hierarchical church: he saw the failure of nineteenth-century Christianity in restraining industrial Europe from its greed for power. Wagner used art to rescue religion by creating a musical cathedral on the theme of suffering and compassion in the spirit of the Gospels. He willed that Parsifal not be performed outside of Bayreuth because he did not want this opera that he regarded as sacred to become a theatric amusement. Thirty years after his death Wagner’s family finally authorized its performance elsewhere, and more than 50 opera houses in Europe put it on in the first eight months of 1914 before WWI temporarily ended its universal appeal.

Einstein is probably best known for his energy-mass equation, E=mc2, the significance of which is transformative in physics. At the root of that equation is the theory of relativity, whose role in revealing the nature of the universe has cosmic and religious implications. In simple terms Einstein unified time and space. Energy and momentum are similarly unified in such a way that mass may turn into both energy and momentum. More difficult to imagine is that large massive stars can warp space-time. Without Einstein’s fundamental contribution to our understanding of nature, cosmologists would not have been able to determine from modern observations the properties of the universe at its beginning when even the notion of space and time is not well defined.

Concerning space-time, it is interesting to note that in Act I of Parsifal, the young fool who does not even know his own name finds himself in the forest of the knights of the Grail without feeling that he has trekked a long distance. The wise old man, Gurnemanz, explains to him, “You see, my son, time here becomes space.” It is amazing that Wagner thought of the unification of time-space thirty years before Einstein, though for a different reason. He wanted to lead his followers on a redemptive journey to a realm beyond ordinary consciousness in ordinary space-time. One has to be like Parsifal in not knowing anything to enter the domain that is timeless and of no specific space. It is not self-degradation here to become a fool. In wisdom tradition that means one empties the mind in order to be open to transcendent consciousness. Wagner dared to compose music that represents timelessness on a stage that offers nearly no motion for long periods (in theater time), yet holds the audience spellbound and transported to a realm where suffering is not just feeling of pain, but a part of the kenotic process of redemption.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Whereas both Wagner and Einstein were broadly recognized in their lifetimes for their achievements, Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, was forbidden by his Jesuit superiors to publish his anti-establishment writings. He was a paleontologist and theologian, and saw the necessity to synthesize Christian faith with evolution because he did not believe in the literal interpretation of the Genesis story of creation. That did not go well with the Roman Church, and many philosophers and most scientists on both sides of the schism. In his view spiritual and physical evolutions are not in conflict but follow the same movement in consonance with each other, so he unified incarnation and cosmic/biological evolution in his Christogenesis through four phases, which Cynthia Bourgeault calls the four Cs: cosmogenesis, complexifcation-consciousness, convergence, and Christ-Omega. To a reductionist Teilhard’s work may sound as repugnant as what the music of Ring-Parsifal does to a non-Wagnerian. But for one who is on a spiritual quest, the Teilhardian synthesis provides a refreshing alternative to the traditional dogmatic theology; more significantly, it offers a pathway to the mystical field of unitive awareness of the Oneness beyond space and time. That is transformational. It has been suggested that Teilhard is the fourth major thinker of the western Christian tradition, after St. Paul, Augustine, and Aquinas.

Teilhard did not build a bridge between science and religion that leaves the schism as deep as it ever has been. Like the unification of space and time, he amalgamated the physical and spiritual realities such that a seeker from either side cannot find a clear line separating the empirical and the transcendent. But one has to want to seek in order to find what he offers. Teilhard said it better:

You are not a human being in search of spiritual experience.
You are a spiritual being immersed in human experience.

The amazing feeling I get in reading Teilhard’s writing is that he was so immersed in the wholeness that he could move effortlessly from space-time to non-space-time to describe that intimate union at the gut level where the mind is truly in the heart. In his treatise The Human Phenomenon the word God cannot be found anywhere until the epilogue. Yet the universality of the love he envisioned is clear in his statement, “A love that embraces the entire universe is not only something psychologically possible; it is also the only complete and final way in which we can love.”

That’s great, but how do you do that? This question reveals my awareness of my being at a particular point in space-time attempting to do something. Loving in finite space-time will always be contingent. To transcend that one has to love not as an act of doing, but as a state of being. Doing is carried out by the mind; being resides in the heart. In all wisdom traditions the practice is to let go of thinking through contemplation. That is to become like Parsifal, the innocent fool, who responds to suffering. In a loose analogy that compromises the rigor of physics thinking, it is like mass in matter converting to kinetic energy that transmutes into love energy.

With Wagner’s music I can be passionate; with Einstein’s physics I can be dispassionate and explain what I know. But with Teilhard’s theology I can do neither. It requires both thinking and believing, which are hard to do simultaneously, much like particle-wave duality. Indeed, the Teilhardian synthesis is just like quantum physics, that unifies seemingly incompatible classical properties. I admire his passion and ability to use love energy to integrate his profound thoughts and experiences into one coherent description of the Wholeness.

Wagner, Einstein, and Teilhard: all three of them were visionaries, using different languages to express different yet similar transformative experiences. Feeling, thinking, and believing are what mathematicians would call orthogonal functions, which all of us have in varying degrees. The world has been enriched gloriously by what these three giants have shown us on how these three functions can harmoniously be combined to beautify the Whole.

Rudy Hwa – Eugene, OR

Thanking our Midwife

Dear friends in The Contemplative Society,

It is an honour to be asked to contribute a few words in support of the Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund.

Where do I start, with Margaret Haines or with the contemplative vision that sustained her every step of her long and fruitful journey? Margaret was the spiritual mother of The Contemplative Society, our tiny, “can-do” organization she founded to bring me to British Columbia, and she was my own spiritual mother, midwifing my emergence as a contemplative teacher. In fact, Margaret was midwife all the way; everything she touched, from plants to people to fledgling organizations, grew sturdy and strong in her graciously nurturing hands. When she died at age 85 in 2011, she could look back with justifiable pride on having launched not only an organization, but the thousands of people this organization has touched over the years.

Fr. Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Margaret Haines (March 2002)

What many may not know is that Margaret was a lifelong seeker herself. After completing her “first half of life” duties as a faithful wife, mother, and arborist in the Okanagan, she turned in the second half to a rigorous embrace of the path of transformation, walking parallel tracks in contemplative Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism. She had considerable experience in the Gurdjieff Work under her belt as well, gathered while she and her family still lived in the UK. Her seamless inner integration of Buddhist and Gurdjieffian mindfulness with Christian contemplation furnished the creative matrix in which my own Wisdom teaching came to birth. It all began on Salt Spring Island, BC, in July 1997: the headwaters of a movement that has now spread worldwide.

To all appearances, Margaret, as she began her journey, was simply a “housewife”, a “lay person”, a seeker among hundreds of other seekers, with no particularly distinguishing features other than her innate clarity and her persistence on the path. It was that persistence that brought her to fullness in her own journey and gradually transformed her from postulant to post-holder. That’s how wisdom transmission works; always has and always will. You show up with dogged faithfulness and a constantly rekindling beginner’s mind, and something gradually crystallizes in you. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, you gradually become real, on that same pathway of faithful love.

I mention this because all our spiritual journeys begin at the beginning when both the time and funds needed to support those formative forays into the world of contemplative transformation nowadays often come at prohibitive cost. Younger seekers in particular need scholarship help if they are to take those first steps which even for Margaret, back a half century ago, came at a gentler and kinder time in our planet’s economic history. The same goes for people entering the path later in life or seeking out retreat to renew a path already begun; retirement on a limited income presents similar financial challenges.

There are many Margaret Haineses waiting out there, keen to be formed in the tradition in order to serve their term as post holders and carry the torch to the next generation. All it takes is persistence. And funding.

We hope that each of you reading this message will be moved to support Wisdom transformation by giving as generously as you can of both. A more appropriate tribute to Margaret Haines I cannot imagine.

With warm wishes,

Cynthia Bourgeault


To join Cynthia in supporting the Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund, and help us reach our goal by the deadline of June 30, visit contemplative.org/haines today!

The Gift of Enroulement

I arrived at the Wisdom School on Lake Cowichan both exhausted and depleted. While I am an advocate for self-care, I have found it very difficult to practice sincerely in this all-consuming stage of motherhood that I am currently immersed. I had not attended a retreat since my first child was born almost five years ago, despite the fact that retreat was the bedrock of my spiritual practice. Retreat was where I found sustenance, insight, and communion with God – quite simply it was where I longed to be. The first evening of the retreat I felt broken. I was missing my family and doubting whether I had made the right choice in attending the retreat. It felt as though I was trying to re-create a time from my past that no longer fit into my new life as a happily devoted mom. I hadn’t done any of the suggested reading on Teilhard and knew very little about the subject at hand. I was worried about not being able to sleep in the dorm-style accommodations; therefore, leaving the five-night retreat even more tired than when I had arrived. I felt I couldn’t muster the energy to connect with fellow retreaters, not because I didn’t long for that connection, but because I simply didn’t have the drive. My heart felt closed. That first night I retreated deep into my own process, grateful for the silence and slow pace that the schedule brought.

The next day Cynthia launched into Teilhard de Chardin. The combination of Cynthia’s presence, the material, and stepping into the age-old model of the Wisdom School (namely, the skillful balance between work, study, prayer, chanting, etc.), evoked something deep inside me. I was transfixed. As we delved into topics such as evolution and the cosmos, I was transported beyond my familiar day-to-day life. Orienting my mind and heart towards this grandest scale of ponderings renewed a latent sense of vision. I was reminded of Mary Oliver’s beautiful question, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This question evokes, with such delicate urgency, how relatively fleeting and small life is, joined with the responsibility to live out all that I am. With this, my worries and closed heart began to melt away,as I experienced a renewed sense of strength. The retreat felt like a spiritual empowerment as the group breathed in and out the wisdom of both Cynthia and Teilhard.

As a mama of two young children, my world can seem quite small at times. Reading that same picture book, singing those same songs, building that same fort, making that same taco dinner. This child’s world of simplicity, repetition, and routine is my current reality and my family’s container. From a young age I threw myself into contemplative practice, attending retreat after retreat in silence, meditation, and sometimes solitude. My life with my family looks very different now. While my present container is beautiful in many respects, it also can leave me feeling bored at times. It was at the Wisdom School that I was given a different outlook on this life-stage. The constriction I feel is actually helping me grow, becoming someone who can hold more and find the space and presence in much less. Parenthood for me encapsulates the human experience, as it wavers between being indescribably profound to painfully mundane. Delving into Teilhard’s work for five days inspired me to look at the potential that these polarities contain.

From years of studying the Buddhist concept of emptiness, I became familiar with the skill of seeing things from all different perspectives. For Teilhard, the very things in which our current liberal/progressive society so fears, are the very things that will propel us into more sophisticated levels of consciousness and evolution. To me this shows Teilhard’s mastery over emptiness, proving that things don’t have an inherent self-existence from their own side. Teilhard’s excitement over density, friction, and seemingly destructive forces can be perceived as a catalyst for change and movement on a cosmic scale. This reminded me to muster my years of training in contemplative traditions to help me move past my knee-jerk judgments and see things on a grander scale. 

The most crucial aspect of retreat is my ability to integrate what I have learned/experienced into my everyday life. Without this incorporation, these periods of silence and solitude are in vain. During this Wisdom School, prior to the work period, Cynthia would lead us through a brief grounding exercise. Here we would feel our feet grounded on the earth and from this foundation our roots would sink deep into the earth’s core. This visualization resonated deeply, and I now find myself practicing this invaluable skill. In periods of anxiety or stress I ground in this way, immediately dispelling those surges of anxiety. Another tangible gift of incorporation that I gleaned from my time spent at the Wisdom School is fueled by the parallels I 

drew between the concept of enroulement (‘coiling back on itself’) and walking the labyrinth. The labyrinth has always been an important facet of my spiritual practice as a tangible and embodied outlet to be with God. When Cynthia described enroulement, and its influence in the evolutionary process, I was struck with the labyrinth’s similar pattern (not unlike those referenced airport security lines!). In a labyrinth walk you meander your way to the centre (or the Omega point) through a circuitous route. I have always found it amazing that the labyrinth, as both a symbol and as a spiritual practice, has been found on different continents since time immemorial. These ancient patterns took on that much more meaning for me once reflecting on the possibility that evolution uses a similar pattern. Since the retreat I have exerted consistent effort to walk the labyrinth as an embodied reminder of all that I learned at the Teilhard Wisdom School. Both the grounding exercise and the labyrinth walk are tangible ways that I can continue to incorporate all of the fruits from these precious five days of learning, praying, working, and community.

I was a recipient of one of the generous scholarships that were allocated for this retreat. Without this scholarship it would not have been possible for me to attend.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to return to my roots of retreat, and to be filled with such sustenance to bring back into my life.


Since writing this reflection in 2016, Ruth, who also serves on The Contemplative Society’s board of directors, joined the University of Victoria’s Multifaith Services department. Her role as the Anglican chaplain has allowed her to re-engage with her passion for serving young spiritual seekers, bringing balance back into her life. She is thankful for her experience at the Wisdom School which helped her to say “Yes” to this opportunity (where every semester during exams there’s even a labyrinth!).

Enroulement is an inevitable process, but the quality of the material it works with reflects what we put into the universe. Ruth is an example of how donors to TCS have made a positive impact by funding scholarships to our retreats, the kind of support Ruth needed to reconnect with and shine her own light even brighter. Please consider giving a gift to our new Margaret Haines Scholarship Fund to help others like Ruth shine. Visit our contemplative.org/haines today to invest in the contemplative future.

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.

When does life begin?

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault is the third 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“.


In this third installment of what now looks to be shaping up as five-part series, I hope to bring a Wisdom perspective to that profound liminal sphere encompassing conception, birth, and the formation of the soul; for it’s in the metaphysical confusion surrounding these mysteries, I believe, that the roots of our present abortion conundrum really have their origin.

Note that I say “a Wisdom perspective” rather than “the Wisdom perspective”, for the Wisdom tradition is by no means monochrome. My comments here reflect the strands of the lineage that have most directly informed my own understanding; specifically, the Gurdjieff Work and the Christian mystical/esoteric lineage running through the Gospel of Thomas, the Philokalia, Jacob Boehme, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. They also reflect some of the thinking at the forefront of contemporary embryology, particularly as represented in the work of Dutch embryologist Jaap van der Wal.

The beginnings of life

The Wisdom tradition would affirm vigorously that life does not merely begin at conception; it is already well underway by the time of conception – “life” here understood not as a purely biological phenomenon, but as flow, dynamism, and intelligent purposiveness. In contrast to earlier, more mechanical models, which tended to see conception in Darwinian terms (“the fittest sperm takes the egg”), contemporary embryological research suggests a much more collaborative model, far more akin to Nash-ian Game Theory than to Darwinian survival of the fittest: a myriad of sperm collaborate to place a single sperm before the egg, which then opens – volitionally – rather than simply being battered or overwhelmed.

There is evidence as well that conception occurs according to a full-fledged Law of Three model. It’s not simply sperm / egg / baby but, rather, sperm / egg / X / baby, where X represents the infusion of some mysterious animating force beyond the immediate biochemistry.

Those of us who participated in the 2012 Tucson Wisdom School will no doubt never forget that powerful moment when Wisdom student Nancy Denman, a research embryologist from British Columbia, described how the process of conception actually occurs: “The egg opens to a single sperm”, she explained, “then closes”. For about twenty-four hours there is stillness. Then, all of a sudden, the egg starts vibrating violently. “‘Ignition!’ we all call it”. Then she added parenthetically, “Those of us of a more religious bent might be inclined to describe it as “the descent of the Spirit.”

However this X-factor is named, it certainly seems to function as a third term in the old “nature versus nurture” conundrum, offering still another line of explanation as to why babies conceived by the same parents and raised in the same household under the same value system frequently wind up displaying such markedly different personality traits. “Our essence comes from the stars”, Gurdjieff always insisted. There is something in the formation of a new life that cannot be reduced to pure biochemistry; it seems to be an emergent property of the act of conception itself.

Life not Soul

So far so good. There is nothing in the above that should raise any eyebrows whatsoever among even the most ardent pro-lifers. “What part of life do you not understand?” If anything, we are pushing back the leading edge of life into even earlier in the process, into the intrinsic purposiveness that Teilhard de Chardin and others would see as part of the irreversible intelligence of evolution itself.

But hang onto your hats – this next step is where we are about to part company rather dramatically with traditional pro-life metaphysics. For the Wisdom tradition would suggest that Life – which indubitably is present at the moment of conception if not well before – is not synonymous with Soul. The terms are often used interchangeably, and it is precisely here, in this confusion, that the Gordian knot is originally tied.

In traditional Catholic metaphysics, this “X-factor” would immediately be identified as “the soul”, the essence of the living human being. The soul is created by God and bestowed at conception. Once bestowed, it is henceforward immortal within the cosmos; death will change its state but will not destroy it. Thus, the soul trajectory is established from the very beginning; from this the moment of conception forward, this uniquely particular and fully formed human identity will make its way through the journey of life, along the way accumulating virtue or vice – in acknowledgement of which it will be assigned its permanent dwelling place in either heaven or hell.

In the light of this venerable but antiquated metaphysical road map (note how it’s steeped in “substance theology”, long since invalidated by contemporary scientific models), it is easy to understand both the urgency and the pathos dominating the “pro-life” strategy. Denying the gift of life to even a two-cell fetus is tantamount to killing a defenseless human soul. The assumption governing much of the pro-life rhetoric seems to be that somehow pro-choice folks don’t “get” that a human life is a human soul, and they need to be shown that it is, often in emotionally exaggerated and manipulative ways; hence those “abortion stops a beating heart” billboards.

The Wisdom tradition – at least the lineage of the tradition I have been formed in – would see it differently. What is bestowed in that moment of “ignition” is not yet a soul but, rather, the potential to develop a soul. Soul does not come at the beginning, it comes at the end, forged and fused in the crucible of life itself (or perhaps better, in the womb of life) through the conscious weaving of that hand which is dealt at the moment of conception.

The notion of a “developmental soul” comes as a shock and perhaps even an affront to traditional Christian metaphysics. But hear me out here: it has been a staple in the Western esoteric tradition from the get-go, as I will document in my next post. But even more compellingly, it holds the potential, I believe, to bring an authentic resolution to the abortion impasse, and to tie together that great desideratum so far escaping us: that integral “pro-life” stance that sees all stages of life as equally compelling and worthy of sacred protection.

Stay tuned for the next installment – to follow promptly.

Mary Magdalene in Metchosin

Liz Vickers, board member of The Contemplative Society, reflects on her recent experience preparing and “post-holding” for the Quiet Day celebrating the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene.


On July 22nd, the Feast Day of St. Mary Magdalene, I drove with a friend out to Metchosin – by my  request, in silence, so as to be quiet and grounded for the day. I was well prepared to lead the Quiet Day with Eileen; well prepared, and a bit nervous. I have organized and attended many retreats and Quiet Days with The Contemplative Society, but this was my first time as a “post holder”.

In preparing for the event with Eileen, meeting with her and exchanging ideas to co-create the shape of the day together, I learned so much from her about how to go about constructing a container for our practice. Re-reading The Meaning of Mary Magdalene by Cynthia Bourgeault, I learned a lot about Jesus and about his relationship with his Beloved, and how the church came to deny Mary her true role as Apostle of the Apostles. This process of preparation taught me a lot about myself while deepening my understanding of this saint, but it was only the beginning.

When the day came, we gathered, fifteen of us, both experienced meditators and some who were new to contemplative practice, in St. Mary’s Anglican Church at the top of the trail head to Whitty’s Lagoon. We sat encircling a small round table, an altar with icons, roses and rose petals, and a red candle, red being the colour often associated with Mary Magdalene.  After a welcome and overview of the day, we entered more completely into the space with a short guided embodiment practice. We did this briefly at various intervals during the day and were reminded to listen with our hearts, the organ of spiritual perception. The background to the day was silence – it was tangible. We chanted Be Still and Know That I Am God, and sat.

Sitting in silence with others in a beautiful place: I can’t think of anything better to do on a Saturday in the summer. What was it that stirred in me so deeply leading up to and during this day?

For lectio Eileen chose a  reading from a beautiful poem by Robert T. Pynn (which can also be found on p. 163 of Cynthia’s The Meaning of Mary Magdalene):

No longer the object
of my affections,
he has become the 
subject of my truth.

The memory of
his  love
no longer clings to
the skin of my life,
he has dissolved
the mirage
of separation
and pours
the pure wine of
his presence into
the waiting
chalice of my heart. 

This led into a profound meditation. Sitting and going deep within I saw or felt the image of the chalice that was my heart, open and available for Presence to enter.

During the Quiet Day, I loved the sense of Mary Magdalene that was with us in the celebration of her Feast Day. We chanted inside the church and outside on the grass, prior to meditation and in body prayer. We thought of her as the Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus asked for a drink from as we chanted in a circle on the grass the chant Let All Who are Thirsty Come. We chanted it as Grace before eating lunch, just as they do at the Taizé community in France, a place where a door opened in me that I never knew I had. France, where legend has it Mary became a hermit in a cave at Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume after Jesus’ death. We poured ourselves into movement as we chanted Take O Take Me As I Am, recalling the Song of Songs, imagining Mary speaking these words to Jesus, her Beloved, and making these words our own.

During the two-hour break at noon, I went down the trail to Sitting Lady Falls and listened to the sound of the cascading water, smelled the green smell of the leaves, and soaked up the beauty and the stillness of the trees.

The idea of being a post holder in today’s world was given meaning through a beautiful ritual. Eileen talked about what it meant to be a post holder, with the example of Mary Magdalene, who stood faithfully by her Beloved in life, through death and resurrection, and who carried his teaching forward as the First Apostle. As we listened, each of us held a twig taken  from a basket that was handed round. Then we each placed our twig in a bowl filled with sand and silently made a pledge to be a post holder in our own unique way. My pledge was to show up, and to keep showing up. The twigs formed a beautiful symbol for the day and our group, each one an individual, and all forming together an intricate and beautiful pattern. And, again, the image of a receptacle that was available and ready to be filled came to me. The chant What We Need is Here was followed by a sit.

Spending a day in retreat is one thing. Taking with you what you have experienced into the world of everyday living is the challenge. After our final sit we finished with a reading from an article (“We Were Made For These Times” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes). Then we left the room in silence and stood in a circle outside.  A raven talked to us from a branch in a fir tree above us against the backdrop of the deep blue sky. The day was complete.

I loved spending time with this unique group of people. It seemed to me that everyone who was meant to be there was, and that each person present had an equally important role to play. After the lunch break, having spent the morning in silence, we had stood in a circle and each of us in turn said our name, and our name was repeated back to us by everyone present. It was a beautiful expression of the contribution that each of us made, and of the support that we gave and received to and from each other. Feeling that we were all equally responsible for the day, it was much harder – though not impossible – to feel self-conscious.

At the end of the day I felt relief that things had gone so well. I felt refreshed and filled with gratitude: gratitude for the opportunity to be a post holder, to Eileen for inviting me, and for her wonderful teaching, and to Mary Magdalene for lighting our way.


For more on Mary Magdalene, explore our audio teachings by Cynthia Bourgeault, Mary Magdalene & the Path of Conscious Love and Through Holy Week with Mary Magdalene.

Abortion, Pro-Life, and the Secular State: A Modest Proposal

This piece by Cynthia Bourgeault is the second 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.


In my previous blog post, I invited members of our Wisdom community to begin to engage a conversation on the emotion-charged issue of abortion rights as a means to promote respectful dialogue to think beyond this singular issue. It is with no little “fear and trembling” that I launch a foray into this quintessentially Catholic moral ground. But to the extent that abortion has become the tail wagging the dog, chaining much of the Catholic political conscience to the decidedly un-Christian agendas of the religious right – and to the extent that this “elephant in the room” continues to go unmentioned in the otherwise compelling moral analysis recently emerging from Vatican – I feel some obligation as an American citizen and a wisdom teacher to at least try to get the ball rolling.

Forgive me: this is long for a blog. But take it in small doses, and take your time.

Some preliminary remarks

If my memory serves me correctly, in one of his earliest encyclicals the Pope already laid out some firm groundwork here when he warned against a myopic, single-pointed focus that inevitably twists moral issues out of context. That’s surely what the abortion issue has become in the US, an instantaneous flashpoint. But minus specific guidance as to how to back the Church down off this ledge, I don’t see a practical way to take the first step toward defusing the tension. Is anybody seriously going to be damned fool enough to say, “Hey, we’ve decided that human life doesn’t begin at conception,” or “The rights of the unborn don’t matter”? There seems to be “no way to get from he-ah to they-ah,” as we like to say in Maine, so the issue keeps running in circles.

Some preliminary reflections

Well-nigh universally, the liminal zones bordering life and death – i.e., what happens before birth or after death – have been regarded as a Mystery entrusted to the great spiritual traditions. The traditions offer different perspectives and instructions, but always with a common baseline of 1) respect for the sacredness of these passages; and 2) the need to prepare for these passages, and to live one’s life in conscious relationship with them. The plethora of spiritual practices offered by all sacred traditions are aimed, among other things, at developing a capacity to navigate this territory using more subtle and refined faculties of perception (in Christian tradition this has traditionally been referred to as “faith”).

Across the board, the experience of most committed practitioners is that they eventually “live into” an intimate mystical familiarity with these liminal zones, acquiring the capacity to personally validate spiritual truths inaccessible by the rational intellect alone. Apart from this special training, the rational intellect remains dominant and is the basis of our common social contract. And this, I would say, is a good thing, for the attempt to impose theological dogma concerning the liminal when the inner faculties have not been yet developed to personally validate it leads to the devolution of faith into “blind faith” and opens the doors to theocratic totalitarianism and manifold forms of spiritual abuse to which our culture has become increasingly sensitized.

In former eras, when the population of any given nation was overwhelmingly of the same spiritual tradition, it was fairly simple to conflate these two tracks. The word “catholic ” (as in “Catholic church”) literally means “universal” and, back in the era when the foundations of moral theology were being laid down, the known world was indeed just that. There were Catholics, “heathens”, and missionaries: not much in between.

Nowadays, that is no longer even remotely true. Even in our tiniest nations – and certainly in a nation as vast and sprawling as the United States – there is no longer a single presumed overarching spiritual tradition. There are many – and increasingly none. The fragile glue maintaining civility across increasingly diverse populations is the social contract itself. “Co-exist” is indeed the watchword of our times. Any attempt by one group to reassert its claim that its vision is truly “catholic” – i.e., universally binding – inflicts inevitable misery and violence on the rest.

For this reason, I would propose to offer here what amounts to an essentially two-tier solution governing our deliberations on the abortion issue. The first tier (which one might argue is actually the more “catholic” in the original sense of the term) is consistent with our evolving understanding of human rights and our growing awareness, in a converging world, of the need for our common human family to set universal baselines for sustainable “best practices” with regard to environmental protection, resource allocation, disease control, and population control. The second tier, encapsulating the wisdom carried in the sacred traditions, bears witness to the sacred potential of human life to come to its full spiritual fruition.

I will argue here that this “second tier” wisdom, regardless of the tradition from which it emanates, is binding within that tradition, not beyond it. But within it, lived with fidelity and depth, it has the capacity – indeed, inevitably WILL – serve to redeem and purify the rather clumsier practice lived at the common level.

So here is my six-point proposal. This is clearly – to my mind at least – simply an opening gambit that perhaps opens up a new way of framing the impasse. I eagerly invite your comments and refinements. For the moment I am thinking of this solely in terms of the USA, but hopefully it might have some eventual broader applications as well.

The first tier  (the basic social contract)

  1. We agree that it will be the government’s sacred responsibility to provide for the “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” of each of its citizens.

This is the classic social contract built into the foundations of our nation, and for 241 years it has served us well.

  1. We agree that included among the fundamental rights implicit within these freedoms is the right for a woman to control her own body and to hold the decisive vote as to whether a new life will be formed within her body. 

I know that this one will feel like a punch in the gut to those whose sense of moral duty has been firmly pinned in championing the rights of the unborn. But it is the logical and necessary consequence of Point 1, which is in turn the necessary starting point for a social contract founded on a clear separation of church and state. While the government will do its best to provide for the rights of ALL its citizens – including those in utero – nevertheless, in those difficult circumstances when the two are in direct conflict, we agree that the rights of the present and quantifiable members of its citizenry take precedence over the rights of those still under the custody of the liminal sphere.

But we have not thereby disposed of all concern for the unborn! For those feeling punched in the gut, please continue on to Point 4. 

  1. We agree that in a world so deeply threatened by poverty, disease, and overpopulation, the government should exercise responsible stewardship by providing access to birth control and family planning.

These are envisioned not as moral concessions but as fundamental health rights.

This, then, would comprise my version of a sustainable social contract, with strong legal and moral precedent in the American notion of individual freedom.

The second tier

  1. We agree that the spiritual traditions are individually at liberty to invite or impose a higher standard of conduct upon their adherents in accordance with that tradition’s understanding of moral and ethical obligation. 

While this may at first sound like a double-standard, I believe it is one where there is already strong precedent in the spiritual traditions. Already in Catholicism, for example (in fact, in all sacred traditions featuring a monastic expression), marriage is seen as the general baseline while celibacy is seen as a “higher way”. The decision to walk the celibate path is not universally imposed, but on those who choose it, it becomes morally binding.

Traditionally the inducements offered to invite this higher level of commitment were pitched around personal fulfillment or excellence: a higher spiritual attainment, admission to heaven, etc. But as the Wisdom tradition has consistently maintained (and, as modern physics, specifically the concept of quantum entanglement, confirms), the real efficacy of this higher level of practice lies in its leavening effect upon the whole, raising the bar of spiritual energy and available grace for everyone. A spiritual path practiced with high integrity and commitment emits a transforming energy of its own, which goes much further in actually securing a higher level of spiritual understanding than individuals conscripted into a level of moral behavior they neither understand nor personally assent to.

My intuition is that a significant portion of Catholics voluntarily taking on the Church’s traditional moral teachings on family planning and abortion would do more to better the lot of the unborn than a entire nation forced into compliance with laws experienced as coercive and personally injurious. If the active practice of an authentic sacred tradition produces as its fruits “peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”, as Christian tradition (and all traditions) have staunchly maintained, then it is to be expected that these qualities, once actually attained, would percolate through the entire body of our country’s citizenry, if nothing else elevating the climate and respectfulness of the civic discourse. It has always been said that Christians taught first by example – by the fragrance of a life lived with compassionate integrity. It is still our best bet going into the future, particularly where the changes we’re looking to see involve those liminal realms – birth and death – where the spiritual integrity of the gesture is far more impactful than the immediate victory wrested by means which belie their ends.

Click the image for more information. Thank you to PiALOGUE.info.

The last two points are more general, extending beyond the specific abortion issue in order to attempt to establish a climate in which a pluralistic nation, in rapid social transition and spanning at least a three-level gap in levels of consciousness as measured by contemporary evolutionary maps (from amber to green, tribal- to world-centric) might still continue to engage in civil discourse and a healthy give-and-take:

 

 

 

  1. We agree that government will not intervene with the internal standards of conduct imposed by a spiritual tradition upon its adherents, so long as these standards do not directly threaten the public health or safety. Neither will it establish and promote these standards as binding upon all its citizens. 

I would expect this to be a continuing grey area – and rightly so – in that ongoing dance between religious freedom and public safety. There will still be regular legal challenges – as to, for example, whether Christian Scientists should be compelled to seek medical attention for their children or Old Order Mennonites forbidden to use corporal punishment on theirs; whether homophobic town clerks should be required to issue marriage licenses to gay couples or homophobic merchants be required to bake them wedding cakes. In a less polarized society than ours has now become, this would all remain within the realm of healthy give-and-take by which the collective social conscience is slowly nudged ahead.

In order to back down the polarization, however, which by now has escalated to unmanageable levels, I would add in a corollary here which, while it personally breaks my liberal heart, is I believe the only realistic concession that will represent a significant stance of “bargaining in good faith” to ease the present stand-off:

5a. The government agrees not to use its juridical power to impose secular affirmative action standards upon dissenting spiritual groups operating within their own sectarian networks. 

In this matter, I am much guided by the model set by my own Episcopal Church in its landmark decisions to embrace women’s ordination and gay marriage. While these decisions, once passed by the General Convention, became the law of the Church, there was a long timeline for total compliance, and wide latitude was given for dissenting clergy and congregations to slowly acclimatize to the new state of affairs through continued conversation and study, with the right to personally opt out of participation in actions that felt to them morally offensive (bishops opposed to women’s ordination, for example, would be able to place their women postulants under the care of a neighboring bishop, nor would a church adamantly uncomfortable with women priests have one foisted upon them). Time was allowed for healing and assimilation, with responses erring on the side of forbearance rather than a self-righteous pressing of the issue.

  1. Spiritual groups will refrain from seeking to impose their specific moral values or agenda as the law of the land, to the extent that these values either exceed or undercut baseline freedoms already guaranteed above.

A work in progress…

The proposal set forth here is admittedly a compromise. But beyond perhaps easing the polarization, I believe it actually restores a generically rightful balance. In arguing that sacred teachings are binding within a specific spiritual tradition but not beyond it, I believe I am not only acknowledging one of the realities of our pluralistic world, but actually calling on an inherent capacity of these two complimentary streams to counterbalance and bootstrap each other. At its best, the secular state can rescue the sacred traditions from their tendency toward monological thinking and extremism. And at their best, the sacred traditions remind us that the meaning of life is derived from exactly those liminal edges, in the renewed and deeper stabilization of the capacity to live as human beings according to those higher faculties of perception which have never been fully actualized – and by my estimation never will – within purely secular models. Severally and collectively, the spiritual traditions are the evolutionary omega, calling us on to what we have forgotten, or what we may still become.

I realize that many of my Catholic friends will be saying, “yes, but what about all those unborn babies?” As you recall, this proposal began with two assertions, both emerging from my perspective as Wisdom teacher. The first is that pre-birth and post-death belong to those great liminal Mysteries of life, and are best left in the custody of the sacred traditions; the second is that the spiritual practices carefully curated by each of these traditions afford access to these Mysteries in ways that the rational mind cannot comprehend. In the absence of this specific spiritual training (in Christianity, its lineage flows through contemplative prayer), perception will default to the rational mind, where abortion indeed looks like “baby killing”, and emotions instantly bridle at this presumed assault on the innocent. From the more rounded, three-dimensional perspective that opens up from “mind in the heart”, the situation takes on an entirely different coloration. It is this Wisdom perspective that I will exploring in my final blog post.