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You Are the Change: Help Sustain the Contemplative Future

How things change.

 Just two years ago, I had never heard of Cynthia Bourgeault. At the age of 26, I was only a fledgling in the meditation world, meeting regularly with a group I had joined while studying at the local university. Through that group, I had the opportunity to go to a retreat on a scholarship.

UVIc meditation

Five other people from the university also received this gift, and we affectionately became known as the “young people” at the Poet’s Cove retreat in 2013. 

That retreat changed my life. Not only did I find a practice that began strengthening my ability to simply be and allow, I found a community that celebrated and actively cultivated surrender, an ingredient I now consider crucial (and often underestimated) to a fulfilling life. I soon joined the board in early 2014, serving as a liaison between the university meditation community and TCS. I started practicing Centering Prayer regularly and joined others doing the same at other TCS events. The highlight for me was receiving another scholarship to attend the Wisdom School with Cynthia on The Holy Trinity and Law of Three held last year at Cowichan Lake, BC. Without the support TCS has offered me, both in practice and financially, I doubt I would have been exposed to the Christian wisdom tradition in the way that I have as early in my life as I did.

Miranda Harvey

I now co-teach Centering Prayer at the university to an audience of primarily “young people”. It gives me a great sense of hope for our future that the teachings of the Christian wisdom tradition continue to be carried forward. And it gives me a deep sense of gratitude and belonging to know that I am part of a community that shares this mission. 

Change is present in the contemplative community as well: you may have heard of a “consciousness shift” on the horizon, and I believe that the “young people” today are the stewards of this shift. You might consider Matthew Wright, the leader for this year’s main retreat, an example of this shift. A major priority of TCS this year is being able to offer support to the younger generation of burgeoning contemplatives and their leaders so that we can ensure the luminous future of the Christian wisdom tradition. 

How can you help? By joining The Contemplative Society’s family of donors, you will actively help us maintain and expand our ministry, as well as support our principal teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault (read her letter). Your financial support of TCS has enabled us to weather our own changes, such as the recent website upgrade and transition in staff – changes that help all of us to participate fully in a changing world. This fall, we are asking you to consider supporting TCS by becoming a member or donor. A monthly gift is enormously appreciated as it helps us to plan ahead, but all gifts help us to be even more inclusive and accessible, particularly by ensuring our ability to offer more scholarships. Please visit our Support Us page to give a gift today that will continue to make vibrant change tomorrow. 

bird-in-flight

With gratitude and blessings, 

 

Miranda Harvey
Administrator

 

For more information on donating or membership, please visit contemplative.org/about-us/membership, or contact Miranda at admin@contemplative.org or 250-381-9650.

Prayers for Fr. Bruno Barnhart

Last week, we received an alert about Fr. Bruno’s health. Please see Cynthia’s message below, as well as the original note from Fr. Cyprian.


Father Bruno Barnhart, OSB Cam, has been a friend and spiritual mentor to many of us here in the Pacific Northwest through his close involvement with The Contemplative Society and his deep influence on my own work. Now approaching 85-years-old, Bruno has been struggling over the past few years with chronic health issues and, in the past couple of weeks, things evidently took a serious downturn. I have no information beyond what Prior Cyprian has so honestly and lovingly shared with us [see message below] in the accompanying notification. But Bruno is obviously in good hands and resting well, and he seems very determined at this point to get back on his feet and return to his beloved hermitage as soon as he can.

While I suspect he is not yet quite at the point of leaving us, it seems clear to me (and has for some time now) that Bruno is entering a new season of his life, the time when profoundly attained spiritual masters prepare for their final conscious leave-taking from this planet. I saw it with Rafe, with Raimon Panikkar, I’m seeing it now in Thomas Keating, and I sense it dawning in Bruno. It is a holy time, a time for “becoming all flame,” for pure incandescence. As his devoted students, the best we can do is to send him continual prayers for strength, transparency, hope, and a sure sense that he is loved and held as he does the work that the great ones are called to do in this sacred thin place. I invite you to join me in meditating, on his behalf, on these remarkable words from T.S. Eliot:

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

Bruno, we are sending you our love and gratitude! May you truly become all flame! 

~ Cynthia

Fr. Cyprian’s update (from October 30, 2015):

Dear oblates and friends,

Thank you for all your concerns, care and prayers for our beloved Fr. Bruno. Let me update and clarify the situation for you.

Bruno grew increasingly, frighteningly weak over the last week, and so we finally decided, in keeping with Bruno’s wishes and in consultation with our good friend and doctor, John Clark, to take him into the emergency room. He has been in the hospital for two days now. They have stabilized him, and he is resting very comfortably. I was with him last night and he is very serene. I helped him eat a good dinner (he ate the marinated chicken breast, some potatoes and bread, but he let me eat all the broccoli). The nurse this morning told me that he is alert and in good spirits today.

Today Bruno is going to move to a skilled nursing facility near the hospital, where they will continue to strengthen him and do some physical therapy to get him up on his feet again. He has chosen this option, a move toward wellness and healing. This is a very good sign of life, and we look forward to getting him back to the Hermitage as soon as we can.  
 
It has been hard for us and me personally to keep up with all the questions about Bruno’s health, so we will try to send out regular updates, and also perhaps an address if you want to send well wishes once he gets settled. We will be actively discouraging visitors during this time, though. In the meantime, I send my thanks, and you please send your love and prayers his way. 
 
As always, your friendship means a great deal to us.

Fr. Cyprian


The Contemplative Society has yet to hear more about Fr. Bruno’s condition. If you are interested in further updates, please send your request toadmin@contemplative.org.

Cynthia on Surrender

This is a re-post of one installment of Christopher Page’s four-part series focusing on Cynthia Bourgeault’s quotes and teachings on Surrender. Please visit his blog, In A Spacious Place, for more.


Cynthia Bourgeault on Surrender #3

Cynthia Bourgeault offers an important caution for practitioners of Centering Prayer.

Cynthia says:

“Surrender is a conscious embracing of what is. At times, what looks like surrender can be to withdraw from a little bit of your reality – ‘that’s just him, that’s the way it is, that’s the way it’s going to be, we’re never going to be close, live with it.’ That’s not surrender.

“You can’t surrender to a situation. You can only surrender to what is present in the moment. You can only surrender into the now. And so, trying to surrender to a situation brings victimization and manipulation. Surrender is not passively resigning yourself to something.

“Centering Prayer doesn’t emphasize attention; it emphasizes surrender which is the other core motion you need on a spiritual path, so that’s okay. But it means that for those of you who are working with Centering Prayer as your core practice, you have to learn to re-double your efforts to pay attention in waking life and to work with your inner observer and to develop the skill of attention. And again, you can use surrender to leverage attention. Because when you surrender into the present, it’s a way of paying attention. It’s coming at it from the other side, but it’s a really good way to do it.

“…in my own preferences in things, I would rather see people develop will through repeated surrender than through repeated tightening and clinching around an aim, which is usually an egoic aim anyway. You’ll get there by repeated surrendering of your self which will lead you to true will.

“True will for me is not very far different from conscience. In other words, you see the whole; you see what must be done and your heart connection to the whole is so strong that you can’t not do it. So the choice drops out in true will, which is why I often say there’s only one will; there’s not two wills. And the seeing is the doing, the seeing is the being; and this comes from being completely immersed in and aligned with Being. But you get there with surrender, I think, not quite as fast but a lot more reliably.

“…through the constant practice of the letting go, of the surrendering of thoughts – not for any reason other than the pure gift of surrender – something develops in us, in the solar plexus area that learns this gesture. And experienced practitioners of Centering Prayer rather quickly come to the place where they feel at the centre of their being this tug, this visceral tug in the heart, this honing in on the Divine Presence. And it has nothing to do with thinking about it in the mind. It’s not in the mind. It’s totally visceral.

“But something, through the process of yielding, through the actual act of surrender, develops a very clearly magnetic centre. And then you have your honing beacon in you and you can follow. You can follow reliably the Divine hologram, the pattern of your life as it unfolds from the point of God and not screw up the pattern and the unfolding because you’re frightened or hiding something or have something in denial – all those things. You go with the pattern.”

 

Pentecost and Pacemakers

In May 2015, Cynthia Bourgeault shared a recent experience of a sudden health problem through the beautiful letter below. Thank you to Wisdom Way of Knowing (formerly Center for Spiritual Resources) for sharing the letter.


Pentecost 2015

 

Dear Wisdom Friends,

I guess you’re all wondering what happened to me last week.

The long and short of it is that on Saturday a week ago, while driving down from Maine to Massachusetts for our upcoming Ascensiontide Wisdom retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, I began to feel decidedly strange behind the wheel, needing to muster my entire concentration to keep from passing out. I spotted one of those blue hospital signs at a freeway exit and decided to follow it. A good intuition, it turns out! I was admitted with what’s known as acute third degree heartblock (which means that the heart’s electrical system is essentially in total meltdown), and emerged from the ordeal three days later with a new pacemaker happily ticking away in my chest.

It’s not exactly as if this came out of the blue. For a couple of years now I’d been complaining about difficulty with shortness of breath walking up hills, and I could tell inwardly that something was off. But my cardiologist had been focused on arterial issues rather than electrical ones, and the electrical system gave no outward signs of misbehaving. Just last January I’d been given a clean bill of heart health.

Glad I didn’t take his recommendation to begin a regular cardio fitness regime!

Drawing by Cynthia's grandchild

Drawing by Cynthia’s grandchild

This has all turned out as well as possible. While a heartblock is definitely a serious condition (worst case scenario is progression to sudden cardiac arrest), it is also one of the most easily treatable. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am literally bionically reborn! My new high-tech pacemaker is programmed to cue off my natural atrial electrical impulse (the “top half” of the heartbeat) and help the ventricular impulse (the “lower half,” which was getting blocked) to synchronize. The result is that I am simply, fully “me” again, back in the ballgame with the old familiar pizzazz, and my eyes still blinking in wonder.

There is so much to be grateful for. If you have to have a medical emergency, this is about as cushioned as it gets. I was under 24-hour cardiac surveillance at a fine hospital until the surgery could be arranged, with the emergency pacemaker (if it came to that) right in the room. My daughter Lucy lives nearby, and was there at my side throughout the whole adventure — and now, is providing a wonderful space for recuperation while my new device and I settle in together. Best of all, my brilliant senior wisdom students, spearheaded by Bill Redfield and Patricia Speak, rose to the occasion magnificently and jointly co-created a memorable Ascensiontide retreat.

And from around the world, your love and prayers poured in. I felt deeply “carried” by a higher hand.

Everything being equal, I will receive the “all clear” from my pacemaker surgeon tomorrow and make my way back to Maine over the following two days, slowly resuming my normal activity (on which there should be no limitations). Thank heavens it was already a “hermit time” in my schedule, deliberately left wide open for writing and family visits.

The spiritual implications will take a bit longer to sink in. But for the moment, this is what’s uppermost in my mind:

For many years now during my evening psalmody I’ve chanted the line from Psalm 139: “the number of my days was appointed before one of them came into being.” And I think it’s Ecclesiastes where one finds the line, “Lord, make me to know the number of my days.” I know I’ve sung it in the Brahms Requiem. In fact, just six years ago at my first husband Cal’s memorial service.

Well, for better or worse, I now know the number of my days: 68 years, 2 months, 3+ days. Without being overly alarmist, it’s pretty clear to all concerned that the situation I experienced this weekend was not going to self-correct. Without those equal infusions of grace and modern technology my life would even now be winding down, or wound down already. As it is, I apparently have a 10-15 year medical extension, easily renewable if the rest of the one horse shay holds up.

It’s not like I’m now living on borrowed time, for this second wind that’s been given to me is fully my own life in this skin and bones, on this precious planet, and I intend to make the most of it. But you could say, perhaps, that it’s borrowed time from the Imaginal realm, a bit more space to explore the crucial dimensions of being finite, of bringing this all to a conscious fulfillment. And as I gradually get back into the rushing river of my life, I will try not to let this precious realization slip away.

Boundless thanks to all! In both realms. May I use this extension consciously and gratefully.

~ Cynthia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Requirements:

• Group gathered in a circle;

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

~ Cynthia

The Last Lily Story – by Cynthia Bourgeault

As many of you know, my old cat Lily, faithful travelling companion of these past fifteen years, died last week on my birthday, which happened to fall this year on Friday the thirteenth. It was a wrenching synchronicity, not only because of the coincidence itself, but because at the time of her passing I was three thousand miles away, teaching on the West Coast.

               Little could I imagine the birthday present that would be awaiting me on my homecoming three days later. Read more

Launching The Year Of Teilhard by Cynthia Bourgeault

A letter from Cynthia Bourgeault, January 3, 2015

 

Dear Wisdom Friends,

Teilhard de Chardin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

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

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

 

Love and blessing,

Cynthia

 

 

 

 

A Tribute to Beatrice Bruteau by Cynthia Bourgeault

Beatrice Bruteau Beatrice Bruteau—scholar, teacher, interspiritual pioneer, and intrepid explorer of the evolutionary edge of consciousness—quietly departed this earth plane on November 16, 2014, at the age of 84. Her passing exemplified her signature brand of clarity, freedom, and intentionality: traits which for more than five decades have been the hallmarks of her teaching presence among us and which she now bequeaths to us as both a legacy and a continuing invitation.

Mention the name Beatrice Bruteau, and I daresay that most Christian contemplatives will never have heard of her. She never aspired to or attained the “superstar” status of a Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Bede Griffiths, or David Steindl-Rast. By her own choice she preferred to remain slightly below the radar screen, where she exerted her quiet presence as one of the most powerful shaping influences on contemporary mystical theology, interspirituality, and contemplative practice. In her lifetime she was a friend, colleague, and mentor to all the people mentioned above (and dozens more of comparable stature), and a teacher to thousands of appreciative students, myself included. Those who had the privilege of working with her directly speak of the clarity and precision of her mind, the luminosity of her vision, and the down-to-earth practicality of her contemplative practice.

Rigorously trained, she held two degrees in mathematics and a doctorate in philosophy from Fordham University (the first woman to be admitted to the graduate program there.) In addition to her highly articulate Christianity, she was also a longtime student of Vedanta and one of the early pioneers of East-West dialogue. She wrote books on Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin, and was one of the founders of the American Teilhard Association in 1967. Her most important works include Radical Optimism (1993), The Easter Mysteries (1995), What We Can Learn from the East (1995), and God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World (1997). In all of these works she brought her deep understanding of non-dual states of consciousness (as well as her scientific training and rigor) to the mysticism of the West. Her passion was the study of evolutionary consciousness, and over the course of her long teaching career she lived to see this passion come into its own as one of the most significant spiritual movements of our times. In particular, her influence on two fellow Fordham graduates, Ewart Cousins and Ilia Delio, has revolutionized the playing field upon which the venerable intellectual tradition of Christian Humanism is now unfolding.

beatrice-bruteau-252x296 Despite these stellar academic credentials, Beatrice chose to “think globally, act locally.” For most of her long career she lived in and around Winston Salem, North Carolina, where she and her husband, Fordham professor James Somerville, founded the Schola Contemplationis, a center for the study and practice of the contemplative lifestyle according to the classical traditions of both East and West. For more than thirty years, their “mind-bending” monthly newsletter, The Roll, was painstakingly composed in their home office, run off on an old mimeograph machine, and hand-mailed to their small but devoted mailing list. A Southern lady “to the nines,” she dressed impeccably for every occasion, refused to travel by air, and insisted that coffee and tea be served in proper china cups—not, heaven forbid, mugs!

My own relationship with Beatrice Bruteau began in the late 1980s when I discovered her three-part article “Prayer and Identity” in the now-defunct Contemplative Review and had my spiritual universe quietly but completely overturned. Correspondence soon led to a personal visit and a mentoring relationship that would span the next three decades. I am honored to report that the very first public spiritual teaching I ever gave was at her behest, to her Schola Contemplationis group, in the early 1990s. In 2007 I was able in a small way to repay that tremendous debt of gratitude when the Sewanee Theological Review invited me to republish her original “Prayer and Identity” article, together with a short commentary, in an issue dedicated to “Spirituality, Contemplation, and Transformation.”

On a very personal note, the most powerful debt of gratitude I owe her was her unflagging support during the writing and publication of my first book, Love is Stronger than Death. Still in a very tender place following the death of my hermit teacher Raphael Robin, not fully trusting whether my spiritual intuitions of an ongoing journey between us were on target or simply a concocted fantasy, I shared the manuscript with her, and in a powerful way she offered validation and the encouragement to continue. Her luminous support at this critical threshold of my life is one of the main reasons that I am where I am today.

During this past decade our connection grew a bit more tenuous as my life got busier and hers gradually became more concentrated around that final stage of the journey, “growing into age.” In about the fall of 2013 I began to hear rumors that Alzheimer’s was starting to affect her magnificent brain, and in spring 2014, following a conference in Greensboro, I was able to pay her what turned out to be a final visit. While it was indeed obvious that the disease was making some inroads on the habitual operations along the horizontal axis of life, as soon as we leaped into spiritual issues, her vast mind still took over like the lioness it was. Her teaching continued luminous and more and more vast.

beatrice-bruteau-and-joshua-tysinger-the-contemplative-society-540x540 Little did any of us at the time—maybe even Beatrice—suspect the final surprising denouement with which she would make her exit from this life. As it so happened, one of my younger students, Joshua Tysinger, had begun his seminary studies at Wake Forest, right there in Winston Salem, just about the time that Beatrice’s life was rounding toward its end. I suggested—and Josh was alert enough to follow up on the suggestion—that having a world class spiritual master right in town was an opportunity not to be missed. He began to pay her regular visits, and it soon became clear that a lineage transmission was in process. As Josh willingly and sensitively helped Beatrice and Jim navigate the horizontal axis, her brilliant final imparting of a lifetime of spiritual wisdom and spiritual fire (mostly over lunch at the A & W cafeteria, with, yes, proper coffee cups!) is an exchange that I suspect will not leave the planet unchanged.

I will leave this part of the story for Josh to tell when the right moment arises. For now I would simply like to comment, from my own perspective, on what played out during the last three months of Beatrice’s life. In late July, she suffered a fall and was hospitalized and then in nursing care for several weeks thereafter. During this time, it seemed that she was very much on the decline and “in transition.” She ceased eating, and her already slight frame shrank to 50 pounds. By October a hospice worker had been called in, and Beatrice was seemingly hanging between the worlds.

Nine days before her death, she sat up, got up, resumed eating enough to sustain the physical body a bit longer, and began to teach and transmit in a luminous burst of continuing insight. It was as if the Alzheimer’s had been left behind—or perhaps, if truth be told, she had already “died” to this world and was returning, her own risen and Christed self in her imaginal body to complete what was needed vis à vis this earth plane. While others were astonished at her sudden” improvement,” she had already been extremely clear with Josh that this wasn’t what it was about; it would be an entirely different dimension manifest and operating in her. Teacher to the end, she left us with a luminous, stunningly hopeful demonstration of how a conscious death is already a Risen Life; the two are joined at the hip. With her final magnificent fusion of clarity, will, and freedom—all those qualities her spiritual practice had been about for more than half a century—she went out like a candle going out, filling the whole room with the perfume of her realized being.

That being accomplished, she slipped away quietly into the night, at just after midnight. Her final gifts to us: a brilliant, living testimony to the utter reality of her two deepest convictions: radical optimism and God’s ecstasy, carved in the final sacrament of her life.

Cynthia Bourgeault

 

 

Contemplative Voices Award: Honoring The Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault

Honouring Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault On November 16 The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation presented its 2014 Contemplative Voices Award to the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault. The Shalem Contemplative Voices Award was created to honor those individuals who have made significant contributions to contemplative understanding, living and leadership and whose witness helps others live from the divine wellspring of compassion, strength, and authentic vision. Past honorees have been Father Richard Rohr, OFM, the Rev. Margaret Guenther and Rev. John Philip Newell. The evening included a web-streamed (video-taped) recording of Cynthia’s presentation. Cynthia Bourgeault, a modern-day mystic, writer and internationally known retreat leader was honored by Shalem with a special benefit evening on November 16, 2014  at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Rockville, MD. Cynthia is an Episcopal priest and a founding director of both The Contemplative Society and the Aspen Wisdom School. She continues to contribute to The Contemplative Society in her role as principal teacher and advisor and is dedicated to promoting the practice of Centering Prayer. She is a past Fellow of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN, and an oblate of New Camaldoli Monastery in Big Sur, CA. Cynthia is also the author of eight books including: The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three; The Meaning of Mary Magdalene; The Wisdom Jesus; Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening; Mystical Hope; and The Wisdom Way of Knowing. In addition, she has authored or contributed to numerous articles and courses on the Christian spiritual life. “Cynthia is passionate about recovering the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path and is one of the clearest contemplative voices today,” says Leah Rampy, Shalem’s executive director. “By her life as a hermit and teacher, she witnesses daily to the value of the contemplative path, and we are honored to acknowledge her in this way.” From Cynthia’s presentation:

“Contemplation was originally in the Greek and early patristic understandings reserved for a kind of higher or noetic knowing, knowing through the nous, the eye of the heart. Sometimes it takes the form of visionary seeing, images, but more typically it is simply a kind of luminous, situational knowingness that can’t be attributed to any outside source. It becomes part of one’s own being… …We need to begin to claim the slowly growing collecting reservoir of noetic insight and draw on it consciously in service of the continuing evolution of humanity and the life of the planet. Contemplative reawakening may have begun on the ground of personal healing and transformation, but it has now found its authentic wingspan in the prophetic and the collective.”