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Reflections of a Wanderer: Unpacking the “Way of Union” Retreat

You wander from room to room
Hunting for the diamond necklace
That is already around your neck

~ Rumi

Wandering, hunting, seeking, yearning…sometimes I think that what is around my neck is a heavy burden…yet I am invited to treasure the beautiful necklace that is there, and has always been there.

My 65th year has been a year of wandering, pilgrimaging, seeking to make sense of my life of yearning, seeking. I started the year by walking the Camino de Santiago and shared in the pain and exaltation of thousands of other pilgrims, with thousands of different reasons for pilgrimaging. I began to get a very slight but visceral sense of embodiment…could this be what it is to embody Christ? How could I sustain this? I came home to a deeper commitment to my Catholic roots and my contemplative practice in the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) tradition.

But it is so hard to be Catholic in these times and, while I feel an enduring whisper to stay, there is also anger and deep frustration, despite positive changes in recent years. So the questions always are there: Is this what Christ intended? Is this what God created us to be? Why is change taking so long? In seeking answers, I am drawn to Christian mysticism and Sufism, particularly the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and Rumi.

So I was very interested when I learned that the “Way of Union” retreat was to be offered on Vancouver Island by The Contemplative Society. Nonetheless, I hesitated about going because of time and cost. But everything seemed to conspire to draw me there, including the generous offering of a scholarship, so I signed up. As the weekend began, I felt immediately embraced into a community of spiritual explorers, men and women of diverse ages seeking understanding of how to bring Christ’s love into our day to day lives and thus be “agents of social change”.

Shortly after the retreat was over, and with barely time to gather my breath, I left for three months to volunteer at the new WCCM community at Bonnevaux, France. And with three times per day meditation and physical labour, I unpacked what the learning of the Way of Union retreat, and this whole year of wandering, means to how I should live each day, indeed each minute. And I saw that they are integrally connected.

The day I left Canada, Fr. Thomas Keating died. The WCCM honored his life in prayer and in virtual participation in the celebration of his life. Bonnevaux sits on the French Camino and we explored ways that we can support pilgrims on their way to Santiago. I began reviewing my notes from our time with the “Way of Union” teacher, Matthew Wright.

The notes from the retreat highlight that community is “grist for the mill of transformation.” What transformation am I invited to in community with The Contemplative Society and the WCCM? I am reminded that, in contemplative practice, wisdom is recognized as perennial. How do I reconcile that with ubiquitous suggestions within Christianity that Christ alone is our Saviour? What does it mean to embody the “bridal chamber” or place of union in a world dominated by separateness and power-over? I often feel deep fatigue with the need to turn away from dominant messages. Our days of exploration with Matthew encouraged us to hold our emerging awareness in spaciousness, as non-identified witnesses. It reminded us that, in the perennial traditions, there are several levels of self-hood or different mansions. And the level I am at in this moment is where I need to be. Right here. Right now.

According to the Gospel of Thomas:

Jesus said: Let him who seeks not cease from seeking until he finds; and when he finds, he will be disturbed, he will marvel, and he shall reign over the All.

One month after the retreat, I am beginning to embrace what it might feel like to be disturbed in this search and look forward to continued exploration. 

But most importantly, I am much more appreciative of the diverse contemplative traditions within Christianity and outside of it, the support The Contemplative Society provides through scholarships and other accessible resources, and the role it plays in fostering interfaith dialogue and mysticism around the world. The people supporting The Contemplative Society truly are diamonds on my necklace.  

With deep and heartfelt gratitude!


To support people like Kathleen, give a gift to The Contemplative Society this Giving Tuesday*! In addition to providing scholarships, the support of our donors helps to bring world-renowned teachers like Cynthia Bourgeault and Matthew Wright to our community, fund the recording and production of audio teachings from these contemplative masters, and provide other free or inexpensive resources on our website. Give a gift on Giving Tuesday*, and receive a special bonus:

  • brand new donors and members who renew will receive access to either an exclusive video from Matthew Wright OR an exclusive video from Cynthia Bourgeault!

  • previous donors/members who top up their previous 2018 gift, renew their membership with an increased gift, or become a monthly donor will receive access to both exclusive videos from Matthew Wright and Cynthia Bourgeault!

Reward yourself and human consciousness – give today!

*Only donations received by TCS (or postmarked) on November 27, 2018 from 12:00 am to 11:59 pm PST are eligible for video access. Access to videos expires December 20, 2018.


Kathleen’s perspectives are shaped by a diverse background living and working in Canada’s North and in inner-city communities in Vancouver, BC. Having raised three sons as a single mother, she has an enduring commitment to social justice and community development. Now retired, Kathleen seeks to link her passion for contemplative experiences with a commitment to inclusive communities and her family involvement as a grandmother. She now lives in Gibsons, BC and co-facilitates a weekly Christian meditation group there.

From Covenants to Consciousness in the Book of Job – Part 1

This is our second post in the continuation of our series 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 first part of a series from our deeply knowledgeable audio ministry editor, Peggy Zimmerman. Subsequent posts will be listed below:


Since learning about Jacob Boehme and Teilhard de Chardin through Wisdom School teachings, I have a new appreciation for Carl Jung’s Answer to Job and have been led to reconsider the “law of three” unfolding of the Trinity. This blog initiative by The Contemplative Society provides a welcome opportunity for me, as a layperson, to gain input on my thoughts from a group of seasoned wisdom seekers. If this first post has any merit, I would like to submit a second post incorporating these thoughts into another look at the revolving, evolving Trinity.

William Blake – Job’s Tormentors

The Book of Job raises questions about erratic justice, undeserved suffering, might over right, and the existence of evil. Most commentaries provide answers along the traditional Christian track. Misfortunes, suffering, and injustices happen even to “good” people as “a discipline for misbehavior” if we know the larger picture, “training for their spiritual maturity”, and “an opportunity to glorify God by their faith”, as neatly summarized by Robert Alden (p. 41). He displays his own orthodoxy in his conclusive statement, “But the message of Job is that nothing happens to us that is not ultimately controlled by the knowledge, love, wisdom and power of our God of all comfort” (p. 41). All these commentaries rest on a theology that God’s omnipotence and omniscience are not to be doubted or questioned and that God has a divine plan that is beyond human understanding. Such readings of Job lead us to the dead end of a distant, unapproachable, and inaccessible totally “other” God.

Jung provides a way out of this impasse and recovers the Book of Job as a treasure of the ancient Wisdom stream beyond the mainstream practical Jewish wisdom tradition. Jung’s premise is that the divine plan is for Yahweh to become man, that is to know himself (i.e., become conscious) through his creation. This is in line with the often quoted saying attributed to God: “I loved to be known so I created worlds both invisible and visible.” Without manifestation, the Unity rests eternally as an antinomy (“a totality of inner opposites”; Jung, p. 7), a coincidentia oppositorum (p. 57) rather than a composite of dualistic opposites. All opposites – light/dark, good/evil, unconsciousness/consciousness, etc. – are undifferentiated in the Unity. Differentiation is required to know one’s attributes, qualities, aspects, features, or whatever term is used to identify/define the components of one’s essence.

If the Unity made creation to know itself, how could the divine plan remain inscrutable and the Unity remain unapproachable? If Yahweh is to know himself through his creation, creation would need to evolve into consciousness.

Jung’s answer to Job is basically that Yahweh (the divine Unity) has no answer to Job and therein lies the answer to Job: “I cry to you and you do not answer me; I stand, and you merely look at me” (Job 30:20). What is going on internally for Yahweh at this point? Is he simply judging in stern silence the audacity of Job to doubt him and claim Yahweh has no interest in him? Or is this a cosmic moment of the Unity’s consciousness stirring beneath the dominating shadow of its omnipotence in this manifested realm? Jung would say the latter. Confronted by a creature whose suffering has reached absurd levels and who persists (“stand,” as per the Gospel of Thomas) in his innocence, Yahweh faces the unconscionable results of his bet with Satan and hence experiences a flicker of self-awareness.

Credit: catholicnewstt.com

Yet, it is only an inkling. Yahweh’s reaction, when he finally deigns to speak out of a whirlwind, is to regress and give no real answers. He bombards Job with rhetorical questions and saves face by bringing the divine-human relationship back to the status quo, at least tentatively, for the reader is left unsatisfied. Yahweh’s relentless grilling amounts to challenging Job to surpass the unmatched powers of the supreme Almighty. He does not focus on his goodness and glory by waxing poetic on the beauty and abundance of his creation. Instead, the predominant attribute of Yahweh presented and referenced throughout Job’s ordeal is raw power. Even Alden admits, “Less prominent are mercy, love, and goodness” (Alden, p. 38).

Significantly, nearly two-thirds of Yahweh’s spoken lines to Job (77 out of 123 verses) are devoted to comparisons with wild creatures. And tellingly, he concludes his interrogation of Job by closing with 44 verses about the biggest, fiercest, and most untamable beasts, the Behemoth and Leviathan, created and controllable only by the Almighty. Here are some of Yahweh’s words about the Leviathan:

No one is so fierce as to dare to stir it up.
     Who can stand before it?
Who can confront it and be safe?
    – under the whole heaven, who?
. . .
It surveys everything that is lofty;
     it is king over all that are proud.
(41:10-11, 34)

Psychologically, one might say Yahweh is projecting onto these animals his own mindless (without awareness) potency. Presumably, his intended message to Job is that even the dumb beasts know better than to question their lot, so you better close your mouth.

Indeed, that is Job’s final gesture. He had already put his hand over his mouth (40:46) before these last words of Yahweh. Now, either consciously or unconsciously, Job knows that the only saving response in the face of intemperate, non-self-aware, cornered fury is to be submissive and back away. Job says,

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
     but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
     and repent in dust and ashes.
(42:5-6)

These all important final lines of Job elicit several observations. First, the single eye suggests a perceiving beyond the normal senses. He has indeed heard by ear the invisible Yahweh, but now he knows something new about his Lord. Second, as the Oxford annotated NRSV notes, “I despise myself” might better be translated as “I relent” or “I recant”, and alternative meanings of “repent” are “regret” and “console” (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, p. 733 HB). Third, Job’s backing off is not a surrender of letting go in equanimity, but a surrender of giving up and defeat.

Exactly what Job “sees” is what Jung declares:

Here Yahweh comes up against a man who stands firm, who clings to his rights until he is compelled to give way to brute force. He has seen God’s face and the unconscious split in his nature. God was now known, and this knowledge went on working not only in Yahweh but in man too (Jung, p. 34).

Job sees and plants deep in humanity for the first time that the supposedly all-good God has a shadow side carried in his unconscious. The possibility of this planting being a cosmic happening on the order of Jesus’ cosmic act I would like to discuss in a second post along with the roles of Sophia and the Holy Spirit. For now, by giving Job no direct or solicitous answer, Yahweh shows his true colors, at least two of his true colors – his lack of self-awareness and “dark underbelly”.

Jung is clear that, at least in his Answer to Job, we are not dealing with some subjective archetypes rising from humanity’s collective unconscious. He is emphatic that the Book of Job presents metaphysical archetypes having “spontaneity and purposiveness”, “laws of their own”, and an “unknowable metaphysical background”. The images, symbols, and statements wrapped around the figures in Job “are psychic processes which are different from the transcendent object: they do not posit it, they merely point to it” and what they point to is the Ens realissimum (Jung, pp. xiv-xv). As Evelyn Underhill states, symbols are “the clothing which the spiritual borrows from the material plane” (Underhill, p. 80). Furthermore, as Cynthia Bourgeault notes, the integration of metaphysical archetypes “is always an objective union of two different realms of being –a szyzgy (‘not one, not two, but both one and two’) of the finite and infinite” (MMag, p. 247, fn. 9); again, evidence of the Job story being a testimony to a cosmic act.

Thus, we may move from metaphor to metaphysics. Is the Job tale witnessing a significant point in what Teilhard calls the complexification-consciousness process – consciousness on the cusp, so to speak? In the next post, both Teilhard and Boehme provide guidance in this direction and a way to account for evil.

Read on – Part 2.


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


References:

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