The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’

1.)    Jesus came to this planet as a master of the transformation of consciousness – he’s all about demonstrating and calling people to a new & higher degree of heartfulness; a deeper understanding, a more intimate, global, and non-divisive way of seeing a world held together in tender love.

2.)    This evolutionary consciousness must be carried by the heart; you can’t do it with the mind alone. The great maps we have these days of human consciousness, ie Wilber, are mind-centered. Not everything is mental. We need a whole new operating system to kick into our being; this system is carried – metaphorically and literally – in the heart. Brain/heart entrainment opens up the Third Eye. (“If your eye is single, your whole body will be filled with light.”)

3.)    The most important, main-stream way, of accessing/engaging the heart, dropping the mind into the heart, is through the practice of kenosis, or letting go. AKA a radical non-clinging or detachment. (See the Philippian hymn) Take the things we ‘want/need/have,’ and learn to have an open-handed (and open-hearted) approach

4.)    Centering Prayer practices, in meditation form, are daily & active practice in kenosis – a decoupling of fixation and attachment. This is why Centering Prayer has provided, unbeknownst to itself (!), the experiential key to unlock the heart of Jesus’ teaching. Of all the hundreds of meditation options out there, this one is closest to the heart of Jesus’ teaching, giving us the physiology and emotional disposition to do the Jesus path – not just out of imitation, but because you derive it from inside out.

“Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet” – G.K. Chesterton.

We need to stop beating up on ourselves, and the Church at large. Christianity’s failure is not a failure of nerve, or belief, or strategy, but of physiological readiness. If you can’t see what Jesus sees, you can’t do what Jesus did. If you see a world of scarcity & threat, of course you’re going to lock up your church at night. Of course you’re going to lock away your savings in a 401k instead of give to the poor. This isn’t because you’re a hypocrite. It’s because you need to slowly build the brain/heart synapses that allow you to see from abundance. Otherwise, you can no more adopt the heart of giving-ness at the core of the Jesus program than a three year old can compose Mozart-quality music!

By means of a strange, random miracle 30 years ago, a group of Christian monks uncovered and popularized a Christian meditation form that –  unbeknownst to them – gives us the keys the unlock a body of transformational knowledge that will enable us to not only worship Jesus but to  become Jesus.

It’s a process of incremental change, slow growth. Give yourself a lifetime to learn the technology of heart renovation, and you will see results.

To be continued…to see where Cynthia’s going with this, I highly recommend her books The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,  The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, and The Wisdom Way of Knowing.

Note: For another take on these four proposals, couched in very different language, see my friend Frank Viola’s chapter in Jesus Manifesto on Living by the Tree of Life, now available for free here.

In this series:
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 1: What IS the Path of Jesus?
The Way of the Heart – Cynthia Bourgeault Part 2: See What Jesus Sees; Do What Jesus Does
The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’
The Way of the Heart Part 4: Heartfulness Practice Transcends & Includes Orthodoxy
The Way of the Heart Part 5: Upgrading Our Operating System
The Way of the Heart Part 6: A Rorschach Blot for the Mind
The Way of the Heart Part 7: When 20/20 Hindsight Becomes Blindsight
The Way of the Heart Interlude: Kenosis Hymn
The Way of the Heart Part 8: Heart Surgery 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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22 thoughts on “The Way of the Heart Part 3: Cynthia Bourgealt’s Four Proposals – Beyond ‘The Imitation of Christ’

  1. I must say about two weeks ago and prior I would have thrown this out not being able to connect with it. But by the Lord’s grace He is waking me up to the reality of my oneness with Him and what it truly means to live by the indwelling life of Christ and detaching from all mind forms that are false identity’s even Christian ones. Since then (the last two weeks) posts like this one are very encouraging and stimulating me to continue to go within and rest in the life of Christ instead of trying to live out of my mind. Hope that makes sense. Thanks for your posts brother.

  2. It’s interesting how often integral has been brought to my attention just today. I read the Beams and Struts article about the problem with getting people on-board with integral philosophy and while I agree that integral can be jargon-heavy and overwhelming, that point didn’t feel like the main problem to me. And then here you nail it on the head: the mind. I’m trying to teach myself to acknowledge, listen to, and move from my heart and one of the reasons I am not finishing my books about the integral philosophy is because it’s very mind-centric. I have to think so hard to understand what Wilber is saying, to understand the quadrants, to understand the levels; when the Spirit has been showing me repeatedly, for the last year or two, that being present now, being still, and paying attention to the heart is where it’s at. My mind is actually, oftentimes, my enemy. Not inherently, mind you, but the way I’ve trained it up, it is indeed my enemy.

    One day I hope to experience the brain and the heart working together.

    #3 – exactly.

    In #4, thank you for writing, “This isn’t because you’re a hypocrite. It’s because you need to slowly build the brain/heart synapses that allow you to see from abundance.” Key word being “slowly.” When there’s that flash of understanding that changes you, it is difficult to understand that after the flash comes the work of integration. Living life from the perspective of the flash doesn’t happen as quickly as the flash itself and in fact, the flash will be doubted along the way.

    Now to do the work of practice.

  3. Seth, I hear you. It all began to turn around to me when I read the first-century church planter Paul’s words to the gathering in Corinth: “The person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” And then when I read Jesus’ prayer in John 17, and started taking it seriously…all of my old dualisms began to melt.

    Yes indeed, Tana! I appreciate Wilber – as does Bourgeault – because he creates really good maps. But the maps are not the terrain. I don’t see a need to pit the head against the heart (and I don’t think you do, either) – but it’s certainly possible to have head knowledge without heart resonance.

  4. These four proposals sound as though they are grounded in Truth in that they speak to the dilemma of our materialistic worldview. They borrow, however, from truckloads of Hindu, Buddist, and other Eastern Religious thought, also from Kabbala; coming down ultimately in the territory of New Age philosophy. Don’t be led astray from the Truth!
    The error here is positing some higher wisdom in the human HEART — do a Topical scripture study of the heart! The foundation of Truth that these proposals are reaching for lies in living by Spirit, incarnating the Spirit of God!
    These proposals are correct in urging us to move beyond the Mind, but we must then also move beyond the Heart: to live by Spirit with heart and mind serving Spirit — embodying the Spirit of God as Christ told us we would.

  5. Hi Scott, thanks for weighing in. I think you’re right to point out that the heart is many-faceted. Calvinist types like to emphasize the idea of the heart being “desperately wicked” (and they have Bible verses to back this view up), while grace-centered types like to emphasize that in Christ our hearts are pure & Godward (and they have Bible verses to back this view up).

    Honestly both perspectives, when argued as dogma, leave me cold. Common experience teaches us that both can be true. Stay tuned to this series, if you want, as Cynthia goes into that. She doesn’t laud the heart in some sentimental way; she recognizes the spiritual heart as an organ that needs nurturing and maturation.

    I’m curious as to why the resonance of Christian kenotic ideas with Hindu, Buddhist, and mystical Jewish teachings (and I’ll give you one you’re leaving out: Sufi!) disturbs you. I can probably guess, as 5-10 years ago it would have disturbed me too. I get it; Scripture says a lot about idolatry, and we Christians want to take these warnings seriously. I know I do.

    But a funny thing happened to me when taking an ‘idolatry inventory’ of my life one time: I realized that the biggest god I had erected in my life wasn’t Baal or Marduk or Krishna or some Bodhisattva; it wasn’t even money or comfort, as best as I can tell – it was my Christian religious god! I thought that I had God so figured out that I had created a little plastic ‘Buddy Christ’ that I displayed on the dashboard of my heart – a heart that was being rather diminished in that time period. Specifically, I had this god’s attributes pegged, and certainly his alliances. He was 100% Christian – and okay, a little Jewish too – but certainly had nothing to do with the other faiths of the world! They were all bad, and we were all good.

    But then I did a dangerous thing: I took this view back to Scripture. There I saw a Jesus who consistently defied convention in this arena. During his Messianic ‘coming out’ party in the Synagogue – the time where he reads the Isaiah scroll about what a Messiah does – and his fellow worshipers get angry. Not because he says he’s going to bring freedom to the captives & sight to the blind and that this will be fulfilled in their hearing; aspiring rabbis & holy men said stuff like this all the time, and Jewish folk in this era generally had a “wait and see” attitude toward such pronouncements. Indeed, after proclaiming this the texts say “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.”

    No, they get angry because he stops reading before the part of the text that says “To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God,” going on to say that Israel will enslave foreigners and people of other faiths. Instead Jesus says

    “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”

    24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy[b] in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

    28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

    Those of outsider faiths, even oppressors, get kind treatment from Jesus. And why not? Occultic mages honored him at his birth, and heterodox half-breed Samaritans seems to be among his favorite dialogue partners and parable subjects. Jesus even praises an emperor-worshiping Centurion for his great faith. Clearly, Jesus’ definition of faith is more inclusive than that of his theological adversaries – the orthodox Pharisees.

    Paul continues this trend in his famous message to the pagan Mars Hill philosophers as recorded in Acts 17. While making his appeal for the foolishness of Christ to these erudite thinkers, he approvingly quotes the philosophers Epimenides and Aratus, driving his point home that we are all God’s children and that we live, move, and have our being in God, commonly.

    This does not negate the soul-dulling power of idolatry, or glory in the truly bad ideas (and consequences of said ideas) that can be had in world religions. I don’t think that Jesus is a friend to religion; I see YHWH as the original iconoclast! But if “judgement begins at the household of God,” then I think we need to first look at the mote in Christianity’s eye before we go trying to pull the speck out of our Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or atheist neighbor’s eyes. Until I’m satisfied that I’ve de-moted myself, I’ll continue to promote what I see as the good, true, and beautiful in my neighbor’s faiths.

  6. Even though the heart of man is exceedingly wicked, yet the Messiah says “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”. The classic disciplines of meditation and contemplation are some of the tools needed in the process of purifying the heart.
    I was introduced to contemplative prayer (centering prayer is a form of it) by catholic spiritual writers two decades ago. It impacted my prayer life and changed the way I ministered to people. I was a charismatic evangelical at that time, studying in a interdenominational seminary. Contemplative prayer and living brought a deeper dimension to spirituality and enabled me to touch the Presence of the Living Word behind the written Word.

  7. In fairness to Wilber, the guy also meditates two hours a day, and his AQAL system is, as he is repeats over and over again, the map, not the territory. Ken gets a bad rap by people who haven’t actually taken the time to read him. Not saying that’s the case here, Mike. He advocates skillful means for experiencing non-dual consciousness, which may include Centering Prayer. By the way, a colleague of mine, Chris Dierkes, over at http://www.beamsandstruts.com questions whether centering prayer is actually non-dual. Anytime, a technique is used to get you from x to y it’s not non-dual. Dropping into the always, already divine Presence at any moment by inhabiting the sacrament of the present moment seems more non-dual.

    Thanks for your post

    • Excellent points re: Wilber, Bruce. I’m a fan – and I think Cynthia is too, though she knows him personally, and can be generous in her praise and critique of him.

      I know Chris & love Beams & Struts! Can you share the post discussing centering prayer? I have little doubt that anything taking us from ‘here’ to ‘there’ isn’t nondual in & of itself – or rather, it is, and so is not doing the practice, since if nonduality is ‘the real’ than we can’t help but be nondual, eh? :) But if ‘dropping into the always’ can help us recognize the co-equal is-ness of all that’s arising, well, that’s an action too, isn’t it? So how is this qualitatively different than ‘sit in loving awareness of God’s presence; when your thoughts begin to stray, allow the sacred word to arise in you, gently letting go of the thought..’? Aren’t all spiritual practices (including ‘practicing presence) dualistic blunt instruments helping us (sometimes, at least) realize the nondual?

      Jewish nondual teacher Jay Michaelson has plenty to say about all of this…I explore his thoughts in The Problem with Pietism: Why Nondual Mystics and Awestruck Atheists Get It Right.