Late last month, I was privileged to hang out at the Servant Leadership School in Greensboro, North Carolina. The SLS is a pioneer of spiritual formation and justice mobilization in the Southeast – I’d recommend anyone interested in ‘organic church’ or ’emergent’ faith check them out; they have a 20+ year track record of amazing-ness. Why was I there? To meet and listen to one of my heroes, Christian ‘Wisdom Teacher’ Cynthia Bourgeault. Bourgeault, among the first women ordained for priesthood in the Episcopal church in the 1970s, is delightfully hard to pin down in the categories of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.’ She’s so Jesus-centric that she’d make Billy Graham blush, she lauds the apostle Paul’s mystical insights, and she’s not afraid to challenge progressive shibboleths (like the gender of the Holy Spirit or certain other trends in feminist theology). Further, you get the sense that she really believes in a living-today Jesus and both the historicity and contemporary possibility of the miraculous. But before you invite her to speak at the next Purpose-Driven conference, you should realize that she’s also breezily conversant with and appreciative of the so-called ‘Gnositc Gospels’ like Thomas and Mary Magdalene (her commentary here) as well as active engagement of Buddhist and Sufi spirituality in the service of New Testament exegesis.
What emerges in her corpus of thought and practical teaching is a deep comfortability in a specifically Christian path of transformation that is all the same open-armed toward the wider world, in all its richness and complexity. Plus, you just want to wake up and do what she’s talking about!
What follows – today and over the next week or two – are my notes from a day session with Cynthia at the Servant Leadership School. These are mostly Cynthia’s ideas, interpreted through my words and rabbit trails. Enjoy.
The Jesus Path
Globally, we’re at a transition point: A first generation has brought us practices, established them in our lives, and given us a framework for asking the question: Who am I?
A second generation is (hopefully) emerging, who need to work with embodiment, what happens physiologically – a recovery of the prophetic and transformational aspects of the contemplative journey.
Centering prayer Bumped CB into the icon, the energy, the force, at the center of Christianity: Jesus – master, teacher, guide.
But what is Jesus’ path?
The Way of the Heart. Our challenge now is recovering the practice, the path, and the vision at the heart of our tradition.
CB’s journey was motivated into seminary, priesthood, and wisdom work – all spurred on by the cognitive dissonance of arguably the most inclusive, compassionate master (the one and only JC) allegedly inspiring a tradition that tends to present itself in rigid, judgmental, exclusionary ways.
Why did this happen?
The field of Christianity has become a turf war, with people lording over their own little fiefdoms.
Cognitive mismatch between the Koan-like testimony of Scripture and Christ’s living Presence on the one hand, and on the other hand, the sociological patina of Christendom. This motivated a journey to discover how and why we’ve lost our way. This quest led Cynthia through a variety of wisdom voices, including Gurdjieff, Sufi & Buddhist paths, and finally Thomas Keating.
Christianity’s dissonance was built in almost from the get-go was because no one got Jesus right. [At once a bold claim, and yet one that spurs on just about every reform and renewal movement, eh?] Jesus was undoubtedly the first nondual master that the Western world has ever seen.
Nondual? What does that mean?
[Hint: Read this or this, or many of Cynthia‘s excellent writings on the subject. But keep reading here to get her immediate response. To be continued…]
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
Huh, she could be an anabaptist (of the Denck variety), or a good Quaker.
Mike, I’m so glad you’re doing a blog series based on your notes. I have read through the notes once and meant to go back but didn’t get a chance to. I also purchased CB’s book, Wisdom Jesus, but haven’t read it yet either. What I need to do is write down every single book I have that I want to read, prioritize and just start going down the list. I got The Naked Now, by Rohr, and have feasted on that in piece-meal style. Chapter 17 is called, “What Non-dual Thinking is Not.” I’ve read it twice and need to read it again. “Words are mere guideposts now, and you recognize that most people have made them into hitching posts.” In this chapter he not only describes my person experience, but also nails all the ways in which it’s gone wrong.
Now I need to read CB’s.
Reading this just now I had the thought that we shouldn’t be surprised that we always miss something about who Jesus was. I mean, in a sense, that is quite comforting–we can’t figure out God. Disciples aren’t called to camp out at one spot. We’re always learning and relearning new things about Jesus and if we want to continue following “Jesus,” we need enough humility to rethink our perceptions of him. I’m not quite sure if she intended to say all of that, but your notes got me thinking along those lines at least…
I am a HUGE fan of Bourgeault – I’ve read everything she has put out in book form, and enjoy many of her recorded teachings. There is one from this past June I just downloaded and have been listening to that is absolutely amazing: http://www.contemplativeforum.org/wisdom-jesus-talks
Also, for those near North Georgia, Cynthia will be speaking there this coming spring (date TBA): http://mountaintoplectures.org/2012Lectures/SpringLecture2012.aspx
I look forward to this series, Mike!
I’m a Sophan Gnostic and I am very heartened to read Bourgeault comments. Over on the Gnostic side we have been talking about this for years. Not that we are smarter, in spite of our label, I am happy to start to see points where we can start a convo. Emergent Church folks can benefit from our tradition and intellectual musings. We can benefit from you too. I wonder how we can start to share our perspective with you and yours with us?