Developing a Wise Presence

Mind, Body, Heart

Developing a Wise Presence
Tuesday, February 18, 2020

CAC Faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault shares how Three-Centered Awareness—heart, mind, and body—allows us to be fully present to ourselves, our lives, and God.  

When a person is poised in all three centers, balanced and alertly there, a shift happens in consciousness. Rather than being trapped in our usual mind, with its well-formed rut tracks of issues and agendas and ways of thinking, we seem to come from a deeper, steadier, and quieter place. We are present, in the words of Wisdom tradition, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. Presence is the straight and narrow gate through which one passes to Wisdom.  

This state of presence is extraordinarily important to know and taste in oneself. For sacred tradition is emphatic in its insistence that real Wisdom can be given and received only in a state of presence, with all three centers of our being engaged and awake. Anything less is known in the tradition as “sleep.” It is like the disciple Peter suddenly sinking beneath the surface of the waters [Matthew 14:30].  

Everybody has all three centers (head, heart, moving) in them. Most people are born into the world favoring one center or another. We learn to make one our dominant center for our own orientation to the world. And in the Western culture, I would say that’s overwhelmingly, shockingly, the intellectual center. Itraditional schools, that’s the capacity we train, with maybe a little bit of space left for the kinesthetic moving center through sports programs, and virtually nothing for the emotional center. Any budget cutback and what leaves? Arts and music, the primary channels through which the emotional center is still trained. So in the West we’re formed as heavily lopsided intellectual-center-oriented beingsThat’s how most of us get our start  

In pop culture, we say, “Well, find your center, acknowledge it, and live in it.” But the inner tradition work calls us to develop our under-utilized centers. If we overuse the intellectual center, then our work lies in bringing the emotional and moving centers fully online and integrating them.     

The “work” is to discover our starting position and reach out to incorporate the other two so that they are fully—and in a balanced way—part of our perceptual center. Whatever center you may find yourself to be, don’t detain yourself on it, because it immediately sets out your job of discovering where the other two are hiding inside yourself and bringing them forwardIt’s only when you have balanced the three centerskinesthetic moving center, emotional center, and intellectual centerand integrated them that you become conscious. We’ve got to have all three as the basis of a good, strong tripod before we’re really awake. 

References:
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (Jossey-Bass: 2003), 36, 37; and 

An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript & Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 11. Now available through the online course, Introductory Wisdom School (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019). 

Image credit: Saint Serapius (detail), Francisco de Zurbarán, 1628, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. 
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A Wisdom way of knowing . . . requires the whole of one’s being and is ultimately attained only through the yielding of one’s whole being into the intimacy of knowing and being known. . . . It doesn’t happen apart from complete vulnerability and self-giving. But the divine Lover is absolutely real, and for those willing to bear the wounds of intimacy, the knowledge of that underlying coherence—“in which all things hold together”—is both possible and inevitable. Cynthia Bourgeault 

Our Three Intelligences

Mind, Body, Heart

Our Three Intelligences 
Monday, February 17, 2020

After her theological training and ordination in the Episcopal tradition, my friend Cynthia Bourgeault has spent much of the last two decades teaching the Wisdom tradition in a Christian context. You are about to read something that it took me most of my life to begin to comprehend! I admire Cynthia’s unique insights and ability to bring together the ancient wisdom of Christian monasticism and the transformational teachings and practices of spiritual seeker G. I. Gurdjieff (18661949). Today she offers a brief explanation of Gurdjieff’s teachings on Three-centered Awareness.  

Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. The intellectual faculty is one way of knowing, to be sure, but it is joined by two additional faculties: the intelligence of the moving center” and the intelligence of the “emotional center.” These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing.  

I’m going to start with the moving center because it’s the one least known in the West, least valued, and least worked with. The moving center basically is about intelligence through movement. It’s the way that our body is able to put its tentacles out and explore and gain information from the world. It’s that whole realm of things that we don’t do directly with our intellectual rational brain but that deeply engage usWe drive a car, ski down a hill, sail a boat. It gets in our bodies. That kind of intelligence, which we mostly underuse, is a huge reservoir of connectivity and information with the world. 

The intellectual center is a profoundly useful tool for exploring and navigating the world, and it allows us to do things that separate us from the rest of the animals. But the program it runs is perception through separation. It’s a grand separating, evaluating, and measuring tool. But it can’t “do” because of the limitations built into its operating system. It can’t ask two questions: “Who am I, and who is God?” because these questions can’t be measured by an operating system that depends on separation. I have sometimes said that doing the journey toward mystical union with the mind is like trying to play the violin with a chainsaw. It’s not that the chainsaw is bad, but its nature is to cut and separate, not make music 

Finally, the heart and the emotional center are not identical. The emotional center is the capacity to explore and receive information from the world through empathetic entrainment by what we might call vibrational resonance. Of all the centers, the emotional center moves the fastest. It’s the part of us that gets the impression instantly. We don’t have to parse it out. It is our antenna, so to speak, given to us to orient us toward the divine radiance. The heart is not for personal expression but for divine perception.  

References:
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart (Jossey-Bass: 2003), 27, 28, 34; and  

An Introductory Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault: Course Transcript & Companion Guide (Wisdom Way of Knowing: 2017), 5, 9, 10. Now available through the online course, Introductory Wisdom School (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2019). 

Image credit: Saint Serapius (detail), Francisco de Zurbarán, 1628, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut. 
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: A Wisdom way of knowing . . . requires the whole of one’s being and is ultimately attained only through the yielding of one’s whole being into the intimacy of knowing and being known. . . . It doesn’t happen apart from complete vulnerability and self-giving. But the divine Lover is absolutely real, and for those willing to bear the wounds of intimacy, the knowledge of that underlying coherence—“in which all things hold together”—is both possible and inevitable. Cynthia Bourgeault 

Laying Down Our Life

Conscious Love

Laying Down Our Life
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on authentic love, distinguishing it from infatuation or romance. She begins by sharing insights from Scottish psychiatrist Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953), offering a basis for understanding union within the Gospel framework. Nicoll suggests that laying down one’s soul for our neighbor “is the supreme definition of conscious love.” Cynthia explains:

That is to say, through a life of conscious love—the persistent practice of laying down one’s life for the other, of the merging or union of wills in the effort to put the other first—the conditions will gradually come about for the creation of one soul. As long as the life goes on, in a renewed union of wills, one may speak of one soul, “for the soul is the image of the life.” [1]

This union of souls cannot be done out of sheer romanticism, that initial rush of erotic attraction that is all most of us ever know of love. It is not a product of attraction, but rather of purification: the commitment with which the partners adopt the spiritual practice of laying down their lives for each other—facing their shadows, relinquishing old patterns and agendas, allowing all self-justification to be seen, brought to the light, and released. In other words, without a mutual and conscious commitment to bring one’s human love into sympathetic vibration with the sacrificial and giving love that is the font of all creation, there is no union of wills or souls. The willingness to die, on whatever level, for the other’s becoming is the practice that gradually transmutes erotic attraction into a force of holy fusion. . . .

Love calls forth the reality of the beloved, and the act of loving calls forth our own most authentic and dynamic center. The result is a mutual thrust deeper and deeper into becoming, the unfolding of the wonder of each person. . . .

If there is a secret to love’s transforming power, surely it must lie in its uncanny ability to call forth who we truly are. “Love always seeks the ultimately real,” says [Beatrice] Bruteau [2]; it has an infallible knack for pushing though dim outer shells and inner dark places and bringing the essence of who we are into the light. Love always brings an increase in being, and it does so by giving us the courage and power to live out who we truly are. . . . Love actualizes essence.

One fact that contemporary psychology has made eminently clear to us is that wholeness can come about only if we embrace the whole of ourselves—not only what is highest in us, but the shadow as well. For majesty to grow in us, all must come to the light, both the dark parts of oneself that need healing and the light parts that need birthing. [3]

References:
[1] Maurice Nicoll, The New Man (Penguin Books: 1981), 78.

[2] Beatrice Bruteau, “Persons in Love,” The Roll (March 1996), 9-10. Quarterly newsletter of the Schola Contemplationis, 3425 Forest Lane, Pfafftown, NC.

[3] Majesty has to do with the power of actualization: the conscious shaping of the vessel that bears the light of Christ.

Cynthia Bourgeault, Love Is Stronger than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls (Monkfish Book Publishing: 1997, 2014), 19, 25, 115, 116, 117.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr

Love in Service of Transformation

Conscious Love

Love in Service of Transformation
Monday, June 17, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and one of the Center’s core faculty members, calls Jesus’ teaching and way of life “the path of conscious love.” She writes:

“Conscious love” . . . emphasizes the life-affirming and implicitly relational nature of the path, and the word “conscious” makes clear that the touchstone here is transformation, not simply romance. Conscious love is “love in the service of inner transformation”—or if you prefer, “inner transformation in the service of love.” Either way, this is exactly what Jesus was about. [1]

The words “conscious love” ring true for me (Richard) as a definition for our life’s purpose and the goal of all spirituality. When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. To do the unloving thing is always to somehow be unconscious at that moment. Cynthia describes what this means:

The first requirement of conscious love is, of course, that it has to be conscious—or in other words, anchored in a quality of our presence deeper than simply egoic selfhood. Nowadays we would identify this quality of consciousness as unitive, or nondual, awareness. . . .

For Jesus as for all teachers of conscious transformation . . . the work with a partner is in service of this goal. It is not intended simply to fulfill physical or emotional needs, but to accelerate the process of awakening. [2]

The Buddhist psychologist John Welwood (1943–2019) wrote:

Instead of looking to a relationship for shelter, we could welcome its power to wake us up in areas of life where we are asleep and where we avoid naked, direct contact with life. This approach puts us on a path. It commits us to movement and change, providing forward direction by showing us exactly where we most need to grow. Embracing relationship as a path also gives us a practice: learning to use each difficulty along the way as an opportunity to go further, to connect more deeply, not just with our partner, but with our own aliveness as well.

By contrast, dreaming that love will save us, solve all our problems or provide a steady state of bliss or security only keeps us stuck in wishful fantasy, undermining the real power of love—which is to transform us. For our relationships to flourish, we need to see them in a new way—as a series of opportunities for developing greater awareness, discovering deeper truth, and becoming more fully human. [3]

That’s why I believe deep friendships, family, sexual intimacy, marriage, and even celibacy are not given to us to solve our problem, but actually to reveal the problem. All of these life stances show us that we still don’t know how to love. At the same time, if we are conscious and aware, they give us the daily practice and opportunity to try one more time! [4]

In summary, Welwood wrote:

A conscious relationship is one that calls forth who you really are. . . . Regarding relationship as a vehicle or path that can help two people access the powerful qualities of their true nature provides the new vision our age so urgently needs. [5]

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 112.

[2] Ibid., 118.

[3] John Welwood, Journey of the Heart: The Path of Conscious Love (HarperPerennial: 1990), 13.

[4] Richard Rohr, God as Us: The Sacred Feminine and the Sacred Masculine, disc 2 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), CD, DVD, MP3 download.

[5] John Welwood, Love and Awakening: Discovering the Sacred Path of Intimate Relationship (HarperPerennial: 1996), 8.

Image credit: The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix) (detail), Vincent Van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum, Hoge Veluwe National Park, Otterlo in the Netherlands.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: When we’re conscious, we will always do the loving thing, the connecting thing, the intimate thing, the communion thing, the aware thing. —Richard Rohr

The Law of Three

Trinity: Part Two

The Law of Three
Thursday, May 16, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault, one of our core faculty members and an Episcopal priest, has helped Christianity rediscover the powerful model of the “Law of Three.” This was originally developed by the Armenian-born spiritual teacher G. I. Gurdjieff (1866–1949) who saw it comprising what he called the “Laws of World Creation and World Maintenance.” Based on Trinity as flow and movement, this “law” describes the ways in which different elements work to create change and ongoing evolution. Today I’ll share a brief introduction from Cynthia’s work, but I invite you to read her full book The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: 

From a metaphysical standpoint, the Trinity is primarily about process. It encapsulates a paradigm of change and transformation based on an ancient metaphysical principle known as the Law of Three.

[The basic foundational principles are:]

  1. In every new arising there are three forces involved: affirming, denying, and reconciling.
  2. The interweaving of the three produces a fourth in a new dimension.
  3. Affirming, denying, and reconciling are not fixed points or permanent essence attributes, but can and do shift and must be discerned situationally. . . .
  4. Solutions to impasses or sticking points generally come by learning how to spot and mediate third force, which is present in every situation but generally hidden. . . .

Let’s consider a simple example. A seed, as Jesus said, “unless it falls into the ground and dies, remains a single seed.” [John 12:24] If this seed does fall into the ground, it enters a sacred transformative process. Seed, the first or “affirming” force, meets ground, the second or “denying” force (and at that, it has to be moist ground, water being its most critical first component). But even in this encounter, nothing will happen until sunlight, the third or “reconciling” force, enters the equation. Then among the three they generate a sprout, which is the actualization of the possibility latent in the seed—and a whole new “field” of possibility.

Actually, the entire Paschal Mystery can be seen to play itself out as a fairly straightforward configuration of the Law of Three. If you assign affirming as Jesus, the human teacher of the path of love; denying as the crucifixion and the forces of hatred driving it; and reconciling as the principle of self-emptying, or kenotic love willingly engaged, then the fourth or new arising, which is inescapably revealed through this weaving, is the Kingdom of Heaven, visibly manifest in the very midst of all the human cruelty and brokenness.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three:Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala Publications, Inc.: 2013), 15, 16, 24-25, 74.

Image credit: Haystacks at Giverny (detail), Claude Monet, 1884. Private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Creativity that makes the world is built into the world as its own essence. . . . Randomness, the pool of all possibilities, is part of how it’s done. . . . The divinity is so intimately present in the world that the world can be regarded as an incarnate expression of the Trinity, as creative, as expansive, as conscious, as self-realizing and self-sharing. —Beatrice Bruteau

Pure Relationality

Trinity: Part Two

Pure Relationality
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

I am one with the source insofar as I act as a source by making everything I have received flow again—just like Jesus. —Raimon Panikkar [1]

Catholic priest Raimundo (or Raimon) Panikkar (1918–2010) wrote over 40 books, many focused on comparative religion. Son of a Spanish Catholic mother and a Hindu father, Panikkar’s Hinduism led him to the depths of his Christian experience and allowed him to share spiritual wisdom in a way that was universal and accessible. He saw Trinity not as a uniquely Christian idea but as the very structure of reality. For him the Trinity overcame the challenges of monism (undifferentiated oneness), dualism (separation of sacred and profane), and pantheism (God and creation are indistinguishable).

CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault shares Panikkar’s conviction that Trinity is all about relationship:  

One of the great pioneers of contemporary interreligious dialogue, Panikkar worked on the Trinity for most of his long and productive scholarly career. Between his early The Holy Trinity (1973) and his magnificent Christophany (2004) lie more than thirty years of increasingly subtle scholarship as he . . . comes to see the Trinity more and more as a dynamic mandala, entrusted in a particular way to Christianity but universal in its scope, illuminating the “dynamism of the real.”

Cosmotheandric is the term Panikkar invents to describe this dynamic relational ground. The word itself is the fusion of cosmos (world), theos (God), and andros (man) and suggests a continuous intercirculation among these three distinct planes of existence in a single motion of self-communicating love. The gist of this idea is already fully there in those profound images that cascade from Jesus’s mouth in the farewell discourses of John 13-17: “I am the vine, you are the branches; abide in me as I in you” (John 15:4); “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us. . . . I in them and you in me, that they may be completely one” (John 17:21-23).

The vision is of a dynamic, interabiding oneness whose “substance” is inseparable from the motion itself. Panikkar is emphatic that “being is a verb, not a substance,” [2] and the Trinity is the indivisible expression of the mode of this beingness. All speculation on the “substance” of the individual divine persons (as has dominated Western metaphysics for more than fifteen hundred years) thus starts off on a fundamental misperception; for, as Panikkar sees it, “the Trinity is pure relationality.” [3]

I (Richard) think this is very hard for Western individualists to comprehend. We like to assert our separateness and our specialness, which is the low-level preoccupation of the ego. Only the soul understands itself as radical relatedness. It knows that we are all good with one another’s goodness and sinful with one another’s sin.

References:
[1] Raimon Panikkar, Christophany: The Fullness of Man (Orbis Books: 2004), 116.

[2] Ibid., 129.

[3] Ibid., 173.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2013), 85.

Image credit: Haystacks at Giverny (detail), Claude Monet, 1884. Private collection.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Creativity that makes the world is built into the world as its own essence. . . . Randomness, the pool of all possibilities, is part of how it’s done. . . . The divinity is so intimately present in the world that the world can be regarded as an incarnate expression of the Trinity, as creative, as expansive, as conscious, as self-realizing and self-sharing. —Beatrice Bruteau

The Mystical Body of Christ

Heaven Now

The Mystical Body of Christ
Friday, May 3, 2019

A cosmic notion of Christ takes mysticism beyond the mere individual level to the transpersonal, social, and collective levels. Cynthia Bourgeault, another of our core faculty members and an Episcopal priest, explores Jesus’ resurrection from a universal, mystical perspective:

What Jesus so profoundly demonstrates to us in his passage from death to life is that the walls between the realms are paper thin. Along the entire ray of creation, the “mansions” are interpenetrating and mutually permeable by love. The death of our physical form is not the death of our individual personhood. Our personhood remains alive and well, “hidden with Christ in God” (to use Paul’s beautiful phrase in Colossians 3:3) and here and now we can draw strength from it (and [Christ]) to live our temporal lives with all the fullness of eternity. If we can simply keep our hearts wrapped around this core point, the rest of the Christian path begins to fall into place.

Yes, [Jesus’] physical form no longer walks the planet. But if we take him at his word, that poses no disruption to intimacy if we merely learn to recognize him at that other level, just as he has modeled for his disciples during those first forty days of Eastertide.

Nor has that intimacy subsided in two thousand years—at least according to the testimony of a long lineage of Christian mystics, who in a single voice proclaim that our whole universe is profoundly permeated with the presence of Christ. He surrounds, fills, holds together from top to bottom this human sphere in which we dwell. The entire cosmos has become his body, so to speak, and the blood flowing through it is his love. These are not statements that can be scientifically corroborated, but they do seem to ring true to the mystically attuned heart. . . .

Without in any way denying or overriding the conditions of this earth plane, he has interpenetrated them fully, infused them with his own interior spaciousness, and invited us all into this invisible but profoundly coherent energetic field so that we may live as one body—the “Mystical Body of Christ,” as it’s known in Christian tradition—manifesting the Kingdom of Heaven here and now. Jesus in his ascended state is not farther removed from human beings but more intimately connected with them. He is the integral ground, the ambient wholeness within which our contingent human lives are always rooted and from which we are always receiving the help we need to keep moving ahead on the difficult walk we have to walk here. When the eye of our own heart is open and aligned within this field of perception, we recognize whom we’re walking with.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 133-135. Learn more from Cynthia Bourgeault at cynthiabourgeault.org.

Image credit: La Sieste (detail), Paul Gauguin, 1892–1894, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: The here-and-now has the power to become the gateway and the breakthrough point to the universal. The concrete, the specific, the physical, the here-and-now—when we can be present to it in all of its ordinariness—becomes the gateway to the Eternal. —Richard Rohr

Christ Means “Anointed”: Weekly Summary

Christ Means “Anointed”

Summary: Sunday, April 7—Friday, April 12, 2019

This entire world is soaked through and through with Christ, with divinity, like an electron planted in every atom. (Sunday)

The word we translate from the Greek as “Christ” comes from the Hebrew word mesach, meaning “the anointed” one or Messiah. Christ reveals that all is anointed, not just him. (Monday)

Anything is a sacrament if it serves as a Shortcut to the Infinite, hidden in something that is very finite. (Tuesday)

If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Wednesday)

Real love . . . changes outcomes and creates whole new people. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Thursday)

[The Paschal Mystery] serves as the archetype for all of our personal experiences of dying and rising to new life along the pathway of kenotic transformation, reminding us that it is not only possible but imperative to fall through fear into love because that is the only way we will ever truly know what it means to be alive. —Cynthia Bourgeault (Friday)

 

Practice: Anointing

Cynthia Bourgeault explains anointing in the historical and still evolving Christian context:

Because anointing is still the most underdeveloped of the Christian rituals, it is also the most open-ended. It comes without that huge weight of theological and sacramental baggage attached to the more familiar rituals of baptism and eucharist, and without the heavy backload of male and priestly stereotypes that are immediately triggered in the other two (unlike the eucharist, anointing for healing has never been officially closed to lay officiants, and some of its most powerful practitioners have traditionally been women). In other words, it has fewer negative associations and tends to allow for fresh experiences. The fact that it is intrinsically connected to the feminine is yet another factor working in its favor. . . . It is an obvious window of opportunity. . . .

From one of my Mary Magdalene research trips to France I had brought home a liturgy called “The Unction at Bethany,” created by the Commuauté de l’Agneau, which I had seen performed in Paris on the Monday of Holy Week. In an ornate and beautiful ceremony, it liturgically reenacted Mary Magdalene’s anointing of Jesus, with [individuals] playing the respective parts. . . . [We] allowed the momentum to build steadily toward the moment when our designated Mary Magdalene knelt before our designated Jesus and anointed his feet. Departing from the text, we then had Jesus kneel before Mary Magdalene and anoint her feet. Then, working in pairs, the entire group did likewise.

To call the impact wrenching would be an understatement. People were blown wide open, then put back together in a space that most had never encountered before, at least in a Christian context. . . .

The mutual anointing reverberated powerfully with . . . love, healing, dying before you die, the reconciliation of the feminine, rebirth into wholeness, the tenderness that a kenotically transformed eros has to bring to Christianity’s hardened institutional heart. . . . I watched “heartbroken Christians” taste the miracle that Christianity is, after all, a religion of love.

In the liturgy for the great vigil of Easter, one of the readings comes from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel: “I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). It seems to me that this promise captures the essence of Mary Magdalene’s healing vocation to contemporary Christianity, and anointing offers the means by which she can most powerfully accomplish it. As we explore the various interwoven aspects of this sacrament—for healing of illness, marking the passage through death and ego-death, celebrating the mystical union of the bridal chamber in which “the two become one”—we will once again discover the ritual expressions that best embody our renewed understanding of this sacrament of wholeness. And our Christianity will be the stronger for it.

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 188-190. The Anointing Ceremony liturgy, as used in Cynthia’s Wisdom School, is available at https://wisdomwayofknowing.org/resource-directory/holy-week-liturgy-anointing/. 

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010)

Bruce Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday/Image: 2005)

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019)

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Dying and Rising

Christ Means “Anointed”

Dying and Rising
Friday, April 12, 2019

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came to the sepulcher at the rising of the sun. —Mark 16:1‑2

Continuing Cynthia Bourgeault’s reflections, drawn from her book The Meaning of Mary Magdalene:

[Mary Magdalene’s anointing of Jesus] provides a powerful ritual access point to Christianity’s own deepest transformative wisdom. To begin with, it makes it virtually impossible to experience the Paschal Mystery in any other way than as an act of redemptive love. When Mary Magdalene is returned to her traditional role as the anointer of Jesus, a very important symmetry is also restored. We see that Jesus’s passage through death is framed on either side by her parallel acts of anointing. At Bethany she sends him forth to the cross wearing the unction of her love. And on Easter morning he awakens to that same fragrance of love as she arrives at the tomb with her spices and perfumes, expecting to anoint his body for death. He has been held in love throughout his entire passage.

As Bruce Chilton succinctly summarizes: “She connects his death and Resurrection.” [1] And she accomplishes this precisely by bracketing the entire experience in the parallel rituals of anointing. In so doing, Chilton adds, “Mary Magdalene established the place of anointing as the central ritual in Christianity, recollecting Jesus’s death and pointing forward to his resurrection.”

But what is it that she is actually pointing forward to? What is this Paschal journey from a wisdom standpoint? In the common understanding, Christianity has tended to view the resurrection as Jesus’s triumph over physical death. But for Christians in the wisdom tradition (who include among their ranks the very earliest witnesses to the resurrection) its meaning lies in something far deeper than merely the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus’s real purpose in this sacrifice was to wager his own life against his core conviction that love is stronger than death, and that the laying down of self which is the essence of this love leads not to death, but to life. . . . Thus, the real domain of the Paschal Mystery is not dying but dying-to-self. It serves as the archetype for all of our personal experiences of dying and rising to new life along the pathway of kenotic transformation, reminding us that it is not only possible but imperative to fall through fear into love because that is the only way we will ever truly know what it means to be alive.

Within the context of the resurrection, then, anointing becomes the ritual most closely associated with the passage from death of self to fullness of life, from egoic alienation to “union on a higher plane.” As such, it conveys the very essence of Christianity’s transformative wisdom.

And its gatekeeper is Mary Magdalene.

References:
[1] Bruce Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday/Image: 2005), 52.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 185-186.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault

Anointing and Anointed

Christ Means “Anointed”

Anointing and Anointed
Thursday, April 11, 2019

Six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom he had raised from the dead. They gave a dinner for him there; Martha waited on them and Lazarus was among those at the table. Mary brought in a pound of very costly ointment, pure nard, and with it anointed the feet of Jesus, wiping them with her hair; the house was full of scent of the ointment. —John 12:1-3

Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ experiences of anointing.

While the anointing at Bethany, taken in isolation, may strike the modern reader as an exceptional and even exotic event, . . . ritual anointing figured prominently in [Jesus’] work. . . . In the healings of both the deaf man in Mark 7:33 and the blind man in John 9:6, he is depicted as performing this anointing using his own spittle. . . . If scriptural tradition remembers correctly that Mary Magdalene received a healing at his hands, it is likely that anointing figured in this as well.

In fact, claims the historian Bruce Chilton, Jesus may actually have learned the art of ritual anointing from Mary Magdalene! . . . Chilton speculates that her struggles with demons may have brought her into the healing and shamanic circles for which her region of Galilee was well known. [1] Anointing may have been a core piece of the healing arts with which she gifted [Jesus], accounting for his increasing divergence from the Nazirite path to which he was originally consecrated. . . .

From an interior stance based initially on judgment and renunciation, [Jesus] threw himself headlong in the direction of inclusivity and wholeness: toward a purity of heart that comes not from withholding, but from letting everything flow. The fact that he may have discovered this truth in the context of a deeply flowing and intimate relationship with the person whom biblical tradition overwhelmingly remembers as his koinonos, his companion, makes a good deal of sense—at least, to anyone who has ever been in love.

For we know that that’s what real love does: it changes outcomes and creates whole new people. Whether or not Mary Magdalene and Jesus shared an outward ministry of anointing (and there is a good likelihood that they did), inwardly their life together was a continuous, mutual anointing. The specific incident at Bethany when she ritually bathed his head and feet in perfume was merely the outer sign of the inner fragrance of their love. . . . In this mutual sealing of love, the two become a new reality, and old habits and self-definitions are sprung loose. For Magdalene, the anointing of Jesus’s love freed her from “seven demons” and launched her on the path toward inner integration. For Jesus, the anointing of Mary Magdalene’s love freed him from his self-identification with the Nazirite role and allowed him to trust his heart.

References:
[1] See Bruce Chilton, Mary Magdalene: A Biography (Doubleday/Image: 2005), 63.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 182-185. Note that Bourgeault believes “that the traditional memory of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s anointer is substantially accurate.”

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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