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Love Endures

Relationships

Love Endures
Wednesday, May 2, 2018

CAC core faculty member, Cynthia Bourgeault, beautifully describes growth in “conscious love” in her sermon, given at her daughter’s wedding. I hope you will find it quite profound, as I did.

It’s easy to look at marriage as the culmination of love—the end point of the journey that begins with “falling in love.” . . . [But] marriage is not the culmination of love, but only the beginning.

Love remains and deepens, but its form changes. Or, more accurately, it renews itself in a different way. Less and less does it draw its waters from the old springs of romance, and you should not worry if over time these dimensions fade or are seen less frequently. More and more, love draws its replenishment from love itself: from the practice of conscious love, expressed in your mutual servanthood to one another. . . .

It will transform your lives and through its power in your own lives will reach out to touch the world. . . . But how to stay in touch with that power? At those times when stress mounts and romance seems far away, how do you practice that conscious love that will renew itself and renew your relationship? . . .

Here is the one [practice] that works for me . . . :

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:7).

“Love bears all things.” This does not mean a dreary sort of putting-up-with or victimization. There are two meanings of the word bear, and they both apply. The first means “to hold up, to sustain”—like a bearing wall, which carries the weight of the house. . . . To bear [also] means “to give birth, to be fruitful.” So love is that which in any situation is the most life-giving and fruitful.

“Love believes all things.”. . . .  [This] does not mean to be gullible, to refuse to face up to the truth. Rather, it means that in every possible circumstance of life, there is . . . a way of perceiving that leads to cynicism and divisiveness, a closing off of possibility; and there is a way that leads to higher faith and love, to a higher and more fruitful outcome. To “believe all things” means always to orient yourselves toward the highest possible outcome in any situation and strive for its actualization.

“Love hopes all things.”. . . In the practice of conscious love you begin to discover . . . a hope that is related not to outcome but to a wellspring . . . a source of strength that wells up from deep within you independent of all outcomes. . . . It is a hope that can never be taken away from you because it is love itself working in you, conferring the strength to stay present to that “highest possible outcome” that can be believed and aspired to.

Finally, “love endures all things.” . . . Everything that is tough and brittle shatters; everything that is cynical rots. The only way to endure is to forgive, over and over, to give back that openness and possibility for new beginning which is the very essence of love itself. And in such a way love comes full circle and can fully “sustain and make fruitful,” and the cycle begins again, at a deeper place. And conscious love deepens and becomes more and more rooted. . . .

Reference:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Love Is Stronger than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls (Monkfish Book Publishing: 2014, 2007, 1999, 1997), 171-174.

Inspiration for this week’s banner image: Love is the most powerful force or energy in the universe. That power is multiplied in relationships. Love’s potency is released most powerfully among people who have formed a relationship. —Louis Savary and Patricia Berne

Lent: Awake and Paying Attention

Lent: Awake and Paying Attention
A faculty reflection by Cynthia Bourgeault

“Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

As this alumni newsletter wends its way to you, we have barreled past Ash Wednesday, which this year—February 14—happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Does it strike you that there’s something deliciously ironic here: that in this of all years, the feast of love and the solemnity of self-examination and repentance come so closely intertwined?

I have to admit that I’ve always loved the Ash Wednesday liturgy. Antiquated, gender-challenged though its language may be, it inevitably and forcibly calls me back, as the ash is smeared on my forehead, to the palpable remembrance that we belong to earth: we are formed of her and will all too swiftly return to her. In a religion that seems to spend so much of its time getting out of the body, this fleeting remembrance of our universal habitat in the biosphere has always struck me as grounding, honest, and strangely comforting.

Damaged La Casa de Maria in Southern California after a devastating mudslide.This year, the planet has clearly beat us to Lent. There’s no evading karma; our cumulative centuries of human greed and entitlement have finally elicited a response, a wrenching NO from the heart of Mother Nature herself. Climate cycles grow steadily more violent and volatile–the last months of 2017 and beginning of 2018 were marked by an unremitting series of natural catastrophes. Hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, torrential rain are no longer confined to remote corners of our planet, but press hard against our own all too safe and privileged backyards.

In Southern California—where my daughter and her family reside and where I regularly teach at La Casa de Maria in Montecito—Advent began with ashes, as wildfires burned out of control and thousands were evacuated or lost their homes. La Casa de Maria squeaked through the fires only to succumb to the horrific mudslides a month later which swept through the property with volcanic force, wrenching away buildings and devastating grounds gently manicured over the years to be a “safe” and “welcoming” space for spiritual work.

There was a stunning incongruity to the whole scene. It was a little eerie to notice how the very baroque and anguishing crucifix in the Chapel—which in recent years has been deemed by some to be a little too harsh for the more genteel, interspiritual tone now being set by the retreat center—finally came at last into its own. The crucifix presided over a river of mud and destruction with the graphic reminder that spiritual work—particularly contemplative spiritual work—is never either completely “welcoming” or “safe.”

Welcome to our brave, new world.

For many decades now, as the contemplative renewal has gathered steam and developed its own interpretive lens on the world, contemplation itself has often been presented as something “safe” and “welcoming”—an invitation to sequester ourselves in beautifully gated monastic compounds perched on fabulous hunks of real estate to sit on our prayer cushions, keep silence, and attend to the serenity of the inner kingdom. The gnawing intuition in the pit of my stomach keeps telling me that this is all about to be swept away before our eyes. Actually, it is being swept away even as we speak—in the great mudslide of divine grace and evolutionary imperative which will pitilessly remove the gated communities of “our little closed loves” (as Teilhard calls them) to prepare for the advent of something infinitely stronger, more collective, more flowing, for which every sinew of our contemplative nerve is being prepared.

Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: Great love and deep remorse of conscience, indissolubly joined in the human heart. This year, more than ever, may Lent find us awake and paying attention.

Love and blessings,

Cynthia Bourgeault's Signature

Cynthia Bourgeault

God’s Heartbeat

Cosmology

God’s Heartbeat
Friday, November 3, 2017

CAC’s core faculty member, Cynthia Bourgeault, shares insights from other mystics—current and past—to reveal mercy at the heart of the universe. She shares the theological implications of quantum physics from contemporary Episcopal preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor:

Where is God in this picture? God is all over the place. God is up there, down here, inside my skin and out. God is the web, the energy, the space, the light—not captured in them, as if any of those concepts were more real than what unites them—but revealed in that singular, vast net of relationship that animates everything that is. . . . At this point in my thinking, it is not enough for me to proclaim that God is responsible for all this unity. Instead, I want to proclaim that God is the unity—the very energy, the very intelligence, the very elegance and passion that make it all go. [1]

Cynthia reflects:

Barbara’s point may seem like a nuance, but it is a crucially important one. Our visible, created universe is not simply an object created by a wholly other God in order to manifest God’s love, but the created universe is that love itself—the very heart of God, fully expressive in the dimension of time and form.

When we speak in these terms, of course, we begin to use the classic language of the mystics, the language of visionary utterance. For Jacob Boehme (1575-1624) the name in German for mercy was Barmherzigkeit—“warmheartedness.” Boehme saw mercy as “the holy element”: the root energy out of which all else in the visible universe is made. The Mercy is “holy substantiality”—the innermost essence of being itself. It is that “river of God,” running like the sap through the tree of life. [2]

Lest we be inclined to discount this insight as merely the rambling of a God-intoxicated mystic, it is astonishing to discover virtually an identical insight revealed by the eminently sane psychotherapist Gerald May (1940-2005). May affirms that from a clinical standpoint, once the various differentiations and feeling-tones have been stripped away from our subjective emotional life, what remains is a raw, root energy that is, finally, none other than divine love. “It is as if agape [divine love] were the base metal, irreducible and unadulterated,” he writes. “The universe runs on an energy that is, at its core, unconditionally loving.” [3]

May’s vision of agape—divine love—is very close to Boehme’s (and my own) notion of the Mercy. Far from pity or condescension, it is the very heartbeat of God resonant in creation; the warmth that pulses through all things as the divine Mystery flows out into created form.

Gateway to Silence:
We live, move, and have our being in love.

References:
[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, The Luminous Web: Essays on Science and Religion (Cowley Publications: 2000), 74.
[2] See Jacob Boehme, The Way to Christ (Paulist Press: 1978).
[3] Gerald May, Will and Spirit (Harper and Row: 1982), 172. May was the cofounder of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Direction in Bethesda, Maryland, shalem.org.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001), 28-31.

Image credit: The Starry Night (detail), Vincent van Gogh, Saint Rémy, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York.

Swimming in Mercy

Cosmology

Swimming in Mercy
Thursday, November 2, 2017
(All Souls Day)

As we read yesterday, Ilia Delio sees love as the foundation of the universe. Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, describes mercy as a quality of this love, the unmerited and unconditional energy that gives life to all things. Cynthia writes in her book, Mystical Hope:

[W]hen we think of mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together. The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too “swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” [1] Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love.

To think this way perhaps takes some getting used to. From our traditional theological models, we are used to thinking in terms of God “up there” and ourselves “down here”—God wholly unknown to us and of a fundamentally different substance, of which we are but a very distant reflection. But as the language of modern quantum physics penetrates increasingly into the basic metaphors of theology, allowing us to think more freely in terms of “conservation of energy,” we can begin to see how God and creation actually exist in an energetic continuum. Just as we now know that matter is actually “condensed” energy (i.e., energy in a more dense and slow-moving form), would it be too great a leap to say that energy as we experience it—as movement, force, light—is a “condensation” of divine will and purpose? In other words, energy is what happens when divine Being expresses itself outwardly.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:1-3)

If we understood Word to mean at root vibration—the out-speaking of the divine will and purpose—then the Word is that which makes manifest the fullness of divine purpose as it moves outward into form. This “energetic” reading of the Gospel text might help explain the persistent mystical intuition undergirding so much of the New Testament that Jesus Christ, as the human incarnation of the divine Word (or Logos), is the fundamental ordering principle of the cosmos “in whom all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Gateway to Silence:
We live, move, and have our being in love.

References:
[1] Psalm 103:11, from the Psalter in The Book of Common Prayer (The Episcopal Church: 1979).

Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cowley Publications: 2001), 25-26, 27-28.

Image credit: The Starry Night (detail), Vincent van Gogh, Saint Rémy, June 1889. Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York.

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault: Weekly Summary

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Summary: Sunday, October 15-Friday, October 20, 2017

This week guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault reflected on Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and The Cloud of Unknowing.

Teilhard reveals a wrenchingly honest acknowledgement of our human predicament and an unfailing fidelity to seeing God in every aspect of the earth, even in our human suffering. (Sunday)

Our real task is not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future, the vision of our common humanity that is indeed “groaning and travailing” to be born. (Monday)

Teilhard encourages us to see our planetary home as a coherent and increasingly compassionate whole, steadily plying its way along an irreversible evolutionary trajectory. (Tuesday)

Rather than trying to do faith from the “top down,” by first convincing yourself of the logic of the argument in question, begin from the “bottom up,” by acting in alignment with it, and see what happens next! (Wednesday)

In contrast to the mind, which perceives through differentiation (I am me, because I am not you), the heart takes its bearings directly from the whole (the “I” and the “you” drop out). (Thursday)

As we learn to move away from identifying ourselves as individuals—separate from the whole—we begin to instead perceive from a new operating system that sees from the whole. (Friday)

 

Practice: Humility

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing wrote in the language of the common people because the book’s purpose is to give practical guidance for direct experience of God. Education or high social status is not required, only a sincere longing, a “blind stirring of love,” to encounter God. The author discourages those who are gossips, the overly scrupulous, and the merely curious from reading the book. “However,” continues the writer in the foreword, “there are some presently engaged in the active life who are being prepared by grace to grasp the message of this book. I am thinking of those who feel the mysterious action of the Spirit in their inmost being stirring them to love. I do not say that they continually feel this stirring, as experienced contemplatives do, but now and again they taste something of contemplative love in the very core of their being. Should such folk read this book, I believe they will be greatly encouraged and reassured.” [1]

The author believes that the spiritual journey demands full self-awareness and honesty, a perpetual shadow-boxing with our own weaknesses and imperfections. While physical withdrawal from the world is not the key, letting go of attachments to people, expectations, and the need to split everything into subject and object (I am me because I am not you) is. This requires the discipline of contemplative practice. Rather than teaching passivity, the path into the cloud of unknowing calls for active intent, willingness, and practice—knowing enough to not need to know more, which ironically becomes a kind of endless, deeper knowing.

Much of our contemplative practice will feel like failure, but the author encourages anyone who commits to “being a true contemplative” to “choose to be humbled by the amazing glory and goodness of God, who is perfect, rather than by your own sinfulness, which is imperfect. In other words, focus on God’s excellence, rather than on your own inferiority. Those who are perfectly humble lack nothing, physically or spiritually, because God is all abundance. Yes, those who have [God] need nothing else in this life.” [2]

Loving is the deepest kind of knowing that transcends the usual “operating system” which sees from differentiation and separation. Only surrendering humbly to this path of love will result in the discovery that God is not the object of our longing and love, but is the loving itself. As Teilhard and the author of The Cloud teach, God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming us with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing and The Book of Privy Counseling, ed. William Johnston (Image Books: 1973), 44. From author’s prologue to Cloud.
[2] The Cloud of Unknowing, with The Book of Privy Counsel, trans. Carmen Acevedo Butcher (Shambhala: 2009), 60. From chapter 23 of Cloud.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening (Cowley Publications: 2004)
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016)
Cynthia Bourgeault, Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God (Cloister Books: 2001)

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

The Work of Contemplation

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

The Work of Contemplation
Friday, October 20, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the classic, anonymous text of Christian mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing.

As I mentioned yesterday, I approach The Cloud in a different way than it is typically understood. While reading a variety of translations of the Middle English is helpful, I find Ira Progoff’s version particularly eye-opening. Progoff brings a very different spiritual and intellectual perspective. More than any editor I know, he understands that The Cloud is not simply speaking about a devotional pathway or even a permanent mystical state, as this text is often assumed to be referring to. Rather the author’s “work” is the systematic restructuring of consciousness so that it is able to perceive from oneness—i.e., without dividing the perceptual field into subject/object or opposites. Progoff realizes that The Cloud is laying out a whole different pathway of knowing from the heart that eventually allows one to perceive holographically—the “whole picture” at once.

We can think about this shift in the familiar terms of computer programming. The Cloud lays out not so much a “system update” to our usual mode of perception but a whole new operating system! Rather than thinking about the spiritual path as moving deeper into an experience or feeling of union with God, The Cloud reveals an entire “restructuring” of our consciousness so that we no longer see through separation and difference.

To introduce the text, Progoff brilliantly summarizes both the overall goal and method laid out in The Cloud:

The normal tendency of consciousness is to move outward toward the environment in terms of sensory contacts, social feelings, ideological beliefs, emotional attachments, and so on. . . . The first requirement of the work described in The Cloud of Unknowing is then to call a halt to this squandering of energy by outward diffusion; and it undertakes to accomplish this by means of disciplined attention to the activities of the mind. [1]

Classical mystical theology similarly emphasizes “recollection” (not to be confused with remembering) as a state of being energetically collected into a greater sense of selfhood. The real work of contemplation is to discover that our normal way of operating—finding our sense of selfhood in differentiation and opposition to those around us (I am me because I am not you)—is full of “energy leaks”! As we learn to move away from identifying ourselves as individuals—separate from the whole—we begin to plug those leaks and instead perceive from a new operating system that sees from the whole. As contemporary mystic Beatrice Bruteau (1930-2014) wrote, “I AM / MAY YOU BE!” [2]

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing, trans. Ira Progoff (Dell: 1983, ©1957), 27.
[2] Beatrice Bruteau, God’s Ecstasy: The Creation of a Self-Creating World (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1997), 28.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, exclusive content from Unit One of the Living School for Action and Contemplation.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

Knowing from the Whole

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Knowing from the Whole
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault reflects on another significant element within the Christian mystical lineage. The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century spiritual classic written by an anonymous English monk. Perhaps this shows ego in a subservient role. But the writer was also anonymous for practical reasons. Meister Eckhart had just been silenced by the Pope in 1329 for emphasizing independent study, thinking, and experience, to which this author was also committed. It took many generations for the Church to affirm the value of inner, personal experience. Today Centering Prayer—which was drawn from The Cloud of Unknowing—is practiced by many Christians around the world.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a mystical text, and like most mystical texts it can only ultimately be accessed at the level of consciousness from which it was written. “Like attracts like,” as the old hermetic saying goes. The best way to engage a text written from a state of deep contemplative stillness is to match that state as closely as you can in yourself by meditating your way into the text rather than diving in with your analytical mind. In my latest book, The Heart of Centering Prayer, I explore this text from a different angle than how The Cloud is typically interpreted. Traditionally, The Cloud is understood as focusing on mystical marriage where the goal is to direct desire away from earthly objects toward heavenly ones until spiritual union with God can be achieved. This approach, while certainly true of many other mystical texts, misses the subtle shift the author makes. Rather than emphasizing the seemingly obvious subject/object split between lover and beloved, the author invites us into an entirely different way of knowing and experiencing Love.

Consider the following lines from chapter 16, describing Mary Magdalene as a model of the contemplative transformation the author has in mind:

Instead, she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing and she learned to love a thing that she might never see clearly in this life, neither by the light of understanding of her reason nor by a true feeling of sweet love in her affection. [2]

Clearly, the kind of love this author has in mind is of a fundamentally different quality than what we usually mean by love.

The love presented here is not affectivity or feeling, but describes what we would nowadays call nondual perception anchored in the heart. The heart’s energetic bandwidth is intimacy, the capacity to perceive things from the inside by coming into sympathetic resonance with them. In contrast to the mind, which perceives through differentiation (I am me, because I am not you), the heart takes its bearings directly from the whole (the “I” and the “you” drop out), through a process that scientists nowadays describe as “holographic resonance.” Imagine trying to describe that in the 14th century! Ahead of his time, the author gropes for metaphors to describe an entirely different mode of perception and understanding.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.

References:
[1] For more on Centering Prayer, see Cynthia Bourgeault’s earlier meditation on the practice or her book detailed below.
[2] The Cloud of Unknowing, trans. Ira Progoff (Dell: 1983, ©1957), 101. Emphasis added. From chapter 16-5 of Cloud.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 117-121.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

Falling Fearless into Love

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Falling Fearless into Love
Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The third and most powerful wellspring of hope that Teilhard has to offer us—for those with “eyes to see and hearts to hear”—is the assurance that this slow toiling of the planet toward what he calls the “Omega,” the convergent point of all evolution, is not merely some hypothetical, futuristic theory. Omega is neither abstract nor hypothetical; it is already present, actively permeating the earth with its energy. “I probably would never have dared to consider or form the rational hypothesis of it,” Teilhard writes, “if I had not already found in my consciousness as a believer not only the speculative model for it, but its living reality.” [1]

That “living reality,” is for Teilhard the radiant heart of Christ, which he first met as a child and which continued to grow in him throughout his life as a palpably real and personal presence. Not only his own heart but the entire planet was increasingly enfolded within the experiential realm of “the Christic.”

While the way in which Teilhard incorporates Christ into evolution makes some uncomfortable, in the grand tapestry of Teilhardian seeing, the warp of science and the weft of mysticism are inextricably intertwined. And it is just here, in fact, that Teilhard’s greatest gift to our own troubled times may lie waiting to be tapped.

Teilhard’s felt-sense conviction of the presence of Christ already at work in “the stuff of the universe”—directing the course of evolution from within its very planetary marrow—allowed him to “stay the course” over a lifetime of bearing untold personal suffering for the sake of a world that was already luminously inhabited by Christ.

For Teilhard, faith was never a matter of doctrines and principles. It is first and foremost an action—an “operative” as he calls it. Faith in this way becomes a wager: if the premise is true, you can only live into it through action. Rather than trying to do faith from the “top down,” by first convincing yourself of the logic of the argument in question, begin from the “bottom up,” by acting in alignment with it, and see what happens next!

Perhaps this is what Teilhard means by “harnessing the energy of love.” [2] In our own times, it is surely our best shot—perhaps our only shot—for acting in a way that does not merely compound the darkness. Teilhard’s conviction that faith is not something that we have but something that we do is perhaps the best antidote possible to the despair and distrust that paralyze so much of our postmodern moral resolve. It is a call to step out of the boat onto the ocean of love and discover—all our fear and skepticism to the contrary—that the water really does hold us up.

Gateway to silence:
Fall fearless into love.

References:
[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (Sussex Academic Press: 1999), 211.
[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, “The Evolution of Chastity,” Toward the Future, trans. René Hague (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1975), 87.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 3, The Living Reality of Omega,” May 2, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-part-3/.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

Don’t Co-Exist. Coalesce!

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Don’t Co-Exist. Coalesce!
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The second hopeful resource that Teilhard brings to our unsettled times is his unshakable conviction that evolutionary progress will unfold its ultimate triumph in the realm of the personal. Our postmodern temperament has a well-ingrained tendency to regard the world through a filter of distrust, in which we inevitably view evolution as “random,” disconnected, and certainly impersonal. However, Teilhard encourages us to see our planetary home as a coherent and increasingly compassionate whole, steadily plying its way along an irreversible evolutionary trajectory.

In the big picture, there is nothing to suggest that evolution has gone off track. But there is plenty to suggest that we are entering a critical new phase in which some old-order survival strategies (read: the “fight or flight” mechanisms that have ruled our survival thus far) are giving way to a new and more intentional sense of mutual interdependence. The transition appears to already be underway. To continue this turning, it’s crucial that we humans make the evolutionary shift from “individuals” to “persons.”

What’s the difference?

We typically use these terms interchangeably, but for Teilhard they denote distinctly different, progressive evolutionary stages. An individual lives as an autonomous unit, subject to the old-order laws of “survival of the fittest” and planetary indifference. A person has come to understand themselves as belonging to greater relational field. They now sense their identity from a sense of wholeness in an entirely different order of coherence: a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In this greater whole both unity and differentiation are preserved; meanwhile the whole begins to be infused by a supremely personal tincture or essence. The universe is no longer random, but a system of relationships to which we all belong and are participating in!

A cautionary note: for Teilhard, oneness does not equate simply to some sentimental proclamation of “fellowship” or “let’s all just get along.”

For Teilhard this process of becoming unified is evident in the evolution of the smallest cell to the orbit of our very planet. In fact, says Teilhard, it’s the very direction of how consciousness evolved in the first place! As more complex forms emerged in unified units on our planet, consciousness was able to emerge with it. From this we can gather that the future of spirituality will not be found in the “enlightenment” of a select number of individuals, but will arrive through us collectively as a new “unit,” in the emergence of what we might call the mystical body of Christ.

The rising scent of our common humanity is already in the air, and as we consciously join hearts across the antiquated boundaries of the nationalities and denominations that once defined our identities, the blue biosphere of our planet Earth is being suffused with the gold and scarlet of our common human heart.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.

Reference:
Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 2, Don’t Co-exist, Coalesce!” April 17, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-part-2/.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.

Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time
Monday, October 16, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The first of the Teilhardian “road signs” helps us reframe our sense of scale: Teilhard reminds us that deep hope flows over deep time. From his perspective as a geologist and paleontologist, Teilhard reassures us that evolution has not changed direction; it has always been and always will be “a rise toward consciousness.” [1] But rather than the very small snapshots represented in our short lifetimes, evolution’s span is measured in eons, not decades. When we lose sight of the cosmic scale, the result is anguish and impatience. If we measure human progress only by our usual historical benchmarks—the span of a presidential administration, the not-yet 250 years of the American democratic experiment, or the “mere” 2,500 years of Western civilization—we are still only catching the smallest snippet of the inevitable process of what Teilhard calls tatonnement, or “trial and error,” part of the necessary play of freedom on its way to new combinations and creativity.

Teilhard affirmed that even the emergence of human consciousness itself, as it reached its present configuration 125,000 years ago with the stunning debut of homo sapiens [current estimate is 200,000 years], followed a 10,000-year ice age, in which it appeared that all that had been gained prior to that point was irreversibly lost. It wasn’t. Paleontological discoveries reveal that humans kept and refined their skills of using fire and making tools—providing unmistakable evidence that even when hidden by ice and apparent desolation, the evolutionary journey was still unperturbedly marching forward.

“Deep hope” is not, however, an excuse to relax our vigilance in stewardship for the planet Earth. Teilhard does not permit himself to be used that way; his sense of the oneness of the world pervades everything he sees and writes. But he realizes as well that Creation has an intelligence and a resilience that meets us far more than halfway. Over the millennia our planet has endured meteor strikes, the rise and fall of sea levels, ice ages, the continual shifting of tectonic plates, the appearance and disappearance of species.

For sure, we need to fall on our knees every morning and beseech God to help us through this latest dark time of human greed and destructiveness. But our real task at this evolutionary cusp is not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future, the vision of our common humanity that is indeed “groaning and travailing” to be born (Romans 8:22).

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.

References:
[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton-Weber (Sussex Academic Press: 1999), 183.

Adapted from Cynthia Bourgeault, “Teilhard for Troubled Times: Part 1, Deep Hope Flows Over Deep Time,” April 3, 2017, omegacenter.info/teilhard-for-troubled-times-1/.

Image credit: Child (detail), Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC Archives.
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