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Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault: Weekly Summary

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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.

[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.
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