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Good and Bad Power
Good and Bad Power

Good and Bad Power: Weekly Summary

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Good and Bad Power

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Week Thirty-Two Summary and Practice

Sunday, August 8—Friday, August 13, 2021

Once we come into contact with the Holy Spirit, our Inner Source, we become living icons of true, humble, and confident power.

When we haven’t experienced or don’t trust our God-given “power within,” we are either afraid of power or we exert too much of it over others. Enduring structures of “power-over,” like patriarchy, white supremacy, and rigid capitalism, have limited most individuals’ power for so long that it is difficult to imagine another way.

The theme that I believe is basic to many of our political ills is domination. . . . Domination is a relation that does not work the same in both directions. One commands, the other obeys. One shows respect, the other accepts it but does not return it. One gains privileges from which the other is excluded. —Beatrice Bruteau

God does not play favorites. God loves all equally. Children of God are supremely safe in this love (but not protected in the world), and children of God are themselves capable of this kind of loving. —Beatrice Bruteau

When you take something you possess—your bread and power, your abilities and identities, your comfort and control, your treasured structures and even life itself—and release your attachment to it and make it useful to God’s movement, you are practicing kenosis. —Stephanie Spellers

What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top-down and outside-in—would utterly change.


Learning to Let Go

Centering Prayer is a devotional practice, placing ourselves in God’s presence and quieting our minds and hearts, but as Cynthia Bourgeault explains, it doesn’t only work on that level. What the desert abbas and ammas, the author of the Cloud of Unknowing, and even Thomas Keating could not have known when he formally started teaching the practice five decades ago, was that it works on a physiological level as well, strengthening neural pathways, and making “letting go” that much easier. When it comes to releasing our strong preferences, especially our desire for power and control, it seems safe to say that some practice of kenosis is necessary for any movement forward.

The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice. . . .

The gospels themselves make clear that [Jesus] is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchstone throughout all his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32). And it’s this same core gesture we practice in Centering Prayer: thought by thought by thought. You could really summarize Centering Prayer as kenosis in meditation form. . . .

Fascinating confirmation that kenosis is indeed an evolutionary human pathway is emerging from—of all places—recent discoveries in neuroscience. From fMRI data collected primarily by the California-based HeartMath Institute, you can now verify chapter and verse that how you respond to a stimulus in the outer world determines which neural pathways will be activated in your brain, and between your brain and your heart. If you respond with any form of initial negativity (which translates physiologically as constriction)—freezing, bracing, clinging, clenching, and so on—the pathway illumined leads to your amygdala (or “reptilian brain,” as it’s familiarly known) . . . which controls a repertory of highly energized fight-or-flight responses. If you can relax into a stimulus—opening, softening, yielding, releasing—the neural pathway leads through the more evolutionarily advanced parts of your forebrain and, surprisingly, brings brain and heart rhythms into entrainment. . . .

Every time we manage to let go of a thought in Centering Prayer, “consenting to the presence and action of God within,” the gesture is actually physically embodied. It’s not just an attitude; something actually “drops and releases” in the solar plexus region of your body, a subtle but distinct form of interior relaxation. . . . And in time, this gentle and persistent “inner aerobics,” undertaken under the specific banner of Centering Prayer and in solidarity with Jesus’s own kenotic path, will gradually establish that “mind of Christ” within you as your own authentic self.

We invite you to spend some time today practicing “letting go” through Centering Prayer or another practice of kenosis.

Experience a version of this practice through video and sound.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice (Shambhala: 2016), 33, 34, 35–36.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, A Hundred Mile Ribbon of Sand Dunes (detail), 1972, photograph, California, National Archives.
Image inspiration: A desert has the potential for phenomenal beauty—but if you want to survive, you wouldn’t enter it without food and water. Likewise, power in itself is neither good nor bad, but requires our precautions and awareness to navigate and apply with great care.
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