The Wisdom Tradition — Center for Action and Contemplation

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The Wisdom Tradition

The Sermon on the Mount: Week 1

The Wisdom Tradition
Sunday, January 28, 2018

As we explored over the past two weeks, Jesus reveals the divine image clearly, in a personal face we can relate to and love. The incarnation in Jesus tells us that there is no absolute distinction between matter and spirit, sacred and secular. They both reveal the image of God. Jesus also taught and modeled a path for growing into a living human likeness of that image. In particular, his Sermon on the Mount describes the qualities of those who are living truly and fully in the realm of God. (Later this week and next we’ll take a closer look at this classic teaching.)

My friend and Center for Action and Contemplation faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault writes about the power and depth of Jesus’ teaching:

[Jesus was] a wisdom teacher, a person who . . . clearly emerges out of and works within an ancient tradition called “wisdom,” sometimes known as sophia perennis, which is in fact at the headwaters of all the great religious traditions of the world today. It’s concerned with the transformation of the whole human being. Transformation from what to what? Well, for a starter, from our animal instincts and egocentricity into love and compassion; from a judgmental and dualistic worldview into a nondual acceptingness. This was the message that Jesus, apparently out of nowhere, came preaching and teaching, a message that was radical in its own time and remains equally radical today.

I’m mindful here of one of my favorite quotes, attributed to the British writer G.K. Chesterton, who reportedly said, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.” [1] In this great cultural monolith that we call Christianity, which has guided the course of western history for more than two thousand years, have we really yet unlocked the power to deeply understand and follow this Jesus along the radical path he is calling us to? . . . .

From [my] wider immersion [in the worldwide wisdom tradition] I’ve been reaffirmed in my sense that Jesus came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation. That doesn’t take away the Jesus you may be more familiar with—the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity—but it does add a renewed emphasis on paying attention to what he actually taught and seeing how we can begin to walk it authentically from the inside. It also suggests that he did not really come out of nowhere, but rather that he belongs to a stream of living wisdom that has been flowing through the human condition for at least five thousand years.

[1] G. K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong with the World (1910). See The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, vol. IV (Ignatius Press: 1987), 61.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—a New Perspective on Christ and His Message (Shambhala: 2008), 4-5.

Image credit: Old Horse in the Wasteland (detail), by Charles Cottet, 1898, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan.
How blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:3
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