Creating the New Earth Together

Posts tagged ‘Cynthia Bourgeault’

The Incarnation of God, 3: Unveiling Love, the Gift of You

           Love is at the Heart of Creation 

Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea.  —Dylan Thomas

I GREET YOU ON THIS CHRISTMAS MORNING in the Spirit of the Christ, whose birth we celebrate today. Let peace reign in your heart today and throughout the New Year.

Cynthia Bourgeault takes this chapter of her book, THE WISDOM JESUS, home to an unveiling of love.  Recapping the previous two paragraphs for continuity of thought, here is the final installment of this series on the incarnation of Jesus.

♦ ◊ ♦

LET ME BE VERY CLEAR HERE. I am not saying that suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying that where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions.

At any rate, I have often suspected that the most profound product of this world is tears. I don’t mean that to be morbid. Rather, I mean that tears express that vulnerability in which we can endure having our heart broken and go right on loving. In the tears flows a sweetness not of our own making, which has been known in our tradition as the Divine Mercy. Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for. ♦ (Emphasis added)

Unveiling Love

IF MY HUNCH IS CORRECT, you can see how it significantly rearranges the playing field. Our earthly existence, then, is not about good behavior in preparation for a final judgment. It’s not a finishing school in which we “learn what we need to learn,” nor a sweatshop in which we work off our karmic debt. Right here and now we are in the process of speaking into being the revelation of God’s most hidden and intimate name. That’s a difficult assignment, particularly when “success” and “failure” mostly wind up being the complete opposites of what we would normally expect in life. But the most productive orientation for our time here is not to focus on how quickly we can get back to our spiritual homeland, but to give ourselves fully to the divine intimacy being ventured right here and now. We might reassure ourselves that in some conscious (or deeply trans-conscious) way, we have chosen to bear our part in what mystical tradition calls “the suffering of God”: the costliness that is always involved in the full manifestation of divine love. We’re doing it here and now, through the marrow of our own human lives, consciously lived. And these space-time conditions, as fragile and as frustrating as they are, are precisely the conditions which allow it to happen. As the poet Dylan Thomas expresses it in the beautiful lines with which this chapter began, “Time held me green and dying, though I sang in my chains like the sea.” It is the reality of the chains that creates the beauty of the song.

Mediator as Bridge

From a God’s-eye view of creation, the real operational challenge is not sin and evil; it is posed by the vastly unequal energetic frequencies between the realms. How can the sun touch a snowflake? How can the divine radiance meet and interpenetrate created life without incinerating it? This is the ultimate metaphysical koan—to which Christianity proposes as its solution the mystery of the incarnation.

This realization, in turn, opens up a whole new line of insight into John’s statement, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” The Son, in this wider metaphysical context, is no longer the one who bails us out or who rescues us from our fallen state but the one who becomes our bridge between the realms. Recognizing the enormous difficulty of our mission, Jesus comes to accompany us on it, advocating for our human finitude in a way that respects its integrity but doesn’t allow us to get trapped in it. As in the traditional theological understanding (but with a very different flavor), he becomes our mediator. Standing at the confluence of two vastly different orders of being, he offers his own life as the sanctuary between them.

“Become All Flame”

As we have seen already, these great metaphysical paradoxes lend themselves more easily to poetry and metaphor than to the theological scalpel. One of the classic images Christian mystics have used to portray this cosmic mediation is actually very ancient, from the Old Testament. In the book of Exodus (3:1-6) the story is told of how Moses, while tending his father-in-law’s flock of sheep in the Midianite wilderness, suddenly comes upon a bush fully engulfed in flame and yet miraculously intact. The miracle is quickly revealed as an angel of God speaking through the flame. But for the Christian desert hermits later inhabiting that same wilderness, the burning bush became a symbol of Jesus himself: all flame, yet perfectly intact within his finite container. And there were those among that desert fellowship who yearned for that same incandescent ground. In one of the most famous of the desert parables:

Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.

Would it be possible for us, too, to “become all flame”? Could our own lives become such a perfect fusion of infinite love and finite form that light would pour from our being as an actual physical radiance? I have indeed seen this light in more than a few realized masters toward the end of their earthly journeys; it is the fully revealed mystery of human life lived as a conscious sacrament. How we get there is the secret Jesus will unfold for us through the course of his own consciously sacramental life. But our first step in joining him on this journey is to recognize that his incarnation is not about fall, guilt, or blame, but about goodness, solidarity, and our own intimate participation in the mystery of love at the heart of all creation.

♦ ◊ ♦

Life is sacred wherever it is expressed in Nature.  A life lived with love is truly a sacrament.  I love Cynthia’s passionate presentation of the incarnation and life of Jesus.  Speaking of passion,  I was listening to Bishop Michael Curry on NBC’s Today Show this Christmas Eve morning give his Christmas message, which is all about giving the gift of YOU to all those you meet in your daily activities by greeting them with a smile and a kind word or two to make a connection with them for sharing love.  He exemplifies this in his own robust ways.  We each have a gift to give of our Self, which is a gift from Heaven from whence we came into this world.  The gifts of Spirit are always coming down from God out of Heaven.  We need only be still enough and prepared in our hearts to receive and deliver them.  My friend in South Korea, Jae Hyoung Lee, shared this timely message on his Facebook page today: 

How careful are you that the atmosphere in you, that your state inside yourself, is of such a nature that the delicate things of God will not be destroyed? Such things will be destroyed by self-indulgence in such things as resentment, fear, hate, jealousy. All such attitudes produce a coarse atmosphere within a person, where the delicate plant cannot grow, where the delicate plant in fact will be destroyed. The way the world now is the atmosphere is so coarse that the things of God cannot exist here. They must first be placed in a womb, and the womb is provided by human beings, who were created for this purpose. We are the human beings through whom this development needs to take place, and we are responsible for maintaining security.  —-Martin Cecil

There a beautiful hymn we used to sing in choir that speaks of the womb of the Earth for beauty to be born and our crowning role as emissaries of beauty and light.  I’ll leave it with you to hold in your heart during this Christmas Season and throughout the coming year. 

Our God did make the earth a place of beauty, love and light, Where skies and seas and all of life reveal Him with delight. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born. 

The flowers drink the rain and sun above the good brown earth, And do not seem to have to try to fill their life with worth. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born.

And man He made with crowning care to share His majesty, To let His gifts of life appear, His glory ever be. For God did make the earth a womb where beauty might be born.

May your Christmas be a joyful celebration of the gift you are and the gifts of friends and family.  Feel free to share my Christmas message with friends and loved ones.  See you next year!  

Merry Christmas . . . and Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends and neighbors! 

Anthony

 

The Incarnation of God, 2: Many Mansions

“The crucifixion wasn’t really the hard thing for Jesus; the hard thing was incarnation.”  

THE PASSAGE ABOVE, attributed to the mystic Bernadette Roberts, sets the tone for this second in a series of three posts on the theme of the incarnation of Jesus, the son of God.  I continue from where my previous post left off sharing from Cynthia Bourgeault’s  beautiful and provocative book, THE WISDOM JESUS, Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message.  We came into Being in Heaven before coming into Human form on Earth, and our journeys here were anything but pleasant.  We fell into this illusive world “from a lighter gravitational field to a heavier one.” With this post I celebrate the Winter Solstice and the beginning of yet another solar cycle initiated by the increase of Light.  Enjoy.  

♦ ◊ ♦

“Many Dwelling Places”

We Christians still inhabit a rather small universe, metaphysically speaking. We know that we live here on earth, and some of us may believe that above it is a place called heaven, counterbalanced by a place down below called hell. At very best it’s a three-tiered universe. But the ancient wisdom traditions (now strongly reinforced, incidentally, by findings emerging from modern physics and cosmology) universally suggest that we need to throw this three-story world out; it is far too cramped to contain the vastness of divine consciousness. There are many realms, wisdom teaches: not just earth, heaven, and hell, but countless densities or dimensions of existence, all of which exist to manifest or mirror an aspect of the divine fullness. Jesus himself states this very clearly to the disciples in his farewell discourses in the Gospel of John, when he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” (John 14:2). He does not mean physical places but rather states of consciousness or dimensions of divine energy (as we saw in chapter 3 with Jim Marion’s recognition that the “Kingdom of Heaven” was Jesus’s way of referring to nondual consciousness). The tradition of sophia perennis (perennial wisdom) pictures this vastness as a “great chain of being” or “ray of creation.” which begins in a pure, high-intensity, invisible, subtle consciousness and “descends,” thickening as it does so, into this world we inhabit: the realm of sharp edges and tables and chairs and human beings crashing and banging against each other in a finite and terribly solid world.

The contemporary Christian hermeticist Valentin Tomberg envisions this ray as a vast energetic cascade, beginning in divine consciousness itself and ending up in our familiar empirical universe. In Meditations on the Tarot he writes:

“Modern science has come to understand that matter is only condensed energy. Sooner or later science will also discover that what it calls energy is only condensed psychic force, which discovery will lead in the end to the establishment of the fact that all psychic force is the condensation, purely and simply, of consciousness; i.e., spirit.”

Like a mountain whose base is solidly on the earth but whose summit is hidden in the clouds, this insight leads us step by step up the ray of creation. Modern physics certainly would have no difficulty with the assertion that matter is only condensed energy; this is officially the Second Law of Thermodynamics. But what about this next realm, “psychic force”? Here the paths divide. This second form of energy is well known to spiritual seekers, but largely invisible to hardcore science; it is the energy flowing through prayer, attention, intention, and will: those more subtle exchanges which science has so far declined to measure but which we know have the power to create demonstrable effects in the physical realm.”

Beyond psychic force, yet another energetic realm awaits us, claims Tomberg, for psychic force is itself only the “condensation” (that is, the densification or coarser expression) of a substance incomparably more intense and subtle: pure spirit, pristine consciousness itself, unmediated by any form of expression. This primordial quality is known by many names in the tradition-“I AM” in Judeo-Christian tradition, wujud (“reality”) in mystical Islam, rigpa (“pristine awareness”) in Tibetan Buddhism. The names vary, but the understanding remains the same. Virtually unanimously, the ancient wisdom roadmaps picture the cosmos as a vast light stream, radiating out from the ineffable Godhead through the realm of primordial intention (known in Christianity as the logos), into archetypal form and energies, and finally into human, earthly becoming. Our life here in this physical cosmos is merely the endpoint of a long journey of what you might call “divine redshift”— that is, the condensation or cooling down of the intense energy of pure spirit in order to make physical manifestation possible.

Down Here on the Edge

So here we find ourselves on this plane of existence, at or near the bottom of the great chain of being. What are we to make of our position? What are we doing “down” here in a world that seems so dense and sluggish, so coarse and fragile and finite? Even in our dreams we move faster than the speed of light, and our mystics and visionaries are perpetually reminding us that in our heart of hearts we remember and yearn for a state of greater spaciousness and fluidity.

It’s curious, when you come to think about it, how virtually all the world’s spiritual traditions see this earthly realm as somehow deficient. Depending on the tradition, our world is either an illusion or a mistake, but in either case we “fall” into it, from a lighter gravitational field to a heavier one. We have seen how the Judeo-Christian tradition upholds this understanding in its primordial myth of the fall of Adam and Eve. Other traditions (primarily the Eastern ones) see this world as a mirage, an illusion to be dispelled. Still other traditions, such as mystical Islam, carry a profound sense of exile and a “nostalgia for the infinite.” Here is not home.

Is there another way of looking at this? I believe there is, and I think that it is actually at the heart of what is intended by that beautiful mantra, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.” But it is so spiritually counterintuitive that it remains almost entirely unspoken — at least I myself have never heard it spoken or written about in any of the traditions. To the extent that what I am seeing here is correct, Christian wisdom steps out into unknown territory, leaving even sophia perennis behind.

Here is my take: Yes, this is a very heavy, frustrating, difficult density that we come into by taking birth in the human realm. Because of the binary, finite nature of both the physical world itself and the egoic operating system we use to navigate it, it seems as though we’re always bumping into sharp edges. Life presents us with a series of seemingly irrevocable choices: to do one thing means that we have to give up something else; to marry one person means we can’t marry another; and to join a monastery means we can’t marry at all. Our confused agendas clash both inwardly and outwardly, and we cause each other pain. Our bodies age; we diminish physically; loved ones fall out of our lives. And the force of gravity is tenacious, nailing our feet to the ground and usually our souls as well.  I remember my granddaughter, now five, who from the very moment she arrived on this planet expe­rienced an intense frustration bordering on fury at her inability to move. “What the hell?” she seemed to be saying as she flailed her little arms and legs and tried even at four months old to wriggle herself across the room. I have never seen a child who
felt the constriction of this planet as much as she did. 

Yes, we come into constriction, but is that the same as punishment! I believe not. I believe rather that this constriction is a sacrament and we have been offered a divine invitation to participate in it. 

Remember our discussion of sacrament at the beginning of this chapter! A sacrament reveals a mystery in a particularly intense way while at the same time offering the means for its actualization. And in this sphere of human life, the sacrament is finitude and the mystery is “I was a hidden treasure and I loved to be known….” 

Notice that there is a subtle double meaning at work in this phrase. At one level “I loved to be known” is a synonym for “I longed to be known” (and the phrase is often translated that way). But you can read the words in another way: “I loved in order to be known”– and when you do, they reveal a deeper spiritual truth.  In order to become known to another, we must take the risk of loving that person, and this includes the real possibility of rejection and the even more painful prospect of heart­ break if the beloved is lost to us. It is difficult to risk love in a world so fragile and contingent. And yet, the greater the gamble of self-disclosure, the more powerful the intimacy and the more profound the quality of devotion revealed. 

Could it be like this for God as well? 

Could it be that this earthly realm, not in spite of but because of its very density and jagged edges, offers precisely the conditions for the expression of certain aspects of divine love that could become real in no other way? This world does indeed show forth what love is like in a particularly intense and cost­ly way. But when we look at this process more deeply, we can see that those sharp edges we experience as constriction at the same time call forth some of the most exquisite dimensions of love, which require the condition of finitude in order to make sense — qualities such as steadfastness, tenderness, commitment, forbearance, fidelity, and forgiveness. These mature and subtle flavors of love have no real context in a realm where there are no edges and boundaries, where all just flows. But when you run up against the hard edge and have to stand true to love anyway, what emerges is a most precious taste of pure divine love. God has spoken his most intimate name. 

Let me be very clear here. I am not saying that suffering exists in order for God to reveal himself. I am only saying that where suffering exists and is consciously accepted, there divine love shines forth brightly. Unfortunately, linear cause-and-effect has progressively less meaning as we approach the deep mysteries (which originate beyond time and thus have no real use for it). But the principle can be tested. Pay attention to the quality of human character that emerges from constriction accepted with conscious forgiveness as compared to what emerges from rage and violence and draw your own conclusions.

At any rate, I have often suspected that the most profound product of this world is tears. I don’t mean that to be morbid. Rather, I mean that tears express that vulnerability in which we can endure having our heart broken and go right on loving. In the tears flows a sweetness not of our own making, which has been known in our tradition as the Divine Mercy. Our jagged and hard-edged earth plane is the realm in which this mercy is the most deeply, excruciatingly, and beautifully released. That’s our business down here. That’s what we’re here for. ♦ (Emphasis added)

♦ ◊ ♦

I love Cynthia’s passion and I’m finding her insights enlightening relative to the evolution and transformation taking place in Christian thinking and in the collective consciousness as a whole, probably because I still have a place of compassionate caring in my heart for my Catholic roots.  Not that I’m setting out on a mission to save the Catholic Church.  It’s the betrayed and misled that I care about, and who I have in mind and heart sharing Cynthia’s writings.  Please feel free to wisely share these blog posts with friends and family.  We will find out where the author is taking this consideration in the final series installment, which I will post on Christmas day.  Until then, Happy Solstice.

Anthony

tpal70@gmail.com 

Kenosis, Self-Emptying Love — “The Jesus Trajectory”

“It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  

Generosity of spirit is innate with everyone.  We are born to be givers.  This pandemic, along with hurricanes and wildfires, is bringing out the spirit of giving in us all, heralding in a new day and shaping a new world.  When I see it acted out in movies and news stories, I tear up with joy and longing for the return of generosity to our world.  A passage from my poet friend Don Hynes expresses what I feel today: 

   The old earth claws for purchase
   but the turning is profound,
   reaching from the furthest stars
   to the roots of trees,
   a new heaven poised beyond
   the horizon, beginning even now
   to shape the world anew.

This passage from Cynthia Bourgeault’s THE WISDOM JESUS touched a place in my heart of deep sadness for the state of the world mingled with profound love for this Man she honors and celebrates so exquisitely personal.  How little we know of his colorful character from the Four Gospels.  The Gnostic Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene give us a taste of his more candid expressions, some rather blunt and thought provoking:  “Whoever is near me is near the fire. Whoever is far from me (the fire) is far from the Kingdom.”  He was no gentle lamb, nor a “sweet Jesus.”  His generosity of spirit still shines through his words and deeds recorded in the New Testament, all of which were written down four to five decades after his departure, all from oral traditions.  Yet they inspire and compel us to be better and do better than we have been and done heretofore—even to be ablaze with love as he was.  Cynthia introduces this passage with poetry by Rumi: 

Yet in the midst of suffering,
Love proceeds like a millstone,
hard-surfaced and straight forward.
Having died to self-interest,
she risks everything and asks for nothing.
Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

The Jesus Trajectory

The words above were written by the great Sufi mystic Jalallu­din Rumi.  But better than almost anything in Christian scripture, they closely describe the trajectory that Jesus himself followed in life. He certainly called us to dying to self, but his idea of dying to self was not through inner renunciation or guarding the purity of his being but through radically squandering everything he had and was. John the Baptist’s disciples were horrified because he banqueted, drank, and danced. The Pharisees were horrified because he healed on the Sabbath and kept company with women and disreputables, people known to be impure. Boundaries meant nothing to him; he walked right through them.

What seemed disconcerting to nearly everybody was the messy, freewheeling largeness of his spirit. Abundance and a generosity bordering on extravagant seemed to be the signa­tures of both his teaching and his personal style. We have already noted this in two of his parables, where the thing that sticks in people’s craws is in each case the display of a generosity beyond comprehension that it can only be perceived as unfair. But as we look further, that extravagance is everywhere. When he feeds the multitudes at the Sea of Galilee, there is not merely enough to go around; the leftovers fill twelve baskets.  When a woman anoints him with expensive ointment and the disciples grumble about the waste, he affirms, “Truly, I tell you, wherever this good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her” (Matthew 26:I3). He seems not to count the cost; in fact, he specifically forbids count­ing the cost. “Do not store up treasures on earth,” he teaches; “do not strive or be afraid—for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke I2:32). All will come of its own accord in good time and with abundant fullness, so long as one does not attempt to hoard or cling.

It is a path he himself walked to the very end. In the gar­den of Gethsemane, with his betrayers and accusers massing at the gates, he struggled and anguished but remained true to his course. Do not hoard, do not cling—not even to life itself. Let it go, let it be-“Not my will but yours be done, 0 Lord.  Into your hands I commend my spirit.”

Thus he came and thus he went, giving himself fully into life and death, losing himself, squandering himself, “gambling away every gift God bestows.” It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Over and over, Jesus lays this path before us. There is nothing to be renounced or resisted. Everything can be embraced, but the catch is to cling to nothing. You let it go. You go through life like a knife goes through a done cake, picking up nothing, clinging to nothing, sticking to nothing. And grounded in that fundamental chastity of your being, you can then throw yourself out, pour yourself out, being able to give it all back, even giving back life itself. That’s the kenotic path in a nutshell. Very, very simple. It only costs everything.

Now, I wouldn’t say that Jesus was the first or the only teach­er in the world ever to have opted for this more reckless and extravagant path, the kenotic way to full union. But it does seem that this was the first time such a teaching had ever been seen in the Near Eastern world, and along with its newness also came confusion. It was a concept so far ahead of its time that even Jesus’s closest disciples couldn’t quite stay with it. They’d catch it and they’d lose it. Paul catches it exactly in his beautiful kenotic hymn, then loses it in the long lists of rules and moral proscrip­tions that dominate his epistles. And as the church took shape as an institution, it could not exceed the wingspan of its first apos­tolic teachers; what they themselves did not fully understand, they could not hope to accurately transmit. Thus, as we will see in the next chapter, right from the start the radical simplicity of Jesus’s kenotic path tends to get roped back into the older and more familiar ascetic models, with a subtle but distinct disso­nance that we will be keeping our eyes on.

“It only costs everything.”  Cynthia’s words in this passage take me back half a century to the awakening phase of my spiritual transformation.  I was in my late twenties, just starting up my chiropractic practice in Denham Springs, Louisiana, eager to give my gift to the world and hungry for patients to serve. The going rate for an office visit back then was $15, up from $5 a decade earlier.  Even with such a low fee, however, I felt restricted and handcuffed by the tradition of a “fee for services.”  What price can one place on health? On life itself? Health is priceless and life is a gift freely given by God to all human beings. It didn’t feel honest for me to place a price tag on my services, so I dropped my fees altogether and placed my services on a “giving basis.”  This launched me into the most rewarding and enjoyable fourteen years of my entire career. (This was before the widely available use of credit cards and insurance coverage of Chiropractic care.)

This way of serving wasn’t original with me but was already being successfully modeled by Dr. William H. Bahan and his brother, Dr. Walter Bahan, up in Derry, NH, who were seeing upwards of a hundred patients a day.  I began attending his seminars and discovering that there were a number of chiropractors practicing on a giving basis. Six years into this new way of serving—called “GPC” for God Patient Chiropractor—I wrote an article for ONTOLOGICAL THOUGHT, a journal of The Ontological Society, while attending an Art of Living Class conducted by the Universal Institute of Applied Ontology (the art of being).  The article is entitled “How Do You Live, Doctor?”  I’ll share it in my next post. Until then,

Be love. Be loved. Be for-giving.

Anthony

tpal70@gmail.com

Kenosis: Self-Emptying Love 2, “The Gift of the Magi”

“Jesus said: Whoever has found the world and become rich should renounce the world . . . . The world is not worthy of one who finds himself.” — From The Gospel of Thomas

THE GIFT IS LOVE

Continuing with Cynthia Bourgeault’s insight into Jesus’s chosen kenotic path, I will forgo any introductory comments so as not to clutter the space with thoughts other than those presented in this excerpt from her book THE WISDOM JESUS:

A Pointless Sacrifice?

To flesh out a bit further what this path actually looks like, for­give me if I make a sudden leap into the world of modern litera­ture. Kenosis does not lend itself easily to spiritual theorizing. By far its most powerful and moving enactments have come in the form of story and drama.

One of the most precise descriptions of this path, believe it or not, is the familiar and well-loved story “The Gift of the Magi” by the American author O. Henry. You probably remember the tale. Della and James are newlyweds; they’re madly in love with each other. They are also poor as church mice, and their first Christmas together finds them without sufficient funds to buy each other gifts. But each of these lovers does have one prize possession. James owns a gold watch given to him by his grandfather; Della has stunning auburn hair falling all the way to her waist. Unbeknownst to Della, James pawns his gold watch in order to buy her beautiful silver combs for her hair. Unbe­knownst to James, Della cuts and sells her hair in order to buy him a gold watch chain. On Christmas eve the two of them stare bewilderedly at their completely useless gifts.  It has been a pointless sacrifice—pointless, that is, unless love itself is “the gift of the magi.”

And of course, this is exactly what O. Henry is getting at. In the voluntary relinquishing of their most cherished possessions, they make manifest what love really looks like; they give tangible shape to the bond that holds them together. That’s what kenosis is all about.

Another profoundly kenotic parable of our times is the tale that forms the 1987 movie Babette’s Feast, adapted from a short story by Isak Dinesen.  As the drama unfolds we discover that its heroine, Babette, had until recently been one of the most celebrated chefs in Paris, but during the political riots of 1871 she loses everything—restaurant, livelihood, and family. She flees for her life to rural Denmark and is taken in by two aging sisters who have given their lives to religious work, trying to hold together the spiritual community that their father founded. When Babette arrives, the remaining believers have grown old and weary, lost in petty bickering. Babette tries as best she can to lift their spirits, but nothing seems to be turning the situation around. Out of the blue a letter arrives informing her that she has won three million francs in a lottery back in Paris, and then and there she decides to treat these Danish peasants to a proper French dinner. She imports all the necessary ingredients: not only exotic gourmet delicacies for the seven-course meal itself (each with its appropriate wines, champagnes, and liqueurs) but the china dinnerware, silver cutlery, damask table cloths, and crystal glassware. The film zeroes in on the banquet table as the astonished Danish peasants are suddenly faced with this extrava­gant abundance. At first they are frightened and suspicious, but little by little the mood mellows as they slowly relax into gratitude and forgiveness. The last scene of that banquet night has them all stumbling, a bit drunk but very happy, out into the village square, where they form a circle around the fountain (a vivid image in its own right) and begin to sing and dance togeth­er. After all these years they have finally touched the wellspring, and their hearts are overflowing. Then someone says to Babette, “Well, I guess you’ll be leaving us soon, won’t you, now that you’re a rich woman?” She says, “Rich? I’m not rich. I spent every penny I had on that banquet, three million francs.”

Again we see the same leitmotif as in the O. Henry story. An extravagant sacrifice is in one sense wasted, because these poor peasants cannot really comprehend the magnitude of the gift, and by morning, when they’ve sobered up, they will probably have lost most of its beneficial effect. But no matter; the banquet table is set before them anyway. In her no-holds-barred generos­ity Babette offers these broken, dispirited souls a taste of reassur­ance that their long years of faithfulness have not been in vain. She mirrors to them what God is like, what love is like, what true humanness is like. And she does it precisely by throwing away her entire escape route in a single act of extravagant abundance, extravagant beyond the bounds of earth (and therefore invoking the presence of heaven). That’s the kenotic path.

Theologians have sometimes commented that if the goal of ascent mysticism is to bring about union through convergence at the point of origin, the effect of the kenotic path seems to be. self-disclosure and new manifestation. The act of self-giving brings new realms into being. It shows what God is like in new and different ways. Some of the most intuitive theologians of our times say that this is how the world was created in the first place—because, in the words of Karl Rahner, “God is the prodi­gal who squanders himself.” The act of self-giving is simulta­neously an act of self-communication; it allows something that was coiled and latent to manifest outwardly. “Letting go” (as in non-clinging, or self-emptying) is but a hair’s breadth away from letting be,” and our Judeo-Christian tradition remembers that it is through God’s original “Let there be . . . ” that our visible world tumbled into existence.

I love Cynthia’s authentic thinking and writing outside the box of conventional belief.  She presents a theology that I, as a former Catholic seminary student, can easily accept and understand at a heart level.  In my own published writings and blogging, I have ascribed to “ascent mysticism” as the path of ascension to the “point of origin” we think to be up in some Heaven, a point that Jesus himself taught is within.  When he reportedly ascended into Heaven, did he go up or within? 

There is a passage in my SACRED ANATOMY book where I contemplate this paradoxical dynamic.  The word “up” can be both dimensional and non-dimensional, or vibrational, as in moving up to a higher frequency.  The same is true of the word “down.” The biblical account of Jesus’s ascension indicates that he ascended into “the clouds of heaven.”

For example, I mentioned the “clouds of heaven.”  Jesus was seen by his disciples as ascending into the clouds above their heads. These clouds may have been the conditions in their own (transforming) collective consciousness through which the Lord of Love was making his royal exit from the earthly planes back into the higher planes of being from which he had come, and from which we all come—the “kingdom of heaven” which he had told them more than once “is within you.” This could also be the inference made by the two men in white apparel whom they reportedly saw standing with him and whom they heard say to them:  “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?  This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.”  This may well be a classic case where the dimensional state simply did not comprehend the non-dimensional.  The darkness did not comprehend the light.  The lower planes simply cannot comprehend the higher.  But the one who stands in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, the seven planes of being, in the fourth dimension has both physical and spiritual eyes and can see and comprehend the non-dimensional as clearly and easily as the dimensional.

I can appreciate Cynthia’s inference that Jesus descended down all the way—actually “into hell” according to the biblical text—in order to encompass and include all the dimensions of the vast spectrum of Creation in both heaven and earth, in the cycles of restoration, which he was very intentionally in the process of initiating.  In so doing he opened the gates to the Garden of Paradise here on Earth.  As Cynthia states so well in the next excerpt from this chapter, which I will publish in my next post:

It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that opened the gates to the Kingdom of Heaven.

Until my next post, be love, be loved and be blessed.

Anthony

tpal70@gmail.com

Kenosis: The Path of Self-Emptying Love

IN THIS SERIES, I will explore the path of “Kenotic Love” as seen through the passionate heart and Christened mind of one of my favorite authors, Episcopal prelate Cynthia Bourgeault, who has rekindled in my heart an ecstatic love for the Man whom Mary Magdalene called “Rabboni”— and who knew her as his Beloved Companion — the romantic story about which I wrote a post back in August, 2018,  The Gospel of the Beloved Companion, which would be a timely read in this day of the rising Divine Feminine. Also my October post Fifth Way Love, A Romantic Path to Transformation.

In this post I will share excerpts from Cynthia’s book THE Wisdom Jesus — Transforming Heart and Mind.  This passage speaks to Jesus’s character and his message to humankind.  Christianity does not teach the Kenotic path that Jesus literally went down.

JUSUS  

There has always been a strong tendency among Christians to turn him into a priest —“our great high priest,” in the powerful metaphor of the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews. The image of Christos Pantokrator (“Lord of All Creation”) dressed in splendid sacramental robes has dominated the iconography of both Eastern and Western Christendom. But Jesus was not a priest. He had nothing to do with the temple hierarchy in Jeru­salem, and he kept a respectful distance from most ritual obser­vances. Nor was he a prophet in the usual sense of the term: a messenger sent to the people of Israel to warn them of impend­ing political catastrophe in an attempt to redirect their hearts to God.

Jesus was not interested in the political fate of Israel, nor would he accept the role of Messiah continuously being thrust upon him. His message was not one of repentance and return to the covenant. Rather, he stayed close to the perennial ground of wisdom: the transformation of human consciousness. He asked those timeless and deeply personal questions: What does it mean to die before you die? How do you go about losing your little life to find the bigger one? Is it possible to live on this planet with a generosity, abundance, fearlessness, and beauty that mir­ror Divine Being itself? These are the wisdom questions, and they are the entire field of Jesus’s concern. If you look for a comparable category today, the closest analogy would probably be the Sufi sheik who wields the threefold functions of wisdom teacher, spiritual elder, and channel for the direct transmission of blessing (baraka), in a fashion closely parallel to Jesus’s himself. The sheik is a distinctly Near Eastern category, and it probably best preserves the mantle that Jesus himself once wore. . . .

In order to go up one must first go all the way down.  For flesh to rise, spirit must first descend.  To ascend, one must fully incarnate.  I love how deeply Cynthia understands the kenotic path Jesus took.  

THE PATH OF KENOTIC LOVE

SO FAR WE have been looking at Jesus as typical of the wisdom tradition from which he comes. An enlightened master recognized by his followers as the Ihidaya, or the Single One, he teaches the art of metanoia, or “going into the larger mind.” Underlying all his teaching is a clarion call to a radical shift in consciousness: away from the alienation and polarization of the egoic operating system and into the unified field of divine abundance that can be perceived only through the heart. But how does one make this shift in consciousness? It’s one thing to admire it from a distance, but quite another to create it within oneself.

This is where spiritual praxis comes into play. “Praxis” means the path, the actual practice you follow to bring about the result that you’re yearning for. I think it’s fair to say that all of the great spiritual paths lead toward the same cen­ter—the emergence of this larger, non dual mind as the seat of personal consciousness—but they get there by different routes. While Jesus is typical of the wisdom tradition in his vision of what a whole and unified human being looks like, the route he lays out for getting there is very different from anything that had ever been seen on the planet up to that point. It is still radical in our own time and definitely the “road less taken” among the various schools of human transformation. I will fill in the pieces of this assertion as I go along, but my hunch is that a good many of the difficulties we sometimes run into trying to make our Christianity work stem from the fact that right from the start people missed how different Jesus’s approach really was. By trying to contain this new wine in old wineskins, they inadver­tently missed its own distinct flavor. In Jesus everything hangs together around a single center of gravity, and you need to know what this center is before you can sense the subtle but cohesive power of the path he is laying out.

What name might we give to this center? The apostle Paul suggests the word kenosis. In Greek the verb kenosein means “to let go,” or “to empty oneself,” and this is the word Paul chooses at the key moment in his celebrated teaching in Philippians 2:9-16 in order to describe what “the mind of Christ” is all about. Here is what he has to say:

Though his state was that of God, yet he did not deem equality with God something he should cling to.

Rather, he emptied himself, and assuming the state of a slave, he was born in human likeness.

He, being known as one of us,
humbled himself, obedient unto death,
even death on the cross.

For this, God raised him on high
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every other name.

So that at the name of Jesus,
every knee should bend in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

And so every tongue should proclaim
“Jesus Christ is Lord!” to God the Father’s glory.’

In this beautiful hymn, Paul recognizes that Jesus had only one “operational mode.” Everything he did, he did by self-emptying. He emptied himself and descended into human form.  And he emptied himself still further (“even unto death on the cross”) and fell through the bottom to return to the realms of dominion and glory. In whatever life circumstance, Jesus always responded with the same motion of self-emptying—or to put it another way, of the same motion of descent: going lower, taking the lower place, not the higher.

What makes this mode so interesting is that it’s almost com­pletely spiritually counterintuitive. For the vast majority of the world’s spiritual seekers, the way to God is “up.” Deeply embed­ded in our religious and spiritual traditions—and most likely in the human collective unconscious itself—is a kind of compass that tells us that the spiritual journey is an ascent, not a descent. Most students of the wisdom tradition consider this upward ori­entation to be one of the foundational attributes of sophia peren­nis itself, its origins no doubt archetypal.  While my own work with the wisdom Jesus has led me to disagree, it is hard to deny that the idea of spiritual ascent has been around for a long, long time. In biblical tradition, the image of the spiritual ladder goes all the way back to the headwaters of the Old Testament, with the story of Jacob’s dream of the ladder going up to heaven. It is probably five thousand years old. Christian monastic tra­dition returned to this image and developed it still further, as essentially the roadmap for the spiritual journey. The seventh century teacher John Climacus (“John of the Ladder”) even took his monastic name from this powerful image, and through his influential teachings it became the underlying philosophy of monastic practices such as lectio divina and psalmody.

Ascent mysticism was very much in the air in Jesus’s time as well. Earlier in this book I spoke of the Essene community, that apocalyptic Jewish sect whose visionary mysticism and ascetic practices were probably the most immediate formative influ­ence on Jesus. At the heart of the Essene understanding was a particular strain of spiritual yearning known as merkevah mysti­cism. Merkevah means “chariot,” an allusion to the Old Testa­ment story of the prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven in a chariot. This dramatic episode offered a vivid image of ascent to God, which the Essenes saw as applying both individually and for the entire people of Israel. “The end of the world was at hand,” and all eyes were gazing intently upward as Jesus took birth on
the earth.

To rise requires energy, in the spiritual realm as well as the physical one. And thus, the vast majority of the world’s spiritual technologies work on some variation of the principle of “conservation of energy.” Within each person there is seen to reside a sacred energy of being (sometimes known as the “chi,” or prana, the life force). This energy, in itself infinite, is measured out to each person in a finite amount and bestowed as our basic working capital when we arrive on this planet. The great spiritual tradi­tions have always taught that if we can contain this energy rather than letting it leach away—if we can concentrate it, develop it, make it more intentional and powerful—then this concentrated energy will allow us to climb that ladder of spiritual ascent. 

This ancient and universal strategy is really at the basis of all genuine asceticism (that is, asceticism in the service of conscious transformation, not as a means of penance or self-mortification). And there is good reason for this: the strategy works. Through the disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, and inner witness­ing the seeker learns how to purify and concentrate this inner reserve and to avoid squandering it in physical or emotional lust, petty reactions, and ego gratification. As self-mastery is gradu­ally attained, the spiritual energy concentrated within becomes strong enough and clear enough to sustain contact with those increasingly higher and more intense frequencies of the divine life, until at last one converges upon that unitive point. It’s a coherent and powerful path of inner transformation. But it’s not the only path.

There’s another route to center: a more reckless path and extravagant path, which is attained not through storing up that energy or concentrating the life force, but through throwing it all away-or giving it all away. The unitive point is reached not through the concentration of being but through the free squan­dering of it; not through acquisition or attainment but through self-emptying; not through “up” but through “down.” This is the way of kenosis, the revolutionary path that Jesus introduced into the consciousness of the West.
(to be continued)

THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS

I will leave you to ponder this original prayer of St. Francis, believed to be written by a French Franciscan and based on a little known admonition Francis wrote to his friars, according to James Twyman. 

Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance.

Where there is patience and humility, there is neither anger nor disturbance.

Where there is poverty (simplicity) with gladness, there is neither covetousness nor greed.

Where there is quiet and meditation, there is neither concern nor wandering.

Where there is love of God to guard the house (cf. Lk. 11:21), there the enemy cannot gain entry.

Where there is mercy and discernment, there is neither excess nor severity.

I am deeply thankful to God for life, for health, for serenity of mind and peace of heart.  I am particularly thankful at this time of harvest when we celebrate Thanksgiving for the abundance of Mother Nature as she clothes the trees with new leaves in the wake of devastating hurricanes.  I am profoundly thankful for my companion in life, Bonnie Lee, and for all our family on the West Coast.  Thank you, Lord, for the gift of their presence in our life and in our world.  To my readers and blog followers, a heartful appreciation for traveling with me these past several rich years of sharing the meditations of my heart.  I always enjoy your responses.  Until my next post,

Be love. Be loved. Be Thankful

Anthony

tpal70@gmail.com

“Fifth Way” Love: A Romantic Path to Transformation

I will open this post with the excerpt from Cynthia Bourgeault’s signature work, The Meaning of MARY MAGDALENE – Discovering The Woman at the Heart of Christianity – with which I closed my previous post, and will continue quoting her commentary in its entirety. She quotes here a passage from the Gospel of Philip:

“The one who creates objects works outwardly in the external world. The one who labors in secret, however, works within the icon, hidden inwardly from others. The one who creates make objects visible to the world. The one who conceives gives birth to children in the Realm of the Unseen.”

In this complex distinction . . . Philip insists that begetting must come “from above”. . . .  It requires a free and conscious regeneration in the Spirit. “Begotten” is an alchemy in which spirit actively participates, and its fruit is the anthropos, or completed human being. 

THE SPIRITUAL KISS THAT BEGETS

From Philip’s point of view, then, lineal descendents of Jesus, even if they existed, would not be “anointed ones,” unless this claim were to be validated by their own spiritual transformation. The kingdom over which the Anointed One reigns is beyond the space/time continuum and cannot be inherited lineally (that technicality consistently overlooked in the literal-mindedness of The Da Vinci Code); it can be entered only by becoming a new kind of human being–what Philip actually describes as “a new race of human be­ings . . . . Only true sons and daughters can gain immortality,” he writes in analogue 56, “and no one can gain it without becoming a true son and daughter.” Progeny cannot be fashioned out of flesh and blood; they are the fruit of an alchemy of consciousness.

Philip makes it clear that this is the kind of spiritual procreation that Mary Magdalene and Jesus were chiefly about. As we discussed in chapter 10, his symbol for this type of richly engendering spiritual love is the kiss, which (as is universally the case throughout the Near Eastern culture) is seen as a sign not of sexual attraction but of spiritual begetting. When he indicates in analogue 37 that “the Master loved her more than the other students and many times would kiss her on the mouth,” he is not describing an illicit romance but rather a sacred exchange of their deeply commingled beings. The spiritual kiss is the symbol par excellence of Fifth Way love.

From a Fifth Way standpoint, this kind of intense and trans­forming love, “which is really the birth-pangs of union at a higher plane,” will indeed bear fruit. But the fruit may not be human children so much as an energetic sphere of pure creativity, in which reality is touched at the core and love itself is the progeny.

As analogue 66 points out, “The one who creates objects [i.e., literal offspring] works outwardly in the external world. The one who labors in secret, however, works within the icon, hidden in­wardly from others.” In other words, the work goes on at the imaginal (or causal) level, and its potency is made manifest not by producing new people but by engendering transformed people­ giving birth to children “in the Realm of the Unseen,” in the words of the text. (Underscores mine)

“FIFTH WAY LOVE”:  AN EROTIC PATH TO TRANSFORMATION

The “Fifth Way” is a spiritual path based on relationship. Cynthia Bourgeault calls it “conscious love” rather than “tantric love” so as not to put a stumbling block before her parishioners. She is an Episcopal priest whose passion is to restore the romantic love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene as the center piece at the heart of Christianity. The term itself is a deliberate spin-off from George Gurdjieff’s “Fourth Way,” the “Way of the Conscious Man.” Boris Mouravieff (d.1966), a little known Russian esotericist who studied Gurdjieff’s system intimately, coined the phrase and used it in his three-volume Gnosis to represent “courtly love as a spiritual path and of the way of transformation through mystical union with one’s ‘polar being.'” Cynthia’s comment:

“While he [Mouravieff] stops short of saying that Jesus and Mary Magdalene practiced this path, he makes it clear that its headwaters lie deep within the marrow of Christianity itself, and he insists that it represents “The purest and most sublime realization of the Christian spiritual path.” 

THE “SONG OF SONGS”

More commonly known in Protestant circles as “The Song of Solomon, Bourgeault associates this erotic book of the Old Testament Bible with Mary Magdalene, seeing it as an ancient testament to the practice of “Fifth Way Love.” I will share my favorite passage from the Biblical texts and then offer a commentary on it. The song opens with the kiss that begets love:

The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine. 

Because of the savour of thy goof ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.

Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee…. 

The voice of my beloved! Behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.

My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.

My beloved spake, and said unto me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;

The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell.  Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

Our winter is currently at the door in mid October, not a time to be leaping and skipping. Perhaps, then, we could see this passage metaphorically as describing the nature and character of Life itself and of the Beloved who abides within us each one, peaking out through the windows of our eyes and showing himself through the lattice of our veiled and guarded hearts. The Beloved is always there, “standing behind our wall,” when our world gets dark and seemingly impossible to navigate.  Always there to turn to for assurance that all is well and as it should be. Always there to love in passionate embrace and simply say: “I love you with all of my heart, with all of my mind, and with all of my body. With Solomon I sing . . .

Place me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm. Strong as Death is love; intense as Sheol is its ardor. Its shafts are shafts of fire, flames of Yah (Yahweh). Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.”

AN UNLIKELY BIBLICAL TEXT

Like Mary Magdalene herself, the Song of Songs has had a long his­tory of both admirers and detractors. It has been called, with some justification, “the most unbiblical book in the whole Bible,” and there are those who feel that its inclusion in among the wisdom writings of the Old Testament was a grand mistake. But others see it as nothing short of scripture’s mystical highpoint, an inexhaustible fountainhead of beauty and spiritual wisdom. Among this latter group was Rabbi Aqiba (d. 135), one of the most influential of the early rabbinic commentators, whose celebrated words eventually carried the day: “All the ages are not worth the day on which it was written for all the writings are holy, but the Song is the Holy of Holies.”

At the heart of all this consternation, as you might expect, is the fact that this text is a love song–and not just a mild-mannered, “spiritual” love song, but an unabashed celebration of erotic pleasure. From its opening salvo, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” to its parting affirmation, “Love is as strong as death,” it never breaks stride, In eight canticles of stunningly evocative imagery, it sings the glories of carnal desire in exquisite and scintillating detail. 

KENOTIC LOVE

Kenosis is the act of emptying oneself, a characteristic applied, by Paul specifically, to the path that Jesus took in his life of service. It was the path Mother Theresa took and other saintly souls.  Cynthia writes: 

As Paul so profoundly realizes, self-emptying is the touchstone, the core reality underlying every moment of Jesus’s human journey. Self-emptying is what  brings him into human form, and self-emptying is what leads him out, returning him to the mode of glory. The full realization of Jesus’s divine selfhood [our divine Selfhood] comes not through concentration of being, but through voluntary divestment of it. . . . Stripping oneself and standing naked: this is the essence of the kenotic path.

KENOSIS IN THE FIFTH WAY

We have already seen that kenosis is the tie-rod of Jesus’s entire teaching, connecting the inner and outer realms of our human experience in a single, unified gesture. “Greater love has no man than to lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13) is one of his most celebrated dictums. But when that “friend” happens also to be one’s uniquely beloved, one’s romantic partner or spouse, kenotic practice takes on a particularly intense and even a sacra­mental character. This is because the root energy it works with is the transformative fire of eros, the energy of desiring. That messy, covetous, passion-ridden quicksilver of all creation is tamed and transformed into a substance of an entirely different order, and the force of the alchemy accounts for both the efficiency of this path and its terrifying intensity.

Vladimir Solovyov, that great nineteenth-century philosopher of love, was among the first to grasp the enormous implica­tion of this point, which defines both the modality of the Fifth Way and its ultimate destination:

The meaning and worth of love. .. is that it really forces us, with all our being, to acknowledge for another the same ab­solute central significance which, because of the power of our egoism, we are conscious of only in our own selves. Love is important not as one of our feelings, but … as the shifting of the very center of our personal lives. This is characteristic of every kind of love, but predominantly of sexual love [erotic love]; it is distinguished from other kinds of love by greater intensity, by a more engrossing character, and by the possibil­ity of a more complete overall reciprocity. Only this love can lead to the real and indissoluble union of two lives into one; only of it do the words of Holy Writ say: “They shall be one flesh,” that is, shall become one real being.

In the path of “Fifth Way Love,” as Cynthia Bourgeault presents it in her book, and as she portrays the intimate companionship of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the eros is transformed and transmuted to a higher level so as to become an erotically ecstatic bridge between the physical and the spiritual worlds, making the oneness of heaven and earth an actual and tangible experience.  The ultimate transformation takes place between “polar beings” who become one blended substance, so that one cannot tell where the boundaries of one’s own body stops and the other’s begins. For there is no “other” and no boundaries. There is only the One I Am.  

We will shift gears in my next post, leaving the realm of the “Holy of Holies” to explore the mysteries of the Universe–as Walter Russell understands and explains them anyway. We are in for a profoundly intellectual roller coaster ride. So, sharpen your mental focus before you read my next post. The theme will remain in the domain of the masculine and feminine energies at work within us and throughout the illusory universe.  Until then,

Be love. Be loved.

Anthony

 

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