FOR THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN SOUTH CAROLINA DIOCESAN CONVENTION
Cynthia Bourgeault introduced Bill Redfield to Centering Prayer almost 30 years ago, and it became a catalyst for a transformative element in his life that continues to deepen and work within him. In November of 2017, Bill answered the call of his former colleague and friend Bishop Skip Adams to present at the Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Knowing that there was deep suffering in the group, and aware of Skip’s love for his people, he realized he had something to bring from the Wisdom tradition that would take courage yet had the potential to support healing.
What follows is a teaching; an instructive illustration of Wisdom in action. In Part I of this series, posted February 16, 2018 on the Northeast Wisdom website home page blog, Bill shares his foreword to this series. The remaining six parts will unfold here on Breaking Ground. Over the course of the next six or so weeks, Bill shares both script and commentary; how and why he led this particular group through a healing process born out of his personal integration of Wisdom of the Body. This work is here to teach and inspire; perhaps something will quicken and connect to your personal inner work or to your work in the world. If so, it continues to serve, as it did in South Carolina.
It is a great honor and privilege to address the Diocesan Convention here in South Carolina. I have been a colleague and friend of your Bishop for over 25 years. Besides being ordained since 1976, I am also a clinical social worker and am currently engaged in leading Wisdom Schools and Wisdom retreats. I have been retired from parish ministry for a little over four years. That is certainly enough about me. And while I will not presume to know everything about who you are and what you have gone through over the past few years, like other Episcopalians throughout the country, I have read about the contentiousness you have been through and are still going through. And my heart goes out to you.
But—far deeper than the newspaper coverage—I am privy to another source of insightful information about you and what you have been through—and that is through your Bishop. I hope I am not divulging any secrets here, but he tells me that:
He has fallen in love with you. And that perspective of love—while it acknowledges the wounds and scars—sees you as whole and holy. So, my intention this morning is to hold up a luminous mirror for you so that you can see yourselves as you truly are.
While I acknowledge the traumatic anguish that many of you have been through, I want us to dig down to a fundamental truth of your essential being and the fundamental truth of life in this realm. And I will lead us there by using, as a thread, the topic that has been given to me—The Wisdom of the Body. It is not only through the eyes of your Bishop that you may see that you are whole and holy, it is also through the Wisdom of the Body that this may be seen and experienced.
As can be seen from the text above, I began my topic with the acknowledgment of Skip’s love for them. “That perspective of love—while it acknowledges the wounds and scars—sees you as whole and holy.” This defined the trajectory I hoped to lead them along. Even with the wounds and scars, Love sees us as whole and holy. Despite the pain and the trauma they had been through, I hoped that they would be able to see and to know that they are whole and holy. And I was going to use my theme—Wisdom of the Body— as the lens through which they might see themselves as whole and holy.
But before I launch into Wisdom of the Body, I want to give full disclosure. Together we are about to take some very significant risks. I am going to ask you to do far more than just listen. In fact, I believe that I will be pushing many of you right to the edge of your limits. Now I realize this whole thing would have been a lot easier on us both if I had decided to just try to give you some sort of interesting talk and then let you go on with your convention.
But I am simply not willing to squander this opportunity. I love and admire your Bishop too much to have settled for anything less. I don’t want you to settle for anything less either. You have been through so much. And you are emerging out the other end, to be sure, but I sense there are some important loose ends that need to be brought together. I believe that is why you and I have been brought together at this time, in this place, and in this way. And while a diocesan convention is not necessarily the venue I might have picked to do this work, it is what we have been given. I propose we use it.
Are you willing…? Take a minute to truly ask yourselves. Are you willing to take some significant risks and to be stretched…?
Here I wanted to be clear with all present about the risks I would be leading them into. But they also needed to be informed as to why I was asking them to do this. Beneath this intention to get below the surface was my sensing of the pain they were in as well as my love for Skip and his love for them. Giving them time to really answer the question–“Are you willing…?” actually provides the participants to opportunity to intentionally get on board.
Wisdom of the Body: Wisdom of our Physical Bodies
We live in bodies. Indeed, we are embodied beings. That means that, in our present form, we are governed by the irresistible force of gravity, the fleeting flow of linear time, and what appears to be a dense materiality. This partially describes the conditions of our embodied existence. While we are destined for a relatively short run of 70, 80, or 90 years on this planet, these bodies of ours perform remarkably well under these challenging conditions. Our human bodies themselves are remarkably resilient and have the capacity for maintaining their health even under challenging conditions.
It is extraordinary that the 10 to 50 trillion cells in your body are working together to make your heart beat 100,000 times a day, inflate your lungs 7 ½ million times per year and at the same time keep harsh germs and toxins, for the most part, at bay.
We should never underestimate how brilliant our body truly is. No machine on this planet comes close to comparison in complexity and genius.
And while we rely on the scientific skill of modern medical and pharmaceutical advances to keep our bodies going, we generally pay little attention to the resilience of our physical bodies—until, that is, something goes wrong.
What we in the modern Western world may undervalue, however, is the reality that our body is a source of great Wisdom.
We have in the West generally consigned intelligence and consciousness exclusively to the brain inside our skull. Even in the Church, in both our theology and our liturgy, we give primacy to our minds and practically dismiss our physical bodies. Or, even worse, we have in the past seen the physical body as the seat of sinfulness and tried to stifle and vilify the body’s natural needs and inclinations.
Fortunately, the tides are turning. The longtime split between body and mind in the West and in Western Christianity seems to be starting to heal. There is renewed interest in recovering what seems to be a more ancient and even primitive body Wisdom. We are seeing that on many fronts, like more holistic and body-based medical treatment. We are seeing that also in the rise of psychotherapeutic modalities that are now specifically incorporating bodywork. Once while dealing primarily with thoughts and feelings, more and more psychotherapies are utilizing somatic work as well. And, as yet another sign of this change, today in this country you might be interested to know there are more certified yoga teachers than there are Episcopal clergy. (I’ll let you make your own interpretation of that!)
Let me broaden this even more. Here’s what more and more people are discovering. In tuning into our bodies, more and more people today are sensing—through a certain energetic resonance and felt sense—that we are part of a greater whole.
Moreover, we are beginning to know, deep in our bones and our bodies, that this world we are living in is alive—it is alive with life and alive with consciousness.
But this is more than a matter of belief; this is not just believing this is so. This is experiencing that this is true through the physical body’s capacity to tune in and physically and energetically sense this. This is experiencing a certain recovery of a sensed oneness with the vast wholeness of nature. And this is experiencing a oneness with all the peoples of the world, however different from us they may appear. And all this is connected to the reawakening of our bodies as a source of this knowing. But—here’s the take-home point—more than just a mental idea or belief, this is experienced as a felt sense through the integrated bodymind. This is the Wisdom of the Body.
This is experienced through the body, when we learn how to tune into the body.
And so, I began with Wisdom of the physical Body. In so doing, I am trying to point them away from our present-day preoccupation with the human brain as the only seat of consciousness. Contemporary conventional religion focuses primarily on faith as an act of mental belief.
Wisdom Christianity, however, takes us deeper than that. It invites to participate in the exchange of energy and information flowing throughout all creative life. Instead of stating what seems deficient in much today’s Christianity in the West, I stated that “the tide was turning” and that an increasing number of people are beginning to experience what we might call “unitive consciousness.” Of course, I didn’t use this term because I needed that things not to get too technical or trendy.
In about three minutes time (remember I didn’t have much time!), I have opened the door to a deeper understanding of life by introducing some basic Wisdom understandings. These lead to a capacity to sense the fullness of a unitive sense of Being. My finer point here was that we in the West have come to greatly overlook the Body’s Wisdom. But right now in this moment, I am going to invite them to utilize this fuller understanding by drawing on the Body’s Wisdom.
So used to the intellectual level of beliefs and ideas, would they be able to utilize this deeper sense of knowing? This wasn’t going to be knowing more in terms of quantity of knowledge or information, but knowing in a qualitatively different way by drawing on more than just the mental mind—and this would include the body. I would watch carefully to see how they would take this first challenge…
The body can also assist us in our dealing with some of the traumatic events and experiences in our lives. Most of the time, though, difficult mental memories run over and over through our minds in repetitive loops. When we try to constrain and confine our emotions only to our mental mind, we seem to have very little control over this repetitive looping. And it’s true that they take up residence in our body in the forms of anxiety and physical upset; but, because we may be so preoccupied with our minds and cut ourselves off from our bodies, these physical symptoms just fester there.
But what if we were to address our past hurts, disappointments, and even trauma not just in our minds, but also in and through our bodies?
Well, that’s exactly what we are about to do. And trust me, I am pretty sure that this is the first time this has ever been done in a diocesan convention!
I was trying to make the point that if we confined our emotions to the machinations of our mental minds, our difficult emotions usually circle endlessly in repetitive loops. When we can locate these difficult emotions in our physical bodies, however, and when they can be consciously held and generously carried by the body, things can begin to shift and change. It doesn’t mean that these feelings disappear; it’s just that they don’t get further amplified by the ruminations of the mental mind. But like many of the deep Wisdom truths, these understandings need to be experienced in order to be known. The question, though, would be whether or not I would be able to lead them through an experiential sense of all of this.
This introduction will be continued, along with the first exercise, “Wisdom of the Body,” in Part III, to be posted next, on Breaking Ground. Check it out!
posted February 21, 2018 by Bill Redfield
The Rev. William C. Redfield prepared this material for a presentation at The Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Hilton Head, South Carolina, Saturday, November 11, 2017. You may read more about Bill on the Our Teachers page of this website.