Dear Wisdom community,
In January 2015 we launched “The Year of Teilhard de Chardin” and tasked our network with becoming more and more acquainted with Teilhard’s expansive body of writing. Since then, Teilhard’s stunning evolutionary mysticism and cosmovision have become a central thread in our Wisdom understanding.
During that same Year of Teilhard, one of the planet’s Christian contemplative giants quietly passed into the unseen—the Camaldolese monk and priest Fr. Bruno Barnhart. In many ways, Fr. Bruno’s work picked up where Teilhard’s left off—integrating Teilhard’s world-affirming, evolutionary, “Western” vision with the nondual depths of the “Eastern” traditions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism) into a powerhouse of Christian mystical synthesis.
Bruno believed that contemporary Christianity was severely diminished, having lost touch almost entirely with our own depth dimension—“this depth of life and consciousness that has so largely disappeared from our Western civilization, and from our Western Christianity,” he wrote, “is wisdom.” And so he gave himself to the midwifing of a new sapiential, or Wisdom, understanding of the Christian path.
Significantly, Bruno did not believe we could go backwards. Having fully internalized Teilhard’s forward-looking roadmap, he did not see the unfolding of Western civilization, secularity, and modernity as dead-ends or wrong-turns but (shockingly to many spiritual ears) as the natural and inevitable outcome of the incarnate, descending trajectory of the Christ-mystery itself. Modernity and secularity were not ends in themselves, but neither were they simply mistakes. The goal, therefore, could not be a simple return to some earlier, primitive wisdom, but only a forward movement of integration and new equilibrium—the emergence of what he called a “second simplicity.”
Fr. Bruno mapped his vision as a quaternary mandala over the Cross—spanning, in St. Paul’s words, the “breadth, length, height, and depth” (Eph. 3:18) of the Christ-Mystery. These dimensions break down as follows: the nondual, apophatic, unitive (Father/Silence); the logoic, rational, “masculine” (Son/Word); the dynamic, intuitive, “feminine” (Spirit/Music); and the embodied, incarnate, “earthed” (Cosmos/Dance).
Our various cultures and religious traditions tend toward imbalance, shrinking our spirituality to one quadrant or the other. For some time, the West has been locked in “Word”; the East in “Father”; indigenous traditions hold the much needed wisdom of “Cosmos”; Teilhard embraced the dynamism of “Spirit.” What is called for now is a new, full-on integration of these dimensions: oneness and manyness, Spirit and matter, stillness and movement, apophatic depth and historical dynamism. Bruno’s mandala is a Cross planted deep in the earth, reaching to the heavens, all-embracing in its span. He called the resulting wisdom eucharistic.
For whatever reason, Bruno’s legacy has not been well-known in today’s Christian Wisdom reemergence, and we’ve spent little time as a community exploring his centrality to our own lineage. As one of Cynthia’s primary mentors, she says of her first encounter with Bruno: “Suddenly he was in my life, and it was as if it had always been that way. […H]e was powerfully, fiercely present during the decade or so of my own explosive spiritual awakening from 1987 onwards. He was spiritual father and mother both, guiding me with a gentle and deeply intuitive clarity.”
When the Northeast Wisdom Board (or, as we prefer to call ourselves, “Wisdom Council”!) gathered this past month to vision for the year to come, we realized that it was time to bring Bruno to the foreground. Our Year of Teilhard, and the years intervening, have laid the groundwork for a new “Year of Bruno Barnhart.” We encourage all of you to begin reading through his work—in Cynthia’s words, “books that you return to again and again to refresh your soul and renew your faith in truth.”
To that end, we are sending as a gift to our donors who give $150 or more to this year’s annual campaign a copy of Bruno’s recently republished The Future of Wisdom: Toward a Rebirth of Sapiential Christianity. Out-of-print for some years and hard to find, Cynthia describes this work as:
Bruno’s final and in some ways most theologically daring masterpiece. For the thirty years that I was privileged to call him my friend and teacher, I knew full well that he was one of Christianity’s best kept and most cherished contemplative secrets. Now it is time for him to be more widely known, and this re-publication is a solid step in the right direction. I suspect he will be increasingly discovered and revered, as our planet blazes toward its imminent axial leap.
Join us this year in reading this essential Christian Wisdom text, or pick up Bruno’s equally beautiful and important Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity or The Good Wine: Reading John from the Center. We’ll soon be sharing quotations from these works on our facebook page, and posting more about Bruno in the year to come.
Just last week, Cynthia visited Bruno’s former cell at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA. While there, she donned his old work jacket (pictured here). “Feeling a bit like Elisha,” she wrote. Perhaps the mantle has been passed—not just to Cynthia, but to all of us. We are now the midwives of a new Wisdom, of a second simplicity. And so, Fr. Bruno, pray for us—and aid us in the work at hand.