Bruno Barnhart’s Movement IV: The Global (Postmodern) Turn

I loved this chapter!—particularly the way it weaves together and synthesizes the voices of Teilhard de Chardin, Ewert Cousins, and Karl Rahner—each of them pointing in their own way (planetization, a 2nd Axial age, and the “world church”) to a truly universal, incarnate, global understanding of Christian spirituality.  Wow!  I’ll share a few words by way of summary here, before our Zoom book study group meets this Friday… but know that they’re rushed and inadequate to the wonders Fr. Bruno actually unfolds in these final pages.

In this fourth movement, Fr. Bruno explores Teilhard’s vision of a coming human unity: in Teilhard’s words, “there is only one way in which the tide can flow: the way of ever-increasing unification”… the present “social in-folding” is simply an extension of the “process of cosmic in-folding which gave birth to the first cell and the first thought on earth.”  Barnhart points to the ways in which large scale human tragedies and disasters (the two World Wars, for example) “rather than fracturing and dispersing humanity, have forced it more tightly together.”  We can only hope our current climate crisis will do the same.  There is an insistence here that there is no ultimate going backwards (words that will sound either hopeful or naive in the Age of Trump!).

For this new human unity to truly emerge, however, Barnhart says we will need “the attainment of a new degree of love, a shift from the emergent ‘global brain’ to a still undiscovered ‘global heart.’”  Can we begin to feel, see, as one heart?  Not only one human but one planetary heart?  Expanding the sphere of our love is the most crucial and planetarily necessary thing any of us can do at this moment.  Our sphere of care and concern must extend beyond “our kind” (race, religion, nationality, species) if we want “our kind” to survive at all.  For as it turns out, the conditions for the world’s flourishing are also the conditions for our own flourishing—a point we’ve majorly missed these last few centuries.

Barnhart then brings Ewert Cousins into the picture with his vision of a “Second Axial age,” a period (which Cousins envisions us entering now) when the collective- and earth-centered sensibilities of tribal and indigenous spiritualities are coming forward once more to be integrated with (not simply to replace) the rational and individual focuses of First Axial spiritualities—but now at the global level (we are one tribe, one earth).  Finally, Barnhart brings in Karl Rahner, who specifically envisions the Church within this emerging, global and integrative understanding, seeing the Gospel more fully and authentically proclaimed in a new context of openness and pluralism.

For Barnhart, the visions of Teilhard, Cousins, and Rahner are “three expressions of a single awakening process of divine incarnation taking place in history, an awakening that, in our time, has been dramatically accelerated.”  He then points us toward a complementary transcultural understanding of holiness, human maturity, and wisdom rooted in the visions of Simone Weil, Thomas Merton, and Bede Griffiths.  

Weil argues that a universality once implicit in the lives and teachings of Christian saints must now become explicit: “It has to permeate our language and the whole way of our life.”  Merton presents a vision of “final integration”—a state of human maturity that transcends “the ego and all cultural limitations,” that is “cosmic and universal,” and in which a person is “identified with everybody.”  And finally, Griffiths “affirms the objective existence of a unitive—and universal—spiritual and philosophical tradition within the world religions” which the religions themselves must recover.  Each author is pointing in their own way to spiritual knowledge and transformation as something nonexclusive, a human and global process.

Barnhart then ties this into his understanding of incarnation—the cornerstone of his entire project—and explores the ways in which human beings (and our byproduct, institutionalized religion!) too often resist the incarnational movement.  From the spiritual ladders of Platonized Christian spirituality to the institutional ladders of rigid religious hierarchies, we keep putting things between ourselves and God, moving God “up and out”—thereby missing the entire point (or direction) of the evolutionary and cosmic unfolding itself (God has spent 14 billion years working to get down and into all of this!).

Because the Church didn’t often seem to get this, Fr. Bruno argues that “the incarnational movement of Western history had to move outside the church” into what he calls “secular incarnation.”  He sees this happening in movements like Marxism and in all secular currents that work toward “universal human rights, civil rights without racial distinction, the universal dignity of the human person, the injustice of slavery, the freedom and equality of women, etc.”  He boldly concludes that “to the extent that the ‘formal’ church (both of East and of West) has resisted incarnation, history has moved beyond it, pursuing its incarnational trajectory.”

Fr. Bruno then ties incarnation back into nonduality, the focus of Movement II.  He writes:

“Incarnation is the ‘event of nonduality’ in this world.  Further, our nondual baptismal identity is ‘identical’ with the event of incarnation.  Incarnation is also the principle of history, or of the intelligibility of history.  The converse of incarnation is divinization, or ‘birth in God,’ which is experienced as the awakening of the person.  Therefore, our two principles or dimensions (horizontal and vertical)—history and identity—intersect or coincide at this point of incarnation, which becomes the center of a cross.”

And again, “The Christ-event is a descent of the ‘center’ from […] the nondual Absolute, the One, into the whole human person: body, soul, and spirit; into the human center—the heart, where body, soul, and spirit are one.”  This is not only the individual heart, but the global heart that Fr. Bruno has already told us must now be awakened: the heart of the world, the heart of the entire evolutionary, incarnational process.  The “center” descends first into the heart of individuals (Jesus is the “icon” of this process), but gradually and now increasingly (expansively, outwardly) into our collective (global, cosmic) heart.  And so “the Christ-event” is not only an individual (uniquely “Jesus”) occurence, but a collective (global, cosmic) event.  And we are it, and it is everything.

There’s so much more in this chapter!  But this is a start (and Laura Ruth tells me she already has another blog post on this same chapter cooking in her heart, so stay tuned…).  I hope you’ve all enjoyed and been enriched by our shared journey with this text—and if you haven’t read it yet, that these posts may inspire you to do so.  Thank you all so much for making this exploration possible and alive!  I’m overjoyed that it’s happened, and feel so grateful for the wisdom that Fr. Bruno has left behind for us all.

I’ll give him the last word: “While history will continue to flow forward, downward, and outward as incarnation, a perennial spiritual wisdom will continue to swim back, upward, and inward toward its unitive source.  The gift of our time is an opportunity to see the whole living picture and to orient ourselves consciously within it.”  May we use this gift, this seeing, well.  And may we give all that we are to the awakening of our global heart, to the ongoing Incarnation of Christ, world without end.  Amen.

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5 thoughts on “Bruno Barnhart’s Movement IV: The Global (Postmodern) Turn

  1. Years ago, as a young mother, I read that the future would be much different for our children, they would not experience the movement of their parents to a more affluent experience, e.g., opportunities for advancement would be limited, they would not own their own homes, and the advantages my husband and I had would be non-existent. I felt sad.
    Around the same time, I came aware of the advances of technology and the power that was being placed in human hands…cloaning, robots, “big brother”, technological advances that to me were God-like powers. I became aware of the need for “inner work”, reliance on a power greater than ourselves, and the connection to God humanity needs for the healthy, growthful and conscientious use of these powers. I had just begun my own conscious journey to being fully human, fully alive and recognized the necessity for this work to become natural/normal human growth…and the need for this growth in handling the powers being revealed to humanity and their vulnerability to being misused…either ignorantly or intentionally.
    Now, 45 years later, the prophecy for my children has not been realized…all five have experienced amazing opportunities in their lives. The other vision…the need for a conscious connection with the Creative Source of All…receives confirmation in the works of Barnhart…and little did I realize so many years ago that I would be a “pioneer” in that direction through the Inner Work I was being led into…and meet up with all of you and others on my path, becoming a part of the very movement Barnhart describes at a personal and beginning corporate level. How affirmed I am feeling, how hopeful for our global world, how inspired by the unfolding of just what Incarnation means not only to the Christian world, but to the unfolding of Humanity itself. This is what I have devoted my life to…spirituality, spiritual direction, conscious evolution. The Wisdom Tradition reawakened by the works of Barnhart and Bourgeault have served to highlight the corporate movement and the vision of a World Church expressed by Rahner. I have surely realized a new Axial period in my own life through my inner work and outer work (conscious work), (Cousins) and Teilhard’s Energy of Love permeating /saturating All is a constant in my life.
    All this to express the affirmation of my own inner work and being in God I receive from Barnards work, the hope and inspiration that this vision is growing through other learned and inspired leaders, the possibility of a maturing humanity in and through God’s Love is growing and impacting our world. In other words he gives life to the Bigger Picture which illuminates my life work and joins me in community with others of like mind and direction.

  2. Thank you Matthew. Reading this chapter for me was both consoling and challenging at the same time. Having recently read Rhythm of Being some of what Fr Bruno is saying puts me in mind of Panikkars “sacred secularity.” Perhaps it is the sense of wholeness and the resonant reverberations in the universe from all our concrete activity in seemingly private lives.

    The consolation is tied to the sense that the Christ event as Incarnation is irreversible and inevitable as Incarnation itself is the principle of history. I so resonate with the sense of our awareness of the incarnation in history has disappeared seemingly, while at the same time it is unfolding and embodying – though hidden sometimes in history – asthe principle of history itself.

    The idea of resistance to Incarnation is so important in that it grants the option to trust in the inevitable movement of Incarnation in and as history while at the same time demanding our active participation in the Incarnation always embodiment itself.

    In the final analysis it seems that the inevitability of the Incarnation as the “seed going into ground” demands our engaging awareness in participating in the divine outpouring of the nondual into humanity and the universe. For me this is the sapiential wisdom grounded and embodied in the deepest expression there is.

    It is both a wondrous realization and a all demanding challenge. I hope to be “up for” in communion through whatever uniqueness I have to offer with the Incarnation that is already underway.

  3. I just glanced at a copy of the book.

    I would love it, Matthew, if you could reflect on this.

    Take the notion that non duality in Hinduism is primarily about the identification of “I AM” with Brahman, whereas the distinctive Christianity non duality retains (or even focuses on) the I-Thou relationship.

    Based on nearly 50 years of study of world traditions, I would say that (really, just as in all Western religions) at least 90, perhaps 99% of Asians (in India, China, as elsewhere) who had even the remotest interest in religion maintained either a dualistic or qualified non-dualist, bhakti/devotional stance as their sole or primary mode of worship.

    This bizarre idea that in the 10th century, or whenever, millions of Indians were even aware of anything like the intellectual philosophy of Sankara or any other non dualist notions (even if they had heard the Upanishads or Gita recited, which would have been extraordinarily rare among the masses) – this idea is almost entirely due to the way that European intellectuals picked and chose among the books and teachings they found in India.

    Themselves allergic to devotion and a personal God, they found their own intellectual salvation in the idea that a primarily impersonal Reality was the fundamental one. Somehow this idea has persisted despite Ramakrishna’s polar opposite view (and persisted even among his own highly Anglicized disciples!).

    I’ve attempted to engage Cynthia on this point, and as of yet, I haven’t seen any writings where she addresses it (in the foreward of Father Barnhart’s book she repeats the same tired error), and Father Barnhart himself makes the same mistake.

    Personally, my sense is there’s something quite emotionally powerful about making one’s own religious tradition unique (I won’t say “superior” here, but at the very least, unique, and perhaps therefore “special”).

    it’s just not factually the case, at least, with regard to the relation of the individual and the Divine. Check out Madhva if you haven’t come across this before – or even better, read Sri Aurobindo (if you happen to be familiar with Ken Wilber, a good shortcut is to read virtually anything he’s written about Sri Aurobindo, and assume that Sri Aurobindo intended the very opposite of what Mr. Wilber wrote).

  4. It is interesting that Father Bede Griffiths wrote a great deal about Sri Aurobindo, who found an incarnational spirituality in the Vedas which he had found nowhere else in the spirituality since the beginning of the Axial Age.

    I share your optimism, and doubt if Donald Duck Trump is anything but a helpful symbol of the fear and reactivity within us all, facing the utterly radical transformative power of the profound global shift in which we are irrevocably immersed.

    I have found, in terms of a language transcending religion and accessible even to the most fundamaterialist skeptic, that Dan Siegel’s integrative vision is very powerful for many.

    Having taught his “Wheel of Awareness” exercise personally to over 30,000 people, he tells us that with just one 20-25 minute practice, people with no prior interest in things spiritual talk of astonishing experiences of peace, joy, universal love, and of “having experienced God.”

    For the general public (particularly parents) it may be “the Whole Brain Child” that is most accessible.

    1. Thank you Matthew for this outstanding synthesis, and even more for the joyful and hopeful heart through which bring it to all of us.

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