As one’s level of being increases, receptivity to higher meaning increases.
As one’s level of being decreases, the old meanings return.
Dear Wisdom Seekers,
The age-old debate, between contemplative communities and communities of action, has been reinvigorated this year on social media. And while I understand the surface tension between the contemplative life as it’s often (shallowly) understood and action in the world that forces social change, I have to say, for me they’ve never been separate. 2020 was no doubt one of the most challenging years of our lives—a year that’s left us in divisive wreckage looking for a way out. But in the contemplative life and in the life of action in our world, the most successful way out has always been the way within.
When we find ourselves in the contemplative mode only, we risk the dangers of naval gazing, selfishness, and spiritual bypassing. When we find ourselves in the activist mode only, we risk the dangers of anger, self-righteousness, and burnout. We are also living dualistic, compartmentalized lives, separating ourselves from the heart of the matter, from origin and presence, and our responsibility to create a transformed continuity that is never for the individual only but for the whole. This is what The Book of Common Prayer gets at when it calls for us to serve the common good.
But the way of the heart teaches us to see the equanimity that both modes of being can bring when we put them together; realizing that contemplation and action form one holographic circle. And it is this feedback loop—our contemplative practices feeding our action in the cosmos and our action in the cosmos feeding our spirituality—that is necessary for us to move from sleep, to waking, to rising.
Enter Martin Luther King Jr. It’s hard to add anything to the imprint he’s had on our world in his dying to conscious love, his seeing, his risk-taking to look hatred in the eye and embrace it with nothing held back. But he did it. And he did it repeatedly and he did it with grace and protest. He showed us what the full, unbroken, conscious circle of humanity looks like: contemplation in action / action in contemplation. And his ensō will never die.
So take some time this week and read one of the finest letters written on how a life in God in love is inextricably bound to a life on the streets and sidewalks and pulpits when we have the courage to show up with the force of our presence at just the right time. Here’s an excerpt from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.
To put my teacher, Cynthia Bourgeault, in conversation with Martin Luther King Jr., I’d like to quote at length her section on Cosmic Dialysis from her latest book, Eye of the Heart: A Spiritual Journey into the Imaginal Realm:
Dialysis, of course, is the purification of a system that cannot purify itself. […] Much of this cleansing work has to do with the removal of the toxins generated by fear, greed, violence, vengeance, and shame. […] As we have seen already, actions in the outer world are always accompanied by an inner energy signature. When we pave over our pastureland to build shopping malls, not only are we removing essential nutrients from the biosphere, we are also filling the noosphere (Teilhard’s term for this surrounding psycho-energetic field) with the psychic toxins of greed, entitlement, indifference, group-think, mass hysteria, addiction, violence, even the isolation and suspicion that hang like a heavy pall over affluent, gated communities—all of these create serious toxicity, real imaginal pollution, which rains back down on our planet in the contagion of cancers and autoimmune diseases. The main ongoing work of the conscious circle is to reduce this psychic smog, and where possible to rebalance it with a different infusion of those other elements, which we have been referring to as “fruits of the spirit,” namely love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. These, too, are powerful psycho-energetic nutrients for both noosphere and biosphere; in fact, in their absence human habitation quickly becomes untenable. (pg. 146)
Can we be the noble souls pushing out the fruits of the spirit against the dark forces that prey on us? Can we embody the courage it takes to break free from the paralyzing chains of conformity and join in the struggle for freedom from self and collective violence and hatred of “the other?”
As a friend recently wrote, contemplative prayer isn’t (never actually has been) a luxury. It is an absolute necessary mode of being if we hope to create a new ecosystem for the pulsating, thriving, electric power of an alive love to make all things new. One prayer sit at a time, one protest at a time, one act of selfless kindness at a time, one obedient step at a time following and trusting the lead of the inner prompt, and we will receive assistance from above. All of these ingredients and more are necessary if we chose to fulfill time, if we chose to be the church within the church.
As Dr. King said:
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today.
We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.
And as Cynthia writes:
All hands are needed on deck.
Benjamin is a life-long seeker, Benedictine Oblate, Episcopal Priest & Wisdom Teacher in the Christian Contemplative path and Interspiritual Mysticism. Primarily a student of Jesus, G.I. Gurdjieff, and Cynthia Bourgeault, he seeks to facilitate the transformation of others and our planet by living the Fruits of the Spirit through the conscious work of a meditative and surrendered heart. And he believes this work can happen within the Church.
Ben takes Wisdom Students through spiritual practices, retreats, and book studies by some of the great spiritual masters. He serves as Associate Rector at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Boca Raton, Florida with which this Wisdom School is in partnership. He and his wife, Anna, have five beautifully wild children and enjoy laughter and life by the sea. you can find Ben at Benjamin Thomas.
Images from the top: Original acrylic and oil portrait painting by Artist Derek Russell, courtesy of Ben Thomas and cropped for Wisdom Waypoints; In full, Original acrylic and oil portrait painting by Artist Derek Russell, courtesy of Ben Thomas; Cynthia Bourgeault at Valle Crucis Wisdom School, 2020, courtesy of author Ben Thomas.