The following reflections are shared by two participants at Cynthia Bourgeault’s visit to London UK in November 2021. Thank you to Claire Carruthers and Emma Lanham for offering us this glimpse into your precious in-person time with Cynthia.
Our Day Together, by Claire Carruthers
There was a feeling of kindness, tenderness even, as we gathered together in person for the first time in more than two years. Our meeting and connecting was many-dimensional, something I usually take for granted. Perhaps while Zoom allows talking and silence even, it is often harder to communicate beyond a talker-listener level. Being together in a beautiful church space allowed a sense of being one and being separate.
We appreciated the resonance of Cynthia, as we also created our own listening presence as a group which I think in turn inspired her speaking. It was poignant both participating in this once again and hearing the words that opened up new ways of seeing (which Emma describes very beautifully below). For some the wooden cross showing Christ crucified and risen held their attention throughout the day. For many of us we became mesmerised by the play of coloured light from the windows which suffused the air around us. We prepared and ate a very simple meal of soup, bread, cheese and hummus, which reminded me of the vegetarian food at Holy Isle and also the higher purposes of the island. Those who could not be with us were in our hearts and were remembered. In the end we all felt an enormous gratitude for Cynthia, navigating her way through many Covid tests and protocols to meet with us and filling the air with possibility. And also to Jill, for all she does so skillfully and effectively to make this happen. Thank you! Until next time.
Cynthia Bourgeault in London, by Emma Lanham
Over the course of two days Cynthia helped us explore Thomas Keating’s final haiku-ike poems in a small volume entitled The Secret Embrace.
In Thomas’ early teaching there are three missing pieces which are filled out in the poems if we have eyes to see…
Dark Night of Spirit
Firstly, his understanding of the dark night of spirit was incomplete in his early teachings as it wasn’t grounded in his own experience yet. In the period after his early teaching Thomas entered an experience of the Dark night and some of his poems like the Twilight of the Self speak of his “broken heart” as the God “I thought I knew no longer exists”. Later in the poem The Last Laugh he writes “Is this annihilation? Or – and here we see the turn – is it the path to the Silent Love that we are?” The poem ends with the joy of a belongingness that is absolute and unassailable as the illusion of separateness is readjusted by his passage through the dark night of spirit.
Journey of the Self
Secondly the poems give a window on the final journey of the self – they show a Thomas no longer so preoccupied with the false and true self. In Out of a Stone he speaks of the ‘separate self’ being laid to rest and in Out of Nothing he approaches the unitive experience “when there is no more ‘me, myself or mine’ only I AM remains”. Isness in its elemental simplicity. Then he continues “Then the ‘I’ may fall away leaving just the AM” – there is an implosion of the self-reflexive mechanism approaching the experience of No self. The question of the self is retired – it was a hallmark of separation in the first place!
Thirdly some of the poems show a cosmogonic dimension – The secret embrace of the manifestable – the source of all creation – with the unmanifest – Infinite Transcendence which can never be revealed. In Out of a Stone we hear of the silence of the Creator hiding in endless creativity.
When the separate self drops out, the poems show we are swept up in Divine Love, borne along by Intimacy. We can flow out as servants and nothing can ‘undo us’ as there is no ‘us’. Thomas completes his own map in these 8 poems showing us the mysterious place of Holy Force in the simple act of Being. In the penultimate poem Stillness “All creation awakens to the delight of Just Being” – Naked, bare simplicity, nothing to bring back or mine…
Importance of these teachings
- They fill in the teachings and conceptual background for Centering Prayer teachings.
- They establish Thomas Keating as a non- dual master in the company of Meister Eckhart and Jacob Boehme. He can thus contribute to the dialogue between Christian Spirituality and other World Religions
- They support our own journey as we traverse this territory giving us confidence to navigate dark places – not to retreat to the known – to keep moving into Presence; into a growing capacity for objectless awareness; to trust the unfolding.
Special thanks to Susan McGrath for organizing the food and hosting the bi-weekly gatherings throughout the year, and much appreciation to Rev. John Carruthers, Vicar of St. Paul Lorrimore Square.