A couple of months ago, I had the privilege to lead 25 people through Cynthia’s latest book, The Corner of Fourth and Nondual – her contribution to Fortress Press’ My Theology Series that challenged leading contemporary theologians to write out their theology in 10,000 words or less.
About the only identification I’m somewhat comfortable with these days is Ternary Metaphysician. Ternary because it appears that an objective law of the cosmos is that we work in threes. This should be obvious to most Christians, since the Holy Trinity is the perichoretic dynamism at play in the Christian path of kenotic love. But it’s a mystical fire of exchange that often gets theologically lost in metaphor instead of being the flame of energetic transmission that we somehow get to touch. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was onto this when he wrote about the particularity in the unity, something he later called ‘personhood’ – a “paroxysm of harmonized complexity.” Gurdjieff added ‘individuation’ to this ternary movement of The Law of World Creation. Cynthia borrows heavily from both of these mystics and others as she hammers out her nondual theology, western style.
Drawing on Thomas Merton’s famous vision at the corner of Fourth and Walnut in Kentucky for the book’s title, she quotes Merton’s additional insight with one line that often doesn’t make the cut when referenced, “I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.” Cynthia goes on to comment, “What we see here is Merton in the midst of a realization that is both unboundaried in its vastness and yet excruciatingly particular.” And the gnosis in this unity isn’t your philosophical Hegelian synthesis. It is seeing. And it is seeing from wholeness. In a Gospel of Thomas group I recently asked, “why can’t we handle wholeness?” And a man quipped, “because we can’t control it.”
One of the greatest contributions Cynthia has brought to bear on Christianity (so far) is her ability to pull together the Wisdom strands of our lineage that bind us to set us free into the morphogenetic sound of an orchestra. Through Bruno Barnhart’s descent, St. Benedict’s Ora et Labora, Jakob Boehme’s vision of redemption, Beatrice Bruteau’s symbiotic unity, G. I. Gurdjieff’s intentional suffering and conscious labor, Raimon Panikkar’s vision of incarnation, to Teilhard’s voir ou périr [see or perish]– Cynthia, again and again, is literally the “X Factor” she references in this book when she writes about the Law of Three and the complete immolation of the heart. In harnessing all of these brilliant mystics with their great cosmological and theological maps, if there is a mantra uniquely suited to this spiritual work along the terrain of the heart it is in those three simple words from Teilhard’s The Human Phenomenon: See or perish. In her small book, Cynthia gifts us the vision for Christianity’s new “flower pot,” as she writes, that will no doubt have to be broken again before it settles within the membrane of ever-expanding wine skins.
Far from falling into the traditional pit of doing theology as problem-solving, Bourgeault gleans and grows these visionary tidepools into a holographic wave whose resonance and frequency transmits and receives in pulsating convergence. It reads like the body of Christ come alive.
Because Cynthia thinks and writes chiastically, The Corner of Fourth and Nondual triples as an excellent introduction to her seeing for those new to this Western Wisdom lineage; as a resource for seasoned practitioners of practice-based spirituality; and as a primer into the bibliography of those great mystics who came before us who saw the heart as the organ of spiritual perception. Yeshua says, “I say this to you, if you become whole you will be full of Light. If you remain fragmented darkness will fill you.” The gate of heaven is, indeed, everywhere, if we have the eyes to see it. This is the center around which this book swirls. The flash of a vision of one man who instantly saw the unity of all people in a shopping district of all places. Cynthia writes, “And suddenly there is an electric current flowing between the immeasurably infinite and the infinitely particular. Both poles are equally real, equally necessary to produce current, which is how love makes itself manifest. […] In an outpouring of pure joy [Merton] directly sees and celebrates his kinship with each of these other myriad bits and pieces now finally recognized as equals, fellow pixels bound together in a common heart.” This is the orchestra being played through. Why can’t we handle wholeness? Because we can’t control it.
But every now and then, the illusion of a fragmented heart becomes the drop in the ocean. And we see, we see, that no one is ever alone.
At a Wisdom School a couple of years ago, I heard a rather impassioned Cynthia answer a question about the Christian path by emphatically saying, “It’s not about belief! Belief has nothing to do with this! It’s about faith and trust.” While this statement didn’t make it explicitly in the book, I can hear it very loudly in the background. As we look to harness the virtues of faith, hope, surrender, love, and trust may we receive them not as moral beliefs that we adhere to like mathematics, but as energies that can alchemically alter the trajectory of our collective lives and the planet if we become living oblations.
“And so we are drawn once again,” she writes, “to that mysterious convergence of ‘heart,’ ‘visionary seeing,’ and the direct infusion of a love of such clarity and generative force that it propels us back toward the world on wholly new and unpredictable paths of creative engagement.” There’s the Law of Three with its clothes off and there’s the Trinitarian charge. As she wrote in Eye of the Heart regarding the quality of conscious attention for the deepest and objective symbiotic unity to be realized, “All hands are needed on deck.”
Agios O Theos,
Benjamin Thomas is a life-long seeker, Benedictine Oblate, Episcopal Priest & Wisdom Teacher in the Christian Contemplative path and Inter-spiritual Mysticism. He resides with his family in Boca Raton, Florida, and is a member of the Wisdom Waypoints Council.