“We awaken in Christ’s body,
As Christ awakens our bodies
There I look down and my poor hand is Christ,
Christ enters my foot and is infinitely me.
I move my hand and wonderfully
My hand becomes Christ,
Becomes all of Christ.
I move my foot and at once
Christ appears in a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem blasphemous to you?
—Then open your heart.
And let yourself receive the One
Who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love,
We wake up inside Christ’s body
Where all our body all over,
Every most hidden part of it,
Is realized in joy as holy,
And Christ makes us utterly real.
And everything that is hurt, everything
That seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful,
Maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged
Is in Love transformed.
And in Christ, recognized as whole, as lovely,
And radiant in the light,
We awaken as the beloved
In every last part of our body.”
~ St Symeon the New Theologian (inclusive language edits)
We are all in need of hope these days, like a tall cool drink of water on a hot day. Much of our perception of the world is full of fear and anxiety, leading us to wish for, or hope for, things to be better. We want an end to all the violence, the hatred, the corruption. We hope for things or conditions that we do not have. What do you notice about yourself and others in your conversations about such hopes? So often, I hear something like: “I just can’t talk about it anymore, I get so depressed. It wears me down.” This is the hope of our ordinary awareness that Cynthia writes about in “Mystical Hope.”
Cynthia describes three characteristics of Mystical Hope:
“It is not tied to good outcomes. It lives a life of its own without reference to external conditions.” This makes mystical hope available to all, especially the oppressed and disinherited, who lack access to good outcomes and conditions.
“It has to do with presence – the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.” This experience is felt as sensation, not as thought. It is something we may intuit as our nature, and can learn to foster with contemplative practice.
“it bears fruit within us as sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction… but mysteriously they are produced from within.” We cannot grasp these fruits but only open ourselves to receive them. This opening ourselves is true vulnerability which happens when we release our stories.
We all desire our religious or spiritual practice to give us some respite from the anxiety caused by the hoping for better outcomes in our distressed world. Too often our religion offers us something far away and out of reach for our daily living.
I learned in my upbringing that there is a better life, and a better place in the following of Jesus as a Christian. However, as I grew, I needed more than hope for a better world to sustain me. What I desired was to reconcile what I felt was raging within me with the all the relationships of love which appeared to be “outside” of me. There has always been an intuition within my being that I can be in union with the great love of God that permeates the earth and each of us. This is a union that cannot be grasped. All of our clinging and achieving leaves us with outstretched arms, hoping for a satisfaction that never fulfills. The nature of union is for two lovers to transform into one being, becoming an emergence into a new form of being, full and whole.
Cynthia’s book Mystical Hope helps me to see that when my arms are outstretched in desire for union, there is an embrace of my arms into a divine being that I was not able to know until I learned how to open to what is within me and to allow that to flow into the people and things which are the loves of my life.
Mystical Hope is hope as an engagement with our birthright of being children of God. Not God as an external concept, but the sensation developed with practice that we are united to the all which is God and which is each other.
In chapter one, there are examples of scripture stories revealing mystical hope, as in Job and Habakkuk. I may add another. Jesus spoke in parables and in Psalms. At the moment of greatest suffering and anguish as he lay dying on the cross, he spoke, “Abba, abba, why have you forsaken me?” This seems as an emptying of all hope. I recently came to realize that he was speaking the opening line of Psalm 22, which he presumably did not have strength to finish, but leaves it for us to fill in as with the opening line of a song. Psalm 22 expresses the great laments of this life and then transforms them into a mystical hope of praise of the Abba, Father, who is with us through it all.
Cynthia also describes mystical hope as atemporal, moving us beyond dependence on the linear timeline which we are embedded in through the stories of our life. Cynthia experienced this with her beloved companion, Benedictine monk Rafe, as their love extended outstretched arms from both this earthly realm and the more subtle and delicate realm of Rafe’s life beyond death.
I have felt this presence in my experience of the death of my father. I have always felt his presence within me as a sensation. There are many thoughts of our life together, as memories, both sad and joyful. However, as I practice sitting in contemplative presence, those thoughts pass by and I open to the reality of sensation that my father’s presence is within me as close and intimate as anything I can know.
I have practiced with this sensation in a way as to feel into the presence my father must feel for his father and I know that the love in and with them was strong. If I sit in this presence, and over a series of meditative sessions, I can sense myself into the presence of my ancestors, into centuries of Eastern Europe and embedded in the Catholic Church that dominated their life for generations.
I invite you to experience this sensation. Sit in meditative awareness of someone you love who has passed. By meditative awareness, I mean that as thoughts arise, allow them and open to them, but do not grasp and cling to the thoughts. Tears of both joy and sadness may flow, but try to sit in physical sensation of their presence. The thoughts will pass as you are trained in releasing them with your gesture of returning to the sacred word and open yourself to the sacred presence. Then see if you can feel the sensation of spaciousness and relaxation with the personal presence of the beloved. You may stretch out your arms and sense that they are reaching out to you in a fine, delicate, and subtle embrace.
Alan is a student of Cynthia Bourgeault and has attended multiple Wisdom Schools since 2010. Alan has recently completed the Living School program at the Center for Action and Contemplation, founded by Richard Rohr. Alan has been a long time centering prayer facilitator and serves as coordinator for Contemplative Outreach Chicago chapter and facilitates and participates in several wisdom practice and centering prayer groups in the Chicago area. Alan is retired from a career in biomedical engineering and lives with his wife Barb in Naperville, IL. Alan & Barb have 3 married daughters and 9 grandchildren.
Mystical Hope – Wisdom Book Circle Series (2022)
The following are part of our monthly series of reflections and resources from the friends and leaders of the Wisdom Waypoints Wisdom Book Circles exploring: Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God by Cynthia Bourgeault.