It is all that keeps us going at times–isn’t it? A cry of ‘Lord Mercy us’!!
I am grateful to this pint-sized, potent book. Chapter two has one of my most loved quotes of Cynthia’s (quoted below). You will often find me singing “we swim in Mercy as in an endless sea” whilst cleaning plastic from the edges of my local river. The change is immediate. My shoulders relax, I begin to naturally breathe into the gravitational pull of the belly, feel my feet where I am, and mostly, gratitude wafts into the chambers of my heart. I could not be with such beauty and ugliness side by side without a means to dip into and even abide in a hope for hopes sake.
In the midst of raging out of control fires, floods and storms, and scenes of loss and destruction–everywhere–in so many circumstances across the globe, it is heart-warming to see acts of mercy offered in the midst of unfolding tragedies. People risk their lives to save others and wildlife, the outpouring of support monetarily and pragmatically. The scenes of sprinklers spraying onto the sequoia trees in Yosemite evoked in me tears of quiet joy and you no doubt have seen the famed photo of the firefighter offering the parched koala a water bottle in the black summer Australian fires.
Something in the human spirit is moved. Cynthia describes this as us drawing from ‘the being of God in so far as we can possibly penetrate into it in this life’. (p 20)
Cynthia lifts the word mercy out of its current negative connotation of condescension as she delves into original derivatives. She finally quotes Thomas Merton’s description of Mercy, in his essay “The Good Samaritan” to its original Semitic as ‘chesed’- which means ‘a fierce, bonding love’. In one of my most loved quotes of Cynthia’s, she synthesises all this together:
“So when we think of the mercy, we should be thinking first and foremost of a bond, an infallible link of love that holds the created and uncreated realms together……..Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we , too- in the words of the Psalm 103-“swim in mercy as in an endless sea”. Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love” (p 25)
Reading this, I am brought to a silent humble reverence.
Cynthia asks us to ride the questions–what has this to do with hope? And ‘is it really there, this body of hope?’ If, like mine, your heart whispered a quiet resounding yes to this bond of love, we are, as Cynthia writes ‘set down in a very different universe’. ….rather than living in a clockwork universe run on implacable scientific principles by an absentee landlord God-or, even more desolate, a totally random, no-body-in-charge universe……….you wake up inside a warm-hearted and purposive intelligence” (p 31).
Using the principles of quantum physics, the unfettered wisdom of a 3 year old, the opening passage in John’s gospel, mystics and prophets across faith traditions, ancient and contemporary – Cynthia opens us to the world of The mercy – “an electromagnetic field of love”, “a luminous web”, “holy substantiality”, “the intelligible universe” and Cynthia’s teacher Rafe, calling it the “body of hope”.
In this account, it emerges as the very ground of being. As part of a solitary, silent, fasting retreat, I had organised to spend a night alone in a tent in the bush (to help heal a previous negative bush experience). I prayed to everything I could- the ancestors to honour their presence on country, to God for protection and then sat, in faith and hope, together with a deep fear. An hour later, a family of emus strutted within 10 metres. This was my first encounter with wild emus. Two of the larger ones walked closer, within three metres, standing and staring from where I was to set up my tent. Not knowing how to be with this intimate encounter, I asked ‘okay- you are here- have you a message? I distinctly heard ‘you are welcome’. As night descended, the silence of the night was like a warm-hearted embrace and I had the most peace filled night of my life. This for me is the body of hope. The very ground we walk upon, rising up to meet us, exactly how we need, to anchor down into this bond of invisible- and visible love.
The rest of the chapter is inviting us into the possibility of not only we dwelling in The Mercy, but the Mercy dwelling within us. Pointing out, if this be so, we would have a ‘waypoint’ to orientate ourselves. Using Thomas Merton’s writings on point vierge as a spring board–the koan is revealed–Cynthia writes: “We cannot find this innermost, but only be found by it in our whole-hearted willingness to join it at the point of nothing”. This is of course counter to our minds usual operating system–it is the unknown, surrender, naked honesty, emptiness, letting go, a ‘dying to’.
Phew!! How are you all doing? Still with me? Or running in the other direction. Of course, our ego’s do run- it can’t survive in this underwater sea of mercy.
In chapter three, this is where we enter into the mechanics of ‘the how’ to orientate ourselves to this body of hope. This is where I experience the particular robust flavour of Cynthia’s teaching. When we sit, wait or act ‘in faith’ what is the quality of that? How do we know we are orientated to this body of Mystical Hope?
I love Cynthia’s description of sailing in fog. If you haven’t read it prior to this blog I encourage you to do so. I completely relate to this as a midwife at a birth. You can never foresee what is going to happen in the unfoldment of birth. The safety of mother and baby is your priority, whilst trusting in a mystery revealing itself according to infinite conditions of known and unknown factors and elements.
Prayers are whispered and a leaning into trust, and then it is hunkering down into the immediacy and fullness of here- ‘with woman’. Awareness of vitals, deep listening to breath, the sound of pain, the quality of the silence, the smell of fear, the radiance of love between partners. It is as Cynthia describes in a thick fog “by letting ‘here’ reach out and lead you”. And this pearl of wisdom:
“if egoic thinking is like sailing by reference to where you are not-by what is out there and up ahead- spiritual awareness is like sailing by reference to where you are. It is a way of ‘thinking’ at a much more visceral level of yourself- responding to subtle intimations of presence too delicate to pick up at your normal level of awareness, but which emerge like a sea swell from the ground of your being once you relax and allow yourself to belong to the picture” (p 49-50)
In intense experiences or within the forces of nature, when sister death is more vivid in our psyches, this sensing into the immediacy of now can be easier to access. But what in ordinary, seemingly safe (for now) comfortable lives.
This is the wager Cynthia invites us into. A part of us knows how to sail in the fog, to see in the dark. We just need to, she encourages, “turn off our over-reliance on ordinary thinking. If you can just turn that off for a while, then the other will begin to take shape in you, become a reality you can actually experience. And as it does you will know, in a way you cannot presently know, your absolute belonging and place in the heart of God”. (p 52)
This is the gift of meditation, of centering prayer, of practice.
It is at this point, I include an honest and inspiring account from my Husband Ken in his experience of centering prayer–the prayer of kenotic surrender Cynthia has been so devoted to teaching around the world.
“It is the slow work of God I am told. Change appears to happen very slowly. However, I have come to trust more and more, it is actually instantaneous. Just because I become aware of change only on reflection, not when its actually happening. To live in faith for me is to trust that the small movements of the heart in any moment towards Mercy and Hope have influence in the revelation and manifestation of the Heart of God’s creation, now. These effects could not be seen without my desire to act in accordance with this fierce Love which burns beyond the boundaries of my known self.
It is within Centering Prayer and its Practice where I come to trust and have faith in this mystery. It is in the Stillness and the Darkness where I willingly let go of the “light” of my will and enter into the darkness of Divine Will. This point where no desire stirs or the imaginations of a personal self canenter. This “point vierge” is mercifully hidden from me and yet is available to this life in Faith. Of course this is not how it feels in actual practice. It is hard work, yet fruitful. It costs everything, yet is full of compassion. It is lonely and intimate. It is disturbing and peaceful. Despite this, I would not change anything. Somehow, deep within my being it has become the “pearl of great price”. The one thing I am willing to sell everything for. This treasure of nothing is everything.
To complete this, I would like to circle back to the beginning. Climate and earth warriors continue to fall and get up again and again through ‘radical hope’– a hope of action, in courage and love and a commitment to all that is benign in the world. This for me is still a hope of the mind. I had to find ‘the body’ of this hope. I described my experience of picking plastic from the edge of the beautiful river I live nearby. It was through centering prayer practice itself I was led to this. The letting go into the mystery, by twirling rosary beads, led me to the twirling of plastic beads out of the debris of the river. Practice, presence and prayer is the only thing that could be so merciful, that this act would become a joy. And I could rest in a hope beyond outcome. (read this blog posted previously on this site for the story)
I look forward to exploring the depth of wisdom and inspiration in these two chapters with you.
Enjoy this beautiful mercy chant offered by Beth and her community:
We live in mercy
As in an endless sea
We live in mercy
A love we cannot see
[With the cantor singing – Kyrie Ellison]
She brings her experience of living Wisdom to facilitating the Wisdom Waypoints book circles, living wisdom groups, chanting, holding the post in the meditation circles on zoom , writing the odd blog and Solstice events.
At home Beth offers The Wisdom of labour and birth and parenting as a midwife; leads chant services, is part of a local Centering Prayer community, and an interfaith contemplative group exploring Wisdom embedded in other faith and spiritual traditions. Her commitment to the earth is through living simply and mindfully, regeneration work and support and cleaning river and ocean edges with others and alone.
Beth lives with her husband and spiritual companion Ken; is a devoted mother, grandmother, family member, friend and community member. She loves to cook and be with family, be in the elements, in water, walking and camping in nature, and living simply and lightly on the earth as possible.
You may email Beth here at: Bethaoneil@outlook.com
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.