Books by Cynthia Bourgeault and a core reading list for serious Wisdom students.
A Basic Wisdom Reading List
Compiled by Cynthia Bourgeault
There are rich currents flowing through the Wisdom stream, so it’s hard to offer a “one size fits all” reading list. Some people will be more drawn to the esoteric end of the spectrum; others feel more at home in the classic terrain of contemplative prayer and mysticism. Wherever you’re drawn, start there! But if you stick with the Wisdom path, you’ll probably eventually want to become familiar with at least a significant number of the following core texts.
Primary Source Materials to have permanently on your bookshelf
- A Bible in any good translation
- The Gospel of Thomas in at least two different translations
- The Alphabetical Sayings of the Desert Fathers
- The Rule of St Benedict
- The Philokalia (a several-volume treasury of Wisdom teachings from the Christian East)
- The Cloud of Unknowing (14th century, anonymous)
- Jacob Boehme, The Way to Christ
- Julian of Norwich, Showings
- Meister Eckhart (any good collection)
- Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle
- John of the Cross, The Dark Night of the Soul
- Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
- Brother Laurence, The Practice of the presence of God
- Simeon the New Theologian, Three Methods of Attention and Prayer
The Christian Wisdom tradition is vast, and exploring it can take a lifetime. As you do so, it’s good to be aware of the Classics of Western Spirituality series, published by Paulist Press. It’s your “go-to” starting point for accessible translations by reputable scholars.
Contemporary Wisdom Classics
Here are my own ten top picks:
- Valentin Tomberg, Meditations on the Tarot
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon
- G.I. Gurdjieff, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson
- Maurice Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teachings of Ouspensky and Gurdjieff (5-volume series)
- Jean Gebser, The Ever- Present Origin
- Bruno Barnhart, The Good Wine
- Bruno Barnhart, Second Simplicity
- Beatrice Bruteau, Prayer and Identity
- Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
- Ladislaus Boros, The Mystery of Death
Near contenders are:
Thomas McDonnell, ed, A Merton Reader
Raimon Panikkar, Cristophany,
Olga Louchakova, The Esence of Prayer of the Heart
Top 10 Wisdom Classics
A list of the top ten Wisdom classics from different members of the Wisdom Community
Which Cynthia book do I start with?
It depends on where you’re coming from. Most readers find Mystical Hope to be a very accessible starting point (short, too: only a hundred pages!) From there, the road branches, depending on your background and interests. Here are some suggested scenarios:
If you’re coming from a Centering Prayer background…
- Start with Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, then The Heart of Centering Prayer.
- From there, you might head toward either The Wisdom Jesus or The Wisdom Way of Knowing.
- If you’re interested in deepening Christian Practice, have a look at Chanting the Psalms.
If you’re coming from a theological perspective…
- Start with The Wisdom Jesus, then head on to The Meaning of Mary Magdalene and Chanting the Psalms.
- From there The Wisdom Way of Knowing is your bridge book into the more esoteric material in The Holy Trinity and The Law of Three and Eye of the Heart.
- If you’re interested to learn embodied practices rooted in the tradition of G. I. Gurdjieff then Mystical Courage will provide instruction and related commentary.
- For a concise explanation of Cynthia’s principal theological beliefs and tenets refer to The Corner of Fourth and Nondual.
If you’re coming from a “spiritual but not religious” perspective…
- Start with The Wisdom Way of Knowing,
- Then head toward The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, The Wisdom Jesus, and Eye of the Heart.
If you’re interested in the path of conscious love…
- Start with The Meaning of Mary Magdalene.
- Then head toward Love is Stronger than Death followed by Eye of the Heart.
You’ll find all these books—plus a few more—in the book section below. And don’t forget, if your preferred mode is visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, there’s a lot of material available as well.
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening
Practitioners of Centering Prayer are known for the great enthusiasm they bring to the practice of this ancient discipline. Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening is a complete guidebook for all who wish to know the practice of Centering Prayer. Cynthia Bourgeault goes further than offering an introduction, however. She examines how the practice is related to the classic tradition of Christian contemplation, looks at the distinct nuances of its method, and explores its revolutionary potential to transform Christian life. The book encourages dialogue between Centering Prayer enthusiasts and those classic institutions of Christian nurture—churches, seminaries, and schools of theology—that have yet to accept real ownership of the practice and its potential.
Chanting the Psalms: A Practical Guide with Instructional CD
The pointed and shaking finger of our adamant inner schoolteachers often accompanies calls to engage and stick with ancient (read: tried and proven) spiritual practices. Not so with Bourgeault’s impassioned invitation to chant the Psalms. With a blend of Christian and Eastern mysticism running throughout, as well as recognition that learning to chant may be difficult, she gently guides readers through the “whys” and then through the “hows.”
Eye of the Heart
“If ever there was a teacher who could gather the reins of the mind to gallop into the land of the heart (and take us with her), it is Cynthia Bourgeault. This exquisitely written love story distills the intricacies of the esoteric Western traditions into a transformational elixir—both rigorous and luminous—simultaneously intoxicating and sobering. This book is nothing less than a map to the meeting of the worlds at the crossroads of our own souls, one the mapmaker urges us to abandon the minute our heart sees the way.” —Mirabai Starr, author of Wild Mercy
This groundbreaking book shares the evolution of Cynthia Bourgeault’s spiritual journey and offers a new map to understanding energy and our collective reality.
In Eye of the Heart, Cynthia Bourgeault investigates the imaginal realm–an energetic realm well known to the mystical traditions but often forgotten in our own times. It is invisible to the physical eye, but clearly perceptible through the eye of the heart. The imaginal realm has long been associated with the personal world of dreams, prophecy, and oracles, and it also points toward a higher vision of our human purpose that is both evolutionary and collective. Bourgeault explores both aspects of imaginal reality and shows readers how we can cooperate more fully with its guidance in our lives.
Expertly blending her own lived experiences with research on the imaginal realm, Bourgeault explores how her personal relationships have helped to bring these teachings into sharper focus and the role this realm plays in Christian and other mystical traditions. She delves into the connections between our inner consciousness and what happens in the world, exploring the transformative energy and governing conventions that make the manifestation of this realm possible. Eye of the Heart presents Bourgeault’s spiritual journey with the imaginal realm and encourages readers to attune their hearts for the well-being of the world.
Holy Week Liturgies
In 2010, Cynthia Bourgeault, with assistance from Ward Bauman and Darlene Franz, composed a series of liturgies for use during the Holy Week retreat at the Episcopal House of Prayers in Collegeville. This series of simple chants, readings, rituals and prayers can be used by individuals and groups. The book is an excellent resource for liturgists or those writing contemplative liturgies and a wonderful point of reflection for all of those walking the way of the cross.
How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere
Cynthia is one of about a dozen spiritual teachers contributing a memoir to this volume, including as well Deepak Chopra, Richard Rohr, and Ilia Delio.
Love is Stronger Than Death
Essentially a powerfully moving love story of two aging individuals, Love Is Stronger Than Death: The Mystical Union Of Two Souls is a powerful love story of two aging individuals, Cynthia Bourgeault and Brother Raphael (Rafe) Robin, an Episcopalian priest, author and a Trappist hermit. The ability of human and spiritual love to transcend death and open the way to joyous bliss is superbly presented in this highly recommended and heartwarming tale of building an emotional, personal, and loving relationship for the future that transcends all earthly limitations.
Love Is The Answer. What Is The Question?
Love is the Answer. What is the Question? is a collection of writings birthed in the immediacy of the moment. Cynthia Bourgeault engages in direct call and response with the reader, the world, and these tender and tumultuous times. Setting the stage with Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of love as “a geophysical force,” and her riveting encounter at Tintern Abbey—where Wisdom revealed guidance and direction from which we can all take heart—Cynthia responds to the questions, needs and opportunities brought to the fore in 2017. In remarkably diverse and myriad approaches—from the practical, personal, and social to the infinitely sublime—she invites all of us to participate in the conversation.
Mystical Hope: Trusting in The Mercy of God
At a time when people are yearning for good news, Cynthia Bourgeault’s new book invites us to find our way to the hope that does not disappoint or fail. In five interwoven meditations, Mystical Hope shows us how to recognize this hope in our own lives, where it comes from, how to deepen it through prayer, and how to carry it into the world as a source of strength and renewal.
The Corner of Fourth and Nondual
In The Corner of Fourth and Nondual, a title inspired by Thomas Merton’s moment of revelation ‘at the Corner of Fourth and Walnut’ in his celebrated essay ‘A Member of the Human Race’, Cynthia Bourgeault – internationally-renowned retreat leader, practitioner and teacher of Centering Prayer – describes the foundations of her theology: a cosmological seeing with the eye of the heart, and classic Benedictine daily rule informed and enlightened by wisdom from the Asian traditions. She explains the influence of the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Teilhard de Chardin, Boehme, Barnhart, Keating and Gurdjieff, among others in a philosophy built on the cornerstones of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery, tied by the Trinity as a cosmogonic principle, the fundamental generative mechanism through which all things came into being.
This book is part of the My Theology series, featuring the world’s leading Christian thinkers explaining some of the principal tenets of their theological beliefs in concise, pocket-sized books. NOTE: Book cover differs slighty for North American and International distributors.
The Heart of Centering Prayer
Learn the traditional and yet innovative Christian meditation practice that can help us break the pattern of compulsive thinking.
Centering Prayer is the path to a wonderful and radical new way of seeing the world. It is not, as is sometimes thought, simply an act of devotional piety, nor is it simply a Christianized form of other meditation methods. Cynthia Bourgeault here cuts through the misconceptions to show that Centering Prayer is in fact a pioneering development within the Christian contemplative tradition. She provides a practical, complete course in the practice and then goes deeper to analyze what actually happens in Centering Prayer: the mind effectively switches to a new operating system that makes possible the perception of nonduality. With this understanding in place, she then takes us on a journey through one of the sources of the practice, the Christian contemplative classic The Cloud of Unknowing, revealing it to be among the earliest Christian explorations of the phenomenology of consciousness.
Cynthia Bourgeault’s illumination of the Centering Prayer path provides compelling evidence of how important the practice has become in the half-century since it first arose among American Trappist monks, and of its maturation and refinement over the ensuing years of sincere study and practice. It will resonate with beginners on the Centering Prayer path as well as with seasoned practitioners.
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering The Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity
Just as she’s done in her previous books, Cynthia Bourgeault asks us to take a look at an idea from traditional Christianity—this time the formula of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—as though we’re looking at it for the first time. And as usual, she reveals it to be something we hadn’t expected at all. She finds in the idea of the Holy Trinity a striking vision of the nature of reality. What she claims, in a nutshell, is that embedded within this theological formula that Christians recite mostly on autopilot lies a powerful metaphysical principle that could change our understanding of Christianity and give us the tools so long and so sorely needed to reunite our shattered cosmology, rekindle our visionary imagination, and cooperate consciously with the manifestation of Jesus’ “Kingdom of Heaven” here on earth. She looks to the history of Christian theology, to her own years of contemplative practice, and to the ideas of G. I. Gurdjieff. Her tone is, as ever, as accessible as it is compelling, and it’s a wild ride. “I will do my best to make the ride as smooth as possible,” she says, “but in the end, my commitment is to getting there, because I know beyond all personal doubt that there is indeed a ham radio concealed inside this Trinitarian tea cupboard. And in the midst of this long winter of our Christian discontent, when spiritual imagination and boldness are at an all-time low and the church itself hovers at the edge of demise for lack of an animating vision, perhaps now more than ever the time is ripe to remove the packing boards from this tea cupboard and release its contents.”
The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity
Mary Magdalene is one of the most influential symbols in the history of Christianity—yet, if you look in the Bible, you’ll find only a handful of verses that speak of her. How did she become such a compelling saint in the face of such paltry evidence? In her effort to answer that question, Cynthia Bourgeault examines the Bible, church tradition, art, legend, and newly discovered texts to see what’s there. She then applies her own reasoning and intuition, informed by the wisdom of the ages-old Christian contemplative tradition. What emerges is a radical view of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ most important disciple, the one he considered to understand his teaching best. That teaching was characterized by a nondualistic approach to the world and by a deep understanding of the value of the feminine. Cynthia shows how an understanding of Mary Magdalene can revitalize contemporary Christianity, how Christians and others can, through her, find their way to Jesus’ original teachings and apply them to their modern lives.
Singing the Psalms
Fifteen-hundred years ago, St. Benedict established a system of ora et labora prayer and work that monastics still follow today. Central to this prayerful integration of body and spirit is psalmody, or chanting the psalms. In Singing the Psalms, Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault shows how the psalms can awaken rich spiritual and psychological insights accessible to you today, whatever your level of vocal skill or theological understanding.
The Wisdom Jesus
Rediscover Jesus with a “beginner’s mind,” understanding his life and teaching with the heart.
If you put aside what you think you know about Jesus and approach the Gospels as though for the first time, something remarkable happens: Jesus emerges as a teacher of the transformation of consciousness. Cynthia Bourgeault is a masterful guide to Jesus’ vision and to the traditional contemplative practices you can use to experience the heart of his teachings for yourself.
The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart
“Drawing on resources as diverse as Sufism, Benedictine Monasticism, the Gurdjieff Work, and the string theory of modern physics, Cynthia Bourgeault has crafted her own unique vision of the Wisdom way in this very accessible book, nicely balanced between concept and practice.” —Gerald May, senior fellow, Shalem Institute, and author, Addiction and Grace and Will and Spirit
“The spiritual wisdom and practical suggestions in this lively and beautiful book will be helpful to many who find themselves setting out on the interior journey.” —Bruno Barnhart, a Camaldolese monk and author, Second Simplicity: The Inner Shape of Christianity
“Cynthia Bourgeault’s book is a valuable contribution to the much-needed reawakening of spiritual practice within a Christian context. Her sincerity, good sense, metaphysical depth, and broad experience make her a source to be trusted.” —Kabir Helminski, Sufi Shaikh, the Threshold Society
Commentaries and Collaborations
Mystical Courage: Commentaries on Selected Contemplative Exercises by G.I. Gurdjieff, as Compiled by Joseph Azize
When the pandemic struck in 2020, Cynthia turned to Joseph Azize’s newly published collection of spiritual exercises from the Gurdjieff teaching, exercises that for decades had been kept apart from the general public. She invited others to join her in a rigorous practice. What emerged over a six-week collective journey was a remarkable series of revelations and reflections encompassing not only the Gurdjieff tradition but her own deep insights into the Christian mystical and wisdom traditions. Here is a profoundly renewed vision of Mystical Courage, a hope and strength emerging from beyond our own making that is available right now to guide our way.
The Mystery of Death
What precisely happens at the time of death is a question that theologians have struggled over for centuries but have never answered satisfactorily. The response to this question that Ladislaus Boros gives in his monumental synthesis, The Mystery of Death, is that in death we meet Christ fully for the first time and in doing so attain to full consciousness and freedom. It is therefore only in the moment of death than humans are able to elect for or against their eternal salvation. In other words, death is a kind of judgment day, but it is we ourselves who pass judgment on ourselves.
In her introduction and commentary, Cynthia Bourgeault argues passionately that Ladislaus Boros represents a necessary link to understanding the radical theology of Teilhard de Chardin. She presents Boros as a “powerful potential bridgebuilder. Standing firmly on the shoulders of his celebrated Jesuit mentor Karl Rahner, and highly skilled in the scholastic discourse that Teilhard himself eschewed, he is able to mediate an illuminating dialogue between Teilhard and the greater Christian theological tradition―not, as is so often the case in so much of contemporary Teilhardian scholarship, by secularizing Teilhard’s thought or draping it in current evolutionary jargon, but by piercing to the very marrow of Teilhard’s Christic mysticism and carrying it to an even more brilliant degree of spiritual luminosity.”
Cynthia writes an extended introduction to G.I.Gurdjieff in this new book by Roger Lipsey.
The Greek-Armenian teacher G.I. Gurdjieff was one of the most original and provocative spiritual teachers in the twentieth-century West. Whereas much work on Gurdjieff has been either fawning or blindly critical, acclaimed scholar and writer Roger Lipsey balances sympathic interest in Gurdjieff and his “Fourth Way” teachings with a historian’s sense of context and a biographer’s feel for personality and relationships. Using a wide-range of published and unpublished sources, Lipsey explores Gurdjieff’s formative travels in Central Asia, his famed teaching institution in France, the development of the Gurdjieff Movements and music, and, above all, Gurdjieff’s fascinating continuous evolution as a teacher.
Published on the 70th anniversary of Gurdjieff’s death, Gurdjieff Reconsidered delves deeply into Gurdjieff’s writings and those of his most important students, including P. D. Ouspensky and Jeanne de Salzmann. Lipsey’s comprehensive approach and unerring sense of the subject make this a must-read for anyone with a serious intention to explore Gurdjieff’s life, teachings, and reputation.