“Wisdom, like water, is itself clear and formless, but it necessarily assumes the shape and coloration of the container in which it is captured. Between formless essence and manifesting particularity there is a reciprocal dynamism; you can’t have one without the other.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
Fundamentally, Wisdom describes a lineage of spiritual knowledge and practice that is principally concerned with the alchemy of transformation. It is not about knowing more, but about knowing more deeply, and can be recognized by an alert, present-moment awareness and a compassionate intelligence. The spiritual practices of attention and surrender are the banks between which Wisdom flows. In the Christian lineage, Wisdom teaching builds on a strong foundation of traditional mystical teaching and contemplative practice but approaches them through the contemporary lenses of mindfulness and non-dual awakening. We engage with the other great sacred Wisdom traditions of humankind through inter-spiritual dialogue, shared practice, and worship, but cognizant of our deep rootedness in the Christian tradition.
Where we come from …
In 2018 Cynthia provided an overview of the foundational elements and influences forming her particular expression of contemplative Wisdom within the wider Christian tradition. She outlines eight defining characteristics of this Wisdom branch, including the main sources it draws from, and where she sees its evolution may unfold into the future.
Wisdom, like water, is itself clear and formless, but it necessarily assumes the shape and coloration of the container in which it is captured. Between formless essence and manifesting particularity there is a reciprocal dynamism; you can’t have one without the other.
Our own particular branch of the great underground river of Wisdom came to the surface about twenty years ago, flowing within two major riverbanks: a) the Christian mystical tradition of theosis—divinization—particularly as lived into being in the Benedictine monastic tradition, and b) the practical training in mindfulness and non-identification as set forth in the Gurdjieff Work. The fusion of these two elements was the original accomplishment of my spiritual teacher Br. Raphael Robin, who formed me in this path and sent me off to teach it just before his death in 1995. It is a distinct lineage within the wider phylum of sophia perennis—perennial Wisdom— and as with all particular containers, it has its own integrity and its own heart.
Here is Cynthia’s own quick shortlist of the eight main elements—or defining characteristics—for our particular branch of this Wisdom verticil:
1. We are founded on a daily practice of sitting meditation, predominantly but not exclusively Centering Prayer, anchored within the overall daily rhythm of “ora et labora,” as set forth in the Rule of St. Benedict.
2. We are rooted in the Christian mystical and visionary tradition, understanding contemplation in its original sense as “luminous seeing,” not merely a meditation practice or lifestyle. In service to this luminous seeing, we affirm the primacy of the language of silence and its life-giving connection with the subtle realms, without which spiritual inquiry tends to become overly cognitive and contentious.
3. We incorporate a major emphasis (much more so than in more conventional contemplative circles) on mindfulness and conscious awakening, informed here particularly by the inner teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff and by their parallels and antecedents in the great sacred traditions, particularly in Sufism.
4. We are an esoteric or “gnostic” school to the extent that these terms have come to be understood as designating that stream of Christian transmission through which the radically consciousness-transforming teachings of Jesus have been most powerfully transmitted and engaged. But we eschew esotericism as simply mental or metaphysical speculation, and we affirm the primacy of the scripture and tradition as the cornerstones of Christian life.
5. Also in contrast to many branches of the Wisdom tradition based on Perennial or Traditionalist metaphysics (with its inherently binary and anti-material slant), we are emphatically a Teilhardian, Trinitarian lineage, embracing asymmetry (threeness), evolution, and incarnation in all their material fullness and messiness.
6. We are moving steadily in the direction of revisioning contemplation no longer in terms of monastic, otherworldly models prioritizing silence and repose, but rather, as a way of honing consciousness and compassion so as to be able to fully engage the world and become active participants in its transition to the higher collectivity, the next evolutionary unfolding.
7. We are an integral school, not a pluralistic one (to draw on Ken Wilber’s levels of consciousness); our primary mission field is teal, not green. Our work concentrates not at the level of healing the false self, woundedness and recovery, substance abuse, equal rights, restorative justice or political correctness (although we acknowledge the importance of all of these initiatives), but rather at the level of guiding the transition from identity based primarily in the narrative or egoic self to identity stabilized at the level of witnessing presence, or “permeably boundaried” selfhood.
8. Our most important teachers and teachings are Jesus, St. Benedict, The canonical and Wisdom gospels; The Cloud of Unknowing, the greater Christian mystical and visionary tradition (including Eckhart, Boehme, Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Ladislaus Boros, Bernadette Roberts), the Desert and Hesychastic traditions; Bede Griffiths and the Christian Advaitic traditions (including Raimon Panikkar, Henri LeSaux/Abishiktananda and Bruno Barnhart); Rumi, Sufism, G.I. Gurdjieff, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. And of course my own teacher, Br. Raphael Robin.
Our Mission Statement
TRANSMIT the Christian Wisdom tradition through teaching retreats, Wisdom Schools, conferences, online courses, and other delivery formats, as deemed appropriate.
NURTURE the Wisdom community across the country and around the world through an active communications network and regular opportunities for online exchange, fellowship and practice.
PREPARE an emerging crop of Wisdom leaders, particularly among the younger generation.
ENGAGE with the other great sacred Wisdom traditions of humankind through interSpiritual dialogue, shared practice, and worship, always cognizant of our deep rootedness in the Christian tradition.
Cynthia deepens her exploration of the Wisdom lineage in this recorded teaching:
Luminous Wisdom: Our Lineage with Cynthia Bourgeault
This extensive audio recording sheds light on the Christian Wisdom lineage that has emerged under the teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault, highlighting eight key elements as “retrospective guidelines” to provide an underlying current for navigating the continuing creative unfolding of the lineage.
Available for order from The Contemplative Society here.