The first chapter of Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God ends with the above words, Cynthia extending her hand to all who want to travel on a path to the wellsprings that lie far beyond the familiar hope for an outcome, resolution of challenge or difficulty, or wish for change. Listening for words we usually connect to hope, I can taste how these belong together. They are of a particular arena—hope as related to something concrete in the world, outside of ourselves, a circumstance, future event or situation. Hoping for or about something, hoping for something to be different than what it is. The journey Cynthia is inviting us to is of another color, a distinct flavor and fragrance.
I love the tradition in the spiritual life of “hints.” Shakespeare described a hint as “an indirect suggestion intended to be caught by the knowing.” As we set off on this journey to a mystical hope, we are given a hint even before turning to the first page of Chapter One, from Symeon the New Theologian, born in 949. His words speak directly to our contemporary hearts of the most intimate and physically embodied relationship with Christ that we can imagine. What did Symeon know? Feel? Sense? What was his lived experience? Written in a time and place far removed from our modern way of life and radically different culturally, how is it that these syllables can reach into us so far and take our breath away? Our knowing catches them, riveting us into the present moment. Here are some lines from Symeon’s verse:
as Christ awakens our bodies…
enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him
(for God is…seamless…)…
He makes us utterly real.
…everything that is hurt…
that seemed to us…irreparably damaged,
is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole…
We awaken as the Beloved
in every last part of our body.
The poem has no relationship with the hope of tax refunds and vacations, test results and new puppies; nor the hope for the future our grandchildren will inherit. Even the hope for the safe passage of a loved one through crisis is not this. But what a sweet hope it is, so full! Symeon speaks to an awakening, an opening, an embodiment, a becoming.
Symeon’s poem is born of the wellspring of mystical hope. It exists in the aliveness of the present here and now, as well as beyond time. It is immediate, personal, intimate, though it was written a thousand years ago. Mystical hope, Cynthia says, is atemporal. We can feel the relationship between the poem and mystical hope, the contact, the currents coming together in the body, in sensation. Cynthia calls mystical hope a reconnection with Presence. An “experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.” It is known in sensation; fills the body with strength, expansiveness and joy.
Mid-verse, Symeon says:
And let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if we genuinely love him,
we wake up inside Christ’s body…
Call and response. We have our part to play in mystical hope. Our own agency is implicit. It is not about miracles, like the parting of the sea at the last possible moment, or a gift of grace that God bestows upon us, in God’s time, that we have nothing to do with. For Cynthia, the distinction of mystical hope is that it describes a state of being, a change of consciousness, a transformation. It is alive in that it is receptive, responsive, reciprocal. We can receive, genuinely love, wake up. We may begin to create within ourselves a home for the connection, and the exchange; open to trust the wellspring, to become conscious. We will do what we can do. Accept the invitation and learn to dance with what has been given. We can miss the call—or we can respond to it, as Cynthia says, “to become a chalice into which this divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine.”
What Cynthia describes as “a direct encounter with Being itself” is present in the sacred text of all the traditions, and it is also close to us, right now, in our very lives. The hint, what intends to be caught by the knowing, is sometimes simply a place where we recognize the need to pay attention. This chapter provides plenty of opportunities and examples for our attention. Reading it, I remember moment after moment of awakening while in the deep turmoil of inexplicable illness; notice in my own daily life being “surprised by joy,” as a C. S. Lewis quote expresses it in this first chapter.
We can tune in to what is being offered out of the rivers of abundance, joy and presence that run strong under the surface of life and through us in the depth of our hearts and in sensation in our bodies. That is what this little book is about. We can “learn to think and see in a new way;” to enter into relationship with mystical hope.
In a state of both grief and grace, Cynthia heard Rafe’s voice in the wee hours after his death say to her, “I’ll meet you in the body of hope.” Trusting that she would one day understand those cryptic words, she waited, and six weeks later she understood. In the midst of hopelessness beyond hope, an effervescent lightness arose, “a distinctly physical sensation…as if I had been recharged, filled and fueled with an energy so light and buoyant that I simply could not sink even if I wanted to.” It was the beginning of a new life with Rafe, and the embodiment of mystical hope. For a moment, like Saint Brendan, “something is reversed inside…and an inner eye opens that can see the luminous fullness beneath the surface motions of coming, going, striving and arriving,” and in that moment we are changed.
May we be made utterly real.
“Come, are you ready to set out?”
A Note from Wisdom Waypoints
Wisdom Waypoints is offering Tuesday book study groups this fall which are now full. We encourage Wisdom Practice Circles to join us by revisiting Mystical Hope: Trusting in the Mercy of God in your own Wisdom communities this fall. Whether in small, conscious and respectful groups on the ground or online, as Marcella says, “May we all glean the next layer accessible for each of us as we engage more deeply,” and may Mystical Hope offer new inspiration in these challenging times. To find out how to get the book, and view other recommended books, please visit Cynthia’s Books page. You can purchase Mystical Hope on Amazon.
Mystical Hope Chapter 1
Mystical Hope Chapter 2
Mystical Hope Chapter 3
Mystical Hope Chapter 4
Mystical Hope Chapter 5
This resource was offered by Laura Ruth.
Mystical Hope Book Circle – 2021
A monthly series of posts 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.