Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

In Pursuit of Wholeness

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

In Pursuit of Wholeness

Article excerpt

Cynthia Bourgeault explains how we can both seek social justice and do justice to our souls.

SPiritUAL teACHer Cynthia Bourgeault seeks not only wisdom but also wholeness in her work and practice. As a modern-day mystic, she teaches countless Christians how to mine the streams of contemplative Christianity to fos- ter spiritual and social transformation. Bourgeault-an Episcopal priest, author, and leader for various "wisdom schools"-is cultivating a new generation of Christians who can deeply develop their faith and sustain their work in the world. Sojourners' resident contemplative and web technol- ogist Bob Sabath talked with Bourgeault last spring about why it is vital to integrate spirituality and prophetic witness.

Bob Sabath: What need is your vocation responding to in the world today?

Cynthia Bourgeault: I would say that I'm creating a bridge between contemplative Christianity and action. I bring forth some of the skills in the contemplative path to help avoid the usual pitfalls of burnout, violence, judgment, and hypocrisy, and also to bring forth some of the prophetic and compas- sionate skills in the action traditions to help contemplatives move beyond the sense that the domain of their wisdom is "inner" work. There really is no inner and outer: There's one world.

Some people talk about the church need- ing three energies to really be the church: an inner, an outer, and a together-or spirituality, mission, and community. in my experience, churches and individu- als major in one of these energies, minor in a second, and have a blind spot on the third. How can individuals and churches do a better job of holding these energies together?

The reason why that map flies apart is because those three divisions are all at the same level. What is missing in Christianity is the real understanding that practice doesn't just mean people going inward to do their own little spiritual trip. It is a way of repat- terning the whole physical, neurological, emotional, devotional animal so that it understands what it's doing.

The real inner map that's classically used-the tri-part division-is the exoteric, the mesoteric, and the esoteric. The exoteric is the threshold, the door, where you invite people in through the liturgy, tradition, and sacramental worship. The mesoteric level is about practice. It's where you begin to really develop an understanding of the inner and more-sophisticated heart transforma- tion that lies behind the external practice. And then there is the esoteric level, which really happens when the exoteric portals are taken deep into a heart that's been awakened through mesoteric practice.

Community, which is really the impor- tant point, is the threshold for the oneness in the collective body of Christ. It will almost inevitably be saturated and infected with lower agendas-clinging ego esteem, affec- tion programs, power, control-until the mesoteric level has kicked in to help people see what they're doing because of uniden- tified emotional and spiritual needs. The mesoteric takes the questions deeper, and it begins to till the soil for a whole differ- ent level of understanding, in which you see that these three things are organically inter- twined. They can't be separated.

What would you say to Christian social justice activists who see themselves pri- marily concerned with faith and action, who perhaps have had a difficult time working with the inner journey and almost see it as getting in the way?

I'd say come back and see me in 15 years. I don't think anybody ever becomes a prophet thinking that they may be wrong and the rest of the world is right. There's this real sense that, by virtue of my man- tle as a "prophet," I have the moral high ground. I see what's wrong. I have to take it on myself to speak up about the ills and the excesses. Along with that, from the point of view of that mesoteric level, is identifica- tion. I'm very bound up in the energy of my role. …

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