Sunday, August 8, 2010

Jesus Drops Them Cosmic Beats

When I discovered that Bourgeault had decided to take the next six pages of the fourth chapter to discuss the eight beatitudes, it sent my heart-mind on another delicately deep & delicious mental-spiritual tangent. I’ve heard it said recently that we can never fully know the “noun” of God, that the glorious glimpses of God-consciousness come from the “verbs.” How visionary these God-verbs are! The active blessings of these beatitudes most vigorously bring it!

From the Beatitudes, “we can now see what Jesus is talking about,” when He prophetically drops them cosmic beats into what Emmet Fox describes as “a prose poem in eight verses” to “constitute a general summary of the Christian teaching” (81). If Fox is correct in asserting that Jesus waxed eloquent in these “general principles” to help tune our “mental states,” then these sayings distill the gospel, so we can, in the mode of funky pop culture prophets, “free our minds”so the rest of our outer, physical selves might follow.

Reading these sayings with the mysterious bounty of what Bourgeault calls the “wisdom backdrop” leads her to articulate a fourfold “program” to Jesus wisdom at the conclusion of this section (47). According to Bourgeault, Jesus is talking about:

(1) a radical transformation of consciousness, embraced through an attitude of inner receptivity;
(2) a willingness to enter the flow;
(3) a commitment to domesticate those violent animal programs within us;
(4) a passionate desire to unify the heart.

The great American novelist & author of On The Road, practicing alcoholic & Catholic-Buddhist poet Jack Kerouac said that the beat in Beat Generation & beatniks came from the Beatitudes. “Beat doesn’t mean tired or bushed or beat up so much as ... beatific,” Kerouac penned, calling us all “to be in a state of beatitude, like St. Francis, trying to love all life, trying to be utterly sincere with everyone, practicing endurance, kindness, cultivating joy of heart.”

Kerouac’s gospel etymology for the beaitude-into-beatnik-terminology prompted a Presbyterian pastor in upstate New York to preach an entire series of sermons deepening this Beatitude-beat connection (calling the early church the Jesus-inaugurated beat generation of the first century) & a Unitarian minister to write an entire book called The Beat Face of God, exploring the spirituality of the Beat generation.

In the latter, Stephen D. Edington writes that he “found spiritual searches & affirmations, as well as soulful yearnings, contained within these Beat writings that touched & taught me in ways that most of my seminary texts & courses had not.” Against the pervasive American alienation & estrangement that’s still with us, the Beats “believed that there was a Holy or Sacred dimension to Life Itself” (17). Sacred dimensions suffuse secular moments & movements again & again. And the literary weight of scripture cannot really be understated. The chant-like quality of the Beatitudes’ repetition permeates our consciousness, giving the wisdom teacher’s oratory the poetic potency of a powerful contemporary MC.

Cynthia Bourgeault, Emmet Fox, & Jack Kerouac are not alone in crediting this beatnik Jesus prose-poem with so much wisdom power. Eugene Peterson’s take on the Beatitudes in the Message is brief & juicy, profound in its plain stinging style. In Prayers of the Cosmos, Neil Douglas Klotz takes his interpretation in another direction & devotes several pages to a in-depth & delightful exposition of the Beatitudes. Brief online searches brought me hundreds of sonic prayers, musical meditations on these visionary verses, one of my favorites coming from the activist acappella African-American gospel group Sweet Honey In The Rock, this version interpreted yet again visually by a gorgeous interpretive dance that I found on YouTube.

The first Beatitude -- “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” --brings me right back to my reflections in the previous blog about the ego & repentance. Peterson interprets “poor in spirit” as being “at the end of your rope” -- an image I immediately connected to the “rock-bottom” that preceded recovery from addiction. Indeed, the first two beatitudes are about heart-broken emptiness & devastating vulnerability, a painfully accurate portrait of emotional tragedies & life’s misfortunes. It’s the poor in spirit, the hurting, that need God most, or as Peterson puts it: “with less of you, there is more of God.”

Misreading these passages could prompt some to improperly portend that God’s just an insecure sadist who wants us to feel like crap, so He can fill in our gaps. It’s almost as if God requires our barren, broken misery to fill with God’s needy, greedy love. Why else would God want to bless our spiritual poverty & inconsolable grief? Doesn’t God want us to have life & have it more abundantly, to be happy, joyous, & free?

But God doesn’t “will” our misery in the nightmarish binary hell of an “us-versus-them” world; our egoic operating system (with all of, as Fox reminds us, its pride, attachments, habits, & fears) is already too accomplished at such dispassionate & dysfunctional behavior & self-destructive thinking.

At the end of the class discussing Bourgeault on the Beatitudes, one member worried that she’s stripped these passages of their radical social justice message in favor of the mystical angle. I would say, though, that these are not opposite readings & that an unjust economic system is as adept at promoting misery on the collective scale as the egoic operating system is on a personal scale.

Buddhism & the biblical basis of the Christian tradition reveal some natural inevitability regarding the nature of suffering & our mortality, like the modern defeatist sayings about “death & taxes or that old rock song “Birth. School. Work. Death.” Just as we are born, we die. The addict uses drugs & alcohol & shopping & sex & television & the like to try to bypass this mortal byway that binds us as a species.

The unique aspect of the living & suffering, dying & resurrected Jesus begins in the loving reclamation, reconciliation, & redemption of human suffering as human salvation -- not just in the substitutionary sense of Christ on the cross for us, but in the beatitude sense of the vulnerable grief of the dying compassionate cosmic Christ within us.

In last week’s blog, I washed in the waterfall of God’s cup overflowing, in God’s everywhere & everything & all-at-once-ness. We will get there again. But with the first beatitude, Bourgeault reminds us that just as God goes for the abundant fecund bounty of everywhere, God also goes for noplace & nothingness as she cites in Merton’s “point of nothingness” & “point of pure truth” (43). A song I loved in the 1980s called “Church Not Made With Hands” imagined God as “everywhere & noplace”; this pungent paradox still sums it up as well as any. In my own teaching practice in the academy, I resist the teacher-filling-the-student’s-empty-cup metaphor that Bourgeault uses in this section only because I too want to be empty & teachable.

I don’t court grief, but I love to cry -- not just when grieving for personal loss but also at the movies, listening to good songs & sermons, holding the hand of a beloved friend. I frequently cried when I was drunk & now that I’m all dried up in that regard, I’m grateful that my emotions & my heartspace still help my eyes get wet. Perhaps Bourgeault hears the sound of our tears as another kind of baptism when she writes that we “must become liquid before we can flow into the larger mind. Tears have been a classic spiritual way of doing this” (43).

Emmet Fox seems immediately uncomfortable with this beatitude, remarking that “sorrow is not in itself a good thing” & reminding us that God desires our happiness & joy (84). But like the first Beatitude, this synthesizes God’s miraculous & mysteriously compassionate attitude towards our personal pains. Even when our grief is at its most brutal, Bourgeault suggests that we can touch “the substance of divine compassion” when “the tendrils of our grief trailing out into the unknown become intertwined in a greater love that holds all things together” (43).

The message of “meekness” in the third Beatitude makes me uneasy, & Bourgeault didn’t help me much at first when she paraphrased, “Blessed are the ones who have become spiritually 'domesticated’” (44). To me, this notion of “domestication” too often slips into human cultural & industrial arrogance in our domination over nature. Having worked in & around the “rewilding” movements of the last three decades, celebrating the wild things in the wide wilderness & within, I’ve resisted taming my own “wild animal energy.” But when I remember the karmic consequences & forlorn ways of my wilder days, I remember the pain wrought from the rude lust & righteous anger; I remember the unsatisfied feeling of unmet & unkempt desires.

Borrowing a tip from Don Miguel Ruiz about the difference between repression & restraint (the latter being preferable to the former), I’ve come to adore my recently domesticated state, symbolized not the least by moving from a remote feral hollow to a cozy college town. I like how Neil Douglas-Klotz harmonizes the tension between these two tendencies in his interpretation of this Beatitude, writing multiple stanzas including these two: “Healthy are those who have softened what’s rigid within; they shall receive physical vigor & strength from the universe.” And: “Healed are those who have wept inwardly with the pain of repressed desire; they shall be renewed in sympathy with nature” (53). With Douglas-Klotz, I’d like to cultivate a third way that rejoices in our softening without our spiritual domesticity resulting in a dull or docile desire. In the next Beatitude, we feel that brighter side of desire.

Bourgeault is at her most cosmic when she taps our common hunger & thirst for righteousness as a much more expansive kind of appetite, describing righteousness itself as “a force field: an energy-charged sphere of holy presence.” Bourgeault invokes God’s aliveness as an “intensity of connection” or “vibrational field” or finally “the complete simultaneity of the energy of connection” (44). With her sounding a bit like old Obi Wan, I’m reminded that I’ve often wondered if Jesus were really the first Jedi Master. God as force or energy is described by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back: “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us & binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land & the ship.” Again in the more recent Avatar we learn that ultimate reality of the universe that we call God is based on interconnection; like the Creator Spirit responsible for all life, “A network of energy flows through all living things.”

A lot of worry & ink have been expended on Christian denunciations of the cosmic teachings found in science fiction cinematic parables like the six Star Wars films or Avatar. At their worst, these criticisms cast aspersions at the likes of George Lucas & James Cameron for a simplistic pantheism “where Christ-rejecting directors” want “the world to embrace the worship of the earth.” To read these films through a mystical Christian perspective, though, sees our “God in all things,” which is very different than saying “God is all things.”

The writings of Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart & Hildegard of Bingen tingle as they mingle with this vibrant electricity of God’s pure energy in creation. Eckhart expounds, “God is creating the entire universe fully & totally in this present now.” Or “God creates the whole cosmos.” Hildegard of Bingen hastened this holy cosmology, crying out “God’s Word is in all creation, visible & invisible. The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity.” This expanded eternal everything evokes Douglas-Klotz who sings of the Sacred Unity, the One with no opposite. Paul captures this cosmic energy in the letter to the Collosians when he writes (in Peterson’s prose here) of a “spacious” God who includes “everything, absolutely everything” from “beginning to end” in “vibrant harmonies.”

Call it cosmic Christology or Christian cosmology or ecumenical creation care, God’s goodness is green & interconnected & interspiritual as it satisfies authentic appetites for righteousness with a sacred fecundity from the fires of heaven to the waters of earth to the cauldron of creative forces unfolding life all around us.

As this morning’s class is long past & this blog ends without discussing all eight Beatitudes, I’ll say I hope to find an opportunity to address them again. I’d like to close on the cosmic beat of giving & receiving mercy. Bourgeault addresses this beatitude so beautifully when she writes “mercy is not something God has; it’s something that God is” (45). She unfurls this stanza as an always replicating gift economy of mutual reciprocity, what she sees as the divine dance of giving & receiving.

God’s harmoniously anarchic & sacred “gift economy” is a gorgeous alternative to the authoritarian communism & corporate capitalism of secular economics. Bourgeault offers an eloquent summary of these powerful principles in a quote from Michael Brown: “Giving is receiving is the energetic frequency upon which our universe is aligned.” Grateful for the giving.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Repent: Your Ego's 'Dream of Hell' is Ending

Is confessing your sins the same as unhooking from your ego? This profound question concerns the first page of the fourth chapter of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Wisdom Jesus.

Have you ever felt the need to “repent” in the first, most traditional sense that Bourgeault mentions at the beginning of this chapter? Have your own bad choices bothered you enough to make better choices? Not a terribly long time ago, emerging from two decades of battling the inner demons of addiction, I felt compelled to “confess [my] sins, acknowledge how far off course [I’d] wandered, & promise to turn [my] life in a new direction” (41). (In Alcoholics Anonymous & Narcotics Anonymous, these processes are actually structured into the 12-steps.)

When Bourgeault interprets “repentance” as “metanoia” as going “beyond the mind” or “into the larger mind” by leaving “the orbit of the egoic operating system,” she writes as though the other more traditional way to repent might be somehow crude or dualistic or that this visionary version might be somehow less strident. Or maybe, it’s just a different way of saying the same thing, from a different angle or through a different lens.

While the Christian-meditation-&-retreat-going audiences that Bourgeault usually speaks to about nondual wholeness might not really connect with the more traditional & passionate warning to repentance, does her choice of revised meaning really diverge distinctly from a prostrate confession of personal wrongdoing, where one takes responsibility for possibly immoral choices or acts of intentional harm? Isn’t the “egoic operating system” always already the part of the self that errs & thus bears responsibility for the sins or crimes that we need to confess?

Even though Bourgeault initiates another dualistic departure from fundamentalism to make her point about nonduality, the old-school fundamentalist confessions that some of us may associate with repentance might just be the ticket to bring folks into an appropriately vulnerable place to experience the wholeness of God’s presence amid the fractured illusions of their sinful pasts. This fourth chapter’s first page speaks directly to my own experience with confession, the egoic operating system, & coming into the larger mind of a life after the affliction of addiction. Once again, even Bourgeault’s “accidental duality” could lead us to that deeper place.

When we see “sins” as willful or intentional acts that violate the spirit of the “most important commandment” (loving God with all of our energy & loving our neighbors as we love ourselves), are these not functions of our more childish, selfish instincts, of our “egoic operating systems”? If we were ever walking in the light of God’s radiant grace in the nondualistic larger mind of Christ, would we ever be capable of committing the kinds of sins that we really need to repent from? Is it possible to get to the place of plural consciousness to which Bourgeault so beautifully beckons us with our smaller minds still running the show like toddlerish tyrants?

If being “beyond the small minded ego” brings the connection to Christ-consciousness that Bourgeault’s already called the kingdom within, what would we call the absence of this connection? What kind of world within would the ego wing & wring us into? In The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz calls the judgmental, egoistic, dualistic world “a dream of hell.” He explains, “Others may warn us that if we don’t do what they say we should do, we will go to hell. Bad news! [. . .] No human can condemn another to hell because we are already there” (14). This self-imposed bad dream that Ruiz describes bears striking similarity to the selfish nightmares that the egoic operating system brings to the judgmental, intolerant, & drastically dualistic.

Have you tasted what she’s talking about? I occasionally experience the nondual beauty of Christ-consciousness that Bourgeault wants us to grasp when epiphany emerges from a spiritual practice that includes quiet time in natural places outdoors, exercise, prayer, music, meditation, & breathwork. But I don’t imagine I could really sip the living water of what Bourgeault calls that “elixir of pure liberation” before I repented, before I attempted to upgrade my operating system, when I was amped to the rafters on lusty but lesser elixirs.

Did you ever taste liberation’s pure elixir? As soon as it’s there, it’s not there, just like chasing rainbows, soap bubbles, or wisps of smoke. The ego can trick you into thinking you’re there when you’re not really there. In my case, that trick often occurred with self-congratulations instead of gratitude or through over-indulgence with drugs & alcohol.

During the worst parts of my walks “to the dark side” of all forms of the mental, spiritual, & physical malaise called addiction, Christian teaching always vibrated on the periphery of my bacchanalian world view, a delightfully deluded mess where Mardi Gras lasted all year long. Somewhere down the dark streets of the devil’s favorite neighborhoods, I caught wind of a cosmic radio signal that was always broadcasting in my brain, a gospel of infinite grace, even for bums like me.

By the time I turned 20 & started turning away from Christianity, I’d already been baptized twice & born again & again & again. Then, during the decades of darkness, I’d been told by a brother that I could not get unsaved or unbaptized no matter how hard I tried to buy scalpers’ front row seats in hell, no matter what manner of sin I indulged in, no matter how hard Satan pulled at my soul. According to this notion, hellfire held no gravity to the one who’d already given his spirit to God’s gracious grip. I don’t know if this notion is correct, but I tempted -- & was tempted -- by this reassurance. Then, the impulse of Christian Universalism expressed by writers like Carlton Pearson or Brennan Manning took things even further.

Pearson and Manning reminded me that my freedom had already been purchased & paid for & that Christ-conscious principles had nothing to do with the depravity of my particular sins & everything to do with the unmeasurable length of God’s love. Manning writes in the Ragamuffin Gospel, “The love of Christ is beyond all knowledge, beyond anything we can intellectualize or imagine. It is not a mild benevolence but a consuming fire” (209). That consuming fire of God’s love is unrivaled by mere consumerism, so the tattered & shattered & truly hungry would sing for their supper if it included morsels roasted on that eternal flame.

In explaining reconciliation and The Gospel of Inclusion to his many detractors, the former Pentecostal preacher Pearson proposes this logic: “To those who ask what if I am wrong, I respond that I would rather be wrong in overestimating the love & the grace of God than in underestimating it. I would rather err on the side of the goodness & greatness of God than on the side of His presumed pettiness & wrath. It is more important to believe what Jesus taught about God than what the churches have taught us about Jesus” (9). Following from Pearson, I don’t want to get “defensive” about a generally untapped aspect of Christian doctrine that needs no defense.

Even before I begged Him back into the God-shaped hole inside my heart, hearing these bountiful expressions of Christ’s love hit a high note of music in the cavernous acoustics of my aching emptiness. As much as I rejected Christ, He would never reject me.

While I would say that awareness of this love still breaks me & breaks my heart, the night of my most prayerful passionate pleading, my egoic operating system had already crashed. God’s love didn’t need to break down my ego; I was already broken.

Maybe the commandment to “go & sin no more” really refers to living in the small greedy self of the “ego” no longer, or at least, recognizing our faults, foibles, fallings, & failings as too often directly connected to that egoic operating system.

Too messed up to fret about escaping hell when I die, my repentance & my confession had everything to do with ending the “dream of hell” on earth that my life had already become. Today, too blessed to see God as broker or banker with whom I need to be bargaining or bartering for my personal cloud in the celestial hereafter, I am trying as humbly as I can to practice the wisdom teachings that unlock the heaven within.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Indwelling & Overflowing: Upgrading To The Wisdom Within the Heart

Our third chapter takes for its title one of my favorite sentences from the entire New Testament. While irresistibly and elusively true, “The Kingdom of Heaven Is within You” remains a delightful, delicate, and dangerous statement: delightful in its comforting, magical simplicity; delicate for its fragile vulnerability to misunderstanding, misuse, and misappropriation; & dangerous because once stolen from its likely and loving intent, it’s an easy bumpersticker-slogan for the ego to broadcast as it takes the body & soul down self-destructive cul-de-sacs. But then, according to Cynthia Bourgeault, Christ’s insight might also be dangerous to today’s church doctrine if we’re to take her at face value.

Cynthia Bourgeault insists that “Whatever this Kingdom of Heaven is, it’s of foundational importance to what Jesus is trying to teach” (30). Neil Douglas-Klotz claims that “Jesus uses the word usually translated as 'kingdom’ more than a hundred times, most of these in Matthew and Luke” (83). While many references to this Kingdom (or as Douglas-Klotz calls it “queendom,” from the Aramaic malkuta) rely on the device of simile, this potent passage apparently does not say the Kingdom is, “like,” in you. No, it’s just there, “deep in the belly" according to Douglas-Klotz, cosmically knit by the Creator into our cells. The way Jesus puts it, I’m grasping the sense that’s it’s always been there in our heartspace -- some of us just choose to suppress, avoid, fear,deny, ignore -- or simply not accept, access, or pursue it through prayer.

In bringing this bold invocation of beautiful intimacy to our attention, Bourgeault carefully mentions (but quickly bypasses) two other more common notions of the Kingdom -- the perfect afterlife of eternal paradise & the earthly utopia of peace and justice (30). Now, many people might see our conscious contact with the spiritual Kingdom within as promoting the social justice Kingdom without through acts of solidarity & mercy & charity or supporting our chances for attaining the Kingdom hereafter by embodying the faith that follows from accepting God’s grace.

But Bourgeault doesn’t bring it like that; she says that Jesus “specifically contradicts” the confess-it-now, so you can cash-it-in-later approach to eternity, emphatically noting “not later, but lighter” (30). She insists, “You don’t die into it; you awaken into it" (30). Bourgeault also dismisses Kingdom notions of the ever-appealing “earthly utopias” distinguished by folks living “together in harmony” with “fair distribution of economic assets” (30). She says, “Jesus specifically rejected this meaning” (30).

Is Bourgeault accidentally creating another duality as she may have done with other oppositions (like savior vs. teacher) in earlier sections of the book? Or are evangelical concepts of the afterlife alongside social justice ideas of the “Kingdom come” the truly divisive dualities? Would Bourgeault eschew these popular notions of heaven or justice entirely? Where exactly is the new Jerusalem? Need I look no further than my breathing belly? Now, I don’t want to dig too deep into debating doctrine or creed regarding eternity or entirely dismiss practicing Christian principles of peace & charity & solidarity in the realm of politics. However, there’s something both refreshing, frightening, & dangerous if Bourgeault has this one right, if it really is now or never.

Before I continue to unpack what I find truly beautiful in Bourgeault’s mystical extrapolations, I want to make this qualification regarding doctrine & history. We’ve recently read an author in this class (& many other flood the marketplace of contemporary Christian ideas), who upends core Christian doctrine & even claims that the religion will die if the masses don’t follow. Not matter how heretical or blasphemous Bourgeault might sound, I think we do ourselves a disservice to focus on what she’s brushing aside & would benefit from seeing what she’s really bringing into the light.

Plenty of writers out there are pursuing historical arguments that question the historicity & divinity of Jesus Christ on all kinds of levels. Not just because I want to feel the Apostle’s Creed the next time we recite it in church & not because I don’t hold some heretical notions myself, I want to steer clear of that debate, not just in this lesson but in my life. I say this for two basic reasons: no matter how much I read & & study, I just cannot know for sure on these questions of history & doctrine for I wasn’t there; no matter how full or flimsy a spiritual argument might be on an intellectual level, I don’t meet Jesus in my brain & instead verify His living presence daily in my prayer life.

At the intersection of head & heart, we tap a greater consciousness. The New Age movement’s quite confident discussing this sense that it all fuels & fires into a “state of consciousness.” I’ve heard regular folks in a faithful way say “I’m a spiritual being having a human experience” or “the God in me honors the God in you.” Earlier in my life, having benefited from previous spiritual experiences, I think my ego thieved these concepts from their proper context and perverted them. The teacher said the Kingdom is within you, & the ego heard the Kingdom is you. Whenever any selfish, imperfect ego thinks it’s God’s incarnate perfection, we’re probably all in a little trouble. How do we glory in the gifts & grace or embrace the immanence of God in our lives without letting it get to our heads?

Bourgeault takes a noble & eloquent stab at describing the indescribable elimination of “separation between God & humans” (31). She warns our egos that “he [Jesus] is not speaking in an Eastern sense about an equivalency of being, such that I am in & of myself divine” (31). This “mutual indwelling” is delicate; the vine is strong, but we branches depend on the vine. We get to bask in the sheer magic of this “interabiding” because of “the indivisible reality of divine love,” not because of our own beauty, effort, or brilliance (31). As branches to the vine, we humans get to make God “visible” when we “articulate” God’s reality. With this, “The whole and the part live together in mutual, loving reciprocity, each belonging to the other and dependent on the other to show forth the fullness of love” (31).

Does her interpretation of Christ’s shimmering suggestion give you shivers? Do you accept that God’s already there inside you, right here, right now. She takes it further when she asks us to see our neighbor “as a continuation of your very own being” (31). Competition & jealousy seem pretty petty & futile if my neighbor & I “are simply two cells of the one great Life,” if “the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self” (32). While Bourgeault acknowledges that Jesus spoke in vast & expansive metaphors, she means for us to see this “transformed consciousness” as the real deal that “actually exists. It’s not just a metaphor, but a transfiguration of this realm through the power of Oneness” (33). If I understand Bourgeault correctly, she’s rejecting the notion of Jesus as advocating revolution because He’s already the revolution. She’s tossing the popular point that His sacrifice cracked a portal to paradise, because this “word made flesh” realized inside is paradise.

In the fellowships of recovery, we have this cute little saying that “ego” really means “easing God out.” I think Bourgeault would see that as spot on. What she dubs the “egoic operating system” is like the fundamentally flawed computer operating system (Windows Vista, anyone?). According to Bourgeault (& all the mystics before her), this land of either/or, this “hub of duality,” is nothing more than “a mirage, an illusion. There is no such self. There is no small self, no egoic being, no thing that’s separated from everything else” (34). Why, then, does the ego & all the pain it brings us feel so real? Why do “most people get stuck” in the ego?

Bourgeault appears to believe that the Good News of Jesus is our communal upgrade to the “operating system of the heart” (35). How does this heart-system function? Taking us “far beyond just the rational,” we can get back in touch “with what we truly know” (36). Congealing instead of concealing, Bourgeault contends, “Unlike the egoic operating system, the heart does not perceive through differentiation. It doesn’t divide the field into inside & out, subject & object. Rather, it perceives by means of harmony” (36). Coming into the kindergarten class of this greater consciousness, I’ve noticed dramatic shifts in my priorities & an intensified sense of gratitude & purpose, helping me to “live in fearlessness, coherence, & compassion” (37).

My renewed connections with this God-consciousness first came through adopting a daily spiritual discipline at the age of 42. Morning devotions, constant prayer, an attitude of gratitude, healthy diet, frequent exercise, regular participation in spiritual fellowship -- these fundamentals bear fruit.

I was months into this new life when I cracked the cover of The Wisdom Jesus. My “experiencer response” to her text involves lightning bolts of new learning alongside steaming cauldrons of confirmation, because she’s reinforcing what my spiritual journey’s already revealing. In this chapter, rather than berating the ego to “repent” for acting as an ego acts, she instead suggests “The repentance that Jesus really is talking about means to go beyond your little egoic operating system” (37). We don’t punish the egoic operating system for being an egoic operating system; instead, we get the upgrade to the heart system by being the truth we perceive in these teachings, by loving love & by living love. Many have already shared this as simply reminding the ego to let go & let God.

If it’s really beyond ego, we need not be intimidated by Bourgeault’s slippery slip into duality at the end of the chapter when she commits the sin of denial that she’s just criticized the larger Church for. I wonder if her invocation of “only a very enlightened few” is that different than what she rightly criticizes, the “deluded” idea that any one faction of us could own a “franchise on the gospel” (40). If she wrote this book, as she claims, to further clear the path, if Jesus really came for everybody & everything for all time & not just for some in-group, if the Kingdom really is already there for the noticing, accepting, & experiencing, then it’s not just for the saints & the sages, the monks & the mystics, & “the Mother Teresas” anymore. Unless, of course, she really meant to say “the Mother Teresa within you.”

While I think she’s too dualistic in the way she dismisses evangelical perspectives, I can’t quibble with her frustration with creed-based dogma. While I cannot agree more with the total futility of conscious Christians attempting to bring the Kingdom via social justice utopianism, I still think we’re called to act from a biblical conscience for greening into sustainable “creation care,” loving our enemies as a witness to peace & in abstinence from war, addressing unfairness at work & in society through democratic participation, & sharing some portion of what wealth we have with those in need. While her own evidence of dualistic thinking is hardly an argument for duality, it might be humbling for her ego to admit, & it’s humanizing for her readers.

For this chapter’s conversation with scripture, she’s chosen the challenging & contentious parable about landowners & laborers found in Matthew 20:1-15. In June of this year, I studied this passage collaboratively with about 100 others in a “Word & World” event at the US Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan. Our study leaders pursued a justice-based reading shared by Marcus Borg in his book Jesus that in this passage, God is not the landowner as so many other interpretations claim. Rather, they saw here “a story that indicts an unjust & ungenerous domination system in the name of God” (183). Borg entertains both competing interpretations & stops short of staking out a position, but the leaders of the Detroit study weren’t quite as diplomatic, describing in detail the plight of peasant day-laborers denied a living wage, day-laborers in our world today as well as in the one described in the gospel.

I didn’t agree with my Detroit discussion leaders & would add to what Bourgeault takes from this passage as “a whole new way of seeing & being” (39). Far from being a bullying boss who wants to shortchange the poor, this manager seems to me unrealistically idealistic by any standards & particularly bad at math. Far from being about a cheapskate proto-capitalist, I saw the parable as preaching against a rigid, inflexible workerist ethic, as about a rivalry between workers about discovering what’s really fair far beyond the bottom line.

What do you think the early-morning workers thought about the late-afternoon workers? Do you agree with the line of thinking taking by my teachers in Detroit that the morning workers are more like the hourly workers & that the afternoon folk are more like management, doing less actual “labor" but still collecting a healthy wage? Who else could be the late-afternoon workers in our world today? Are they the unemployed? The underemployed? The undocumented? The differently-abled & thus unemployable? The domestically distracted with childcare & household chores? Or the drug-addicts & alcoholics who only “came to” just in time to make to work well past midday? If Jesus is placing God in the place of the “generous landlord” does God’s grace extend to those late-afternoon laborers we encounter daily in our everyday lives?

Too often, I’m afraid we read Christ’s teaching through historical lenses of winners & losers. It’s particularly sketchy when the “domination system” that Borg sees Jesus as criticizing is in our age claiming to be “Christian.” To say, as many compassionate Christians do, that the gospel sides with the poor & oppressed, is very different than saying God hates rich people & banishes them period. Dualistic interpretations of scripture are so popular on the right & left because they too often serve to reinforce & entrench secular divisions with some biased but pseudo-sacred rationale. Does the operating system of the heart that perceives God personally & relationally as Oneness, as an everflowing love that leads us to as a sacred unity, does this God ever take sides in human battles?

If we are to get what Bourgeault says Jesus is getting at, maybe winning/losing is just another binary ploy. So, God could never be on “one team” forever rooting against the other. God’s not a Yankees fan cheering against the Red Sox; God’s not a Celtics fan cheering against the Cavs; God’s not an American at war with Afghanistan. This is why some contemporary Christian thinkers take real issue with the grand narrative of good & evil pursued by certain fundamentalists, seeing us approaching a bloody end-times battle between the so-called forces of good & evil. In this Kingdom of sacred unity without opposites, there are no losers -- only light & love.

To get these teachings, Bourgeault suggests that we move beyond the scarcity of the binary system to see our cup as half-full instead of as half-empty. I choose to meet Bourgeault’s bid of half-full in good faith & then raise it some. The God of our understanding doesn’t teach us that the cup is half-full; He teaches that the cup runneth over.