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Integral Contemplative Christianity

Last post 10-19-2008, 9:44 PM by Magnulus. 62 replies.
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  •  07-15-2006, 10:47 AM 1467

    Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Having been born and raised Catholic, my earliest and perhaps strongest imprints of the Mystery, the Divine, God, the Absolute are all rich with that cultural symbolism.

    Having turned to Buddhist tantra in my late teens and despite embracing that path almost exclusively for about 12 years, I experienced a stong energetic shift about 6 years ago that has totally reinvigorated my strong connection to my Christian heritage. Buddhist iconography seems so much more foreign to me now, and Centering Prayer has become for me a far more "connected" practice than shamatha meditation ever was (though of course my experience with shamatha laid the foundation for my practice of CP).

    But now I find myself in a difficult spot: most Christians involved actively in various parishes and communities are either embedded in mythic-membership worlds or are so far from the rich heritage as to be questionable, at least to me (I'm thinking A Course in Miracles, Unity, etc).

    So I find myself in an in-between world, in awe of the great mystics and the early Christians and the wonderful symbolism that has developed over centuries and imprinted those of us born into this western world so heavily, yet I can't quite discern how to go forward, how to shed the mythic baggage while embracing the transpersonal elements.

    Christianity is definitely at a crossroads... what will it look like in 100, 500, 1000 years? Will it still even exist? What can Integral do to develop those stuck in its tidepools of dogmatic myth and rigid literalism? Can we rescue the contemplative tradition without losing the fruits of the past?

    I wonder if others have thoughts along these lines...

    Cheers,
    Michael
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  •  07-15-2006, 8:59 PM 1474 in reply to 1467

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi, Michael,

    I resonate with your post and your excellent questions.  I also was a Catholic before I turned to Eastern religions, and ultimately to Buddhism.  I made a break with Christianity for awhile, but returned to it after contemplative experience in Buddhism helped me to see some elements of Christianity in a new light.  I have not returned to Christianity as a believer or practitioner, but I am in regular dialogue with Christians, I'm beginning work on a book on Christian theology with a Christian pastor, and I've sort of wrestled with an ongoing attraction to the riches of that tradition that is often stymied by other elements in it that seem regressive or problematic to me.

    On several forums, I've attempted to explore the question whether Christianity can be "integralized" and still remain Christian.  I know a number of passionate, committed, orthodox Christians who do not believe so -- who think Integral will demand surrendering articles of faith that they regard as non-negotiable.  For instance, Christian exclusivism: no one is saved by any name under heaven except Jesus', no one comes to the Father except by Christ, and so on.  Individuals I've talked to fear that Integral Christianity will demote Christ to "just another enlightened being," with no more or less salvific power than Buddha or Krsna; that it really will amount to an "Integral Agnosticism," allowing multiple contradictory descriptions of the Absolute (personal, impersonal, triune, singular) to co-exist, and with no moral necessity to choose one path over another, despite the Bible's very strong claims to the contrary. 

    I am very interested in exploring the potential of an emergent "Integral Christianity," and believe that there are a number of ways we can respond to the concerns raised above, but I have found enough barriers in the core "document" of Christianity -- the Bible -- to deter me from actually re-embracing Christianity as my own path.  Like you, I respond more fully and deeply to Christian imagery than to Buddhist iconagraphy -- I struggled with that sometimes in my tantric and Dzogchen visualization practices -- but at present I have not seen enough compelling elements in its overall teachings and beliefs that would cause me to return to it. 

    But I'm watching developments in this area with interest.  I always enjoy Wilber's conversations with Fr. Keating and Br. Wayne Teasdale.  I hope others respond to your thread.  I'm looking forward to seeing what develops here as well.

    Best wishes,

    Balder


    May the boundless knowledge that time presents and space allows illuminate the native perspectives of your original face.

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  •  07-15-2006, 11:11 PM 1478 in reply to 1467

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-27-2008, 1:50 AM maryw
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    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi Michael and all --

    I was also born Catholic, turned against it (and all institutional religion) for about 20 years, then returned to it in my mid-thirties when a series of mystical experiences and dreams beckoned me to explore world religions through reading and exploration of practices and mini-pilgrimages. I eventually wandered into a Catholic church in New Orleans and had a profound conversion experience there -- a deeply loving invitation from Spirit to return back "home."

    Eventually I took up centering prayer (I had been doing Zen breath-counting for a couple of years)and found out that Contemplative Outreach, the organization started by Fr. Keating that offers teachings and training and retreats focused on centering prayer, had an extensive network in my area. That is where I have found other Christians who have developed beyond the mythic-membership level -- or who are in the process of "shedding the mythic baggage while embracing the transpersonal elements." They make me feel quietly hopeful about comtemplative and Integral Christianity. Contemplative Christianity may be a minority voice in the churches today, but it is there . . .  a still, small, voice.

    And you know, I really could have been a Buddhist! I was drawn to Buddhism for a while -- still am, actually -- but I simply felt deeply called back to Christianity--maybe because it's my native spiritual language. (As I heard Stephen Colbert say once: I got a head-start in Catholicism so might as well go ahead and just keep being some kind of Catholic . . .) And reconnecting with my native language actually seems to be increasing my appreciation of other spiritual languages.

    The Christians whose teachings I'm most drawn to are, of course, the mystics, the interreligious dialoguers and the interspiritual lights, such as Bede Griffiths, Anthony de Mello, Meg Funk, Wayne Teasdale, Cynthia Bourgeault, Teilhard de Chardin . . . and the wonderful philosopher-poet, John O'Donahue. . . and of course Keating. And now, among others, Beatrice Bruteau -- thanks to Balder's reading suggestions to me on IN! (And btw, Balder, that is way cool that you will be working on that book on Christianity Smile [:)]). 

    Anyway, Michael -- since it looks like you're in the Boulder / Denver area -- have you contacted the Contemplative Outreach chapter there? I once met a Sister Bernadette Teasdale -- wonderful woman  -- who was then one of the coordinators of Denver's Contemplative Outreach. If you haven't done that yet, it would be worth a try --it may help you discern how to go forward. From the local chapter you can learn where the centering prayer groups are. Also, I recall Rollie mentioning a church that has a contemplative mass somewhere in the Denver/Boulder area . . .

    I've got to go now, but I also wanted to mention this great book I've just started reading: Catholic Means Universal: Integraging Spirituality and Religion, by David Richo -- who, interestingly, is a former priest who is now an integrally-oriented Buddhist. He's got great guidance!

    Here's part of the blurb on the back of the book:

    By mining the Catholic tradition for its mystical roots, this book reconnects us to our spiritual center and dispels the false dichotomy between "spiritual" and "religious." . . .

    Religion free of fear can figure powerfully and lovingly in the design of an adult spirituality. This book is for Catholics who want to recover from any pain in their religious past and at the same time reclaim the archetypical riches of their religious heritage. It is also for any person seeking the meaning of adult faith or stirred by how religion can be integrated into personal growth and responsibility.

    Richo's book offers a threefold approach to access the treasures of Catholicism and incorporates them into a mature faith: (1) to refashion the old structures we inherited so that they can be inclusive enough to hold our lively, passionate, and evolving selves, (2) to revision our perspective of faith in light of the contributions of the religions, mythologies, psychology, and scholarship from around the globe, and (3) to re-draw the boundaries we were once told not to cross so that, free from repression, we can expand our trust in our own consciences.

    Peace,

    Mary

    p.s -- here's another link for your area, Michael: Contemplative Outreach of Colorado. It includes a listing of events, retreats, and prayer groups in Boulder. I'm thinking now that you probably know about this already. . . but I thought I'd mention it anyway. --M.


    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

    ~Rumi
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  •  07-19-2006, 8:22 AM 1620 in reply to 1474

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi Balder,

    Thanks for your thoughts. It seems many of us are contemplating these issues whether actively or passively. At least they're out there for discussion.

    balder:

    I've sort of wrestled with an ongoing attraction to the riches of that tradition that is often stymied by other elements in it that seem regressive or problematic to me.

    Same here. There's a real tension in my being about this, and what seems to be arising to resolve it is an understanding of Christianity as Wisdom School (what Almaas might call a genuine "work school"), and Christianity as church, where that stands for the dogmatic, conservative, mythic-literal community of believers.

    I think the wisdom school has always been there, flourishing here, being repressed there, but never fully off the radar. It arose early, and shows up in the thinking of the Alexandrian fathers (Clement, Origen) and the desert fathers and mothers. It's been transmitted successfully in the Benedictine tradition, though certainly pops up throughout all sorts of different orders and individuals.

    I suspect this is the tradition that will carry forward into post-rational dimensions, and I think the current popularity of Benedictine spirituality is but one indicator of this.

    balder:

    I know a number of passionate, committed, orthodox Christians who do not believe so -- who think Integral will demand surrendering articles of faith that they regard as non-negotiable.  For instance, Christian exclusivism: no one is saved by any name under heaven except Jesus', no one comes to the Father except by Christ, and so on.  Individuals I've talked to fear that Integral Christianity will demote Christ to "just another enlightened being," with no more or less salvific power than Buddha or Krsna; that it really will amount to an "Integral Agnosticism," allowing multiple contradictory descriptions of the Absolute (personal, impersonal, triune, singular) to co-exist, and with no moral necessity to choose one path over another, despite the Bible's very strong claims to the contrary. 

    Well, are these not precisely the contours of mythic-literal belief that no longer seem authentic in the light of rational understanding (let alone integral embrace)?

    Obviously these are the very themes and specific issues that will serve as the debating ground for those of us engaged in this type of discourse. I expect it should be both challenging and fun!

    balder:

    I have found enough barriers in the core "document" of Christianity -- the Bible -- to deter me from actually re-embracing Christianity as my own path. 

    Understood, and we certainly each resonate in different ways with different teachings. In my own explorations, I've had to reframe the Bible entirely given the developments and conclusions around literary, historical, and textual criticism. Again, the discrepency arises for me between the wisdom school and the literalists. No one can reasonably believe that a great "other" God authored the texts of the Bible. As Sam Harris said, its pretty weird that God would turn out to be such a poor and inconsistent writer! But that does not prevent us from allegorical interpretation (necessarily done from our own center-of-gravity worldview and our own direct experience).

    Furthermore, I think of the Tibetans here. Tibetans almost *never* use sutra, almost always favoring the commentaries of great masters down through the generations, and I would say even prefer the more current commentaries to the ancient ones (with the exception of the true masters such as Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Chandrakirti, etc., and even here, probably prefer the more modern commentaries on these masters themselves to the root texts).

    I think the same can be said of the Christian wisdom school. For inspiration, sure, some passages from the ancient texts are wonderful. But for direct instruction, don't we turn to Dionysus? Or The Cloud of Unknowing? Or Thomas Merton? Or Father Thomas?

    So, what I'm essentially getting at is that the Bible as "core document" is a relic of the mythic phase, and no longer need hold that place as new forms and patterns emerge.

    balder:

    But I'm watching developments in this area with interest.  I always enjoy Wilber's conversations with Fr. Keating and Br. Wayne Teasdale.  I hope others respond to your thread.  I'm looking forward to seeing what develops here as well.

    Me too! I'm looking forward to the Integral Contemplative Christianity seminar in October here in the Denver area. Hope to see lots of discussion and lots of wonderful people showing up!

    Cheers,

    Michael

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  •  07-19-2006, 8:42 AM 1621 in reply to 1620

    • Martinegan is not online. Last active: 01-01-2009, 2:24 PM Martinegan
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    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Dear All,

    I was severely put off following an abusive dismissal from Catholic Seminary in Ireland in 1993. I found strength later in the Quaker Community and eventually in a gay catholic community in London. However, most joy comes from my own personal practice and a thesis I researched on 'Religious and Spiritual Dimensions of Personal Transformation: psychodynamic approaches to the Ignatian exercises'

    At the contemplative/mystical level, all paths lead to the same place!

    Martin

     

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  •  07-19-2006, 11:12 PM 1650 in reply to 1620

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi, Michael,

    I wrote: I've sort of wrestled with an ongoing attraction to the riches of [Christianity] that is often stymied by other elements in it that seem regressive or problematic to me.

    sagemichael:
    Same here. There's a real tension in my being about this, and what seems to be arising to resolve it is an understanding of Christianity as Wisdom School (what Almaas might call a genuine "work school"), and Christianity as church, where that stands for the dogmatic, conservative, mythic-literal community of believers.

    Almaas offers an interesting and useful integration of approaches to the absolute, which I think is compatible also with Wilber's 1-2-3 of God.

    Have you ever read Jacob Needleman's Lost Christianity?  I think much of it is semi-fictional, in the spirit of the Castaneda material, but he brings in real contemporary voices as well, such as that of Father Thomas Keating.  Needleman suggests that there was a Wisdom school of Christianity that was preserved in Egypt, and that he was given a large manuscript written by a monk from that order.  This is the part of the book that I expect is fictional, but in tying his narrative in to Father Thomas Keating's work, I think he is clearly arguing for the return of a "wisdom school" tradition to contemporary Christianity.

    sagemichael:
    I think the wisdom school has always been there, flourishing here, being repressed there, but never fully off the radar. It arose early, and shows up in the thinking of the Alexandrian fathers (Clement, Origen) and the desert fathers and mothers. It's been transmitted successfully in the Benedictine tradition, though certainly pops up throughout all sorts of different orders and individuals.

    I agree.  There are traces of a "wisdom" approach throughout history, and across denominations.  I have a fond appreciation for the Hindu-Christian cross-pollination initiated by Bede Griffiths and Swami Abhishiktananda, as one example of a flourishing modern wisdom tradition, but I think the Benedictine way by itself is quite profound and may be better for those Christians who are uncomfortable venturing too far into alien religions.

    I wrote: I know a number of passionate, committed, orthodox Christians who do not believe so -- who think Integral will demand surrendering articles of faith that they regard as non-negotiable.  For instance, Christian exclusivism: no one is saved by any name under heaven except Jesus', no one comes to the Father except by Christ, and so on.  Individuals I've talked to fear that Integral Christianity will demote Christ to "just another enlightened being," with no more or less salvific power than Buddha or Krsna; that it really will amount to an "Integral Agnosticism," allowing multiple contradictory descriptions of the Absolute (personal, impersonal, triune, singular) to co-exist, and with no moral necessity to choose one path over another, despite the Bible's very strong claims to the contrary.

    sagemichael:
    Well, are these not precisely the contours of mythic-literal belief that no longer seem authentic in the light of rational understanding (let alone integral embrace)?
    Obviously these are the very themes and specific issues that will serve as the debating ground for those of us engaged in this type of discourse. I expect it should be both challenging and fun!

    Yes, I've been involved in these sorts of discussions for a number of years now, and it is challenging and fun.  But I have to admit that after engaging with intelligent, rational Christians who nevertheless have chosen, for rational reasons, to embrace a fairly orthodox, exclusivist version of Christianity, I have come also to regard the task as quite daunting.  It seems to me that an Integral Christianity will thrive more readily in Catholic soil than Protestant, since the former has such a rich store of contemplative writings (comparatively speaking) and also admits a wider circle of "authentic, inspired teaching" than Bible-only Christendom.

    I recently shared some of Jim Marion's ideas with a very articulate, intelligent Evangelical Christian friend, and he rejected them in no uncertain terms.  One of the primary reasons was Marion's suggestion that we may realize oneness with God as Christ did: "If Marion believes that we can all experience oneness with God, in the same way, degree and nature that Jesus of Nazareth experienced oneness with God, then Marion has abandoned Christian cosmology, Christology and Theology and his Christianity is a really a foreign religion borrowing Christian lexiconography."

    As a Buddhist, and as a student of Integral, I think there is a lot of reason to believe that such union is possible, for all sentient beings.  But there is scant Biblical support for it.  Integral Contemplative Christianity will have to come to terms with that, if it accepts some of the essential mystical presuppositions that inform the Integral model.  (I noticed a comment by Wayne Teasdale in one of the online dialogues that is a bit at odds with Integral orthodoxy, and which may be an example of the differences of perspective that will emerge as Integral Christianity comes into its own: he commented that he believes human beings can realize union with God in consciousness and through relationship, but never ontologically.)

    Although this may not be a bad thing, it seems to me that the emergence of an Integral Contemplative Christianity will likely show up first as just another "sect" or splinter group within the tradition -- precisely because there is such a strong attachment right now to mythic forms of the religion, even by people who are well beyond the limitations of concrete operational thinking.

    It's going to be an interesting few decades....

    Warm wishes,

    Balder


    May the boundless knowledge that time presents and space allows illuminate the native perspectives of your original face.

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  •  07-20-2006, 7:58 AM 1652 in reply to 1650

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi Balder,

    Your post made me realize that, to a large degree, what I've been doing in my personal contemplations is trying to understand and describe what's already happening, trying to get a clearer sense of a phenomenon already emerging and taking place, rather than trying to create something as a sort of project. I lose this orientation sometimes, getting caught up in lots of "A HA!" moments and feeling the rush of trying to make a project out of it, but then I remember that its already something that's taking shape, and that I'm working more with observations than inspirations.

    I hear what you're saying as you keep coming back to the entrenched traditionalists, as you point out things like there being "scant Biblical support" for this emerging contemplative orientation. I can only say, for myself, that Biblical support is pretty much a non-issue. It's a dogmatic relic to see the Bible as an exclusive authority. Evangelicals, like your friend, are operating from a different place than what's going on for me and, I suspect, others like me, exploring these dimensions of what it means to be authentically Christian, and I'm not so sure that what's going on with them matters much to me, at least not at the moment.

    In rejecting dogma, the exclusivity of the Bible, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium, the eternal "otherness" of God, and so on, it is certainly a valid perspective to claim that by that act of rejection, I can no longer be counted a genuine Cathlolic, and probably not even Christian. I might be a genuine contemplative person, but theologically, I'm on my own, and there's no longer any point in applying the label "Christian" or considering myself a member of the Body of Christ (the Church). But the problem is that I do feel authentically Catholic and Christian, in precisely the same way that I feel authentically American and have no problem criticising the Constitution or the two-party system, and I believe there are many others who are working with the same kinds of dissonance, and this is the very heart of the questions I asked at the start of this thread.

    To bring this back to AQAL, a large part of what I'm struggling with is a lower-left issue. For example, what does the Mass symbolize if we're not literally (magically) turning a cracker into the actual flesh and blood of some Divinity? Is there any point in bothering to attend services? What exactly does the resurrection mean if we don't buy the actual fleshiness of it, if we're not 1st century apocalyptics? Are the Bible and official Tradition the only valid sources of our shared sacred symbolism? And so on. As my 1p upper-left phenomenological experience changes, what happens in the "we space"? There sure are a lot of us included in that "we" and a lot of us feel disoriented and exiled, wondering what "Church community" means for us.

    So I agree with you that "converting" the true believers to post-mythic understandings is not only daunting, but even feels relatively impossible. Only, that's not particularly something I care to do. I'm far more interested in joining like-minded post-mythic Christians in exploring our shared spaces as this new mandala takes shape.

    Thanks so much for your input. By the way and off-topic here, your TSK threads have inspired me to look more at those exercises as they seem incredibly useful.

    Best,

    Michael

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  •  07-20-2006, 8:02 AM 1653 in reply to 1650

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Michael,

    I also wanted to ask about your experiences with Centering Prayer, and to inquire how your experiences with Tibetan Buddhist practices inform or influence your Centering Prayer practice, if they do.

    I attended a Centering Prayer group a number of years ago for a couple months, but I was still very actively involved with my Dzogchen teacher at the time and could not settle in to this group. 

    Centering Prayer appears to have some elements in common with the "formless" Buddhist practices.  Have you ever experimented with bringing other forms of Buddhist practice into a Christian context?  I've done a little of that, especially during a period when some of the Buddhist forms felt alien to me and I wanted to interact with and connect to forms that had inspired and infused more of my life.  To this end, I created a Christian version of Tonglen and Guruyoga to practice together.

    I won't give the details now, but here is the prayer I created for guruyoga with Christ:

    In the center of my heart,
    In the palace of Great Joy,
    I pray to you, my God
    In Three Persons,
    My Lord, my Friend, and my Guide.
    May I be renewed, not I,
    But Christ in me.
    Please help me to realize You
    As my own deepest Truth.

    If you're familiar with the Bon Dzogchen sadhana, you will see it is modeled loosely on one of its prayers.

    I'm not sure how fruitful such cross-tradition explorations and hybrids will be -- I've never turned one of them into a regular form of practice.  But I do have a heart-connection to them.

    Best wishes,

    Balder

    P.S. I just saw your post to me, and I'm glad you made the points you did.  You articulated something I was feeling: that I was looking at this too much as something to be done in the future, rather than exploring what is happening, and what it means, to those who already consider themselves Integral (post-Buddhist, post-Christian?) Christians.  So, I appreciate what you have to say.  And that was partly the intent of this current post - to circle back closer to what Integral Contemplative Christianity would mean and involve, rather than worrying over-much about those who find the idea heretical.

    Concerning the meaning of Mass, I read something recently that I think would be worthwhile to share.  I believe it was something in one of Raimon Panikkar's books.  I'll have to go look....


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  •  07-20-2006, 9:40 AM 1655 in reply to 1653

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Balder,

    These are very engaging topics for me and that they also came up for you again points me to toward some kind of collective arising.

    On Centering Prayer and its relation to Buddhist meditations:

    I was trained in mahamudra more than dzogchen and the similarities between CP and mahamudra shamatha are apparent to me when I do the practice. That also brings up a useful distinction: CP leads to stillness, and that stillness leads perhaps to the "cloud of unknowing" and infused contemplation. But what then? (I honestly have no progressed enough in pure centering prayer to know "what then", so its a real question, perhaps I'll be fortunate enough to have an opportunity to ask Fr. Thomas in October). In mahamudra, one begins investigating the stillness, the cloud, the "knowing" of the unknowing. Seems similar to some of the TSK-type investigations. So in this light, I'd say Buddhist "tech" is more advanced, unless simply resting in the stillness leads to infused contemplation and/or genuine Theosis, which would correspond more to "non-meditation yoga" in mahamudra.

    I sense this more and more, that Christian contemplation is more passive and intuitive, and Buddhist contemplation is more active and scientific (at least in many of its more popular forms). In Buddhism, one cultivates stillness as a foundation for deeper exploration of the nature of mind and experience, and in Christianity, perhaps cultivates stillness and then let's God take it from there. I don't find either more accurate necessarily, just different. Clearly a topic worthy of much time and thought and insight.

    On fusing and integrating techniques from different traditions:

    I had a very similar inspiration some time ago. Like you, I fleshed it out a bit but never adopted it as an actual practice. I was feeling a little down about the fact that I just didn't feel connected to the ngondro the way the teachers and texts indicated I should. I was brainstorming with a friend along the lines of "what if I replaced the refuge tree figures with Christian elements? What if Christ were at the center, surrounded by hosts of angels and saints?" And you can go so much farther from there... Christ above me in benediction, with perhaps the Jesus Prayer instead of Vajrasattva... the Christian cosmology for mandala offering, etc. It could be a very rich practice, bringing incredibly useful gross and subtle elements to an otherwise Christian-informed practice.

    This actually hits on one of the key inspirations I have, and why this has become such a meaningful topic for me. There's a devotional energy, a sense of "home", and a sacred dimension in Christianity that is simply not there for me in Buddhism.

    As a matter of pure speculation, I wonder about the energy present in deep and largely unconscious imprints about God and what is holy that become activated here that simply are not activated in practices from another tradition. I can easily train myself to understand what Guru Rinpoche represents, but will I ever feel about him the way I feel about Christ? This then leads to all kinds of questions I have about pre/trans and myth vs. subtle and so on and my head spins and I should probably get back to work! Smile [:)]

    Michael

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  •  07-20-2006, 1:08 PM 1674 in reply to 1655

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi, Michael,

    I like your idea for a Christian refuge tree.  For fun, I wanted to share here a Christian version of Tonglen that I created for Christians on another website.  It is organized like a simple Tibetan thun, opening with guruyoga and closing with a dedication of merit.  I have taken some of the Tonglen instructions from a talk by Pema Chodron, but I have modified them quite a bit to fit the Christian context. 

    The Christians on the conservative forum where I shared this, a number of years ago (right after 9/11), did not respond much to this, so it probably did not speak to them.  I used a couple Buddhist prayers in it, which may be one reason.  I expect that Christians could use other traditional Christian prayers just as easily; I just wasn't familiar with enough of them to know what to use.

    The instructions have been "simplified" a bit, since I was assuming an audience which would be unfamiliar with these sorts of practices, but I would probably create something fuller and more nuanced if I was going to use this myself on a regular basis.  I haver remarked elsewhere that guruyoga, tonglen, and chod all appear -- to me -- to resonate well with Christian ideals (the cross is Jesus' tonglen, communion is his chod), but these practices would invite Christians to participate in an active way with him in their "daily crucifixion in Christ" ... perhaps in a more direct way than many now currently imagine.

    Anyway, here's the practice...

    ~*~

    Before beginning Tonglen (or any meditation or prayer), usually one first invites "union" with the divine in one's heart and being.  Calling on the name of Jesus, imagine Him before you, radiant, encircled by a halo of light. Feel His presence, the power of his eyes on you, his hands open or outstretched.  Offer Him the following prayer for union:

    In the depths of my heart
    In the palace of Great Joy,
    I pray to You, my God
    in Three Persons,
    My Lord, My Friend, and my Guide.
    May I be renewed, not I,
    But Christ in Me.
    Please help me to realize You
    As my own deepest Truth.

    Usually, one then invites purification by the nectar of the divine, which is poured over you like a waterfall, passing through every cell of your body.  Here, you can perhaps imagine that from the outstretched hands of Jesus, his blood pours over you like wine, over every inch of your being, purifying you.  Feel this gift, sense it with all of your feeling sense, smell it as though it enters you like the aroma of incense or flowers. Let your body as well as your mind know what it means to be thus purified.  Offer whatever prayer is in your heart to him, imagining that his image in its halo of light becomes smaller and smaller, moving over the crown of your head.  Then, without necessarily "seeing" it, feel that He enters through the crown of your head (the fontanelle, which was once soft, like a door) and passes through you till He comes to rest in your heart. When He arrives in the heart, rest with Him there for a moment in thankfulness.

    Tonglen proper may then begin with a prayer on love and compassion:

    "Love is the supreme elixir
    That overcomes the sovereignty of death.
    It is the inexhaustible treasure
    That eliminates poverty in the world.
    It is the supreme medicine
    That quells the world's disease.
    It is the tree that shelters all beings
    Wandering and tired on the path of conditioned existence.
    It is the universal bridge
    That leads to freedom from unhappy states of birth.
    It is the dawning moon of the mind
    That dispels the torment of disturbing conceptions.
    It is the great sun that finally removes
    The misty ignorance of the world.

    -- Shantideva

    Rest quietly without thinking anything in particular, feeling the effects of meditating and reflecting on Christ and love. Let one's thoughts settle, as though coming home.  After you feel calm and spacious, allow yourself to reflect again on Christ's presence, on the incredible gift of his life and his suffering, on all the blessings that you have felt in your life, so that thankfulness and compassion are born in your heart.

    Imagine in front of you, as vividly and as poignantly as possible, a person or persons who are suffering. Try and imagine every aspect of their pain and distress, whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual, or all of the above. Then, as you feel your heart opening in sympathy and compassion for them, imagine that all of their sufferings manifest together and gather into a great mass of thick, black, acrid smoke.

    Now, as you breathe in, visualize that this mass of black smoke dissolves, with your in-breath, into the very core of selfishness at your heart.  Feel its heaviness enter your body.  There it destroys completely all traces of self-cherishing, eliminating any obstructions that stand between you and the movement of Christic love in your heart.

    Imagine, now, that the selfish knot in your heart has been destroyed, so that the presence of the Christ in you is fully revealed.  Then, as you breathe out, imagine that you are sending out His brilliant, cooling light of peace, joy, happiness and ultimate well-being to the persons in pain, and that these rays are purifying all of their negativity and pain.  You might imagine that your whole body has been made transparent and radiant, so that it is truly a vehicle for love in the world.

    At the moment the light of love and compassion streams out to touch the people in pain, it is essential to feel a firm conviction that all of their suffering and negativity HAVE been purified, and to feel a deep, lasting joy that they have been totally freed of suffering and pain.

    As you go on breathing normally in and out, continue with this practice, breathing into your body the black smoke of suffering and sin, breathing out well-being and blessing through Christ in you.

    After some time, you may imagine that the subjects of your prayer become transparent and radiant as well, completely purified from within.  Let this image grow brighter and brighter, until you feel immersed in a field of light.  Whatever thought or feeling arises, let it be a piece of tinder that ignites and also becomes light, until all sense of inside and outside has vanished, and there is only the Light of the World.  Rest in this self-radiant spaciousness.

    Traditionally, at the close of prayer, one "offers" as a gift all the merit, all the blessings one feels, for the benefit of all beings. You may do this very simply, with words such as, "Lord, the blessings of your mercy that I feel, I dedicate for the welfare of beings everywhere.  May they all know Your peace." In Buddhism, this usually includes non-human beings; that's up to you!

    Finally, I offer this closing prayer on love:

    As a mother, at the risk of her life,
    Watches over her only child,
    Let us cherish an unbounded mind
    For all living beings.
    Let us have love for the whole world,
    And develop an unbounded mind,
    Above, below and all around,
    Boundless heart of goodwill, free of hatred,
    Standing, walking, sitting or lying down,
    So long as we are awake,
    Let us cherish this thought.
    This is called Divine Abiding Here.

    ~ Karaniyametta Sutta

    ~*~

    Warm wishes,

    Balder


    May the boundless knowledge that time presents and space allows illuminate the native perspectives of your original face.

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  •  07-20-2006, 5:32 PM 1691 in reply to 1652

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-27-2008, 1:50 AM maryw
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    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    sagemichael:

    In rejecting dogma, the exclusivity of the Bible, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium, the eternal "otherness" of God, and so on, it is certainly a valid perspective to claim that by that act of rejection, I can no longer be counted a genuine Cathlolic, and probably not even Christian. I might be a genuine contemplative person, but theologically, I'm on my own, and there's no longer any point in applying the label "Christian" or considering myself a member of the Body of Christ (the Church). But the problem is that I do feel authentically Catholic and Christian, in precisely the same way that I feel authentically American and have no problem criticising the Constitution or the two-party system, and I believe there are many others who are working with the same kinds of dissonance, and this is the very heart of the questions I asked at the start of this thread.

    Michael -- I agree that many people are working with this kind of dissonance -- I am one of them, and I've encountered many churchgoers who would say the same. I also reject a lot of the dogma, the exclusivity of the Bible, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium, etc., and so do many contemplative Christians. When I returned to Catholicism, the attraction had nothing at all to do with doctrine or dogma or the Pope -- I was drawn by a sense of beauty, a mystical richness, and, as you said, a feeling . . . What is more "genuine?" Continually disputed definitions put forth by the institutional hierarchy, or the voice within? Both? . . . . I don't know.  I'm sure that many Catholics would consider me some kind of heretic-come-lately. But then again, there are a good number of Catholic heretics . . .

    (And as I heard Rabbi Rami Shapiro once say:  it's actually the heretics who keep the traditions alive and evolving by uncovering their mystical treasures for us . . .)

    When you say "theologically, I'm on my own," do you mean that you feel you're on your own because you have not found a community of people who raise theological questions that are similar to yours? Or do you mean that you feel that there are few or no theologians, Christian or otherwise, who share your views?

    To bring this back to AQAL, a large part of what I'm struggling with is a lower-left issue. For example, what does the Mass symbolize if we're not literally (magically) turning a cracker into the actual flesh and blood of some Divinity? Is there any point in bothering to attend services? What exactly does the resurrection mean if we don't buy the actual fleshiness of it, if we're not 1st century apocalyptics? 

    When I went through the adult confirmation process as part of my return to the church, I was not taught that a priest magically turns a cracker into Jesus's flesh and blood. (And even as a kid I could never believe that anyway!) Instead I was told that through the Eucharist, we encounter, as part of a communal meal, the real presence of the risen Christ. Incarnation: Spirit and Body in union as Being and offered as loving nourishment to all gathered at the table. It's a devotional act, a mystical dance of faith, a prayer for healing and transformation, not a magic trick. Moreover, the Eucharistic meal is not limited to Mass. We are to become "food" -- to become Christ -- and to feed each other (with our very essence, our very being) in myriad ways. What happens at Mass is simply one small facet of the Eucharistic sacrament. Authentic celebration of this sacrament occurs through self-emptying acts of love, charity, and justice -- not through the idolizing of a wafer.

    I was touched by what Thich Nhat Hanh (who shared the Eucharist with Father Daniel Berrigan) said about communion in Living Buddha, Living Christ. It made me see communion in a new light:

    When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community. The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness. Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness. We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxiety. We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos. We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God. . .

    The body of Christ is the body of God, the body of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence. We do not have to look anywhere else for it. It resides deep in our own being. The Eucharistic rite encourages us to be fully aware so that we can touch the body of reality in us. Bread and wine are not symbols. They contain the reality, just as we do.

    As for resurrection: I was taught that resurrection was not about Jesus as a resuscitated corpse. Rather, the risen Christ (or, as some call it, Christ consciousness) lives in us when we die to our false -- or ego-identified -- selves and are "raised up," or awakened, as vessels for the presence and action of divinity, which is both immanent and transcendent.

    I mention these things as examples of how I think that the church actually can, (and is, at least in some instances), address these lower-left issues in a way that does not necessarily keep people chained to magical and mythic beliefs. At the same time, the church does retain a space, a necessarily big space, for people at the mythical level -- which seems to also be true for all the major religious traditions. 

    Out of time, but I want to eventually re-post something I found a while ago on Sophia / Wisdom . . .

    And Balder -- Great stuff, as usual!

    Peace,

    Mary

     


    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

    ~Rumi
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  •  07-20-2006, 6:33 PM 1693 in reply to 1691

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-27-2008, 1:50 AM maryw
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    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Here it is: an essay on the wisdom tradition, Christianity, and interspirituality . . .

    Sophia Today

    by Arthur Versluis

    What are the significances of Sophia now? Above all, the Wisdom tradition is more suited than perhaps any other aspect of the Christian tradition to our post-traditional era, in which doctrine or dogma alone neither convinces nor is adequate for many people. For by contrast, the Wisdom tradition affirms not only doctrine, but rather teachings founded in direct experience. In a time when many people are searching for ways to connect their own longing for direct spiritual experience with their inherited spiritual traditions, Sophianic spirituality offers a unique opportunity.

    All too often, the Christian tradition has been depicted as simply a social phenomenon, as hypocritical and cut off from authentic spirituality. The sense of many that Christianity is spiritually bankrupt -- a charge echoing from Nietzsche to the present -- helps account for the growing popularity of Asian religions and the 'new religions'. There seems an historical inevitability to such events, but the Christian tradition is far vaster and deeper than such a depiction might suggest. Recent years have seen the publication of countless mystical works from antiquity unto the present and the works included here reveal that there is still much more beneath the surface.

    One can understand why traditionalists -- and I use the word here in the broadest possible sense -- want to preserve religious forms, and additionally, why some of them would feel threatened by the advent of religious hybrids like Christians who practice Buddhist meditation, or syntheses of Christianity and Native American or other indigenous traditions. But despite their dangers, such syntheses are undoubtedly going to mark the post-traditional world, and what is more, may well be seen as manifestations of the need for renewal in what would otherwise become moribund traditions. Indeed, it makes more sense to recognize tradition as a current than cling to a fixed image of it, more sense to recognize that at the center of one's tradition is divine Wisdom, and that the important thing is to reverence this Wisdom of which the changing panoply of symbols or forms are manifestations.

    We have already entered into an era in which whether we like it or not, the forms and structures of the past are being discarded and in which we are challenged to live a direct relation to the divine. The artist Cecil Collins wrote in his wonderful book "The Vision of the Fool" that:

    "If I may make use of a simile, the Trinity, I believe the age of the Father is over. The age of the Son is over. This is the age of Holy Spirit, this is the age of the universal principle -- the open, flexible field of consciousness, the understanding of the unity of life in the multiplicity of human experience, so that we find in our culture again that hidden unity which transcends the fate of multiplicity and nemesis."

    In this new era, all doors are open, the doors to hell, and the doors to paradise. Indeed, even this language is too constrained to express the full import of our situation; perhaps we could say that we are each faced with the nihil and the pleroma, with destruction and the transcendent fulfillment. A post-traditional world reveals choices of unprecedented gravity, whose outcome can be either dissolution, fragmentation, nihilism, and destruction, or a miraculous ascent across the abyss on a mysterious bridge that appears only to those who have faith. There are only a few who have already dared to step across, among them artists like Rilke and Collins.

    In this new and unprecedented situation, we need guides, and in it we will have to draw upon aspects of traditions that previously have remained largely unknown to the general public, and even to most theologians. Among these the Sophianic tradition is of special, and perhaps even paramount importance within the European inheritance.

    For although the Sophianic tradition incorporates the many threads of European esotericism, including Hermetic, alchemical, and gnostic elements -- and might well be termed the summa of these streams -- its primary significance is in its continuity as a living manifestation of direct gnostic experiential praxis. Our challenge these days is to enter into this living immediate relationship to divine Wisdom.

    For the truth is, from one perspective, everywhere we look in contemporary society we see a crying need for Wisdom; everywhere we see her lack. Certainly in politics we find little sign of her guiding hand; neither in economics, in the relentless pursuit of money and power and consumerism; nor in education is Wisdom often evident; and for all its technical prowess, science is not gifted with a surfeit of Wisdom. Indeed, in every sphere of life it would seem that the ancient prophecies of a coming dark age, an era of cultural disintegration and spiritual eclipse, are coming to pass around us in awful clarity, like a vivid nightmare from which one cannot awaken.

    But from another perspective, of course, one can awaken. Indeed, the Sophianic tradition is precisely about awakening; it is experiential rather than intellectual, the vision of the heart's eye, not just reason's measure. Awakening here means integration of the whole being, illuminated by the supernal light of the holy spirit, a becoming-complete, what in German is called Menschwerdung
    (becoming-human), a term which applies to Christ's incarnation and to our becoming truly human, which is to say, realizing Christ, an archetype of realized, illuminated humanity.

    The Sophianic tradition insists that Sophia gives birth to Christ in us, that only through Sophia, divine Wisdom, can Christ be born in and through us, for incarnation is not simply something that happened once in the past; in the Sophianic tradition, we are all born to incarnate the divine, to follow Christ in the most profound sense of the words, and one may even say, to embody Christ. If the incarnation is to have a more than historical meaning, this meaning can only come to be in each of us, time and again and not just once, millennia ago.

    I believe, like Leopold Ziegler in the mid-twentieth century, that the meeting of the world religious traditions that we are experiencing is the single most important historical event of the present era, and that central to this meeting will be not only the encounter between Buddhism and Judeo-Christianity, but even more specifically, the encounters and, yes, even the syntheses of Asian and European esotericism or experiential spirituality. Of particular import will be this Sophianic tradition, perhaps most because it is the syncretic, multitraditional Wisdom tradition of the Occident and represents the conjoining of all the major esoteric traditions of the West. Further, is it not significant that Prajnaparamita (Transcendent Wisdom) is the Mother of Buddhas, and that Sophia is the Mother of Christs?

    For we are discussing here the future, and what can be born anew -- not the past, nor its forms, but rather what has informed the past and can inform the future. Who can deny that in our era, however much we admire or cling to the forms of the past, it is ever more difficult to hold on to them? There is a principle of dissolution at work in the world, whether we want to see it as good or as evil, and perhaps in some respects it is neither, but simply necessary so that people go beyond ritualism for its own sake and confront their real task: to realize that which the rituals bespeak and signify.

    In our present era, confronted by the apparent dissolution, dispersion, and synthesis of historical forms, we will increasingly find ourselves returning to the primordial, to the origins of traditional forms, for only this can revivify those from which life has been withdrawn, and create new ones. In either of these cases -- revivification of creation -- Wisdom will be central, for through Wisdom do all things in the cosmos come into being, and only through Wisdom can life flow forth and manifest. Since humanity has fallen from Wisdom, the return must be through her. Could there be any other way?


    Afterword to WISDOM'S BOOK, The Sophia Anthology, pp. 267 - 270 -- edited by Arthur Versluis, Paragon House, 2000.


    Let the beauty we love be what we do.
    There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

    ~Rumi
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  •  07-21-2006, 7:22 AM 1715 in reply to 1691

    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi Mary,

    I really appreciate your wonderful thoughts on this. It's so encouraging to hear what's going on in the real world of Catholic community around these insights and practices. Thanks especially for the Sophia post. You've inspired me enough that I may even overcome my resistance to returning to Mass!

    As I continue my process, it occurs to me that the "dogmatists" I am facing are largely within myself. Many of us who rejected the Church did so with thoughts of how foolish and ridiculous and harmful and useless the beliefs and doctrines were. Now, in really examining my reactivity to dogma and unquestioned matters of faith, I think much of it is shadow material, and its so easy to project those feelings out into the larger community. To be sure, those beliefs and dogmas and "true believers" really are there, but they may not matter as much as I sometimes think when it comes to my relationship with God.

    I loved what you said about the Eucharist and the Resurrection. Those are elegant and beautiful and sacred interpretations and, again, very inspiring! It does give me pause, though. One feature of the Christian tradition is that it really is wide open to varied interpretations. Over the centuries, there's been far too much emphasis on whether this or that interpretation was "right" or "wrong", and surely enough, the rigid dogma of the Church was developed from the process of arguing different interpretations of major articles of faith.

    Nowadays, it seem pretty popular to interpret these elements of sacrament and symbol as you have, or as Thich Naht Hahn has, and those interpretations resonate widely. I think contemplatives and progressives feel quite comfortable with these. However, there's little basis for them that I can find, and so I wonder how much of this is us making stuff up that most would say isn't really there. The way I might phrase the question is: How much of this is discovering meanings embedded in the tradition, and how much of it is fabricated and projected? I don't mean this in any disparaging way. Interpretation in the vein is likely how we'll carry the tradition forward into a higher, deeper worldview. It totally makes sense. And if we are truly discovering already embedded truthful meanings, then we will find much collective resonance. But, on the other hand, if we're making stuff up, might we not end up with dozens, hundreds, thousands of different schools of interpretation?

    One example of this from the past is the intense debate around the Trinitarian doctrine in the 4th century. I found this hilarious quote from Gregory of Nyssa, one of the chief formulators of what became the established doctrine of the Trinity in the Eastern Church, reflecting the fact that in those heady times, everyone had some opinion or another:

    "If you ask for a piece of bread, you're told the Father is greater and the Son inferior. If you ask is the bath ready, someone answers that the Son was created from nothing."

    I wonder if we might end up in the same situation. I can only hope that, if we do, we have the equivalent of a Gregory to lead the way!

    To bring it back to my personal experience again, I find myself genuinely drawn, almost choicelessly, to a Christian life. Yet, taking all my facets of experience into account, I literally do not have the first clue what or how to believe. I'm beyond literalism, but not yet comfortable in a post-rational structure. I hope that the thoughts I express here are not taken to apply to anyone other than myself, though obviously there are many of us going through similar explorations. This, for me, is an intensely personal experience.

    Michael

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  •  07-22-2006, 12:57 AM 1748 in reply to 1715

    • maryw is not online. Last active: 12-27-2008, 1:50 AM maryw
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    Re: Integral Contemplative Christianity

    Hi Michael and all --

    sagemichael:

    Nowadays, it seem pretty popular to interpret these elements of sacrament and symbol as you have, or as Thich Naht Hahn has, and those interpretations resonate widely. I think contemplatives and progressives feel quite comfortable with these. However, there's little basis for them that I can find, and so I wonder how much of this is us making stuff up that most would say isn't really there. The way I might phrase the question is: How much of this is discovering meanings embedded in the tradition, and how much of it is fabricated and projected? I don't mean this in any disparaging way. Interpretation in the vein is likely how we'll carry the tradition forward into a higher, deeper worldview. It totally makes sense. And if we are truly discovering already embedded truthful meanings, then we will find much collective resonance. But, on the other hand, if we're making stuff up, might we not end up with dozens, hundreds, thousands of different schools of interpretation?

    I think that contemplative experience helps to distinguish between authentic meanings/interpretations and fabrications and projections. Through contemplative silence, Spirit "speaks" and guides us into the deeper meanings embedded in the symbols and framed by the sacraments. I also think that the holy spirit works through community -- i.e. the "communion of saints," the mystics, the teachers, the theologians . . .

    But I also think that in some sense we are "making it up!" By this I mean: we are the ones who have created these stories and rituals and sacraments. And we are the ones who interpret them. We create them as a way to communicate with the divine and as a way to communicate to each other about the divine. The stories and the rituals that seem to have "staying power" often reflect psychic and archetypal truths -- and genuine spiritual experiences: dark desolate nights, rebirth and eternal return, abandonment, nourishment that overflows . . . Our interpretations of these symbols necessarily change as we develop and mature. In my opinion, we can prayerfully turn to the Spirit, to each other, and to wise teachers--past and present--for guidance along the path.

    To bring it back to my personal experience again, I find myself genuinely drawn, almost choicelessly, to a Christian life.

    Ahhh . . . perhaps in some ways it was "choiceless" for me too. In the marrow of my bones... Interestingly, last night, I came across this passage in Richo's book:

    Most of us [here he's speaking of people who were born / raised as Catholics] began our life of faith in childhood. We were introduced to beliefs and to a community of believers. We may thereby have formed a durable bond to the Church. This bond was established before we could say no to it. Childhood indoctrination usually results in a yes without the ability to say no. It is not an informed consent, but a blind obedience to authority or family. This religious bond can go on uninterruptedly, even when we reject childhood beliefs or membership in a church. It is beyond personal control or choice. This is why it is not real faith, which is free and consciously chosen and rechosen. Adult faith is a yes when we are free to say no. However, this enduring bond to religion can always be the foundation of a spiritual path or can make a contribution to it. Whatever remains alive in our psyche does so because it can contribute in some way some day. We are g