contemplativeinquiry

This blog is about contemplative inquiry

Tag: The Meaning of Mary Magdalene

THE COMPLETED HUMAN BEING

22 July is dedicated to Mary Magdalene, and this post is a short extract from The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, by Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest based in the United States (1). Her understanding draws heavily on Gnostic Gospels banned in the 4th century and recovered in the 20th. It articulates a Sophian, or Magdalenian, Christianity – a Gnostic Christianity – in a modern form. At the very least, it deserves space in our cultural memory, as a treasure not to lose again through carelessness, forgetting, or organised misrepresentation.

“In the Gospel of Philip, as in the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene, the backdrop against which everything unfolds is the quest for the Anthropos ‘the completed human being’.   Philip makes it expressly clear, however, that this two-becoming-one is not simply a union of opposites as we understand it nowadays: not simply the integration of the masculine and feminine, or any of the other great binaries. … The primordial union is   [that of ]   one’s temporal humanity with its eternal prototype or ‘angel’… one Heart, one Being, one Will.”

But this is not all. Singleness is not all.  “There is still one greater mystery to be revealed. … Deeper than at-one-ment lies communion, love come full in the act of giving itself away. The nondualism of the Western metaphysical stream is a flowing unity – a ‘not one, not two, but both one and two’ in which the continuous exchange of twoness and oneness in the dance of self-giving love captures the very dynamism of the divine life itself. To discover myself as a divine being is certainly a spiritual attainment, but to discover myself as the divine beloved is to discover something even more intimate and profound”.

(1) Cynthia Bourgeault The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity Boston & London: Shambhala, 2010

KEY WORDS

My very best wishes for 2016 to all readers of this blog. May your year be blessed with peace and loving-kindness.

Like many people I find the change of calendar year a good moment for revising and re-framing what I do. This includes my personal contemplative inquiry.  I remain strongly engaged with my Sophian Way and I am finding means of strengthening it.

At the beginning of contemplative practice I’m now saying: “I open myself to the divine breath: the movement of that breath and the stillness in that breath. I open my heart to the grace of Sophia”.  The key words are breath, movement, stillness, heart, grace and Sophia.

‘Divine breath’ translates the Greek word pneuma which could mean either ‘breath’ or ‘spirit’. It was a favourite with the Gnostics of late antiquity. For me, the divine breath is ordinary breath transformed through practice, awareness and understanding. I feel and taste the knowledge that breath enables life, and that it does so through transcending  the boundary between me and not-me. It allows me an individual life, embodied yet not sealed off. It also connects me to a larger system.

When I follow the movement of the breath, I am  attentive to its inhalation and exhalation. I breathe the cosmos; the cosmos breathes me. The movement of the breath is inherently active, life-giving and relational. There are practices in both Gnosticism and Tantra involving breath exchange with another person which emphasise these aspects of breathing.

The stillness in the breath, in my experience, is held within the movement of the breath. They are not polarised. It is the still point at the heart of being, always present as the activity of breathing is going on. It’s like an inner silence inside a context of sound, or an inner calm inside a context of energetic or emotional arousal. Truly to become open to the divine breath involves a simultaneous awareness of both dimensions.

Opened up to the experience of divine breath (rather than breath awareness as an arbitrary attentional focus) I can open my heart, in the sense offered by Cynthia Bourgeault: “In the wisdom traditions of the Near East, the heart is not the seat of one’s personal emotional life, but an organ of spiritual perception … its purpose is to stay in alignment with the Image of one’s true nature.” (1) Here, the grace of Sophia is Her presence and energy in support of that alignment.

The words cue me in to the experience, though not as a formula, for true contemplative experience is not formulaic. They represent a sensibility of practice, or a culture of practice, rather than a road map. The value of these words, as I continue to use them, will be in what emerges as a result of using them in the coming weeks and months.

 

(1) Cynthia Bourgeault The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2010

 

 

 

ENTERING SILENCE

Sometimes, as over the turn of the year, I feel like blogging fairly frequently.  At other times, like now, I don’t.  I’m still integrating my work with the Ceile De paidirean (beads) and fuinn (chants).  It takes a while.  I suspect that I’m entering a quiet period.

Yet as I do so I want to say a little bit about what contemplative practice means to me now. Centring in silence is the essence of the practice. In sitting meditation I enter silence with a contemplative intent. The process is one of self-emptying, but not in a self-wounding spirit of renunciation, of holy war on ‘ego’, of pushing away the immature self-sense like an unwanted child.

Self-emptying is simply the will to let things come and go without grabbing on, making room for something else to be.  Warmly spacious, it invites a more expansive way of being.  We do not let go in order to get something better.  The letting go is itself the something better, freeing us from our habitual self-protectiveness and contracted activities like taking, defending, hoarding, and clinging. For this reason Cynthia Bourgeault talks of ‘kenosis’ (self-emptying) as “primarily a visionary tool rather than a moral one; its primary purpose is to cleanse the lens of perception”*.

Having said that, I am finding that the contemplative shift into self-emptying does tend to open up states of acceptance (including self-acceptance), gratitude, peace, joy and love.  They come in and are present, just naturally there, not in any way willed or dutiful, some of the time. They come and go, while contemplation remains centred in stillness and silence, and “looks at the world through a single lens of wholeness”*.

* The meaning of Mary Magdalene: the woman at the heart of Christianity. Cynthia Bourgeault. Shambhala: Boston & London, 2010

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