Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Wisdom of Jesus as related by...

Cynthia Bourgeault's 'The Wisdom of Jesus' seeks to describe Jesus' life and teaching from the perspective of a 'sophiology', a tradition of wisdom, as distinct from a 'soteriology', a tradition of salvation.

Jesus is a 'Single One' who from his dwelling in unity with God and out of his self-emptying spirit comes to live at the heart of our world in all its dense materiality and messiness to share a transformative teaching.

This teaching aims to move us from the 'binary operating system' of our everyday, ego centred minds towards a non-dual consciousness so that 'the mind of Christ', the 'Kingdom of Heaven' that is within us, will be realised.

This teaching though present in the Gospels needs to be teased out not least through the lens of the traditions reflected in those gospels that did not make into the Canon - of Thomas especially but also of Mary Magdalene, Philip and Judas - and through, what I might call, acts of contemplative re-imagination, grounded in the intuitions (and teaching) of Christian (and other) mystics - the tradition of sophia perennis.

Bourgeault covers the ground with admirable lucidity, depth and intelligence. The book closes with chapters devoted to actual practice, ways in which this way of being may come alive within our lives - of Centring Prayer, lectio divina, chanting and participation in the Eucharist.

So far, so good! However, why does reading it leave me with a strangely flat feeling?

This is, I feel, because it is so insistent that this is 'the' tradition of Jesus and I am its interpreter. This ironic given that she has made such a sterling case for the 'plurality of early Christianity'! We are called, I think, to test everything against the patterns of our own experience (as the Buddha would say) but we need a deeper and more humble sense that we may be wrong to accompany it than I find here, I am afraid!

Likewise, it may be true that the Gospels are not simply about telling us that Jesus calls us to be nice to one another (and the ability to be nice to one another may require a more demanding practice than it appears) but it may also be that (indeed any authentic wisdom tradition is accompanied by precepts of virtue). An authentic tradition can work on many levels. Bourgeault wants it to be collapsed into what is, arguably, its highest alone yet often our path leads from the 'material to the spiritual' and the effort to be nice might be a good place to start!

And, finally, what does happen to the Christ of soteriology, of a 'salvation history'? He completely vanishes and in doing so Christian life becomes an individual quest after enlightenment rather than a quest for body of Christ that is genuinely communal.

I think it is right to see that Christ's kenosis, his self-emptying love, is the heart of the message but it implies a deepening relationality in the quest to be fully Christian that gets lost in this account.

The Kingdom of Heaven is not only within but also among and not simply betwixt 'enlightened' humans' but in our neighbourhoods and in revealing a wholly transfigured cosmos.

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