The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere: Visionary Images of Christian Education

Following failure as a soldier, Francis of Assisi came to a radical re-visioning of his life that can be aptly summarized in 2oth century Catholic monastic Thomas Merton’s phrase, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.” His affection for brother sun and sister moon, his joyous association with the poor, and his spiritual companionship with Clare, provide evidence that he saw all life as a manifestation of the divine.  In this entry and the associated video, Episcopalian priest Cynthia Bourgeault addresses how Christian education can offer students this ability to see life anew in the tradition of St. Francis and Thomas Merton.

Introduction to the Video

In May, 2012 two of my HKIS colleagues, Richard and Suzanne Friedericks, and myself traveled to Assisi, Italy to attend a conference on Christian spirituality.  The profound teachings that we received from Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr were shared in my previous blog post.  Richard and I conducted an interview with Cynthia during the conference in Assisi, and have now completed a 13-minute video that shares her insights as applied to Christian education.  We have pitched the video to speak to our community, teachers and students at Hong Kong International School, but the issue of what does it mean to be a Christian school in a contemporary pluralistic setting is one that should have resonance beyond our immediate context.

We changed the subtitle from, “A Christian Vision of Education” to “Visionary Images of Christian Education” for two reasons.  First, Cynthia’s comments appear, especially at first glance, as enigmatic star bursts rather than a comprehensive, monocular view.  To understand and internalize these concepts will require most teachers and students to engage in significant intellectual and personal growth.  Second, in addition to Cynthia’s verbal metaphors, we have included an array of images that may communicate more powerfully than the words.  While we run the risk of overpowering the viewer with ideas and images, we hope that the sum total of this piece will offer a surplus of energy that will inspire further study, reflection, and spiritual practice.

We have included two versions of the script below:

1) Shorter (13 minutes): This is the actual script of the video that appears below.

2) Longer (@30 minutes): This was the initial script that Richard reduced to its current more manageable length.  Of course, shortening the script left out both some aspects of our narration as well as Cynthia’s insightful remarks.  This longer version seemed far too long for most viewers; however, the script may be of interest to some. I have highlighted those sections that are not in the 13-minute video.

Finally, thanks to colleague Mike Kersten for doing a very fine job on the voice-over for this production.

The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere: Visionary Images of Christian Education at HKIS

Enjoy the video!

Richard and Marty

Script for Shorter Version

Narrator: In May 2012 Richard and Suzanne Friedericks, and Marty Schmidt, attended a Christian spirituality conference in Assisi, Italy. Their learnings present an enticing challenge to our school community, which can be put in the form of a question: how can HKIS take what it does well – academic excellence and rich extracurricular offerings – and integrate these into a Christian vision of education that is fulfilling to students and beneficial to society?

This is a tall order, of course. But one of the conference leaders, Cynthia Bourgeault, seems uniquely qualified to offer a response. As a priest, mystic, and global spiritual leader, she has much to say on this topic, and as a grandmother of three HKIS students, she can speak insightfully with our school context in mind.

Cynthia: I think there’s already extremely good education going on, to prepare kids for the global nature of the world, the interconnected nature of the world from a horizontal standpoint. What we still need to understand more is that this new world is going to need whole human beings. You can’t do it with that egoic mental consciousness any more because it fries and splits. Like Einstein said you can’t solve the problem with the level it was created.There needs to be real serious intention built into the curriculum to understand the brain evolution being supported by what used to be called the spiritual arts … Because meditation or the spiritual arts which basically develop the non-dual brain and the capacity for non-judgmental thinking, compassionate action – are absolutely crucial to the survival of the planet.

Narrator: Teachers seem increasingly aware of how HKIS students, despite their evident materialism, seem genuinely concerned about the global environment and about the plight of many people in places distant from their HKIS bubble.

Cynthia: This generation of students coming up are really the first generation that really absolutely are going to come of age in a world where responsibly we know we’re interconnected. And nobody can bail. And nobody can uses resources irresponsibly because we aren’t going to have them. If you mine the hell out of China its going to show up in the ecosystem somewhere else. So we’ve hit the ceiling. And we’re one in that sense. We’re one in that our financial networks and our communication networks are totally inter-webbed.

Narrator: The big question facing not only civilization at large, but HKIS in particular is how can we upgrade our egoic operating system to one that is truly non-dualistic? One strategy that has proved especially effective in cracking the outer shell of the ego among older students is service-learning.

Cynthia: One of the things about service, when you look at it from in terms of the development of consciousness that we talked about earlier, is that so much of service is hands on. Its among populations, an orphanage and things like that, that are incredibly hands on. You’ve told me wonder stories of breakthroughs in kids, to actually just touch an orphan baby or child.

Marty: I think its actually a form of meditation.

Cynthia: It is.

Marty: You’re doing that repetitive motion.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Marty: You’re away from school.

Cynthia: Yeah . . . because service is always with the people that are in the downwardly mobile sectors which means that they haven’t lost their connection with that moving physicality of life. And that’s the huge danger for the people who live in the bubble, who are entitled and who go to schools that are mindy and live in high rise apartment….

Narrator: While service can be very effective, HKIS needs to bring nondualistic ways of thinking into the daily life of all of our classrooms, not just on off-campus ventures.

Cynthia: Getting it back together again are a couple of simple tricks. One having to do with grounding it in the body. That’s why the athletics are so important and not just team sports but one of the strongest skills that the spiritual traditions would say is ‘take a walk and don’t think.’

Narrator: To raise our thinking from dualistic to non-dualistic, Cynthia suggests that HKIS consider using various forms of silence, meditation and mindfulness which emerge from the depths of the world’s wisdom traditions. Her personal favorite is a Christian spiritual practice called Centering Prayer.

Cynthia: Centering Prayer or any meditation teaches you how to stop the thinking. Or at least stopping the hanging on to the thinking. So you get the capacity to say, ‘Not now, mind! I know that if I go down that track you’re just going to suck me dry.’ So you can cut the chatter.

It has two aspects. On the one hand it’s a great reliever of stress. Because its our thinking that drives us crazy….So its a really important way for kids today who live necessarily in atmospheres of high stress. To create a kind of private inner room, as they call it in the Bible, where you can go and get relief from the outer pressure that’s on you from your parents, from your teachers, are you going to get into college, and from the inner pressure that you put on yourself by your constant thinking. But the other thing, in light of what we’ve just been talking about, is that it continues to develop this evolutionary capacity of the brain. …Centering Prayer and all meditation, but particularly Centering Prayer, helps to participate in that wiring that allows the more advanced evolutionary parts of the brain, the fore brain, to really get online to handle the data coming in and to bring it into sympathetic resonance with the heart which is another heart.

Narrator: Centering Prayer dampens the egoic mind so that we can access the way of wisdom and wholeness.

Cynthia: It allows you to think inclusively and globally without having to split into them or us, better or worse, or more or less, or right or wrong. It just takes the picture.

Narrator: When students are taught meditation, they often say that they’re no good at it – they just can’t control their minds.

Cynthia: I would say that there’s no such thing as being bad at Centering Prayer. Almost all of us pick up from the culture somewhere the idea that you’re good at meditation if you sit down and instantly go into bliss! No thinking at all. For the vast majority of people that doesn’t happen. When you sit down what you first experience is that you’re totally helpless against this sort of onslaught of thoughts. Its like one thing after another, after another, after another comes at you. And so the first thing that you experience is almost a sort of nausea sometimes about what the Buddhists call the monkey mind. Its not different from life but all of a sudden you see it. Because you’re out there busy doing your homework or struggling with your peer group the same thing is going on but you don’t see it because you have an external focus. That’s why you come home and you’re tired and you’re angry and you’re upset. So the first thing that happens to most students is you experience how agitated your mind is. And its such an unpleasant experience you don’t want to go there. So you say you’re no good at it. You experience you’re helpless to stop the unpleasantness of your mind – at the agitation. You know, this is good news. Because now you’re seeing it. What centering prayer says that is so revolutionary is that you don’t have to stop the agitation of your mind.

Narrator: When Cynthia was asked how teachers themselves could better develop non-dual consciousness, she had only one suggestion besides deepening spiritual practices: “Learn more about brain research.”

Cynthia: There’s a lot of scientific data out there to prove that, that the brain, particularly in young people up to the age of about 30, has this incredible capacity to rewire itself and is at this age of really saying ‘Sock it to me!’, ‘Bring it on!’ What’s going to be needed in my wiring to be able to sustain and stabilize this non-dual consciousness that’s really needed to run the world. Centering Prayer and all meditation, but particularly Centering Prayer, helps to participate in that wiring that allows the more advanced evolutionary parts of the brain, the fore brain, to really get online to handle the data coming in and to bring it into sympathetic resonance with the heart which is another heart. It has more neurons than the brain itself.

Narrator: Marty and Richard asked Cynthia what she thought it meant to be a Christian school in our international and multicultural context.

Cynthia: I think it doesn’t make the school be less Christian. I think it invites the school to be more Christian. To say that Christianity is the portal through, you know, its our home base. Its the platform through which we open the gateways to the infinite. But we respect and we encourage and honor all the other gateways. We’re not going to deny those gateways. To be an international school, doesn’t mean to forget spirituality or to be ‘spirituality lite’. It means to embrace the religion so deeply and to come forward with a kind of naked revelation of who we are that we all move to a new level. So I don’t think there’s any problem with being a Christian school. Its important in being an inclusive Christian school rather than an exclusive one.

Narrator: HKIS oftentimes says that as a Christian school students are offered an opportunity to develop a relationship with God. In her writing, Cynthia sometimes speaks of this goal in terms of seeking “divine union.”

Cynthia: In a sense its kind of the great myth of our times because you can’t possibly be OUT of union with God … So you are never out of union with God. But what happens is your little self, which develops really strongly from about the time you’re 6 to the time you’re 12, doesn’t know this. So when it starts to think about things it says, Well there’s the stars and God’s up there somewhere beyond the stars and I’ve got to hind God. So God looks like the things that’s missing…Only when that infinite capacity of our brain begins to open up when we’re 16 to 30, only that can know that union with God – which is the simple fact the full of the moon and the sliver are always together, and are always one.

Narrator: As 20th century Catholic monk Thomas Merton explained, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.” To be a Christian school in Asia in the 21st century means teaching not only to the mind, but also to the body and the spirit in such a way that students can experience wholeness and interconnectedness. Such a life of integrity naturally leads to compassionate action for others, and perhaps a thirst for divine union.

Script for Longer Version (@ 30 minutes)

The bolded segments below are additional material that were removed in the shorter version, and thus do not appear in the video.

Narrator: In May 2012 Richard and Suzanne Friedericks, and Marty Schmidt, attended a Christian spirituality conference in Assisi, Italy.  Their learnings present an enticing challenge to our school community, which can be put in the form of a question: how can HKIS take what it does well – academic excellence and rich extracurricular offerings – and integrate these into a Christian vision of education that is fulfilling to students and beneficial to society?

This is a tall order, of course.  But one of the conference leaders, Cynthia Bourgeault, seems uniquely qualified to offer a response.  As a priest, mystic, and global spiritual leader, she has much to say on this topic, and as a grandmother of three HKIS students, she can speak insightfully with our school context in mind.   While in Assisi, Richard and Marty interviewed Cynthia about her vision of education for the future of HKIS.

According to Cynthia, HKIS students are coming of age at a very exciting historical moment. What she refers to as the 1st Axial Age and its influence is now passing and a 2nd Axial Age is being born.

Cynthia: The first axial period was from 800 to 200 BCE. Its a time when all around the world – ping – ping – ping – ping – without any horizontal connection to each other, cultures took a huge step forward spiritually. It was the age of Lao Tse; the age of Buddha, the age of Pythagoras. In the Christian tradition, the age of the Old Testament Prophets. For the Islamic, or what would become the Islamic tradition, Zoroaster. And all of these great prophets, the nature of that step forward, was about the recognition of a personal selfhood. And because of a personal selfhood, a personal relationship with God. So when the culture did what we just talked about it developed a capacity for reflective consciousness. And nowadays what the second axial period seems to be about is first of all, it’s an interweaving into the real deep sense of oneness. And we’re one in that sense. We’re one in that our financial networks and our communication networks are totally inter-webbed. So there is that dimension of oneness.

Narrator: Teachers seem increasingly aware of how HKIS students, despite their evident materialism, seem genuinely concerned about the global environment and about the plight of many people in places distant from their HKIS bubble.  This oneness and interconnectedness are characteristic of the 2nd Axial Age.

Cynthia: And this generation of students coming up are really the first generation that really absolutely are going to come of age in a world where responsibly we know we’re interconnected. And nobody can bail. And nobody can uses resources irresponsibly because we aren’t going to have them. So we’ve hit the ceiling. And we’re one in that sense. We’re one in that our financial networks and our communication networks are totally inter-webbed. So there is that dimension of oneness.

Narrator: In light of this present historical moment, the worldview of HKIS children, and the coming of this 2nd Axial Age, Cynthia was asked what kind of education she would like to have at HKIS for her grandchildren.

Cynthia: Well I would hope that people would just think seriously and talk seriously about what the second axial age means and read the literature but to add in a piece, because I think there’s already extremely good education going on, to prepare kids for the global nature of the world, the interconnected nature of the world from a horizontal standpoint. What we still need to understand more is that this new world is going to need whole human beings. You can’t do it with that egoic mental consciousness any more because it fries and splits. Like Einstein said you can’t solve the problem with the level it was created. There needs to be real serious intention built into the curriculum to understand that the brain evolution being supported by what used to be called the spiritual arts and used to be so much of an elective that its not even funny – are really part of the core curriculum. Because meditation or the spiritual arts which basically develop the non-dual brain and the capacity for non-judgmental thinking, compassionate action – are absolutely crucial to the survival of the planet. They’re every bit as crucial as being able to facilitate the internet and write your term paper in two hours and do global banking. Unless we have whole human beings; human beings that are able to think beyond the confines of mental-egoic them and us, territorial and possessive thinking we’re just going to use all these intellectual skills, the wonderful skills that schools like HKIS are instilling on people, we’re going to use them to destroy ourselves – both destroy ourselves inwardly by putting too much stress on the system and destroying ourselves outwardly just using these tools to dominate and oppress the enemy. And you can’t do that any more because there is no enemy. As Pogo says, I’ve seen the enemy and it’s us. You blow up the Chinese and you have a huge hole in your planet. So I would just really ask or advise that groups of faculty and students study together this material that the Dalai Lama is bringing in from these really top flight research people that validate; that what’s learned in the traditional spiritual arts doesn’t belong under the heading of religion and spirituality, it belongs front and center under the heading of building the second axial human being. And its a non-negotiable as far as I’m concerned. The courage to arrange the curriculum.

Narrator: When Cynthia came to Marty’s Humanities I in Action class last November, she explained how visiting the Foshan orphanage changed students’ way of thinking.  She used the metaphor of a computer operating system, and that the future of education must involve a major system upgrade.

Cynthia: But also the more interesting thing is there’s another leap forward in consciousness as a continual development of that pre-frontal capacity that now allow us to think in a whole different way. As it were, we’re in a whole different operating system in the brain. It’s kind of the upgrade of the OS. So we really are rather than thinking from what I call our egoic operating system which allows us to slowly reflect from running the inside/outside program: me/them/it, right/wrong, all these balanced opposites, it can perceive from wholeness. Sort of like the way the bat steers its way to where its going by always, a sonogram, hearing the whole picture. The brain can steer that way out of oneness and can find where the part belongs by taking a direct hit on the wholeness. And we’re seeing this capacity.

Narrator: Cynthia suggests that modern civilization is built on the premise of what might be a called a dualistic way of thinking: Westerners and Asians, female and male, Republicans and Democrats, 1st world and 3rd world, the 1% and the 99.  The educational system at HKIS reflects some of these same values, serving as a sorting machine to separate winners from losers: gifted students from normal students, AP from non-AP, curricular from extracurricular, spiritual from secular, administration from teachers.  This system of opposing forces contributes to the high stress levels that we are all familiar with.

Cynthia: We continue to use this old idea that the mind is this mental thing, the egoic mental thing, and if you put too much stress on it, it just cracks. The kind of stress, the kind of unbalanced stress, to try and do the next thing to get them into this prestigious college is just alien to the brain. Just like bending it and bending it and bending it like a bow and arrow and pulling it and pulling it and pulling it beyond what it can do and so gradually it snaps. So we have to start building in that long range capacity that will allow people to re-stabilize and thrive in a stressful situation. It isn’t going to get any less stressful once you get into Harvard or Cambridge, or wherever. That’s got its own stress. When you get that blue chip job, that’s got its own stress. So until you learn how to find yourself within the balance, if you just keep laying it on, at some point or another the system is going to crack. And whether it cracks by all of a sudden unraveling, throwing over all these things you’ve built or whether it cracks by breaking up your marriage, leaving your job or wandering off into the desert and never being seen again – it will crack. And in a way this is very good news because God didn’t put us on the planet to go to Harvard and then get fancy jobs. God put us on the planet to succeed in integrating in our own being what it means to be a human being.

Narrator: The big question facing not only civilization at large, but HKIS in particular is how can we upgrade our egoic operating system to one that is truly non-dualistic? One strategy that has proved especially effective in cracking the outer shell of the ego among older students is service-learning.

Cynthia: One of the things about service, when you look at it from in terms of the development of consciousness that we talked about earlier, is that so much of service is hands on. Its among populations, an orphanage and things like that, that are incredibly hands on. You’ve told me wonder stories of breakthroughs in kids, to actually just touch an orphan baby or child.

Marty: I think its actually a form of meditation.

Cynthia: It is.

Marty: You’re doing that repetitive motion.

Cynthia: Yeah.

Marty: You’re away from school.

Cynthia: Yeah . . . because service is always with the people that are in the downwardly mobile sectors which means that they haven’t lost their connection with that moving physicality of life. And that’s the huge danger for the people who live in the bubble, who are entitled and who go to schools that are mindy and live in high rise apartment….

Narrator:While service can be very effective, HKIS needs to bring nondualistic ways of thinking into the daily life of all of our classrooms, not just on off-campus ventures.  Cynthia believes that the essence of this way of thinking can be taught to young children with simple hand gestures.  She repeatedly teaches that the dualistic mind is one that clings and grasps – closed fists – while the non-dualistic person lives out of a posture of giving to others – hands opened.  While easy to understand, it’s exceedingly difficult to live out in the messy, dualistic power struggles of our lives.  Cynthia’s advice to never do anything from a “brace position” seems near impossible in the rough-and-tumble of Hong Kong culture. Her answer: spiritual practices are necessary to train us to remain open to God and others in the midst of inevitable tensions.

Cynthia: There are a couple of simple tricks. One having to do with grounding it in the body. That’s why the athletics are so important and not just team sports but one of the strongest skills that the spiritual traditions would say is ‘take a walk and don’t think.’ Or just do some repetitive ritual activity raking leaves, if that makes any sense in Hong Kong. Allow the body, with its genius for repetitive action, to stop the mind from boiling itself in its own stew. And meditation is a real good practice for that. Centering Prayer is real good because what centering prayer teaches you is when the mind starts with ‘So who is this whose doing this whose doing this’ and you’re going around in a box. Centering Prayer or any meditation teaches you how to stop the thinking. Or at least stopping the hanging on to the thinking. So you get the capacity to say, ‘Not now, mind! I know that if I go down that track you’re just going to suck me dry.’ So you can cut the chatter.

Narrator: To raise our thinking from dualistic to non-dualistic, Cynthia suggests that HKIS consider using various forms of silence, meditation and mindfulness which emerge from the depths of the world’s wisdom traditions.  Her personal favorite is a Christian spiritual practice called Centering Prayer.

Cynthia: Out of roots in the tradition that are ancient, that go right back to Jesus, that have been lost in the tradition. It’s a very simple form of meditation which allows you to let go of the kind of compulsive, addictive and obsessive quality of your thinking. You think. You think. You think. You think. By learning how to get some detachment from your thoughts, by not engaging with them. So it has two aspects. On the one hand it’s a great reliever of stress. Because its out thinking that drives us crazy. It’s our thinking that makes us, you know (cringes)… Somebody has rewritten that Descartes thing that says “I worry, therefore I am”. And stress is caused, really, by worrying. Its always jumping to the future, ‘what’s going to happen if this doesn’t happen?’ ‘What’s going to happen?’ So its a really important way for kids today who live necessarily in atmospheres of high stress. To create a kind of private inner room, as they call it in the Bible, where you can go and get relief from the outer pressure that’s on you from your parents, from your teachers, are you going to get into college, and from the inner pressure that you put on yourself by your constant thinking.

Narrator: Centering Prayer dampens the egoic mind so that we can access the way of wisdom and wholeness.

Cynthia: It’s developed in a very refined way by meditation. It allows you to think inclusively and globally without having to split into them or us, better or worse, or more or less, or right or wrong. It just takes the picture. It’s like being able if you’re learning music  to find where you are if you’re playing a violin, not by concentrating on your part and competing with the cellos but by hearing the intentions of the whole piece of music. And by being able to understand how what the trombones are doing are important and what the flutes are doing and make space and hear the beauty of your part in the whole thing.

Narrator: When students are taught meditation, they often say that they’re no good at it – they just can’t control their minds.  Richard and Marty asked Cynthia if some people are just not good at doing meditation.

Cynthia: I would say that there’s no such thing as being bad at Centering Prayer. Almost all of us pick up from the culture somewhere the idea that you’re good at meditation if you sit down and instantly go into bliss! No thinking at all. For the vast majority of people that doesn’t happen. When you sit down what you first experience is that you’re totally helpless against this sort of onslaught of thoughts. Its like one thing after another, after another, after another comes at you. And so the first thing that you experience is almost a sort of nausea sometimes about what the Buddhists call the monkey mind. Its not different from life but all of a sudden you see it. Because you’re out there busy doing your homework or struggling with your peer group the same thing is going on but you don’t see it because you have an external focus. That’s why you come home and you’re tired and you’re angry and you’re upset. So the first thing that happens to most students is you experience how agitated your mind is. And its such an unpleasant experience you don’t want to go there. So you say you’re no good at it. You experience you’re helpless to stop the unpleasantness of your mind – at the agitation. You know, this is good news. Because now you’re seeing it. What Centering Prayer says that is so revolutionary is that you don’t have to stop the agitation of your mind.

Narrator: When Cynthia was asked how teachers themselves could better develop non-dual consciousness, she had only one suggestion besides deepening spiritual practices: “Learn more about brain research.” She recommended a book by Andrew Neuberg, How God Changes Your Brain, which shares research about how a simple form of meditation can alter the mind’s neural pathways in only 8 weeks.

Cynthia: There’s a lot of scientific data out there to prove that, that the brain, particularly in young people up to the age of about 30, has this incredible capacity to rewire itself and is at this age of really saying ‘Sock it to me!’, ‘Bring it on!’ What’s going to be needed in my wiring to be able to sustain and stabilize this non-dual consciousness that’s really needed to run the world. Centering Prayer and all meditation, but particularly Centering Prayer, helps to participate in that wiring that allows the more advanced evolutionary parts of the brain, the fore brain, to really get online to handle the data coming in and to bring it into sympathetic resonance with the heart which is another heart. It has more neurons than the brain itself. So its a vast capacity for upgrading the operating system.

Narrator:During her adolescent and early adult years, Cynthia left the church and explored other traditions in search of something that satisfied her.  Through these explorations she became fascinated with many practices of other faiths, but eventually she came to re-adopt Christianity as her spiritual home.  This journey gives her a groundedness in Christianity as well as an openness to other faiths that has resonance with the HKIS statement “reverence for the spiritual lives of all.”  Marty and Richard asked Cynthia what she thought it meant to be a Christian school in our international and multicultural context.

Cynthia: I worked for a wonderful outfit for a time called Spiritual Pads. We brought together lineage teachers from five different traditions to teach and then to do worship experiences together. At first we kind of did ‘spirituality lite’. Each of the traditions would give us, you know, the Sufis wouldn’t give us real Zukir, they’d give us the fun laughing, dancing with no Allah words in it. And finally people got bored of that. We all had a common meditation practice. And we said to our Hindu, our Vedanta guy, ‘Take us in one night’ and we did puja. We did puja with the ceremonial offerings, the honey and the rice, and it wasn’t Hindu lite. And with the Christians we did Eucharist one night. And the Sufis gave us real Zukir. We discovered that, as Meister Eckhart said way back, ‘There’s no being without a mode of being’. I think it doesn’t make the school be less Christian. I think it invites the school to be more Christian. To say that Christianity is the portal through, you know, its our home base. Its the platform through which we open the gateways to the infinite. But we respect and we encourage and honor all the other gateways. We’re not going to deny those gateways. To be an international school, doesn’t mean to forget spirituality or to be ‘spirituality lite’. It means to embrace the religion so deeply and to come forward with a kind of naked revelation of who we are that we all move to a new level. So I don’t think there’s any problem with being a Christian school. Its important in being an inclusive Christian school rather than an exclusive one. Nowadays when people hear I am a Christian school they hear, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through me’ and the Cross is going to be used as a club to batter and disrespect the other religious traditions. So I think we’ve reached a point, you know, for a long time people have down played devotion because they don’t want that Cross as a club any more. I think our challenge is to get over that and to not be afraid of the depth of our own Christian tradition but to understand that it has a universal and inclusive level of interpretation as we go higher up the levels of teaching. Its at that level that the depth of all the traditions meet. I think of a Psalm, Psalm 42, that has a great line in it that says, ‘One depth calls to the other’. Its about line 7. I think that’s the real logo for the new era of inner spiritual work.

Narrator: HKIS oftentimes says that as a Christian school students are offered an opportunity to develop a relationship with God.  In her writing, Cynthia sometimes speaks of this goal in terms of seeking “divine union.”  Richard and Marty asked Cynthia what does it mean to seek union with God.

Cynthia: In a sense its kind of the great myth of our times because you can’t possibly be OUT of union with God. God is right there. I like to think of God as the DNA of your spirit which has unfolded the whole thing from that first big bang when a sperm and egg came together and made you. And its unfolding in you. But God is – each one of us, I believe, has in us a finite self – a person who lives in time – and an infinite self that lives in continuing flowing out from God. I like to use as an image of that – sometimes when you go out in the sky when there’s a new moon and you can see just behind the sliver, the full of the moon – for me that’s an image of your little self, which is growing in time, and already that completed thing which is your union of God which is actually driving you out into time to live your life beautifully and fully, joyously and with spaciousness. As a dance of God getting to be  in form. You are never out of union with God. But what happens is your little self, which develops really strongly from about the time you’re 6 to the time you’re 12, doesn’t know this. So when it starts to think about things is says Well there’s the stars and God’s up there somewhere beyond the stars and I’ve got to find God. So God looks like the thing that’s missing. So much of the literature of our Bible on that, God’s hiding from me… Its in some sense silly because God couldn’t be hiding or you’d collapse on the spot. Only when that infinite capacity of our brain begins to open up when we’re 16 to 30, only that can know that union with God – which is the simple fact the full of the moon and the sliver are always together, and are always one.

Narrator: Richard, Suzanne, and Marty returned from their 4-day retreat in Assisi feeling not only spiritually refreshed, but also hoping to share Cynthia’s holistic vision of education with others, which led to the creation of this video.  They hope that the HKIS community can sense through these interviews how Cynthia seemed to embody the very energy that she spoke of.  She seemed to communicate in her own being that the presence of God is not in some distant domain that one only enters after death, but rather that matter and spirit are an intertwined spiral, perceptible in the here and now.  As 20th century Catholic monk Thomas Merton explained, “The gate of heaven is everywhere.”  To be a Christian school in Asia in the 21st century means teaching not only to the mind, but also to the body and the spirit in such a way that students can experience wholeness and interconnectedness.  Such a life of integrity naturally leads to compassionate action for others, and perhaps a thirst for divine union.  Spiritual practices, and any activity that connects mind, body, and spirit, are the Wisdom traditions’ time-tested methods to escape contemporary culture’s mind dominance and be transformed into the likeness of Christ – a holistic sense of self and service to the world.  This seems to be the way that HKIS can be faithful to Jesus’ preeminent command, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ May this journey of reverence flourish at HKIS.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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3 Responses to The Gate of Heaven is Everywhere: Visionary Images of Christian Education

  1. Pingback: Wisdom Jesus and Centering Prayer Retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault | Social Conscience Education

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  3. Pingback: Social Conscience and Inner Awakening

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