Purity, Faith, and Fidelity: An Experience-Based Reinterpretation

img_20170622_153115879_hdr.jpgIntroduction

It was Sunday morning of the final day of our 5-day retreat Image result for divine milieuat Holy Isle, Scotland, studying the work of French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin, as seen through the eyes of spiritual teacher Cynthia Bourgeault. She had led us through Teilhard’s understanding of the three most important Christian virtues – purity, faith, and fidelity – which he describes in his most personally reflective book, The Divine Milieu. She then turned to us and suggested that this was our task – to define these for ourselves.

With this exhortation fresh in our minds, we then proceeded to what would be the high point of the week for many participants. Cynthia led us through a celebration of the Eucharist, remembering Jesus’ final hours before his death when he consecrated the bread and wine as his body and blood at the Last Supper, symbolically giving of himself Image result for bread and wineto his disciples only hours before his death on a Roman cross. Cynthia commented that in shamanic traditions, when a great teacher is leaving the planet, this person will discharge a certain power into objects that can serve as tangible links to the person and the teaching. For two thousand years this most powerful of Christian rituals has been practiced by communities across the continents and epochs, and we were adding to that constituency in this moment. Cynthia’s invocation, sharing, singing, and prayers led us into a time of passing bread and wine among the 50 people sitting in two concentric circles.

Blessed are the Pure in Heart

The experience seemed fully charged with an Image result for blessed are pure in heartenergy that seemed to manifest what she had been teaching all week. A key theme of her interpretation of Teilhard is summarized in Jesus’ famous beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Here is a typical excerpt from the week’s teaching, as she riffed about what it meant to open the heart to God’s presence:

“The universe is saturated and suffused with a natural holiness that is rising up to meet us; the spiritual realms are not way beyond us, but rather that deep, natural, intelligent energetic support is always available, if we know how to attune to it. Unfortunately, our egoic selves create a tunnel vision that can’t perceive or receive the world, or we get lost in our mental stories, out of touch with the sensations of our bodies. We become “absurd,” which literally means to be deaf. The world is charged with the glory of God, but we aren’t attuned to it. Your whole body is built to be a sensing antenna for divine realities, to receive the beauty and intricacy and the help that is there all the time – guidance, energy, affirmation. It’s right there beneath our feet. We need to open to sensation, grounded in the earth, allowing the heart to open as the electromagnetic receiver it is meant to be.IMG_20170625_193905288_BURST000_COVER_TOPIt is to this vision that I return over and over again, a message consistent with that of Screen Shot 2017-07-02 at 3.17.00 AM.pngthe mystics across time and ages: if we purify the heart, we are able to be receivers of divine energy that is always present, always accessible at every moment. It seems to me, as I hinted at the end of my last entry, that 21st century people are looking for an inward tangible quality like this rather than affirming the church’s more common emphases on moral integrity and social ministry. I continue to explore this energetic spirituality, not only for my own search, but also for my students who for the most part are not drawn to the church’s contemporary message. Is this the missing piece?

New Understandings

Cynthia concluded our Eucharistic celebration with a benediction, and we sat as a community silently observing the moment. My whole body felt as if it were gently vibrating at a higher energetic state. My hands were tingling, and the rest of me felt alive, quivering perhaps, as Cynthia often says, like a bead of mercury, in a state of open expectation. This is what Cynthia had been teaching all week – that the whole body was meant to be a “sensing antennae for divine realities.” Sitting in this energized state, I asked myself Cynthia’s earlier question: how would I define Teilhard’s three virtues at this moment? This is what came to me:

Purity. Purity in this state suggested a total openness, a permeable cell membrane that Image result for purityopened itself to the “divine milieu,” as it were. This state, I reflected, was produced in part this week by joining a living community of volunteers at the Holy Isle retreat center who not only offered us hospitality, but engaged in daily prayers and chants that permeated the center with a calm energy. In contrast to common perceptions of holiness or chastity, purity in this context simply means opening to and participating in the momentary flow of spiritual energy.

Faith. Teilhard’s second virtue, faith, also took on a Image result for hesednew understanding in this state. Rather than the common sense of mentally affirming certain tenets to be true, faith here meant being empowered by the energy of love and presence. I am reminded of a recent teaching of Cynthia’s in which she defined that central Old Testament concept of the “righteousness of God”, or hesed, as a force field of Yahweh’s fierce covenant love. To have faith, then, meant to transmit this highly energized state of hesed. Faith should be considered as a dynamism and flow, far more a verb than a noun.

Fidelity. The third Teilhardian virtue, fidelity, also changed in the afterglow of the Eucharist. I perceived myself as the fortunate recipient of a long, often underground, wisdom heritage, put into motion within Christianity by Jesus himself in the creation of this Last Supper ritual. Fidelity in this moment meant being faithful to the past, purifying myself as an instrument of this energy, and then sharing this hesed with those through my life and teaching. To these first two virtues, fidelity added a chronological sense of understanding the rare privilege of accessing this teaching, as experienced powerfully in the Wisdom School community, and finding means by which to pass this lineage of insight on into the future.

Image result for fidelity faithfulness

Finally, participating in this precious Eucharist experience gave me a chance to explore a key element of Cynthia’s teachings regarding the difference between an emotion and a feeling. An emotion is ego-directed, while a feeling is the heart’s experience when self-centeredness has been diminished. Paradoxically, the Wisdom Tradition teaches that feelings have an objective sense of what may be considered subjective experiences. In that moment of reflection, I understood the difference: the Eucharist held among this group of humble seekers was profoundly felt in my body as sensation, but it was not overly emotional. Rather, it felt that I was simply seeing what was true, sensing it my body, valuing it as a fully felt state. Less drama, more integrity.

IMG_20170622_083740434_HDRConclusion

As I sit here a mere 4 days after the initial event, I’m deeply grateful that I wrote the rough draft of this entry immediately after the experience, for now it has already slipped away into one of those very positive memories, but lacking in anything more substantive. And that would be a shame, for redefining key Christian concepts for oneself based on an intimate communal experience gathered around an ancient ritual offers me a whole new way of considering my spiritual life. My experience seems Related imageentirely consistent with Jesus’ profound teaching, the last of his life with his disciples, infusing the common elements of bread and wine – “Take eat, this is my body, given for you. Take drink, this is my blood, shed for you” – with a power that appears to still be accessible. The key, resonant with mystical teaching across ages and cultures, is to remove the barriers to experiencing life in the present moment, and then receiving, transmitting, and passing onto the next generation that spiritual power in all its immediacy.

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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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12 Responses to Purity, Faith, and Fidelity: An Experience-Based Reinterpretation

  1. Gus MacLeod says:

    Thank you for your sharing of this beautiful time. It was my privilege to be part of the first two wisdom schools on Holy Isle and I was sorry to have to miss this one so am grateful for your reflections on and from the final eucharist.

  2. rjastowell says:

    Deeply appreciate the reflections on the retreat. The flow of the sacred is so present, and as I imagined what it must have been like to actually be there, I felt my heart yearning to be even more open and present. I am relatively new ( less than 6 months ) to the community and sensing the richness and profundity of the retreat is very inspiring.

  3. Christa says:

    Thank you for your reflections

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  6. Rosh Naidoo says:

    Hey Marty, what a wonderful full experience you’ve lived through. It’s a truth, “the key, is to remove barriers to experiencing life in the present moment”. I can hear you’ve experienced this truth. Thank you for sharing your learning and change. (cool photos)
    Rosh 🙂

  7. murray dean russell says:

    you brought me into the wonder of the room with the prickling antennas of spiritual reflection, teilhard’s vision is a mystic hurricane for me, i can feel the fires i’m searching for resonating in a phylum of teilhardian frequency seeking out new worship and assembly. looking to build families at the threshold of omega
    blessings

    • Thanks, Murray – what a lyrical response . . . sounds to me you are on a great journey yourself . . . and that you should be writing, if you aren’t already. You are right, there was a wonder in the room, but it was not otherworldly. It rather felt more like a heightened ordinariness, and that’s part of what made it special…that it would not be out of reach to do again. Right people in right spot with the right “choirmaster” and some similar energy would flow again.

      • murray dean russell says:

        a “heightened ordinariness” what beautiful poetry, i can feel it in peak moments of meditation and worship but especially so when the teilahardian geometry of vast time, space, and the christogenesis of the future is invoked and prayerfully engaged. these are paradigm shifting moments that must be shared and cultivated among the body using the the tools and powers of the noosphere available to us now like at no other time in history. thanks for sharing. blessings brother

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