A friend of mine happened to mention Cynthia Bourgeault to me a few weeks ago during a visit over lunch.My friend was about to join a group study of Cynthia’s work at her meetinghouse, and she suggested that this might be an author that I would enjoy also. My schedule didn’t make it feasible for me to join the study group, but I did do a little more research on Cynthia’s work online after our lunch. I checked the local library and randomly picked up one of her books that happened to be available.
The book I chose was The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind — A New Perspective on Christ and His Message. I picked it up last night to scan through it and wound up reading the first half of the book until it got so late that eyes were burning and watering from exhaustion. I was up again very early this morning to finish it. This book completely blew me away. Needless to say, I’ve already ordered my own copy (along with a couple other of her books) and can’t wait to read it through again at a slower pace.
Her basic premise is that Jesus is part of the wisdom tradition that can be found in a wide variety of religions and that his message is best understood when viewed in that light. The book begins with an explanation of what the wisdom tradition is and how it differs from the outlook of Western Christianity that most of us are familiar with. She proceeds to work her way through a number of Jesus’ teachings—including a number of what are considered to be his “hard” teachings—to demonstrate how much more sense these parables and other teachings make when viewed through the lens of the wisdom tradition.
The next section of the book looks at the major events of Jesus’ life—his incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension—can be seen as models for a life lived in the wisdom tradition. Once again, viewing his life from this viewpoint produces a radical reinterpretation of what these events mean from those that most of us have been raised with. Her reinterpretation of the meaning behind the last supper is one that will stick with me for a long time. I am also struck by her assertion that his entire life was a sacrament that does more than symbolize a spiritual reality, it helps to bring that reality into existence.
The last section of the book covers a variety of spiritual practices—including centering prayer, lectio divina, chanting, welcoming all things, and the Eucharist—as ways of deepening our relationship with Christ and helping us to enter into the wisdom tradition that he taught. Although most of these practices are ones that I have either tried or am familiar with, I am now quite motivated to try them myself with a new openness.
The powerful impression this book made on me stems from the fact that this not only helps to resolve some of the things I have previously struggled with in considering Jesus’ life and teachings by seeing them from a new vantage point, it also brings together some of the wisdom teachings that I have found so powerful in other faith traditions into uniquely Christian path. This brings together all of the scattered pieces that have previously not fit together for me into a unitive whole.
I realize that her assertion that this is a better explanation of the message of Jesus does not fit within the orthodox stream of Western Christian thought and that many would therefore reject it outright. However, her argument for this wisdom centered viewpoint is a strong one, and it fits better with my own experience than anything else I have encountered.
I still have much reading and thinking and exploring to do to engage more deeply with this new perspective, but I think I may have finally found my ticket home, and I am feeling incredibly blessed. If you have any interest at all in mystic Christianity, the wisdom traditions, or spiritual transformation and are open to seeing Jesus from a whole new perspective, I suggest giving this book a try. It just may open a whole new world for you as it has for me.
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