Cynthia Bourgeault Q & A– Gerald May Seminar 2012

Cynthia Bourgeault Answers Questions of the Audience
Shalem Institute Gerald May Seminar 2012

At Shalem’s recent Gerald May Seminar, Cynthia Bourgeault received a number of written questions from participants. Below are a few of those questions and her responses that we’d like to share with you—

Q: You are speaking to what appears to be a fairly homogenous group of baby boomers who meditate. How do we “come down from the mountain” and return to the world of blackberries, tweets, and iphones? How do we relate and become one rather than simply retreating?

CB: Well, we could make a start by not thinking of this in terms of “coming down from the mountain.” For way too long, contemplative identity and self-imaging have been dominated by that “upward-thrusting” model (sometimes called the “perennial philosophy”) that puts God at the top and sees the world as “gross” (denotation: dense; connotation: profane and corrupt). We have to get over that model, which is not-so-subtly in cognitive tension with the Jesus path itself, which plunges straight into the heart of the world in a kenotic “descent.” Part of my game plan in these talks has been to introduce some contemporary contemplative visionaries who are taking this world seriously and seeing it as an authentic place of God’s continuing revelation—always surprising, always messy. As long as we identify “contemplative” with a lifestyle based on silence and separation, we’re always going to be in implicit tension with “the world.” The real challenge is to learn how to be the still point in the turning world, flowing into this world with the spaciousness of the infinite flowing out INTO the world, to bless and harmonize it, not to thrust ourselves upward and away from it.

And “baby boomers who meditate” is a pretty lively subset. The “Easter revolution,” as it’s often called, was also carried forward by a pretty homogenous subset: “gen X” (in their times) Jewish men and women. If homogenous subsets have integrity, vision, and energy, these qualities will fan out from center. All imaginal organization works that way—in concentric rings.

Q: I’ve spent years of my life re-tooling the language of my childhood Christian faith to welcome an inclusive and expansive God in scripture, prayer, hymns, chant, imagination, etc. I don’t want to go back there. The Raimon Panikkar vision you presented seems to do that with the language (Abba, Father), and the Trinity. Shouldn’t the “wisdom” expand the unity of God—not to be avoided in the Trinity tradition?

CB: Don’t over-react to the surface of things. Panikkar is by well-nigh universal acclamation one of the most expansive and inclusive thinkers of this century. So he must be catching a more subtle level of meaning in “old” concepts like Trinity and “Abba, Father”—not just taking us back to outmoded and oppressive theology. And it’s this more subtle awareness that I myself am interested in exploring. At root, Panikkar believes (and I agree), that it’s not a language issue but a metaphysical issue, and once the metaphysical issues have been addressed, the old language sometimes proves to be a much better vehicle for conveying inclusive (yet still relational) love than we give it credit for.

Q: The “cosmotheandric” circle of kenotic love [Cynthia’s “circle dance” and her best understanding of the Trinity]: will you relate to perichoresis?

CB: They’re two ways of describing exactly the same thing. In both, the emphasis is on the dynamic circulation of love, which flows out into the entire world.

January 01, 2009 by Cynthia Bourgeault
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Our mission is to nurture contemplative living and leadership.


In 2025, Shalem will be a dynamic and inclusive community, empowered by the Spirit, where seekers engage in transformation of themselves, their communities, and the world through spiritual growth, deep connection, and courageous action.