Love Is Stronger Than Death: The Mystical Union of Two Souls

Overview

This is a love story like no other. It describes the incandescent relationship between two hermits—a seventy-year-old monk and a fifty-year-old woman Episcopal priest and medieval scholar—who met at a Trappist monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. Both had studied Western esoteric traditions and believed it was possible for two souls to work and grow together "from here to eternity."
        
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Overview

This is a love story like no other. It describes the incandescent relationship between two hermits—a seventy-year-old monk and a fifty-year-old woman Episcopal priest and medieval scholar—who met at a Trappist monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. Both had studied Western esoteric traditions and believed it was possible for two souls to work and grow together "from here to eternity."
        
Brother Raphael Robin and Cynthia Bourgeault had three tempestuous and intense years together learning what it means to truly love someone, and then Rafe had a heart attack and died. Cynthia was urged to let him rest in peace (as we all are on the death of a loved one) but she trusted the invincible certainty of her heart. Several years later, Cynthia remains fully in touch with Rafe, believing that whatever he may be doing in the beyond affects her, and that what she does here affects him.
        
Cynthia Bourgeault's writing is robust and clear-eyed, and it shines. Her book is the story of what happened both before and after Rafe's death, as well as a guidebook for others called to the path of conscious love.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest and professor of theology, met Brother Raphael Robin in 1990 while attending a Colorado training workshop in centering prayer. The elderly monk lived in seclusion in a mountain cabin. The romantic yet platonic relationship that ensued between the 50-year-old Bourgeault and the 70-year-old hermit lasted five years, until his death. Both believed that a relationship can continue beyond this life, and here Bourgeault describes her search for that connection after Robin's death. The unusual love story is told from a girl-meets-boy perspective. Though some readers will be turned off by the emphasis on the after-death relationship, others will enjoy this well-written telling of an unconventional intimacy. Libraries offering titles on mysticism, inner transformation, or dealing with grief will find this a unique and welcome addition.--Leroy Hommerding, Citrus Cty. Lib. Inverness, FL Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Richard Smoley
By now the term "soul mate" has entered into common spiritual parlance. As the subject of innumerable guides to getting the perfect lover, a "soul mate" usually means someone with whom you can have an idyllic and problem-free relationship. In this sense, of course, it is a complete fantasy.
Cynthia Bourgeault's provocative new book Love Is Stronger Than Death offers a more profound, and perhaps more unsettling, view of the possibilities for a pair of soul mates. It is the story of the relationship between the author, an Episcopal priest around fifty years old, and Brother Raphael Robin or "Rafe," a Trappist hermit monk twenty years her senior. Much of this vivid tale takes place in Snowmass, Colorado, against the backdrop of long Rocky Mountain winters--a setting that, as Brother David Steindl-Rast notes in his gracious introduction, adds its own crisp and uncompromising flavor to the story. (The author herself speaks of the cold north light beloved by artists "because it shows things as they truly are.") Bourgeault, cut loose from an unhappy marriage, goes to Snowmass for a few months' retreat. There she is befriended by Rafe, who descends from his mountain cabin to visit her from time to time, and a deep relationship develops. Though it is platonic, the love that grows between these two idiosyncratic seekers ultimately leads the author to explore the perplexing interplay between love and death. Not surprisingly, given his age, Rafe dies. But rather than passing through the customary stages of grief and acceptance of her loss, Bourgeault finds that something quite different happens. As she kneels beside his body in wake, she has a mystical experience that has a distinctly "nuptial" flavor about it. As the months pass, her sense of Rafe's living presence intensifies rather than fades, and she comes to conclude that the bond between them is indeed far stronger than death. Bourgeault's experiences lead her to explore some long-neglected spiritual byways. Throughout the history of the esoteric Christian tradition (with which the author is here very much concerned), there has been the subtle but persistent theme of what has sometimes been called "courtly love"--a passionate attachment between two people in which erotic release is sublimated into the development of a higher entity--another "soul." For Bourgeault, this "soul" is a new and common life shared by her and Rafe. I first encountered Bourgeault's story several years ago, when I published an early version of it in Gnosis, a magazine I was editing at the time. I was struck then not only by the sincerity of Bourgeault's account but by the unmistakable flavor of knowledge that it conveyed--that here, in this woman's unusual story, I was encountering some powerful truths that are little-known in either the West or the East. On reading her book in full now, I'm more than ever convinced of the validity of her experiences--and her understanding of them. Anyone who is interested in the connection between love and spirituality, or in Fourth Way ideas of "higher being-bodies," will find much to ponder here. One thing that is particularly powerful about Love Is Stronger Than Death is its complete avoidance of prescriptions and handy lists of things to do (of which American readers seem so inexplicably fond). Indeed, Bourgeault insists that this relationship between her and Rafe was ultimately something that simply happened; she did not plan it, and she offers no suggestions about how you and I can do the same. Her references to esotericists as diverse as G. I. Gurdjieff, Boris Mouravieff, and Jacob Boehme simply derive from her attempts to make sense of her experience. But in so doing, she magnificently helps us to understand it as well. You're not likely to come away from this book wanting to imitate the author's unique and demanding spiritual path. But you are likely to come away from it with a new awareness of the dimensions of love and a sense that the romances of ordinary life are only a fragment of what is possible. In fact this is the first book I have read in a long time that suggests to me that its author truly knows what it means to love. As such, it is a powerful contribution to the esoteric Christianity that seems to be sending up new shoots of life in the present day.
Parabola Magazine
Kirkus Reviews
Can love between two persons continue after one of them has died? This book argues that it can, based on the author's own experience of "mystical" love with her soulmate, a Trappist monk 20 years her senior who died in late 1995. Bourgeault met Brother Raphael Robin at a Colorado monastery in 1990, when she, an Episcopal priest, was attending a prayer workshop there. When her marriage fell apart shortly thereafter, she returned to the monastery to center herself and developed a unique spiritual relationship with Rafe. The book recounts their instant soul attraction, which, while sometimes syrupy, seems genuine enough. After Rafe died of a heart attack, Bourgeault spent the night sitting beside the corpse and holding his hand. She had the profound impression that she was called to continue their relationship, to not let go—a conviction that only grew stronger as the months passed and her grief did not diminish. Bourgeault recounts experiences—in her cabin, on a beach—where she clearly heard Rafe's voice guiding her. The book describes such "mystical unions" by drawing upon Rafe's own wisdom (invariably dispensed while logging or fixing a snowmobile), as well as the writings of Rilke, Nouwen, the Desert Fathers, and some more recent Christian mystics. An explanatory afterword highlights the books Bourgeault used to understand mystical union, but readers might be forgiven for remaining skeptical that such unions take place.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780609604731
  • Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/14/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.57 (h) x 0.87 (d)

Meet the Author

The Reverend Cynthia Bourgeault, Ph.D., lives in British Columbia, where she divides her time between solitude and her role as resident teacher for the Contemplative Society. Over the past two decades she has visited, studied, and taught in Benedictine monasteries throughout the United States and Canada, while earning her "outside" living variously as a college professor, medievalist, editor, and parish priest. She is an oblate of New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California, and a past Fellow of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota. She is the author of many articles and audiotapes on the spiritual life and is an internationally known retreat leader.
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