The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind--A New Perspective on Christ and His Message

The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind--A New Perspective on Christ and His Message

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by Cynthia Bourgeault

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If you put aside what you think you know about Jesus and approach the Gospels as though for the first time, something remarkable happens: Jesus emerges as a teacher of the transformation of consciousness. Cynthia Bourgeault is a masterful guide to Jesus's vision and to the traditional contemplative practices you can use to experience the heart of his


If you put aside what you think you know about Jesus and approach the Gospels as though for the first time, something remarkable happens: Jesus emerges as a teacher of the transformation of consciousness. Cynthia Bourgeault is a masterful guide to Jesus's vision and to the traditional contemplative practices you can use to experience the heart of his teachings for yourself.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Inspired by the Nag Hammadi discoveries and influenced by more than 30 years of study with Fr. Thomas Keating and other contemplatives in a variety of wisdom traditions, Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, encourages seekers to reach beyond the Western tradition of Jesus-as-Savior to embrace Jesus more wholly as a wisdom teacher. Through a transformative lesson in vocabulary, giving new meaning to perceptions like "head," "heart" and "repentance," she offers a fresh reading of the Beatitudes, challenges us to explore the more complicated messages imbedded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and emphasizes a notion of "self-emptying love" that allows for a shift in consciousness from ego-based analysis to acceptance of divine abundance, which in turn sheds new light on examinations of the Passion, crucifixion and ensuing events. Guided chapter primers on centered meditation and chanting further prepare readers to test the open waters of welcoming the "flow of... deeper sustaining wisdom." Though strict legalists may not warm to this new spiritual perspective, other students of faith will find an especially intriguing and engaging path waiting for them. (Aug.)

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Library Journal

Episcopal priest Bourgeault (Centering Prayer) offers a fluent, persuasive reimagining of Christian understanding through the lens of the Eastern search for wisdom. Although the publisher is best known for Buddhist works, Bourgeault's innovative approach results in a sound and authentic Christianity that takes into account historical discoveries and Eastern traditions; her vision of Jesus centers around "self-emptying." With five "wisdom practices" for Christians. Highly recommended.

—Graham Christian
From the Publisher
"There are few spiritual teachers who give us genuinely fresh insight, but even fewer who give us the tools so we can come to those insights for ourselves. Cynthia Bourgeault does both, and does them very well!"—Richard Rohr, OFM, author of  Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer

"A masterful work. Cynthia Bourgeault invites us to follow Jesus's path of self-emptying love, and she describes wisdom practices that we Christians can use every day to transform our own minds so that we too can see with the eyes of Christ."—Jim Marion, author of Putting on the Mind of Christ 

"Bourgeault centers her expansive house of wisdom in the sayings and extraordinary death of the gospel Jesus as she turns light and darkness into a living poetry of self-emptying vision."—Willis Barnstone, author of  The Other Bible, coauthor of The Gnostic Bible

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Shambhala Publications, Inc.
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Shambhala Publications
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 1: Jesus as a Recognition Event

If you are searching,
You must not stop until you find.

When you find, however,

You will become troubled.

Your confusion will give way to wonder.

In wonder you will reign over all things.
Your sovereignty will be your rest.

The words above are from the Gospel of Thomas, recovered in 1945 amid the Nag Hammadi scrolls in the Egyptian desert and now largely accepted as an authentic teaching
of Jesus. The quotation in this version is probably longer than you’re familiar with from the Bible; the other gospels stop with “seek and you shall find.” But here Jesus lays out several additional steps to tell us what the search is really like. Seeking leads to finding, yes, but the result of that finding is often to plunge you into confusion and disorientation as the new information rattles the cage of your old paradigm. Only gradually, as you can make room for what this gospel calls “wonder,” does a new universe begin to knit itself together around you, and you come to rest on a new foundation. Until the next go-round, that is.

Thomas’s words are timely because in this book we’ll be embarking on an exploration of some rich spiritual territory, which may be very challenging precisely because it’s so near at hand. We will be attempting a new take on Jesus, a new look at him as a master in an ancient spiritual tradition which I’ll call wisdom. This is difficult precisely because most of us think we know something about this Jesus already. We don’t all agree on what we know, of course. But if you’ve grown up Christian, you at least know the general gist of the story—that he was the only Son of God, that he came to this world on a mission of teaching and healing, that he was crucified, died for our sins, rose again, ascended into heaven, and now asks us to believe. Believe what? Well, believe all the things I’ve just said.

Perhaps the most deadening aspect of our Christianity as we’re used to it—aside from the fact that it really is a kind of cultural backdrop, the filter through which we look at everything else—is that we live it with twenty-twenty hindsight. We know the story. We know how the plot comes out. We know who the winners are, what the winning team is all about. We celebrate this story again and again, in our grand festivals at Christmas and Easter, and in smaller segments throughout the year. If you go to the Catholic or Episcopal Church, every Sunday you’ll recite the story in the form of the Nicene Creed: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; begotten, not made, one in being with the Father, through whom all things were made,” and so on. Christians have been doing this since the fourth century. It’s the primary way that we approach our teacher, through what we believe about him. And if you’re of the fundamentalist or evangelical persuasion, you’ll know that the whole story is there in scripture. The Bible contains the complete and divinely authorized biography of Jesus and furnishes the complete guide to what you should do to becomehis disciple. Everything needed for your personal salvation is right there.

But what I’m about to suggest as the starting point for our exploration is that all this knowing about Jesus actually gets in the way. Living our Christianity with twenty-twenty hindsight lands us in trouble in at least two ways. First of all, it lulls us into a false sense of security: that we’re the winning team, that as Christians we’d recognize and know Jesus when he showed up. But even more problematically, this twenty-twenty hindsight takes away from us the key tool that we need to find and live the path today, to connect with this person that we seem to know so much about. This tool is our own power of inner recognition, and I will have much to say about it shortly.

But of course we may be in a window of opportunity just here. We’re living in an era in which the Christian monolith is breaking down. Some would say it’s broken down already. Mainstream Christianity is steadily losing ground (and membership). Across the board—between denominations and within them as well—forward movement seems to have slowed to a halt in the violent polarization between left wing and right wing, between liberal and fundamentalist takes on reality. You see Christian communities tearing themselves to pieces over issues such as the blessing of homosexual unions, or women’s ordination, or abortion rights, while the gospel call to tend the poor and speak truth to power goes increasingly unheeded. There’s so much anguish and struggle within an institution which even fifty years ago was virtually (or virtuously) synonymous with the decent and proper conduct of society. And at the same time there’s a lot of new information out there—even gospels we didn’t really know about before, like the Gospel of Thomas, discovered among the so-called gnostic gospels, the cache of ancient Christian texts found at Nag Hammadi in 1945. And there’s a lot of speculation and revisioning emerging from these recent discoveries, some parts of it very solid and others downright flaky.

In other words, we’re living in an era right now which some would call a major paradigm shift, where there’s an opportunity as perhaps there hasn’t been before to really open up the corequestions again and ask, “What is it that we mean by ‘Christianity’? What is this filter that we’re looking through? Who is this Master that we profess and confess in our life as we call ourselves Christian?”

The angle of approach I will be using throughout this book is to see Jesus first and foremost as a wisdom teacher, a person who (for the moment setting aside the whole issue of his divine parentage) clearly emerges out of and works within an ancient tradition called “wisdom,” sometimes known as sophia perennis, which is in fact at the headwaters of all the great religious traditions
of the world today. It’s concerned with the transformation of the whole human being. Transformation from what to what? Well, for a starter, from our animal instincts and egocentricity into love and compassion; from a judgmental and dualistic worldview into a nondual acceptingness. This was the message that Jesus, apparently out of nowhere, came preaching and teaching, a message that was radical in its own time and remains equally radical today. I’m mindful here of one of my favorite quotes, attributed to the British writer G. K. Chesterton, who reportedly said, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.” In this great cultural monolith that we call Christianity, which has guided the course of Western history for more than two thousand years, have we really yet unlocked the power to deeply understand and follow this Jesus along the radical path he is calling us to?

Meet the Author

Cynthia Bourgeault, PhD, is an Episcopal priest, teacher, and retreat and conference leader. She is the author of several books, including Chanting the Psalms and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.

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