From Sunday, Sept. 25 to Thursday, Sept. 29, 50 people from Canada and the United States gathered in person at the Bethlehem Centre, to share in a “Relearning Trust” teaching retreat. Another 80 participants joined by Zoom from all over the world, some from as far away as South Africa. The retreat was sponsored by The Contemplative Society. We are grateful to the diocesan Educational Trusts Board for their financial contribution towards our participation in this event.
Each day included three sessions of teaching as well as silent meditation, embodied movement, sacred chant and community dialogue, including questions from Zoom participants. Much of Cynthia’s teaching was inspired by writings from her latest book, The Corner of Fourth and Nondual.
Cynthia began by pointing out that the Christian contemplative tradition has often been accused of being ungrounded and uninvolved in the world. On the contrary, she suggested, the disciplines of silence and letting go of inner chatter are the first steps in accessing a higher intelligence that desires to work in and through, equipping us to engage meaningfully in the world and respond collectively from a higher level of trust.
Cynthia’s primary thesis was that the precious spiritual commodities of trust, forgiveness, faith, hope and love are active spiritual substances or nutrients. They are subtle energetic compounds necessary to nourish us and even the planet.
It is hard to see their true power because we have misunderstood these spiritual qualities. We have viewed trust as a situational quality. In this case, when broken, trust cannot be restored until the person who has broken trust proves themselves trustworthy. We impose a similar demand on forgiveness, demanding that the one who has done wrong acknowledge their wrong before forgiveness can be granted.
But trust and forgiveness are energetic qualities generated deep within the person who has been wronged or hurt. As much as it might be desirable to improve broken situations, it is possible to forgive without acknowledgement of wrong and to trust even when a situation does not seem trustworthy. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you… If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.” (Luke 6: 27–28) As much as we may work to improve conditions here on Earth, we are never going to make the world or individual situations entirely trustworthy. But love, forgiveness and trust can flow from the divine source and work toward healing and nurturing the universe.
Trust and forgiveness are powerful active agents whose power resides within the subject who trusts or forgives because that is what is called forth from within. The failure to open and connect with the divine life force, which is naturally trusting and forgiving, is wounding to ourselves, to others and to the entire planet.
Cynthia touched on this theme in her recent address to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops last spring, pointing out that it is the role of the church to help us connect and engage with a higher intelligence and that assistance from the imaginal realm is available, a realm invisible to the physical eye but perceptible through the eye of the heart.
The gospel logic says there is a generative power available that desires to flow forth regardless of the object. It is an offering of hope that has the potential to change the psychic atmosphere of the planet. Our first job is to nurture within ourselves the qualities Paul called the “Fruit of the Spirit” and then live from this deep well of inner aliveness out of which flows energy that supports the well-being of the world.
Inevitably Cynthia’s reflections touched upon the ongoing effects of COVID-19. She offered a stirring challenge to see that the pandemic has exposed our collective terror of death and our brutally distorted relationship with life. It has revealed our collective and individual failure to live by love and to live beyond fear. We need to become intimate with the inevitability of death and see that, until we learn to trust in our own death, we will not be able to live freely.
Cynthia’s visit also included a day-long workshop for 80 people at St George, Cadboro Bay. This day involved Anglicans from around the diocese and other faith communities, sharing in a more introductory exposure to many of the practices that Cynthia uses on longer retreats.