Archives, Pondering

Trinitarian Wisdom

Yesterday I was talking informally with a thoughtful friend about a number of contemplative contemporary Christian writers, particularly women, whose writings appear to have begun in a place of Christian orthodoxy, but morph somewhere inthe middle.

Because I self-identify as a contemplative Christian woman, committed to embodying godly wisdom in the everydayness of life, I am concerned with the confusion that is being created (or ought to be created) by these authorial shifts. I pause when I read statements like this one:

“It’s remarkable how, no matter what spiritual path you pursue, the nuts and bolts of transformation wind up looking pretty much the same: surrender, detachment, compassion, forgiveness” (Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing).

My hesitancy is not with the statement itself, for this is an accurate description ofthe nature of spiritual teaching within the broad wisdom tradition of spiritual transformation across world religions. There is no doubt that many of the practices embraced in the pursuit of godly Christian wisdom are not dissimilar
to the spiritual practices seeking wisdom in other traditions.

My spiritual radar goes up about here: Bourgeault self-identifies as a Christian. “My own reference points are Western and Christian, but Wisdom is a shared tradition and I hope that all will feel welcome even if Christianity is not your devotional context.”

In the Judeo-Christian tradition wisdom is a pursuit surpassed only by the exhortation to pursue God himself. We do well to delight in the wisdom of God with our whole heart, mind and strength. Reading and re-reading the Scripture and practicing well-trod spiritual disciplines in order to internalize the Word as we simultaneously listen to the cries of the world, is of the greatest importance in our day.

Indeed, there are “basic devotional orientation points” where authentic Christian experience meets the broader wisdom tradition. Were we to eliminate the heart postures of receptivity and surrender, our souls would be like hard ground, and none of that God-sent wisdom could soak in.

Yet, while the practices of attaining wisdom across religious traditions bear some similarities, the source and goal of wisdom is radically different between them. I was fully frustrated with Bourgeault’s book when she began to speak of God as an “endless unity” -“a continuum of the divine that saturates our world.”

As she describes this broader tradition, the “divine unity” at the center of all things must be awakened in each one of us. We each carry a spark of this divine unity and the goal of the spiritual practices of surrender, compassion and forgiveness is to awaken that spark of the divine in each of us so that we can be an incarnation of the divine in the world.

The dividing line is where the wisdom comes from. Do we each have a divine spark that needs to be ignited in us? Or are we indwell by the Holy Spirit who comes from outside us and enters in? Who’s life are we carrying?

The Trinitarian Christian response is that incarnation is not a word that I can take, unmediated, to myself. The only way any of us can live incarnationally is because Jesus came as THE incarnation of the Father, first showing and then giving us his Father by the power of the Holy Spirit who led and sustained Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, raised him from the dead and now lives in those who look to Jesus as our mediator, elder brother, Savior and Lord.

This Trinitarian source, steeped in joy, is also our goal—that we might continually be transformed into the knowledge and heart of our incarnate, ascended Lord while we are here on this earth as His eyes and hands and feet. We do not naturally carry a spark of the divine within, but bear the fullness of the Holy Spirit who comes from outside of us, and indwells faith-awakened souls. In this way, and ONLY in this way is the Kingdom of God made manifest in the world.

 When our beginning and our end is in the revealed Lord Jesus Christ of Scripture—in whom all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden—we can receive from God, surrender to Him, live incarnationally in the world with wisdom…and with joy, which is one sure mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence within.

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