New Book: The Corner of Fourth and Nondual by Cynthia Bourgeault
In The Corner of Fourth and Nondual, a title inspired by Thomas Merton’s moment of revelation ‘at the Corner of Fourth and Walnut’ in his celebrated essay ‘A Member of the Human Race’, Cynthia Bourgeault – internationally-renowned retreat leader, practitioner and teacher of Centering Prayer – describes the foundations of her theology: a cosmological seeing with the eye of the heart, and classic Benedictine daily rule informed and enlightened by wisdom from the Asian traditions. She explains the influence of the author of The Cloud of Unknowing, Teilhard de Chardin, Boehme, Barnhart, Keating and Gurdjieff, among others in a philosophy built on the cornerstones of the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery, tied by the Trinity as a cosmogonic principle, the fundamental generative mechanism through which all things came into being.
This book is part of the My Theology series, featuring the world’s leading Christian thinkers explaining some of the principal tenets of their theological beliefs in concise, pocket-sized books.
Praise for The Corner of Fourth and Nondual
Anyone whose faith feels pot-bound, trapped in a structure too small to contain its life force, can join the kind conversation in this intimate, slender work by cosmogonic mystic, medieval scholar, Episcopal priest, Centering Prayer teacher, theologian, and sailor Cynthia Bourgeault. As she shares her practice-based, yearning-centered, dynamic theology, its foundation emerges—that ultimate Mystery yearns to be seen, just as we wish to reveal ourself fully to another and be loved. The wordplay and wise humor in her chapter titles incarnate her participatory theology: “The iCloud of Unknowing,” “Theodyssey,” “‘Two’s Company, Three’s a World…,’” and “The Corner of Fourth and Nondual.” Her work represents the best of contemporary love mysticism, and in company with shoemaker Jacob Boehme, paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin, rug dealer George Gurdjieff, carpenter Jesus, and writer and jazz enthusiast Thomas Merton, Cynthia teaches—not what—but how to see. In a world of iPhones, Internet server “clouds,” and instantaneous information, where we long to slow down, let go of bombarding thoughts, move beyond subject/object dichotomy, and connect with others, Cynthia’s work is an invitation to walk our own theodyssey, discover the relational nature of Love, and embrace the particularity—wherever we are—of Merton’s nondual epiphany at the corner of Fourth and Muhammed Ali Boulevard.
—Carmen Acevedo Butcher, translator of Practice of the Presence and Cloud of Unknowing
Excerpt from The Corner of Fourth and Nondual
– by Cynthia Bourgeault
Fundamentally, my theology is pretty orthodox. It travels in an elliptical arc between those two great cornerstones of Christian theological seeing, the incarnation and the Paschal Mystery. Jesus is a real presence to me, not simply a “Christ consciousness,” and the eucharist is the epicenter of this presence. The Trinity is the tie-rod, connecting the created and uncreated worlds in a single unified field of creative exchange.
What makes my theology initially exotic, however, is that I don’t derive the foundational truths of the Christian path from the usual Biblical and theological starting points. My cosmology is not the Biblical flat earth, but the fourteen-billion-year-old universe story science now lays before us, extended yet more broadly yet to incorporate the invisible realms depicted in the traditional sophia perennis cosmology as “the great chain of being.” And the centrality of the paschal mystery does not rest on classic atonement theology, but on the Christian cosmogonic mysticism of visionaries like Jacob Boehme and Teilhard de Chardin that set the Christ mystery within its broadest and deepest cosmogonic scope.
“Unless [Christianity] is understood to be the most realistic and cosmic of faiths and hopes, nothing has been understood of its ‘mysteries’,” writes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in the final pages of his masterwork, The Human Phenomenon.[i] By “realistic” he means capable of validation within the real world, not simply as theological glass bead game or an interior landscape of myth and metaphor. By “cosmic” he means coextensive with the actual dimensions of the created order and still fully intelligible and coherent at that scale. That is my assessment as well, and it has set the basic agenda for my theology.
At a time when significant numbers of my generation were giving up on Christianity as irrelevant, unintelligible, or desperately in need of pruning, my sense was always the opposite: that Christianity had simply become potbound, like the teetering jade plant that once sat on my windowsill: trapped in a cosmology and theological superstructure by now far too small to contain the vast life force that still ran through its veins. The solution, it seemed to me, lay not in the direction of pruning— demythologizing, rationalizing, secularizing, downsizing the scale of the mystery— but rather, in the direction of repotting this poor plant in a larger container, with more fertile soil, where it might have room to grow.
[i] Sarah Appleton-Weber, ed., Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Human Phenomenon (Eastbourne, Brighton, and Chicago: Sussex Academic Press, 1999), p. 211