My Sojourn with the Episcopal House of Bishops
In this very heartening account, Cynthia Bourgeault shares her personal experience having presented her teaching on “radical kenosis” at the annual meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in March 2022, and the blessings that emerged from their time together.
I am reticent to say too much about my teaching sojourn with the Episcopal House of Bishops last month, not because it wasn’t richly rewarding (it was!), but because in the end, the meeting felt so intimate, so intensely their own healing work (to which I was a merely a privileged onlooker) that it almost feels like a violation to try to summarize it from my own (ad)vantage point. The whole gathering unfolded with an intuitive purposiveness that was clearly greater than the sum of its parts and left us all with a newfound sense of commitment and hope. One doesn’t talk too much about moments like this; they just have to unfold. But let’s just say that the whole thing was real.
I guess life is too short and the present times too urgent for anything less than REAL. Still, it’s a miracle when it actually happens.
It was their first on-the-ground gathering in two and a half years, and they arrived at Camp Allen (near Houston), en masse, nearly a hundred-and-fifty strong. They arrived en mask as well, at least initially, but by the time I arrived one day into the proceedings, most had doffed their masks (except as a courtesy to staff when going through the dining lines), and there was a deep and quiet sense that with all due respect and prudence they were done with fear. Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s” became the unspoken mantra of the meeting, a powerful new “do” set by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in his opening homily on faith.
The whole adventure was already off and rolling by the time I joined it, so my own part was pretty much simply like getting yourself up on water-skis when the towboat has already hit full cruising speed.
It was mostly a younger crowd, with many attending their very first House of Bishops meeting, having been consecrated during the pandemic years. The changing face of the Episcopal power structure was gratifying to see: many women, persons of color, women of color, emerging already as a powerful new energy streams within the church. Almost the full complement of Caribbean bishops, bring renewed attention to the on-the-ground suffering of most our planet and adding a wonderful bilingual flavor to our mealtime conversations. And a growing complement of gay and lesbian bishops, many in committed partnerships now fully celebrated. (We’ve come a long way since the days of Gene Robinson!) I was proud of my rainbow church, proud of its lived commitment to full inclusivity in a tragically polarized world.
They had asked me to teach on “radical kenosis,” so that’s what I did. We all set out to explore how kenosis, fully understood, is not about weakness but about entrusting oneself actively to a higher intelligence which is itself mysteriously engaged through that very act of trust. We practiced Centering Prayer, with silences apparently deeper and more sustained than anyone could remember for a long time. I showed them the Welcoming Practice as a means of engaging that higher intelligence in daily action, and we took a quick pass through the Law of Three, as a new frame of reference for skillful action in gridlocked situations—needless to say, that intrigued them mightily! I was surprised how many of them had actually already dived into Eye of the Heart, and I was gratified to discover that in each of those little “welcoming bags” they give you at upscale conferences there was tucked a copy of my latest, The Corner of Fourth and Nondual. It’s a bit mind-blowing to know that the entire House of Bishops now has at least an initial acquaintance with what we’re all up to in this wisdom lineage.
In short, it felt like a win-win, and there has been some confirmation of that from the bishops’ side as well from the odd comments I’ve received. But as I’ve said, this didn’t really have much to do with me; I just stepped into a union of hearts and wills that was already out the gate; the chiastic epicenter was miles beyond us all, deep in the heart of God. And the energy may dissipate as these good bishops return to the draining daily realities of an embattled church in a disintegrating world. But for the blessed time we were together, we were there. A new “do” sounded in all our ears, and I do not think it will be forgotten.
In all of this, your own prayers of support have figured mightily. I mentioned to the bishops that there were at least two hundred people out there in our wisdom network explicitly praying for this meeting. I think that impressed them; they weren’t aware of how hearts well beyond their immediate circle cared so deeply and had their backs so fully. “Is that what you mean by the Imaginal assistance?” one bishop asked me. Well, not a bad start!