Thank you for visiting our blog! This is a new experience for us after hosting our website for many years. We hope you will find our posts spiritually inspiring, thought provoking, and filled with contemplative insight.
It has been nearly 15 years since we wrote our book Walking the Path of ChristoSophia in an attempt to share what we had learned in our quest for an authentic Christian spirituality outside the institutional Christian church. At the same time we developed our website (www.christosophia.org) to further explore the sacred feminine presence in Christian tradition, which we believe is crucial for the development of Christian wisdom in our contemporary world. In the years since the completion of this work we have gone through many changes in our lives, both outer and inner, as we continued our spiritual quest. If you are interested in the changes in our lives that have impacted our work, you may read our story in the “Coming Home” writings that follow.
For those of you who are just now joining us on this journey, we’d like to share a bit about our backgrounds. Richard was raised as a Quaker and as an adult took a very different path by becoming an Eastern Orthodox priest. He also taught mystical theology in an Eastern Orthodox seminary and world religion and philosophy in various colleges. Cynthia was raised as a Methodist and developed a strong interest in Jungian psychology as a young adult. This led to work in counseling and teaching psychology in a community college. At different stages of our individual spiritual journeys, we became disillusioned with the institutional Christian church and set out to explore new paths. Over 30 years ago our paths led to spiritual partnership and marriage, and since that time we have walked together on the Path of ChristoSophia.
We are writing this blog as a way to share with you our experiences and reflections at this stage of our journey. Our further explorations have led us to an increasingly unitive view of the image of ChristoSophia as we experience the urgent need for humanity to share the world’s traditions of wisdom for the purpose of our collective spiritual transformation. Our first blog post summarizes how we are currently revisioning the Path of ChristoSophia. Further blogs will include reflections on evolutionary spirituality and the rising of the Global Heart as ways of transforming humanity; the reappearance in our times of the mystical tradition of the Divine Feminine in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; the role of the Green Man as an oracle of the Divine Feminine; sharing some of the perennial wisdom of the great mystical sages of the world religions; and seeking greater understanding between science and spirituality.
Just as there are many ways to walk along a path, our writings will vary in format from meandering musings to more focused essays that, like a pilgrimage, travel to a specific destination. We invite all of you who are seeking heart connections with others of all faiths and cultures on the path of Wisdom to walk with us on this journey as it continually evolves!
Coming Home: The Wisdom of Dreams
By Cynthia Avens
The greatest change in our outer journey on the Path of ChristoSophia in recent years has been our return to the church! This is an amazing turn of events for those who know that our book Walking the Path of ChristoSophia was an impassioned plea for the restoration of crucial elements of Christian tradition that we believe have been suppressed within the institutional church. It is no understatement to say that we were even more shocked at this change in our path’s direction! And it is because of this new course that we are on that we have been inspired to write these reflections to share with you.
To tell the whole story of my “coming home” to the church, I need to interweave the outer events with the dreams and visions of my inner experiences. I will begin with my initial anguished disillusionment with the church as a young adult. I could not find what my soul desperately yearned for within the constricting walls of the Christianity that I had been raised in. I knew that I was searching for a “path with a heart” and felt that the essence of Christianity – Christ’s message of love – certainly provided this path. As I struggled with the conflict between what I instinctively knew to be the essential “heart” of Christianity and my actual experiences in Christian churches, I heard these words inwardly as though Christ were speaking them to me: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7) This was the guidance that I followed to pursue my spiritual search in a direction that left the church behind.
During this first stage of my journey as a “self-exiled Christian,” I had a dream that affected me profoundly:
I am standing alone in a pool of water at the bottom of a cliff upon which a church sits. It is dusk on Christmas Eve. All of the windows in the church are glowing warmly from the light of candles inside and the beautiful sound of Christmas carols rings out. I feel very sad and lonely, and ache to be part of the community inside the church rather than standing on the outside by myself. But I know that I cannot do this. As soon as I accept this, I become aware of a glorious, heavenly light permeating the water beneath my feet and the billowing clouds above my head. It is a luminosity like none that I have ever experienced in the everyday world, and I realize that it is only because I am alone – outside the church – that I have been able to see it. The candles burning in the church create a beautiful light, but it is a dim reflection of the supernal Light that I am witnessing.
This dream affirmed the decision that I had made to leave the church, and gave me an intimation of what I was seeking. For a number of years I pursued my solitary search on a variety of spiritual paths, although my heart always remained in Christianity. The greatest blessing on my journey occurred when I met Richard and we made a conscious commitment to walk on our path together. We called this the Path of ChristoSophia* and dedicated ourselves to sharing our exploration on the spiritual “bypaths” of Christian tradition that offer alternative routes to the “highway” of the institutional church. We met others who were seeking the “bypaths” of Christianity and formed a spiritual community where we could share our journeys on the Path of ChristoSophia. Our book, Walking the Path of ChristoSophia, and our website (Christosophia.org) are the fruits of our explorations and experiences on this path.
We encountered the next major and completely unexpected turn in our journey after we retired from our careers as college professors and moved to our beloved mountains of southern Appalachia. We fully expected to form another small community of spiritually independent seekers, but our path opened up in a completely different way! While doing volunteer work for a community organization, a new friend asked us the simple question that we had heard so often in this bastion of the Bible Belt: “Do you go to church?” Not wanting to expound on the nature of our spiritual lives, we just said “No.” He must have sensed a slight hesitation in our answer, for he then asked, “Do you want a church?” This time, we firmly stated “No!” Our friend replied, “Well, that’s okay, but I just thought that if you were looking for a church I’d invite you to mine. You know, I never set foot in a church after I was 18 years old until a few years ago. But when I started going to this church I felt like I had died and gone to heaven!” When he said this I felt like an arrow had pierced my heart. I have had visions (imaginal – not literal) of the heavenly realm; could there truly be a place on Earth that reflects the love and the joy that is found there? I was stunned by my intense reaction to this exchange, but said nothing. As the work hours were over, Richard and I walked out to our car and as soon as we sat down we looked at each other and said, “Guess we’d better go check out this church.” His reaction had been similar to mine. That was the calling that brought us back to the institutional church. I remained very skeptical and so was completely surprised at my response when I stepped through the door the first time. For I felt the presence of the Spirit in this place and knew in my deepest being that I was “home.”
Soon after this I had another dream that also marked a critical juncture in my spiritual journey:
I am in a huge church building that has many rooms. I walk through room after room, finding them all to be different, from one that is decorated with classical Greek art in which a few scholarly types are milling around, to another that is a starkly modern auditorium with multitudes of people. Many of them are interesting and beautiful, but I know that none are meant for me to stay in. Then I notice, in a dimly lit corner on the far side of the church, a stairway that leads to the upper room of the church. I climb the stairs and open a door to see a small room with no people. In the center is a large, canopied bed and on the wall is a plaque containing a symbol of mystical union and the inscription: “Love is the Path.”
I realized that the inner guidance I had received so many years ago that has been the touchstone for my spiritual journey – “Ask, seek, knock” – had led me back to the church where I have found the “inner door” upon which to knock.
Ten years later, Richard and I both realize that after many years of following the “Path of Love” of ChristoSophia outside the church, we have truly found access to the “Heart of Love” within the church.
*See The Path of ChristoSophia under “Spiritual Essays” on our website (www.christosophia.org) for a detailed description.
Coming Home: Return to the Church
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
These words by T. S. Eliot describe exactly how we feel at this point in our spiritual journey! After many years of exploration, we felt that we had truly “come home” when we returned to the church. So our journey on the Path of ChristoSophia, which began as a necessary departure from the conventional church to seek the Divine Feminine on the “bypaths,” has led us back to the church where we, transformed as we have been by our journey, now have the opportunity for further transformation as we participate in a church community and follow the Christian tradition in an ever deeper way.
Of course the Christian church – the “interstate highway” for the spiritual journey in our metaphor – is a tremendously diverse network of roads that vary greatly in form and quality.* The local church that we joined is a very liberal, inclusive Christian community which we see as a beacon of light in our southern Appalachian bulwark of fundamentalist Christianity. In our coming home to the church we felt that we did “know the place for the first time” as we discovered many aspects that gave us great joy: the energy generated by many committed seekers, the depth of spiritual resources, the passion for social justice, and the loving support for others both inside and outside the congregation. With other seekers we delved deeply into the study of “progressive Christianity” and the “emerging church” with its emphasis on personal and societal transformation. Our horizons expanded as we read and discussed books of progressive Christians such as Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Brian McLaren, and Diana Butler Bass. At the same time we found the church to be a supportive framework for our deeper study of the Christian mystics like Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, and Thomas Merton. We immersed ourselves in the Wisdom tradition that is re-emerging in its full power today through the work of contemporary Christian mystics such as Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr, James Finley, John Philip Newell, and Carl McColman. Most importantly, we found others who were also seeking to go more deeply on the Christian path and we joined together to share the practice of Christian contemplative prayer. In all of these ways the church has provided us with rich nourishment for our spiritual journeys.
And yet we also continue to feel the constrictions of the church and realize even more clearly why we left the church in order to explore wider spiritual territory. In returning to the church we still see the problems that we have attempted to address through the ChristoSophia Community, especially in the suppression of the sacred feminine and the loss of mystical consciousness. Although the major critique of Christianity today is the pervasive literalist interpretation of the Bible and fundamentalist belief structure, we have found that many progressive Christians often go to the opposite extreme in adopting a purely rational historical perspective on Christian tradition. This can be very helpful for those who are struggling to overcome the guilt and fear instilled by their early Christian conditioning; we see the great service that our church does in offering a safe haven where “recovering fundamentalists” – as they like to call themselves! – can grow in their faith. But the focus on rational analysis and historical criticism of Scripture is so dominant that many people approach its meaning only through the “head,” and therefore miss the true transformative power of the Christian myth as perceived through the “heart.” One has to accept the mystical foundation of religion in order to open to the Mystery that transcends rational consciousness – which in Christian terminology we call God.
So we are currently learning how to travel on both the “interstate highway” of the church as well as the “bypaths” of Christian tradition! It is a continual struggle to hold this tension between the institutional church and the path of ChristoSophia as we continue to explore whether they can be reconciled within and without. As we do this we find that our focus shifts from the church as the embodiment of organized religion to the church as the Body of Christ. With this view the church can appear in many forms: from the large institutions that we have today, to smaller groups such as ChristoSophia Communities and Wisdom Circles. All of these roads – “highways” to “bypaths” – are part of the “transportation network” of the church as the Body of Christ, for they all provide ways to reach the Kingdom of God. The “highway” and the “bypaths” of the church provide two different ways to travel depending upon one’s needs and desires, but they form one interconnected system. We can choose to travel solely on the “highway” or the “bypaths,” but it is often most effective to use both depending upon the circumstances of the time. Since our return to the church, we have found that the flexibility of this approach has great value. Just as we travel on the highway when we need to get somewhere quickly, but most of our travel is now done on the more scenic, slower-paced byroads, so we can use the spiritual nourishment that the church provides even as the depths of our spiritual practice are still reached through solitary or small group activities.
Ultimately the destination we are traveling to is the Kingdom of God – our journey is the transformation of consciousness that leads to the nondual vision of reality which is crucial for the transformation of the world that we live in. This personal and societal transformation is the essence of the Path of ChristoSophia and also the institutional church when it is true to its core values. While organized religion has often been a major part of the problems caused by humanity throughout human history, it has the potential to become the primary leader of this transformation. With Jesus as our model, if the church does not preach and practice the Way of Love and Wisdom, who will? Both the anti-intellectual, hostile views of fundamentalist religions and the materialist views of modern scientific, consumerist society will only perpetuate and exacerbate our problems. We need the church in all of its forms – united with all the world’s authentic wisdom traditions – to lead the way in the transformation of human consciousness, which is the foundation for building a peaceful, just and ecologically sustainable world.
Coming Home: The Work of Transformation
Jesus models for us the way to effect this transformation. As Jesus preached to the masses, we likewise need to involve the large body of the church in the work of transformation. But Jesus also gathered a small group around him – those committed disciples who dedicated themselves to following the way of Christ – and through them flowed the powerful forces that formed the early Christian communities. The larger church today also needs the presence of those who are consciously committed to the path of Christ. Small groups of spiritual seekers have a crucial function in generating the energy that is necessary for transformation. In this way small groups “gathered in the name of Christ,” both inside and outside the church, can serve as catalysts for the larger Body of Christ in accomplishing the work of transformation. This points to the important role that we who walk on the “bypaths” can play if we choose to participate in the traditional church. Carl McColman refers to us as “liminal Christians”: we are on the threshold of organized religion – not in the mainstream church or the secular world, but in-between in the interior spaces. We can intentionally hold this space in the inner realms of the “spiritual church” that exists beneath the surface of the external church. We can perform the simple tasks that serve the spiritual life of the church, knowing that our dedication to the inner work of transformation exerts a powerful, positive influence on the entire church as we are all one in the mystical Body of Christ.
Those of us who walk on the “bypaths” of Christian tradition can also work within the church – as well as outside of it – in pointing the way for those who are also called to the deeper journey. We can help to open these bypaths by making them accessible to all those in the church, depending upon the particular needs and interests of each congregation. For example, we have made attempts to open the feminine, nature, and mystical bypaths for our church by teaching a class on the Divine Feminine in Christian tradition, developing a “Word and Wisdom” (more familiar names for “ChristoSophia”!) church service, forming a contemplative prayer group, holding Wisdom retreats, and building a labyrinth. Some of these attempts have had much better outcomes than others! But all of these access points to the “bypaths” that are connected to the church “highway” provide the potential for the energies of transformation to manifest within the church. And as this potential increases, more and more people are coming together to share in this work of inner transformation.
The most important task of all for those of us who walk on the Path of ChristoSophia is to point the way to the inner Bridal Chamber of mystical union. As I related in my first reflection, after a long period of searching outside the church, I was shown in a dream that for me this Bridal Chamber was to be found within the church. Huston Smith speaks directly to my experience when he says that many people today are driven out of the church because the image of God it presented was too “childish and sentimental…to fit the shape the God-vacuum assumes in their mystically inclined souls.” And we agree wholeheartedly with his conclusion: “No task is more important for the Church than to let such persons know that behind its outer doors that are always open stands another that is closed – closed though accessible to those who knock.” We can point the direction to this “inner door” that leads to the Bridal Chamber, knowing that if one knocks, the door will open. But we all have to find the way to this “inner door” that is most suitable for us – the traditional church, a small spiritual community, a combination of both, or other spiritual traditions. And once we arrive at the “inner door,” we will have to enter the room alone. This is because the union of the soul and God is like that of lovers: such an intimate, sacred union is shared only between the couple. Yet the paradox is that even though we have to approach God alone in order for union to take place, because we are part of the Mystical Body we unite with all others and all creation in this union. Entering the Bridal Chamber of sacred union is an act of agape – a gift of love for the whole world.
Coming Home: The Kingdom of Heaven
In the previous reflection we pointed to the paradoxical relationship between the individual soul and the spiritual community: on the Path of ChristoSophia one must ultimately enter the Bridal Chamber of mystical union alone yet the soul is always in communion with the whole Body of Christ that is the “spiritual church.” While reflecting on this paradox, our thoughts are drawn back to our initial experience when we returned to the church. Our friend’s statement that when he found the church he felt like he had “died and gone to Heaven” was the call that resonated deep within our souls and brought us “home.” And we did feel the Spirit when we first came to the church – this was a realization of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. After a number of years there, we knew that it also certainly is not the Kingdom! As always, a paradox: the church both is and isn’t the Kingdom! It is the Kingdom where we are united in the depth of our souls, in our True Selves, in the Light of Christ. But it is not the Kingdom at the level of our egos, where we engage in conflicts, anger, hurt feelings, etc. From the “higher perspective” of our Higher Self or “deeper perspective” of our deep Soul, this is all illusion – it is even silly! God must be looking at us like a mother looks upon her squabbling children – feeling sorrow for their situation but knowing it is irrelevant. When we get to Heaven – when we truly see each other as the beings of Light that we are – we will probably laugh at our “childhood” squabbles on Earth just like adult siblings often laugh at their childhood quarrels, if they truly grow up and develop a mature perspective. In Heaven we will be able to say, “Oh now I see you! I know who you are!” (We’re saying this in a literal way which is not what we mean, but these are the best words we have.) All ego disguises have dropped off, all hearts are open, love is All. This state is already present – within us and within the church – but not yet fully realized. A major gift that the church gives us is the opportunity to do the work of ego-stripping in the company of others who have the same ideal – as poorly as it often is – and to practice “seeing” the Light in others. The church on Earth provides us with the challenges in our relationships with others that refine our souls, preparing us for the Heavenly Kingdom.
In addition to providing opportunities for the crucial work that we must do with our egos in the process of spiritual transformation, communities serve an even deeper purpose of Self-realization. As Andrew Cohen says in his book Evolutionary Enlightenment, “consciousness beyond ego, which is enlightenment, can emerge not just within your own individual interior, but between us, as human beings. What has traditionally been a subjective experience now becomes an intersubjective experience – a new expression of enlightened awareness that emerges in the space between subjects.”
This is the importance of coming together as a spiritual community: in ChristoSophia meditations, in centering prayer groups, in Wisdom circles, in worship at the church. Even if only some are contacting the larger Self, that makes a difference in the group. It can serve as a catalyst for transformation in others through the vibrational resonance that occurs within the group that is truly One Self. And if a whole group is working on the task of shifting from ego to Self-identity, this provides momentum for “intersubjective enlightenment.” And this is how our work on personal transformation as individuals expands within the community to a transformation of the world. As Cohen continues, “Changing the world means creating the underlying structures for a new level, or stage, of cultural development. Those structures are something we have to build together, in that intersubjective dimension, in the space between subjects. My vision of a new world… is a new structure in consciousness that emerges between us, in the most interior dimension of the cosmos, in real time, right now.”
The deep meaning of the mystical Body of Christ is this “nonduality (that) emerges in the space between you and others, so that although you are relating, as many, you experience yourselves as One.” This is the Kingdom of Heaven that already exists, here and now, in our unity as One Self, but that awaits the conscious realization of this unity through the experience of “intersubjective enlightenment.” In Christian terminology, the community is the essential transformative vehicle for the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth.
In upcoming blogs we will describe our experiences on the Path of ChristoSophia since our return to the church, how we are currently revisioning the Path of ChristoSophia and its significance for the evolving Christian mythos, and the future directions for this work.
We hope that you will continue to explore with us!