The Wisdom Jesus, Paperback Book
5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications Inc
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Christianity
  • ISBN: 9781590305805



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This is an excellent book. Cynthia Bourgeault is able to integrate the basics of the faith with the wisdom tradition, which some people feel veers too closely to gnosticism. Bourgeault is able to take some of the early texts which have come to our awareness in the last few decades and to weave them into a lived faith that makes sense to those of us who practice a more traditional type of Christianity. She understands the power of the basic gospel story, and one can be grabbed by the drama of the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Jesus. She brings informative insights from her wisdom perspective that only adds to our appreciation. Jesus' route of self-emptying love (represented in Greek as kenosis) is beautifully described. The radical change that Jesus brought to human understanding and action can be a challenge but worth following, The final third of her book takes a look at a number of practices that can enable one to follow Jesus' path: centering prayer, lectio divina, and psalm chanting. Her penultimate chapter on welcoming requires quite a change of personal processing of the world around us. The final chapter on the eucharist seems a bit foreshortened -- maybe this will be expanded in a future book.

Review by

Just as the title suggests, this book offers a new perspective on the life and teachings of Jesus that differs considerably from the traditional Western teachings on Christianity. Cynthia Bourgeault, a contemplative Episcopal priest, proposes that Jesus was a master of the Ageless Wisdom who came here to transform human consciousness. She bases her thesis on the new information that came out of the discovery of the Nag Hammadi manuscripts and specifically the Gospels of Thomas. Bourgeault notes that the Gospels of Thomas, in contrast to the other disciples’ gospels, focus more on Jesus’ teachings than on the events in his life. Due to this different focus, she thinks it is possible to get a clearer view of Jesus’ mission and what he came here to accomplish with humanity.The main difference between Christianity as it is taught in the West and the Christianity that comes to us via these new sources is, in Bourgeault’s view, the difference between “soteriology” and “sophiology.” Soteriology, or “savior-oriented” Christianity comes from the Greek word soter, meaning “savior.” Sophiology, on the other hand, from The Greek Sophia, represents the “wisdom path” most often associated with the East. Bourgeault says that for the earliest Christians, “Jesus was not the Savior but the Life Giver,” that he came forth as the Ihidaya, or “Unified One.” Sophiological Christianity focuses on the path and the idea that we can become just like Jesus by following this path. Soteriology, on the other hand, emphasizes the superiority of Jesus and the idea that we can only be saved through him, by allowing him to be our mediator with the divine.Using the computer as a modern metaphor, Bourgeault says that we come into the world with an “egoic operating system” based on seeing things in binary terms. However, we have the choice to upgrade this operating system to a “unitive operating system” based on the heart as the organ of synthetic spiritual perception. She claims that non-dual consciousness is what is really meant by the term “the Kingdom of Heaven” and that Jesus’ teachings are attempts to push people beyond their limited analytic intellects toward non-dual thinking. The injunction to repent, she explains, actually means to go beyond the mind, the word “repent” being the translation of the Greek metanoia, or “beyond the mind” or “into the larger mind.”As examples of Jesus’ teachings on the path of metanoia, Bourgeault mentions the Beatitudes (“non-dual teachings of the highest order”), the Parables (which she likens to koans) and his “hard teachings,” such as the parables about the wise and foolish bridesmaids and the prodigal son. According to Bourgeault, the Gospels of Thomas belong to the sophiological tradition. This document is mainly a compilation of Jesus’ transformational sayings or logion. Some examples of the logion are included in the book along with her interpretations of them.In terms of the actual practice of shifting one’s consciousness, Bourgeault says that everything hangs together around a single center of gravity in Jesus’ teachings. She borrows a word from the apostle Paul and calls this center of gravity kenosis, which in Greek means “to let go, to empty oneself.” Thus transforming our conscious is actually an emptying and a descent. Jesus emptied himself and descended into form. This contrasts with the usual idea of ascending the spiritual path.Related to this kenotic theme, the author says that the Trinity “is really an icon of self-emptying love,” that the three persons of the Trinity “go round and round like buckets on a watermill, constantly overspilling into one another.” In the process the energy of love becomes manifest and available. This inter-circulation of love is called perichoresis, or “dancing around.” Bourgeault says that in this way the Trinity becomes Christianity’s yin-yang symbol, symbolizing or depicting how “God moves and flows so that love becomes manifest as the unified field of all reality.”This concludes the bulk of Part One of the book. In Part Two the author considers Jesus’ life itself as a teaching, as a sacrament, as a spiritual force in its own right, “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” This sacrament of Jesus’ life is not meant to engender empathy, but to empower. The aspirant is meant to overcome the ideas of guilt and devotion in order to enter the unitive life.Bourgeault points to four cornerstones of the sacramental life of Jesus: incarnation (the idea of limitation in form as a sacrament), passion (living through the experience of betrayal and execution to unleash the transformative power), resurrection and ascension (proof of the transformation to overcome doubt and the final transmission of his teachings).In Part Three, the author gives us five practical ways to awaken and deepen our connection to Jesus’ wisdom teachings: centering prayer meditation (to facilitate the upgrade of our operating system), Lectio Divina (a process of scriptural reading, reflection, prayer and contemplation similar to meditation with a seed thought), chanting and psalmody (accessing the creative power of intentional sound), welcoming practice (“putting on the mind of Christ” through acceptance and letting go), and the Eucharist (a living connection to Jesus, to remain in communion with him always).Cynthia Bourgeault is a contemplative Episcopal priest and a student of the worldwide wisdom tradition. In addition to this book, she has written Chanting the Psalms and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.