It is not often that a watching a single lecture, or reading a single book can completely stop me in my tracks. But this was my experience of watching Cynthia Bourgeault discussing her theory of Mary Magdalene and the Christian path of conscious love.
(For Capetonian readers – it is on at the Labia Theatre at the moment. For everyone else, you can see a video of the lecture through this link (it requires payment).)
In this lecture she presents a vision for what she calls ‘conscious love’. That is, the possibility of intimate relationship to provide the vehicle for transformation of both partners. She speaks of agape being the fruit of eros distilled through kenosis.
I cannot do justice to her thought process because I need to spend more time with the vision that she presents. Her argument is based on the some of the writings of the early church which have been termed the Gnostic gospels. She draws explicitly from the Gospel of Thomas. And as a result the sources of her argument may be unpalatable to some.
Nonetheless, it is hard not to be enthralled by the possibility of vision of conscious love which she describes. There is also space for a rich understanding of celibacy, but she is highly critical of celibacy for its own sake.
The most powerful takeaway for me from this experience was her emphasis on kenosis. That is, the willingness not to hold anything to tightly. In my own language, this is Ignatian indifference. This is a radical freedom – the capacity to hold everything lightly. The willingness to set aside anything which draws us away from the primary purpose of deepening encounter with God, deepening encounter with self, deepening encounter with other.
As a single person, I confess I may well fall into the trap of idealising the possibility of relationship which Bourgeault describes. But at the same time, this is no romantic ideal. She refers frequently to Ken Wilbur’s book ‘Grace and Grit’ which is the autobiographical story of his brief marriage to Treya which ended in her death from cancer. The point is, this is no fairy tale, but rather a conversation of potential. One that takes into account the reality of life and death.
I can’t help but feel that there is something important at the heart of her message which we need to attend to, regardless of our state of life.