De profundis Part I

Easing back into everyday life – whatever that means – after a weekend retreat with Thomas Moore (of Care of the Soul  fame) at Copper Beech Institute in West Hartford with a delightful group of kindred spirits. A little stage-setting here: Thomas Moore has been part of my journey since I first read James Hillman’s essay collection A Blue Fire back in the late 1980’s, at a major turning point in my journey – the point when I finally began to recognize and own my shit, and began moving out of victim mode. Thomas Moore, for whom Hillman was a mentor, inspiration, and close friend, compiled the collection and so came up on my radar screen. At that point in time, discovering Hillman did two things for me: it alerted me to the fact the word “soul” has a genuinely meaningful and powerful referent, despite the contempt in which it was generally held among enlightened and educated late 20th century intellectuals like me; and, in a manner of speaking, it gave me permission to be depressed. Which is to say, my recurring depression began to stop being a disorder needing a fix and began to become a condition of the soul needing care and attention. (Sidebar on Hillman: Years ago when I was learning the scholarly trade, I was startled to discover that in many instances “greats” are not recognized in their lifetimes and that many who are considered great in their lifetimes are often deservedly forgotten by posterity. In this spirit, I have a notion that a century from now Hillman will be viewed as one of the most brilliant minds of our epoch, though he’s now largely known only among the cognoscenti of post-Jungian psychology. If you’re around then, you can quote me on this.)

After reading Hillman, I turned to Care of the Soul, and over the intervening years have read a number of Thomas Moore’s other books, always with the sense that he was an important partner in my ongoing inner dialogues, a companion on my journey. This summer, while visiting northern California, I stumbled across Writing in the Sand: Jesus and the Soul of the Gospels in a remainder bin at a little independent bookstore. It was one of those synchronistic moments, when I feel like the universe is giving me a little nudge to get my attention. Here in this new phase of my journey, where I am feeling impelled to embrace many disparate parts of my whole life experience and bring them together in the new light of the discoveries I made when I visited the Borderlands two years ago, one part I am particularly preoccupied by is the question where the Christian faith I was raised and continue to have a sense of rootedness in fits into my overall sense of the whole. And here was Thomas Moore, with his own Christian roots, offering up a reflection on the Jesus of the Gospels… as if it had my name on it.

This is not the place to lay it all out there, but suffice it to say I have a strong sense of Jesus as an incarnation (albeit likely not the only one) of the Divine Spirit; and I often think “What Would Jesus Do?” is a very timely and good question to ask when some situation, large or small, is feeling critical. I have been deeply nourished by writings of all sorts from the Christian tradition, from the Bible on down, including by the work of Thomas Moore. The concept of “call” has always been powerful for me, including during the decades when I had no sense of spiritual affiliation and would have characterized myself if asked as an agnostic. I am currently actively involved in a faith community, Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, because I feel called to be there. Yet I struggle a lot with churches as institutions and with doctrine and with liturgy and with creeds. I often suspect Jesus would have about the same amount of patience with our churches, as he did with the temple cult of his time in Jerusalem, and that he would be about as well received.* The fact that my experiences of the sacred that I encounter in a Buddhist-inspired meditation practice and in yoga seem to me a whole lot more direct and less complicated, has only aggravated my bewilderment about what church and I have to do with one another.

So finding Writings in the Sand  happened at a moment when I could not have been more open to receive it, and precisely because it had Thomas Moore’s name on the cover I had a powerful hunch it would speak to me. Which it did. I’m not going to do a review here, but the book cracked open a few doors and windows that allowed me to begin pondering my Christian problem in some new lights with some fresh breezes. Not long after I learned that Thomas Moore would be leading a retreat on Living a Soulful Life in a Secular World at the newly formed Copper Beech Institute, which has been set up on the grounds and in the buildings of the Holy Family Monastery – a place that for years has been open to the notion that the spirit moves in many ways besides those of Rome. And so I landed at Copper Beech on Friday afternoon, carrying my own long history with Thomas Moore, my new life which is still striving to get born, and my wrestlings with my own spiritual heritage – along with a barely recognized need simply to retreat, pull back, stop, breathe, be nourished, take in, receive… none of which, I am discovering, I am particularly adept at. How wonderful then, that this indeed is what happened…

*(To their credit, many of our churches are now looking hard at where they’ve gotten off the track. Read Sojourners, say, and you’ll find much to be inspired by. I’m not a historian of the Catholic church, but I’d be hard pressed to name a pope who has come anywhere near as close to personifying the Jesus spirit as Pope Francis does, and it does seem miraculous to me that the College of Cardinals found its way to electing him.)

by Tim Cole

Tim Cole is a Copper Beech retreatant who blogs at Salamander’s World.

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