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Review: 'The Wisdom Way of Knowing' by Cynthia Bourgeault
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The Wisdom Way of Knowing:
Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart


It always gets my attention when several authors I respect and read frequently quote another author. This has led me to some stimulating new reading discoveries. One such discovered author turned out to be Cynthia Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, writer and retreat leader; she is the founder of The Contemplative Society and the Aspen Wisdom School and a core faculty member of The Living School for Action and Contemplation. But with all her travel and teaching, she seeks solitude and spiritual refueling at her seaside hermitage in Maine.

The “little” book I found by Cynthia Bourgeault was titled The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart. I put “little” in quotes because I have found that many of the small books I’ve discovered have turned out to be some of the most challenging and life-changing. This small book is no exception.

First of all, in an instant-everything culture where we get impatient when our access to the worldwide web of instant information is a bit “slow” — meaning that it is taking more than a few seconds to spit out some specific tidbit — it may be a bit disconcerting to find that great wisdom has always taken time and long-term experience with much waiting and observation. This fact throws our present definition of “knowing” into a tailspin. It implies that an instant answer we can “Google” is not even good knowledge, let alone wisdom.

Secondly, the ancient and, by the way, biblical concept of community is a far cry from Facebook postings and profiles. Yet for centuries—yes, from the most wise and ancient writings — most great wisdom has been the result of two things: solitude (a place to listen and center on the voice of the Creator and one’s own inner awareness) and community (a long-term, committed living together in a daily exchange of ideas, of providing for survival needs, of caring for the powerless young and aged, and of shared work). More and more we have less and less of both. Indeed, our current generation seems to be terrified of solitude and, at the very least, untrained in its great peace-bringing benefits. And the transformative experience of true community is becoming so rare that even families seldom live in true community. Even churches often contribute to the segregation and polarization by separating the young from the old, the married from the single, the women from the men, the outsiders from the insiders, and the whole from the broken.

This tiny book is at once a history, a psychology, a sociology and a theology in a very concentrated study of how wisdom emerges. It is a book worth reading and re-reading. It is a journey into the heart and soul of ourselves and of the world. It has many words of wisdom of its own embedded in each paragraph.

This book is broad in its scope. Some will be shocked to learn that much wisdom was discovered by other cultures as they, too, longed to find the meaning of life.

But we must as Christians live out the Light. As Isaiah expressed it, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great Light.” That Light has always been. Our assignment is to let it shine into our own darkest places.