Jean Le Clerc was a scholar of Medieval Mysticism, and a French Benedictine Monk of Clairvaux Abbey in Luxemburg.
He would come to my former monastery each year and give us classes in the monastic ideal while challenging us to break our hearts open for God.
During our first Novitiate class with him, in 1984, I remember Dom Jean saying,
“You come to the monastery to be-
So as to be Re-formed
So as to be Con-formed
So as to be Trans-formed into Christ!”
He was expounding on the classical cruciform process, understood in all religious traditions, that the spiritual life traverses a path of disintegration and reintegration.
This process, as Gregory of Nyssa declares, leads to our everlasting progression in Love. “We become an ‘expanding universe’ sharing in Divine fullness continually because the spring of all reality flows ceaselessly.”1
Jean Le Clerq told us on that first day that the real monastery is the cave of the heart and that is where the TEACHER dwells.
He went on to say:
“The transmission of God Consciousness from Teacher to Disciple is a mysterious process. It is sometimes likened to catching fire from what is already burning or falling into step with an already existing rhythm.”
“Coming to the monastery within is coming to live near the TEACHER, to catch from him his rhythm, his fire, his freedom and union with the Divine source!”
Dom Jean reminded us that as Teacher, Jesus accepts disciples, which means that he expects to make others like himself. The disciple is to grow into the full stature of the Master and then in turn become a real Teacher who accepts disciples.
When Dom Jean concluded his class, he left us with a potent image of the heart.
He reminded us of the scene, in the Gospel of John where John the Beloved disciple leans back into the heart of Jesus at the last supper.
Dom Jean said, “We do the same in our relationship to the TEACHER. In order to move closer to Jesus, we “ lean back into his heart” by sinking down into the Center of our Being, and each deeper level we sink to brings us closer to the Center of Christ, our own center, the burning fire of LOVE at the heart of the Cosmos.”
“ Do not look at him or face him (turn him into an object and see only the outside) but rather lean into him, into his heart and entering into his own True Awareness.”
Gestures such as this one, of leaning back into the heart of Christ , contain a great amount of spiritual information that cannot be found anywhere else but in the sacred gesture itself and are known as Legominisms. This comes from the Greek, Legein meaning: TO SAY.
Legominisms are gestures, icons, or images containing densely packed spiritual truths.
Theologian Karl Rahner makes reference to legominisms as “primordial images” with enduring resonance signifying “a piece of reality in which a door is mysteriously opened for us into the unfathomable depths of Mystery.”
Legominisms are thick with meaning. They carry with them not only the articulated meaning of the present but also all the meanings that have accrued to them over the centuries, as well as new meanings pressing to emerge. The heart, in Christian Tradition, is one such image.
In her Dialogues, Catherine of Siena, one of 3 women Doctors of the Church shares her mystical gifts, one of which included an exchange of hearts with Christ.
In prayer, or what Henri Corbin calls the imaginal realm, Christ appears, opens her left side and takes out her heart. A few days later Christ appears again with another heart and says, “ Dearest Daughter, a few days ago I took your heart from you , now in the same way I give you my own heart. For the future, it is by this heart that you must live and act in the world.” 2
In a similar experience of heart exchange, Margaret Mary Alaquoe wrote: “ the sacred heart of Christ is an inexhaustible fountain and its sole desire is to pour itself out.” 3
What does it mean then, to experience this heart exchange in the 21st century? How do we lean back into the Heart of Christ at the Heart of the Cosmos?
Teilhard de Chardin, whose spiritual vision was contoured by his ‘loving gaze upon the Sacred Heart’ as well as by his scientific training spoke of this reality in his book The Heart of Matter.
He said, “It would be difficult for me to convey, how deeply and forcefully my life developed under the sign of the Heart of Jesus.”
“At that time, the more I prayed, the more deeply did God materialize for me in a reality that was at once spiritual and tangible. In that reality, the great synthesis was beginning to be effected in which my life would be summed up: the synthesis of the above with the ahead.” 4
For Teilhard, through the symbol of the Sacred Heart, the Divine took on the consistency of an energy, of a fire, insinuating itself everywhere and thus amortizing the Cosmic Mileau.
The heart of Christ was a fire with the capacity to penetrate all things, the ultimate force of attraction for the universe, drawing the universe FORWARD toward intensification of complexity, new creation and LOVE.
The way the Heart of Christ draws the universe forward, according to Teilhard is through creative unions. In his view, all of evolution has progressed through a series of creative unions- sub atomic particles unite to form atoms, which unite to form molecules, cells, organisms and so on.
This is the pattern by which the universe creates something new, more complex and conscious.
Because we can look back and see the pattern recurring, Teilhard believed we could extrapolate and project the pattern into the future, looking forward to another creative union in which WE would be the uniting elements.
Each time a new creative union emerges, there is an exchange of characteristic energy among the uniting elements. The characteristic energy, for example of atoms is electrical energy. But for us humans to unite with each other, to form the next creative union, we need to share with each other our characteristic energy, which is the energy of Love. The new Christic Being, according to Teilhard will come about only if we freely consent to form it by redirecting our old egocentric energy currents into new patterns of linking and sharing.
When Teilhard died, there was a picture on his desk of the Radiant Heart of Christ , personally inscribed with the words- “My Litany” on the front/back which read in part:
Motor of evolution
Heart of Matter
Heart of the World’s Heart
Focus of ultimate and Universal energy
Center of the Cosmic Sphere of Cosmogenesis
Heart of Jesus, Heart of Evolution, unite me to yourself.
In the 1980’s during my novitiate program the community brought in a variety of scholars and teachers to share their expertise, among them was Thomas Berry who became my mentor from that time until his death in 2009. Thomas Berry, in formulating his idea of the New Story, was much indebted to the thought of Teilhard de Chardin.
Thomas, in his characteristic style, opened our minds to the vast sweeps of time and dramatic processes of the evolutionary epic. The universe he said, “is a single, unified, multi-form, sequential energy event held together in profound intimacy. It is the primary Revelation of the Divine.”
Through Thomas’s teaching, I was among the first generation in the Catholic Religious life Tradition to tumble into the Radiant Heart of Christ with an awareness that it was a heart beating in and through 13.7 billion years of universe unfolding.
In addition, my companions and I began to understand that we were literally the (blood) vessels through which this heart would beat into the future; pulsing with this tremendous evolutionary process and responsible for directing its energies forward.
Thomas Berry was explicit in placing his vision in the lineage of the Cosmic Christ, found in St John’s Gospel, the writings of St Paul, Thomas Aquinas and Teilhard. Yet even while placing his vision in this Christian lineage, Thomas understood that ‘Cosmic Person’ was a shared religious concept, differentiated to be sure, but nonetheless present in the religions of the world.
“Revelation”, he said, “is not singular but differentiated and when the religious traditions are seen in their relations to each other, the full tapestry of the revelatory experience can be observed.” 5
Thomas pointed out that each religious/spiritual tradition throughout the world has meaning, not only for the originating community, but for all humanity. Each must be kept distinctive even as it reaches for universal diffusion.
He spoke of the macro-phase mode of the Christ Reality, a Christ Dimension of the universe from the beginning, saying that, “There is, from its origin, a pervasive, numinous guiding mystery in the universe designated by different names in different traditions, the Christian name is the Christ reality.” 6
“Everything has its individual phase and its cosmic phase. This is what enables St John and St Paul to speak in terms of the Christ dimension of the universe.” 7
Thomas Berry, however, in reflecting on the Cosmic Christ, would often say that we have to discover the Cosmos before we can have a Cosmic Christ.
And that is precisely what Thomas did. He built on the words of St Paul: “ by things visible, we know the invisible things, the Divine Reality.”
Thomas upheld scientific investigation as a way into a whole new revelatory experience. In 1992, he wrote a letter to me which said:
“This whole new type of vision of the universe, which we generally call the secular, is actually an effort to penetrate into the mystery of things, in and through the evidences that things offer to us, through our basic sense faculties. It is as much a way to God as anything else.
We are into a new revelatory experience, a qualitatively different revelatory mode but just as surely revelatory of the deepest mysteries of existence- Cosmogenesis is determining the context of our lives. If not the fulfillment, this is at least complimentary to all our earlier revelatory experiences…..”
In my study with Thomas, I saw that same sacred gesture/legominism of leaning back into the heart of Christ but this time, the distance back was on 13.7 billion year grand cosmic scale.
Thomas coined the word, Inscendence , for this backward leaning gesture into the Christic heart revealed through the patterns and structures of the cosmos.
Thomas said, “If we can accept the Christ-Universe Equation, they must be seen in terms of each other.”
If Christ has a universe dimension, then the universe must have a Christic dimension. It was in the sapiential synthesis of Cosmic and Christic, imaged for Thomas in the great Compassionate Curve of the Universe that our way into the future would be revealed.
In that great Cosmic/Christic Curve we recognize the bonding energy at the heart of the universe as a force of incredible perfection and love. The great compassionate curve is sufficiently closed so that it can hold all things together, yet open enough to enable wave after wave of endless emergence in the space/time continuum.
Christ of the Cosmos is the dynamic, unified field at its center, the beating Heart of Love holding all things in an eternal embrace while propelling them forward into endless unfolding.
1.- Clemente,Olivier. The Roots of Christian Mysticism. London, England: New City Press, 1993.
2.- Capua, Blessed Raymond of, Kearns,Conleth, Translator, The Life of St. Catherine of Siena. Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1980; reprinted by Dominicana Publications.
3.- Alacoque, Margaret Mary, (Herbst,Clarence, editor), The Letters of Margaret Mary Alacoque. Rockford,Il. Tan Books Publishers.
4.- De Chardin, Teilhard Pierre, The Heart of Matter. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, Publishers, 1978.
5.- Berry, Thomas, The Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth. (Mary Evelyn Tucker, John Grim editors) Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 2009.