The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message


If you put aside what you think you know about Jesus and approach the Gospels as though for the first time, something remarkable happens: Jesus emerges as a teacher of the transformation of consciousness. Cynthia Bourgeault is a masterful guide to Jesus’s vision and to the traditional contemplative practices you can use to experience the heart of his teachings for yourself.

Publishers Weekly

Inspired by the Nag Hammadi discoveries and influenced by more than 30 years of study with Fr. Thomas Keating and other contemplatives in a variety of wisdom traditions, Bourgeault, an Episcopal priest, encourages seekers to reach beyond the Western tradition of Jesus-as-Savior to embrace Jesus more wholly as a wisdom teacher. Through a transformative lesson in vocabulary, giving new meaning to perceptions like “head,” “heart” and “repentance,” she offers a fresh reading of the Beatitudes, challenges us to explore the more complicated messages imbedded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and emphasizes a notion of “self-emptying love” that allows for a shift in consciousness from ego-based analysis to acceptance of divine abundance, which in turn sheds new light on examinations of the Passion, crucifixion and ensuing events. Guided chapter primers on centered meditation and chanting further prepare readers to test the open waters of welcoming the “flow of… deeper sustaining wisdom.” Though strict legalists may not warm to this new spiritual perspective, other students of faith will find an especially intriguing and engaging path waiting for them. (Aug.)

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Cynthia Bourgeault, Ph.D., is an Episcopal priest, teacher, and retreat and conference leader. She is the author of several books, including Chanting the Psalms and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening.

Review & Commentary

One thought on “The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind–A New Perspective on Christ and His Message

  1. Review

    Christianity, in its western, Roman Catholic and Protestant versions, has stressed the theology of Soteriology, involving the sinfulness of humanity resulting from the Fall of Adam and Eve and the salvation of humanity through the Sacrifice of Jesus both as the High Priest and as the sacrificial Son of God in his Crucifixion and Resurrection. This salvation theology was strongly promoted by the early western church theologians. Following Emperor Constantine’s conversion and his eventual choice of  Christianity as the Roman Empire’s official religion, this Soteriology was supported by the empire’s stress on order, authority and uniformity.

    What followed was the desire to formulate Christianity’s first-century supernatural and metaphysical persons, places, events and dogmas into infallible articles of faith, summarised within orthodox, concisely worded creeds.  Christian texts deviating from these creeds were usually destroyed, as happened in 367 CE on the orders of Bishop Athanasius (p.17). As for Jesus, debates about his place in the Holy Trinity, his equally balanced human and divine natures within the one person and his miraculous birth, resurrection and ascension, all stress how different Jesus was to the world’s mere humans. This has been the western  experience of the religion originally founded in the first century by Jesus Christ, the son of a Carpenter from Nazareth in Galilee and also Son of God.

    Cynthia Bourgeault on the other hand has deeply explored Sophiology. As an Anglican priest, she grew up with Jesus Christ being presented as a Prophet, Priest and a King, although she states that officially Jesus was none of these. However, to her, Jesus was a Teacher of Wisdom, a moshel moshelim, who  “stayed close to the perennial ground of wisdom: The transformation of human consciousness” (p.24). Involved in this was integral, participational wisdom and knowledge which was carried not just in the head, as with the western creeds, but in the entire being. Such integral knowledge or gnosis therefore involved (1) intellectual or mental processes in the head; (2) inspirational or emotional awareness in the heart; (3) instinctual and hormonal reactions within the body and (4) intuitive awareness of the inner states of consciousness within the whole being. Within this wider context of gnosis or knowledge, even “lovemaking” involved knowledge, when Adam “knew” Eve and she conceived (p.22).

    The Transformation of human consciousness within our human development has been a feature of  those Spiritualities which explore the presently experienced dualistic and polarized states of consciousness, and then move beyond these dualisms to their unified and resolved state of integration and wholeness.

    Depth-psychologists have articulated three main stages in the development and transformation of our consciousness or our conscious awareness, within our  psyches or souls. (1) The state of “Unconscious Wholeness” depicts consciousness at human conception and birth, when being is dependent on and at one with the cosmos. (2) The state of “Conscious Unwholeness” depicts the present  human condition (often described as the post-Fall condition of depravity) facing up to life’s dualistic choices, polarities, contrasts and opposites, states explored in various Christian systems, including Gnostic. (3) The state of “Conscious Wholeness” is the move beyond the dualisms to a unitive or to a non-dual consciousness, acknowledging no spiritual separation between human genders, races or sexual preferences; between the secular and sacred and other polarities described by Jesus as the “Kingdom of Heaven” (p.30).  The author clarifies this by noting that the “Kingdom of Heaven” does not include a heavenly Paradise where you go to after death if you are a good person, nor is it one of the various earthly utopias, which “never seem to stay put for very long” (p.30).   She sees Jesus’ “Kingdom of Heaven” as a “metaphor for a state of consciousness, a condition of transformed awareness where you come from rather than where you go to. For Jesus, “My kingdom  is not of this world”; it is within you.

    Jesus’ profound Wisdom Teaching is clearly displayed in his parables. Over against the customary patterns of dualistic awareness, with its contrasts seeking fairness, its  moral evils needing to be  punished and its  moral goodness needing  rewards,  the Parables present the subversion of this oppositional dualism by unitive and integrative outcomes. The vineyard owner  pays all workers the same wage, despite the different number of hours that they worked. The despised and presumably bad Samaritan was in fact “good”. The elder brother received no celebratory dinner for all his hard work but the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance received one. The beatitudes also display this subversive treatment, with  the resulting need for soul-transformation to “Conscious Wholeness”.

    The author sees herself in the tradition, going back at least five thousand years, of Perennial Wisdom and Soul-Transformation, especially in the great Mystery Religions. This was a strong feature of the many non-Roman Catholic congregations and churches beyond the Roman Empire in the East, such as the Syriac, Armenian and Jewish Christians, as well as the later Arians and Nestorians, who were located in Armenia, Arabia,  Mesopotamia, Persia, India and China. Here, Wisdom Jesus was truly the Icon for the Soul-transformation.

    Jesus as Wisdom Teacher in the West comes well behind Jesus as Priestly Saviour, as Davidic King or as a Prophet in the tradition of Moses and Elijah. However, in the forgotten Christianity East of Jerusalem, Jesus as Wisdom was a rich source of inspiration and Cynthia Bourgeault has filled her 223 pages and three main sections with rich insights relating to (1) the teachings of Jesus, including self-emptying love, some sayings from the Gospel of Thomas promoting unitive awareness and Jesus as a Tantric Master; (2) the Mysteries of Jesus through exploring the Incarnation and Passion and (3) possible Christian Wisdom Practices, such as chanting, welcoming and centering meditation. Thirty pages of notes and bibliography conclude this book.

    This book certainly clarifies what the West has missed out on by downplaying the Wisdom Jesus as a Wisdom Teacher but it also provides profound insights and practical guidance in relation to how the Wisdom Jesus can lead us all along our required Soul-transformations to the goal of the metaphorical “Kingdom of Heaven”.

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