Cynthia Bourgeault has been on Pender Island, BC leading a retreat centered around Mary Magdelene and the Passion for the past five days. I was not able to be present at the retreaet, but had an excellent note taker on site.

The first installment of notes are below. They are long but well worth reading.

March 18 – 22, 2011: Poet’s Cove Resort on Pender Island BC, Canada – Mary Magdalene and the Passion Retreat with Cynthia Bourgeault


The church has typically given a fairly one sided presentation of Holy Week through its customary liturgies. The focus on Jesus as victim, abandoned, sheep to the slaughter, and us as the bad guys is only one side of the story. There is another side which is seeing the crucifixion as an act of conscious love – that Jesus on the cross maintained the position of an open heart and that this open heart had nothing to do with the fact that he knew he was coming back.

Even if Jesus had believed that God had finally abandoned him and the whole thing was a failure, he would still have kept an open heart. His death was an intentional act – an act of conscious love. If we can really come to know this in our deepest knowing, we too can see our way through our personal terrors and fears including our fear of death. Jesus’ death was entirely held in love.

The open heart is an absolute gesture. It has an intelligence of its own. Mary Magdelene is one who understood this.


There are 2 different strands to how Christianity has looked at the crucifixion:

1. The “hard core” atonement theology which is familiar

2. A “soft core” atonement which cuts the angry God bit but retains the cosmic debt that has to be paid – still a justice issue

#2 says it hurts God as much as it hurts us. Tries to soften the first a bit.

Marcus Borg says that very early on there was human sacrifice which moved to animal sacrifice. But beginning with the prophets there was a shift to “mercy not sacrifice” and then in the Psalms to “a contrite heart”. Finally there was Jesus who did away with the sacrificial system all together. The church misses this in its Eucharistic theology.

Augustine was about Jesus coming to clean up the mess.

But the Franciscans beginning with Bonaventure started saying that the ultimate revelation is love. Sin and the Fall are the how not the why – the way it was set up.

Ephesians: God had planned from the beginning to reveal his love. This is about substituted love. The crucifixion was a demonstration of love followed to its completion.

Charles Williams talks about “a theology of romantic love” – carrying someone’s burdens so they don’t have to carry them.

Substituted love:

1. is voluntary in nature – it is not about duty – it is a free action

2. relieves the other of the burden – you stand in the place of. 
This is the view found in Christian mysticism – a permeability of souls – a giving and receiving. Our personal self hood is a mirage.

Jeffert Schorri says there is no such thing as individual salvation. We are in this together. We are particles in the oneness. 

One can choose to die on behalf of another. Shows what is possible in love.
The burden is not on individual sinfulness but more to do with cosmology. There is an anguish that is built into infinitude.

Love doing its own thing follows a natural trajectory.

Atonement makes a mockery of kenosis. Jesus voluntarily chose his death. This was the natural progression of love fully manifested. 

Love begins as a grape but ends up as wine

Judgment vs Forgiveness. The latter was picked up by the mystics – boundless simplicity. 
Institutional church picked up the former in its dogma and theology.

Mary Magdalene, like a weather vane points to the latter. When she is there, the conversation softens. Mary Magdalene “that she had loved much”

 (Mary of Bethany is the same as Mary Magdalene. Magdala as a nickname meaning tower applied later as initiation. Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene don’t ever appear together.

Mary Magdalene is a very significant person at the end of the story. It would be surprising if her name never appeared earlier.


have to arouse desiring before you have anything to work with. The passion of the raw human soul is fuel for transformation. Eros is the fuel for transformation. It is better to have a good lover than to be a virtuous prig.

Atonement is fear based vs love. The Pascal Mystery is about love doing its thing.

 Agape and Eros are different places on the trajectory. It begins in desiring, becomes agape or transfigured desiring. Love will transform. Mary Magdalene becomes an icon of this love transformed.


Cloud of Unknowing – discussion of Mary Magdalene over 10 chapters – about Jesus’ love for Mary Magdalene and Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus. Had an understanding of the sacramental nature of this relationship. Ch. XVI
Movement to agape without renouncing desiring. 

Difference between perfect meekness/humility and imperfect meekness/humility. 

Humility – know yourself as you truly are without grovelling. It is sober, lucid, honest, and accurate – understand where you fit in to the scheme of things – allows you to be present. 

Imperfect Humility: eg. examination of conscience- ponder on your sins – look back and notice all the ways that you have sinned – Lord have mercy – allows you to extend mercy to others. But this is a narrative journey where you end up trapped in the self. 

Perfect Humility senses directly the scale of things – discover the vastness of the divine heart. Bring our stories into the presence of the Absolute and let them meet.


Relax – all is held.

We see ourselves on the periphery swimming back to God. This is a distortion. We are not disconnected.

Fall through the stuff and discover your naked yearning.

Question about abler souls:
 when 2 come together, create a 3rd that is neither the one or the other. Surrender into this, not each other. Who you are together is different from who you are alone, although this can become a trap where you lose yourself.

The abler soul is a joint investment in the higher – a deep wish for the other’s becoming. Hold each other gently accountable to become the higher.

 The abler soul has a permeability in the next realm – beyond death. 

All human love is an icon of God’s love for us. The only block to intimacy is our own inner work.

 The most important spiritual practice is to stay present. Slowly develop your staying power to stay present – let nothing shake you. We begin this practice with Centering Prayer and the Welcoming Practice.

Watch the build up of emotions. Build up your capacity to sit with pain. Everything will shift as you develop your ability to do this.

 Begin with superficial irritations and work up to the bigger stuff such as loneliness, grief, rejection, failure, etc.


Boros: There is a final choice to be made in death. Life will come rushing at us like a tsunami and we will choose either to relax into this or freeze. We need to practice this relaxing and opening as opposed to clutching not just with the mind but with every cell of the body.

 Practice this gesture in meeting the new – release and soften – this eventually becomes imprinted.

Kabir Helminski: Bring all cares into the one care, the care of being present.

It is not our responsibility to improve the spiritual journey; this is because we think we are separated. Just stay present – be here now, curious, and open.

 The ego thinks the journey is a steeple chase (don’t like the word journey as it implies we have to get somewhere). Trying to control and improve is exhausting.

Bennett quote from “Resurrection” – 
Everyone who begins to study and know their own states is well aware that our experience is a constant dying and rebirth. We must not be frightened as we come to see this, although it really is a terrifying thing that we have no power to hold our life; that it has to be renewed or given back to us by something that does not come from ourselves.

 But even when we do see the helplessness with which we fall into oblivion, at that moment when we are most trying to hold onto ourselves, we must learn to trust that there is something that calls us back. And if it calls us back from sleep at night, it will call us back from that other sleep into which we shall enter, the sleep of death.

 ie. we have no control; we constantly lose ourselves. Ask who is it that calls us back?

We are always looking in the wrong places. We see loss of control as a failure. Trust the voice that is calling us back. The big things are not in our control anyway.

The Holy Saturday Vigil: least developed in terms of church liturgy.

The Vigil of the Heart of the Earth – the liminal space between tragedy and triumph. 
Jesus descended into the heart of the earth – earlier translation later became hell.

Traditionally guilt has been placed on Adam. Understood individually – someone screwed up, someone has to pay.

 Need to look at this cosmologically. Why is this creation here? Why did all this happen? And why are we in the midst of this? Why this way and not another? “

I was a hidden treasure and I loved (longed) to be known so I created the worlds visible and invisible.”

The only way you will be known is by taking the risk of loving.

 We yearn deep within ourselves for self-disclosure – to take off the veils. This can only happen through love.

 The heart’s desire is to know and be known.

Michael Brown says we say we want truth but what we really desire is intimacy.

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? What is most real in us?

 What is the primordial ache that moves everything from nothingness to something? 

What is the reason for all the realms? Paul’s mansions. Each realm is an individual expression speaking forth in love, God’s heart.

Tradition says that something is wrong with the creation. Wilber says this is a gross plane – not value laden. This creation is dense, not messed up. We bear some residual memory of conditions that were less dense. We come under the law of time and gravity. This comes with rules. You can’t go back. Mistakes are made. These are the conditions of density. (molecules come together to form objects that require insurance policies.) 
Great traditions tend to dump on this – sin/maya – not the right way to go. Our conditions are perfect for manifesting a quality of the divine heart.

Constriction applied to love/ending/choice/fidelity/steadfastness/ Eucharistic love = the capacity to have your heart broken without going to bitterness.

 Preciousness comes from finality – this moment will not be forever. Love is tough here so it has a special kind of sweetness that is important to the heart of God. “For God so loved etc”

 How do we live in this world that is set up to break our hearts? We sometimes give up, numb out because it is so difficult. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus reaches out to the very brokenness of the human situation. We need help. 

How do we do this? Some people just focus on the light. Don’t like John’s in him there is no darkness. Can’t collapse the dualism. Infuse the situation with love by holding the opposites.

Teillhard de Chardin sees Jesus descending inot the earth as becoming part of the eareth. He becomes part of the things of this world. Pan-cosmic – Jesus’ self-hood penetrates everything.

We can experience Christ as the throbbing drive forward in every nook and cranny in our universe toward the manifestation of love.

We need to sit with our conditions, not condemning or judging them just holding them. Mantra: “We will see this,” we stand firm, do not run. When we stay present the Christ light is revealed. These conditions are perfect for the consumation of love.