4 Oct 1999 –13 Nov 2003 Victoria, BC –
from Transcript of Audio Recording of Cynthia Bourgeault’s Commentaries on:
Living Presence by Kabir Edmund Helminski

Repentance.  Well once again when we talk about repentance we come up against a Christianity that has a particular penchant for doing things at the emotional and moral level.  “I bewail my sins, I look at the rotten me I’ve been, I atone for all this badness.”  So we tend to think about repentance that way.

But Thomas Keating says repentance means change the direction in which you’re looking for happiness.  Turn around, reorient yourself.  Reorient yourself toward the higher and the deeper.  And that’s the real meaning of the term metanoia – the turning from that smaller, trapped self to the larger; from the exclusive horizontal axis of life to remembering the vertical too.  You might say that if perversity means turning in all directions, repentance means you get your crack at one last turn. And from there on… at least that’s how it looks semantically.

I have to admit that I’m very attracted to Marcus Borg’s definition of metanoia.  He says that when you actually look at the Greek it doesn’t have anything to do with turning at all.  He says that it comes from meta noos – the larger mind.  Or you can also use meta as a preposition to mean go beyond the mind.  Either way.  But it means get out of your squirrel cage.  And that’s what real repentance means.  Because unless you are committedly and skillfully demonic, the only place where you can really do harm and violence is when you’re stuck in your squirrel cage.  When you’re in your small self, fearful, filled with fight-or-flight, filled with issues, filled with things that have to happen before the world is as it ought to be – that’s all functions of small self thinking:  critical, judging, resentful.  When you’re there, you are capable of violence; and all what the Church calls “sin” in terms of missing the mark and doing wrong comes out of that.  So if you can get out of that, get back out of the small self and into that larger and more balanced place then you can become non-violent, gentled, open and soft and vulnerable to the flow of the grace.


One of Thomas Keating’s favourite expressions is, “The notion that God is absent is the fundamental illusion of the human condition.”  But we all start in that notion.  It’s built right into self-reflexive consciousness, I think.  Because when we come to consciousness – and I don’t think it’s because of childhood trauma or anything like that; I think it’s because of the way the brain is built to think – we experience our self as separate.  And our earliest life history teaches us that separation is scary.  We come shooting out the birth canal, being beat up all the way… come out into a swirl of lights and have to scream.  So we get tracked in programs so faultlessly that it almost seems that this is the way it needs to be.

So we start with this assumption that we’re separate, that we’re alone, that nothing in the universe gives a damn, that we were an accident, that if our parents weren’t really nice to us we can begin to feel that we weren’t really wanted – a lot of us bear those wounds.  Trying to dump on our parents the fact that we weren’t wanted without even really realizing how desperately wanted we were by God or we wouldn’t be here at all.  So we experience our self as out there, and God is some “Daddy” up there that you have to invoke and he usually doesn’t pay any attention because he’s got more pressing cases.

Meanwhile, everybody in the world is out to get you and for every job you’ve applied for there are three or four that are more qualified and it’s a dog-eat-dog world, and you have to build up your investments and take care of them carefully because – as a billboard in Esquimalt told me a year or so ago – “It’s a scary thing!  What happens if your retirement income runs out before your life does?” The ultimate catastrophe!  They actually put that up there on the billboard.