[An interview with]


Mar 7, 2024

“Divine Reality is Bigger Than God”

It’s a rainy Tuesday morning in Poitiers, France. I’m in pursuit of profundities and purpose.  I’ve traveled from London to interview the Episcopal priest, mystic, and writer Cynthia Bourgeault.

My Romanian Uber driver, Petru, doesn’t speak much English and seems bemused at where we’re going. We’re headed thirty minutes outside the city, deep into nature. Google Maps wants us to go off road; Petru opts for the longer, more traversed, route. In my limited French, I try to communicate the gist of the situation: I’m here to meet a mystic from the United States. She’s here to teach about meditation and prayer at this Christian retreat centre called Bonnevaux. I’m going to interview her about God, her life, and everything else in between. 

What I couldn’t properly articulate en français was the extent of Bourgeault’s experience and wisdom. At 76 years old, she’s been in service of the divine for decades: as an Episcopal priest, an internationally renowned retreat leader, and author of numerous books including The Wisdom Jesus: a New Perspective on Christ and His Message and Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Bourgeault was also a student of, and mentored by, Thomas Keating, an influential American Catholic Monk who helped pioneer and re-introduce centering prayer to Christianity. 

For her contributions, many endow Bourgeault with the title “mystic”. It’s a divisive label, but intends to honor her extensive, and exhaustive, dedication to spirituality and celebrate the wisdom that flows from her teachings. Those teachings, which predominantly center around Christianity, include a bold re-claiming of the Bible and story of Jesus as mystical texts that must transcend literal interpretations for spiritual growth; and explaining the cosmic commonalities between the Christian wisdom tradition and other spiritual paths. “Each path is in every other path when you converge towards their origin,” she tells me. Arriving at these perspectives originates in centering prayer: a practice that, through surrender and humility, helps to transcend one’s ego and recognize the universal presence of divine love in everyone and everything. Centering prayer changed Bourgeault’s life and now she teaches others how to do it and the fruits it can bear.

Today, the views of Bourgeault are a minority within Christianity, but as she would tell me in our interview, there’s a growing acceptance for her teachings. Her mission to “spread the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom paths” soldiers on. 

Bourgeault first came to my attention through her affiliation with Richard Rohr and James Finley at the Centre for Action and Contemplation. The Estonian writer Karola Karlson once proposed during our conversation the idea of “humility in the lungs”. I love that imagery and it’s exactly how I now see Bourgeault, Finley and Rohr: each breath is received and exhaled with humility and their central life force is animated by a deep well of love, grace and compassion that they exude and share with others. 

Upon arrival at Bonnevaux, the Uber’s greeted by a sign saying “private property”. Petru stops the car and tells me I need to walk from here. Momentarily I’m tempted to insist he drive me all the way, but on this particular journey, I know that walking down this muddy dirt path into the unknown while lugging heavy camera gear is meant to be.

Perhaps my mind is susceptible to cliché, but the second I began down the path towards Bonnevaux — a self-described centre for peace — I felt, well, centered and peaceful. As I came over the horizon of a small hill, I could see the serene grounds. There were large stone buildings with red doors and window trimmings, an old ornate church, a pond, a lush forest; and in the distance I spotted someone wearing a red winter hat. It was Bourgeault, gazing at nature, anticipating my arrival. I couldn’t have scripted this any better.


For months, I’d dreamt about visiting a place like this. Centering prayer, in recent years, has transformed my life. Since encountering Christian mysticism, I’ve longed to see places dedicated to its practice and teaching. Several weeks earlier, I’d contacted Bourgeault about an interview. We could do it via Zoom, she wrote, or I could go visit her in Bonnevaux. It was an invitation I simply couldn’t refuse. And so there I was – right where I’d always wanted to be. Bourgeault greeted me warmly, then escorted me towards the centre where she was staying for the retreat. We spent the next two hours talking about her life and work. 

There is much I WANNA KNOW from a leading Christian mystic. From centering prayer, to Thomas Keating, to re-imagining Jesus and the Bible, to processing great suffering, we cover it all.


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  1. Visit her website: https://www.cynthiabourgeault.org/


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