In The Wisdom Jesus Cynthia Bourgeault writes:
“Who do you say I am?” Jesus asks repeatedly throughout the gospels. Which really means, “Who or what in you recognizes me?” It is the crucial question.
One of my own most important mentors along the path is Father Bruno Barnhardt, who for many years was prior of the Benedictine Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur, California. He was the first person who really put the pieces together for me: that the key ingredient is really recognition energy – the capacity to ground-truth a spiritual experience in your own being. The gospels are built on it – and so was the early church – as the powerful liberation energy of the Christ event spills over and travels forward, moving from recognition to recognition.
Bruno Barnhardt explains: “As we accompany Jesus through the gospels we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences a mysterious power in Jesus that from this moment changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves experience the liberating power of this awakening. Examples come quickly to mind: the two disciples in John’s first chapter: ‘Rabbi, where do you dwell?’ ‘Come and see.’ … Time after time we feel the break-through of life, the wave-front of wonder…”
What caused [the first disciples] to say ‘yes’ to Jesus? I’d like to explore this question more deeply by looking at one of the most interesting and significant people who said ‘yes’: the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4f)….
When I listen closely, the first thing I hear is a sort of mutual boldness. Clearly Jesus sees something in this woman from the start, for him even to begin to address her. And far from being intimidated, she returns his serves beautifully. It’s a fascinating exchange. There is a heart-to-heart connection, and a heart-to-heart inner seeing. He sees who she is; she sees who he is. And in the light of that mutual recognition they keep on empowering each other and drawing each other along to a greater self-disclosure…
What an extraordinary moment! It is the first time in this gospel that Jesus reveals his true identity to anyone. Something he sees in her gives him the confidence to be so nakedly vulnerable; and something she sees in him gives her the confidence to follow his lead… This quality of awareness is not something that comes from outside the moment. Rather, it grows up in the moment itself through the quality and energy of the heart connection. It is a transfusion from within (‘one deep calling to another’, in the words of Psalm 42).
Bruno has been reflecting on the mysterious energy of the exchange between Jesus and this unknown woman at the well, and he observes: “This Jesus whom we encounter is a light at the center of the world, a fire at the world’s edge. He moves beneath the images of himself as an alternate center of energy. He awakens that which lies at the core of my own being. The series of Jesus’s healings in the gospels are the story of the gradual raising to life and consciousness, to freedom and fullness, of this nascent person that I am.” He then concludes with this remarkable statement: “The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a unitive knowledge – the luminosity of my own true and eternal being… Jesus Christ standing before the Samaritan woman becomes the mirror in which she sees not only the face of God but her own true face.”
In the gospels, all the people who encountered Jesus only by hearsay, by what somebody else believed about him, by what they’d been told, by what they hoped to get out of him: all those people left. They still leave today. The ones that remained – and still remain – are the ones who have met him in the moment: in the instantaneous, mutual recognition of hearts and in the ultimate energy that is always pouring forth from this encounter. It is indeed the wellspring.
Intrigued? In this book study, we’ll look more closely at Jesus of Nazareth and his wisdom teachings, and we’ll also learn some wisdom practices inspired by his teachings.
* See The Wisdom Jesus, p. 1-12