Lamentation of Christ-Lucas Cranach the Elder
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Photograph by Lee van Laer
In Without Benefit of Clergy, Frank Sinclair's book on his experiences in the Gurdjieff work, he mentions the recollections of Louise March on a gathering at the hotel Wellington in New York in the early hours of Christmas Day 1948. She recalls Gurdjieff saying:
"I wish give real Christmas present. Imagine Christ. Somewhere in space is." Mr. Gurdjieff forms an oval with both his hands. "Make contact but to outside, periphery. Draw from there, draw in, I. Settle in you, Am. Do every day. Wish to become Christ. Become. Be."
The practice is deeply reminiscent of visualization practices; and perhaps we are reminded of St. Augustine's three stages of vision, beginning with corporeal vision — physical vision of our eyes — moving to spiritual vision that is, imagination and recollection, and then to intellectual vision, that is, the contemplation abstract entities. These stages of creative contemplation are equivalent to the vision of the body, the vision of the feelings, and the vision of the intelligence — in other words, imagination recast in terms of what Mr. Gurdjieff called "three brained being."
This practice of meditative imagination has long-standing precedent in the imagery and structure of Northern Renaissance painting, much of which was designed to act as a jumping off point for the aspirant; they were meant to imagine themselves directly into the events of the passion.
It's a long-standing tradition in the Orthodox churches, both Greek and Catholic, to develop an intimate relationship with Christ, to take Christ himself directly into the heart.To become Christ.
Gurdjieff's statement reveals that he understood Christ as a real, active, living, and actual Being who we are capable of coming into intimate and direct contact with. This is a practical work that has little or nothing to do with the complex and elaborate mechanics of the chemical factory, or the abstract esotericism of the enneagram.
"Mathematik is useless. You cannot learn laws of world creation and world existence by mathematik."—Idiots in Paris, J.G. Bennett, p. 27
If we can't use the esoteric sciences — the inner physics of hydrogens and the multiplications on diagrams — to learn the laws of world creation and world existence, what do we use?
The answer is quite clear. We use our intuition — our ability to acquire an inward teaching, a teaching of our own, that comes from the higher parts of the soul within ourselves. Gurdjieff cited this intuitive capacity as an essential part of inner work.
And it is quite interesting that Gurdjieff cited the inward tuition, the inward teaching, of taking Christ directly into ourselves as a practice directly related to his first prayer, I am — I wish to be.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.