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Spirit Journal – August 2017


To help you get ready for the Sixth Annual One-Day Fall Workshop coming up on November 4, this issue features personal reflections from three of the people who will be leading workshop sessions, providing insight on the topics they plan to cover.  Next month, we will provide similar background on the other two workshop sessions.

As usual, we also call your attention to a range of other upcoming activities, events, retreats, and conferences you may wish to attend.  August Insights come from Joseph Campbell, Richard Rohr, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and John Muir.

Please continue helping us make Spirit Journal a valuable interactive forum for the members and friends of Contemplative Outreach – Chicago.  Use the email address provided at the end to send in your responses, ideas and insights.  We love hearing from you!

Session Leader Reflections on Three of the Fall Workshop Sessions: Introduction to Centering Prayer, the Perennial Wisdom, and Merton on Yoga

Register for the Fall Workshop

Centering Prayer, Right Now, Right Here

by Heath Missner

On November 4, Phil Jackson and I look forward to offering you an Introduction to Centering Prayer that will ground you in the rich history of Christian contemplative experience, and will give you the tools with which to enter the serenity of still prayer.

As we walk into the unfolding mysteries of our own lives, it is very good indeed to nourish our interior beings in the practice of Centering Prayer. We let go of everything coming into our minds: all of our thoughts and all of the emotions connected to our thoughts. In Centering Prayer, as we let go, releasing all that comes into our minds, the sacred is given the space to become alive within us and through us. We release our weary, yet ever so familiar, ways of being, and we become fresh, new, and vital.

What might we be letting go? Ideally, we are releasing old stuck ways of thinking, perhaps a wearied reactivity to political events. Our reactive  ‘positions’ may leap up at the ready, yet, now, in Centering Prayer, we are able to witness these very righteous ‘positions’ float into our minds, and we are able, blissfully, to release them, as we enter into what may feel to be a new and open spaciousness within us. A similar process may happen with our worn out and old narratives of hurt and blame, which may impede the recreation of healthy relationships with those whom God, in Her Infinite wisdom, has put into our paths. As we release what we no longer need, our innate goodness is given space to rise up and to fill our beings.

Three Shifts to Free Your Mind

by Rabbi Rami Shapiro

On November 4, I will be leading a workshop on The Perennial Wisdom.  For now, I offer this reflection to those who may be thinking about whether this might be the “right” session for them.

Shifting from Belief to Hypothesis

Beliefs are ideas you hold to be true without any evidence that they are in fact true. We usually inherit beliefs from someone in whom we have invested authority: parents, clergy, teachers, etc. For example, I was taught by all three authorities that God, the creator of the universe, chose the Jews to receive His (sic) one and only revelation, and to hold in perpetuity the deed to the Land of Israel. The only evidence for this belief is in the belief itself. This is to say that the only evidence for this is in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, and because we Jews are to believe Torah is the Word of God, and Torah says we are God’s Chosen, therefore we must be God’s Chosen because the Word of God says so. I get dizzy just typing this.

My suggestion is that we abandon belief for hypothesis. A belief insists something is true. A hypothesis says something may be true, but to know for sure we must test it. Belief has no need for testing, and in fact is adamantly opposed to testing. Hypothesis is nothing without rigorous testing, or, if testing is not possible, we should hold the hypothesis lightly, knowing that it could very well be false.

So, the first shift I wish to offer is that you recast all your beliefs as working hypotheses open to testing and even invalidation. The result from such a shift would be to free you from fixed and unprovable ideas, and open you to inquiry.

Merton’s Inquiry into Yoga: Insights into Spiritual Formation

By David Belcastro

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is no salvation without yoga.”   Clearly a significant statement. But what did he mean?  Like so many lines from Merton, it requires sorting through his vast and diverse writings to reach an understanding of not only what it meant to him but also what it might mean for us.

The workshop I will offer on November 4 has been created to provide participants an opportunity to explore Merton’s interest in Integral Yoga, lessons in yoga that he offered at Gethsemani, the obscure pilgrimage to Mahabalipuram, and his final poem entitled “Kandy Express.”  From this inquiry we will gain insight into an approach to spiritual formation that integrates body, mind and soul; the individual person with the Hidden Ground of Love; and social action and contemplative vision.

The workshop will be presented in four parts . . . each offering rare material for the group to consider . . . for example, an audio talk by Merton (on cd and unpublished), a handout of instruction on yoga by Merton (old mimeograph), an excerpt from Asian Journal describing his pilgrimage to a Hindu site that has received little attention even though he ranks it with his pilgrimage to Polanaruwa, and a poem he scribbled in a notebook while traveling in India.

(For more information on the One-Day Fall Workshop, this workshop session, and the presenter, David Belcastro Ph.D., please visit the event page.)

Upcoming Events, Retreats, and Conferences for You to Consider

 Here’s a listing of additional contemplative activities you may want to experience:

TOMORROW, August 26, through October: Contemplative Prayer Group at the Tau Center in Wheaton

Finding sacred space for spiritual refreshment can be a challenge in the midst of our busy lives.  This small group offering will provide an opportunity to quiet your mind, body, and soul as you engage in a variety of simple, yet profound contemplative prayer forms, which will include experiences with: Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Guided Biblical Imagery, Praying with Icons, and Presence through Sound and Silence.

An introductory session will be held on Saturday August 26, 9:00am – 1:00pm, at the Tau Center in Wheaton, followed by six two-hour Wednesday evening sessions in September and October at the same location.    Take the time to be present for God and the connection that your soul may be longing for in the midst of a listening and prayerful community.  For further information, please contact Becky Serpe at 847-533-1285 or

Merton Society Offers a Series of Sunday Afternoon Programs, the Next on September 17

All presentations are held Sundays at 2 p.m. in the Rectory Assembly of Immaculate Conception Parish, 7211 W. Talcott, Chicago. Signs with arrows indicating “Merton Lecture” will be posted.

September 17: Pauline Viviano on “Merton’s Monastic Prophetic Spirituality: Relevant for Non-Monks”

October 15: Shawn Storer of the Catholic Peace Fellowship on Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

November 5: David Belcastro on Merton & Camus

November 19: Paul Pearson on Merton & Humor

December 10: Kate Hennessy & Rosalie Riegle on Dorothy Day (Kate’s grandmother)

January 21, 2018: Jon Sweeney on “A Course in Christian Mysticism”

No special reading or background is required for any of these Merton Society talks, which are open to the public. Admission is a freewill offering. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call Mike Brennan at 773-447-3989. RSVPs to are welcome, but not required.

Events Coming Up at Healing Gardens in St. Charles

The beautiful Healing Gardens at Stone Hill Farm in Saint Charles offers many opportunities to visit, including a Level 2 Enneagram Workshop on September 16. 

The gardens are open to the public on Sunday September 10 (with optional outdoor Yoga, Tai Chi, and QiGong classes).  There will also be a Silent Saturday on October 28 and an Awakening in Nature retreat on October 22.

For more information on these and other activities, please visit the Healing Gardens website.

Looking Further Ahead: Events to Plan for in December 2017 and March 2018

Forgiveness Prayer Weekend Retreat – December 10-12 in Racine Wisconsin

Mary Dwyer, a well-known retreat guide and long-time student of Fr. Thomas Keating, will present a weekend retreat focusing on “The Forgiveness Prayer” at the beautiful Siena Retreat Center on the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin December 10-12.

To be a Christian mandates a willingness to forgive, but as the adage goes, “to err is human, to forgive is Divine.” Forgiveness is central to Jesus’s message calling us to forgive “from the heart,” yet in today’s world how does one forgive?  The retreat will explore these questions and share both the Process of Forgiveness and specific practices to forgive (including the Forgiveness Prayer as articulated by Mary Mrozowski).  For more information or to register, click here. This event is sponsored by Contemplative Outreach of Southeast Wisconsin.

It’s Time Now to Secure Your Place at Next Spring’s Mega Wisdom School in North Carolina

The next “Mega” Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault will take place Sunday, March 11 – Friday, March 16, 2018 at Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina.

Entitled Introductory Wisdom School Part B: The Divine Exchange, the retreat will cover the Wisdom metaphysical map, the Divine Exchange, Vertical Exchange, Reciprocal Feeding, the Jesus teachings based in exchange, an introduction to Trinitarian metaphysics and selections from the Gospel of Thomas.  For complete information, visit the Wisdom Way of Knowing website.

“While next March is more than six months away, Cynthia’s Wisdom School events, including the larger-capacity “mega” retreats, always fill up quickly,” says Alan Krema, Contemplative Outreach Chicago Coordinator, who will be assisting as a facilitator at the retreat. “It isn’t necessary to have experienced the Wisdom School Part A to participate in and benefit from Part B, but it is suggested that participants have an established Centering Prayer or meditation practice.”

If you are interested in attending or have any questions about the Wisdom School, please email Alan at   


We must let go of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

– Joseph Campbell

The incarnation had nothing to do with theology. It was rather about vulnerability, about letting go, about emptiness, about self-surrender – and none of that is in the head.

– Richard Rohr

It is love alone that leads to right action.  What brings order in the world is to love and let love do what it will.

– Jiddu Krishnamurti

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.

– John Muir

Your Turn

Please write in to comment on or add to any of the items in this month’s newsletter.  Let us know if you are aware of an upcoming event you think others should know about, or send us an inspirational quote you’d like to share, or information about a book, website, podcast, or video you recommend.  You are invited to contribute by emailing the newsletter editor at

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