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Spirit Journal – February 2017


This month, we start off with an item written by Chicago chapter coordinator Alan Krema, reflecting on the ancient Wisdom tradition, which is the focus of our ongoing Living Wisdom series of Saturday workshops.

Next, we provide updates on upcoming events, including May’s Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Meninger and the Eight-Day Intensive/Post-Intensive Retreat coming up this August.  We also highlight upcoming events at Healing Gardens in St. Charles and inform you about a range of other contemplative opportunities – local, regional, and nationwide.  This issue also includes a link to Parabola, an online and print magazine that may be of interest to you, and Insights from Alan Watts, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and James Finley.

We’d be delighted to have your help in making Spirit Journal a valuable resource and forum for the members and friends of Contemplative Outreach – Chicago.  Please use the email address provided at the end to send in your ideas and insights.

What Is the Wisdom Tradition?

Alan Krema

Alan Krema

by Alan Krema

In our ongoing Saturday Living Wisdom workshops, it is clear that some of our group are familiar with the notion of Wisdom as an embodied spiritual practice and also that many are curious but not familiar with the people and practices that we refer to as coming from the Wisdom tradition.  So, I offered to write a brief overview to create a context for what we mean by Wisdom.

As a starting point, consider these two excerpt’s from The Wisdom Way of Knowing by Cynthia Bourgeault:

Wisdom is an ancient tradition, a precise lineage of spiritual knowledge, not a particular religious expression, but arising from the headwaters of all the great sacred paths.  From time immemorial there have been Wisdom schools, places where men and women have been raised to a higher level of understanding, partly by enlightened human beings and partly by direct guidance from above.  Wisdom has flowed from a great underground stream from these schools, providing guidance and nurturance, as well as occasional sharp course corrections, to the flow of human history.    – p.4

Jesus was known to his disciples as a Wisdom teacher – a “Master of Wisdom.” He taught a method of transformation that was both ancient and timeless. The teaching he brought and embodied conforms itself to the vessel of Wisdom as had been known to the ancients of history.  – p.13.

In the early Christian times there developed a way of living expressed by the teachings of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.  They formed a combination of hermit and community lifestyles that included a deep desire to live the way Jesus lived and taught.   This movement was in some way a reaction to the Church becoming a social and political institution focused on external practice and belief.

May’s Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Meninger is Very Nearly Full – Act Now

May 5-7 at the Chicago Cenacle, we are thrilled to present The Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Meninger – a rare opportunity to learn directly from one of the originators of Centering Prayer.  Many have already registered and there are very few spaces left.  UPDATE: THIS EVENT IS NOW FULL AND REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.

Save the Dates: Eight Day Intensive/Post Intensive Retreat August 6-13

Contemplative Outreach-Chicago will offer Eight-Day Intensive and Post-Intensive Retreats at the Portiuncula Center in Frankfort Illinois August 6-13.  These extended retreats provide opportunities to deepen the practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of profound silence and community support. Registration will begin in early March.

Enneagram Workshop and Introduction to Centering Prayer Highlight Spring Activities at Healing Gardens in St. Charles

ThesupermatHealing Gardens, a lovely two-acre expanse of woodland and perennial gardens at Stone Hill Farm in Saint Charles, will be hosting a range of contemplative activities in March and April, including an Enneagram Workshop on March 25 and an Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop on April 1.

On Saturday March 25, the day-long Enneagram Workshop will introduce and explain a powerful tool for personal insight and collective transformation. Acting as a “mirror of the soul,” the Enneagram presents nine ways of experiencing ourselves, others and the Divine.  Each of the nine Enneagram “types” has a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting.

“Through the exploration of the Enneagram we discover who we believe we are, what is underneath those beliefs, and what moves us toward or away from Divine Essence,” says JoAnne McElroy, who will facilitate the workshop. “By identifying our primary type, we are able to appreciate our unique gifts while moving to overcome our inner barriers.”

The all-day Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop on Saturday April 1 offers an opportunity to learn the method of Centering Prayer or, for those already practicing, an opportunity to deepen the practice.  The presenters are specially trained and commissioned in teaching this short course which covers the essentials of the method and conceptual background of Centering Prayer. After the initial workshop, the program continues for 5-6 weeks with 90-minute gatherings to pray, view and discuss a video presentation by Fr. Thomas Keating, and to support an emerging daily practice of Centering Prayer.

Other March-April activities at Healing Gardens include two “Silent Saturdays” and the “SPA Sisters Awakening Retreat for Women” – a Spa for the Spirit helping women to awaken their connection to Nature, Spirit and Authentic self.  For more information, please visit the Healing Gardens website.

More Local and Regional Retreats and Events to Consider

Rosalie Riegle

Rosalie Riegle

Peace activist, oral historian and author Rosalie Riegle will discuss Catholic Worker movement co-founder Dorothy Day and the foundation of her Catholicism at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, March 2, in St. Benedict Chapel on the fourth floor of Kindlon Hall at Benedictine University. This event is free and open to the public. Rosalie is a member of the Chicago chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society (ITMS) and was part of the “Dorothy Day Roundtable” at the 2011 ITMS conference at Loyola. For more information, contact Lynn Dransoff at or (630) 829-6250, or visit the Benedictine University website.

The Chicago chapter of The International Thomas Merton Society and The Dominican University Siena Center present Is the Future of American Religion Already in the Past? at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, March 19, at Dominican University Priory Auditorium, 7200 Division St., River Forest.  Former Newsweek Magazine Religion Editor, Ken Woodward, will explore this challenging question.  Mr. Woodward is the author of Getting Religion: Faith, Culture, and Politics from Eisenhower to Obama. Admission is free, refreshments will be served, and ample parking is available. RSVP to Mike at 773-447-3989.

Contemplative Outreach – Chicago’s four-session Living Wisdom Program is half-completed, and there are two remaining all-day Saturday workshops in Mount Prospect through April, each dedicated to a theme of wisdom in the Christian contemplative tradition.  You can sign up now for The Welcoming Prayer (March 18) and/or The Wisdom of Mary Magdalene (April 8).

In St. Louis, June will bring the five-day retreat Rebirth in Christ on the Tree of Life: a Process of Inner Transformation at the Marianist CenterBoth “old wine” and “new wine,” Kess Frey introduces a Christian contemplative interpretation of the Qabalistic Tree of Life.  This living allegorical Tree is said to predate the birth of Jesus and to have its earthly roots in ancient Hebrew mysticism.  Kess, from Anchorage, Alaska, will explore the way that Christ stands in the center of creation’s Universal Tree of Life and in the soul of each individual as the divine indwelling.  Kess Frey has authored four books related to the conceptual understanding of Centering Prayer, the most recent entitled “The Will of Divine Love:  Centering Prayer & Spiritual Psychology.”  Kess serves as Coordinator of Contemplative Outreach of Anchorage, has been practicing Centering Prayer since 1989 and offers workshops on contemplative spirituality.  He is also active in prison ministry.  This retreat will include presentations, periods of Centering Prayer, silence and small group process.  For information or pre-registration, contact Susan Komis – or 314-750-5100.

Center for Action and Contemplation Offers Three-Day Conspire 2017 Conference This Summer in Albuquerque and Online

Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) will be holding its three-day Conspire 2017 conference June 7-9 in Albuquerque, or you may participate online.  According to the CAC, “Richard Rohr, angel Kyodo williams, Mirabai Starr, and Ken Wilber will explore our misguided attempts to overcome evil. They help us rediscover all beings’ inherent unity and belovedness. Conversion demands immense humility and honesty rather than zeal or purity. The autonomous, egocentric, and separate self must give way to our True Self.  Facing our shadow is a breakthrough to grace and mercy. Embracing the parts of ourselves we’ve denied also reveals a “golden shadow”—our goodness, giftedness, and generosity!”  For complete information and registration, visit the CAC website.

Parabola: A Publication of Interest

Parabola Magazine has been published since 1976 by the Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, which describes itself as “a not-for-profit organization devoted to the dissemination and exploration of materials relating to the myths, symbols, rituals, and art of the world’s religious and cultural traditions.” Each quarterly issue of Parabola has its own focus: one of the timeless themes of human existence.  The current issue focuses on “the search for meaning,” with articles by Cynthia Bourgeault, Maurice Nicoll, Alan Watts, and many others.  Have a look.


Union with God is the primary and most unavoidable reality of our lives.

– Alan Watts

The divine is disclosed everywhere for those who have eyes to see. Our only blindness is our own lack of fascination, amazement, humility, curiosity, awe, and willingness to be allured forward.

– Richard Rohr

There is a deeper current of awareness, a deeper and more intimate sense of belonging, which flows beneath the surface waters of your being and grows stronger and steadier as your attention is able to maintain itself as a unified field of objectless awareness.

– Cynthia Bourgeault

To practice meditation as an act of faith is to open ourselves to the endlessly reassuring realization that our very being and the very being of everyone and everything around us is the generosity of God. God is creating us in the present moment, loving us into being, such that our very presence is the manifested presence of God. We meditate that we might awaken to this unitive mystery, not just in meditation, but in every moment of our lives.

– James Finley

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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