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Spirit Journal – July 2017


This issue fills in the details on the topics planned for our Sixth Annual One-Day Fall Workshop.  Discounted early bird registration for the Fall Workshop is available through July 31 only, so there is just a little more time to plan ahead and save.

Also featured in this month’s issue: Alan Krema offers a reflection on “Conscious Work” as a key part of the Wisdom journey, and asks for your feedback on an idea for taking the next step in our evolving Living Wisdom program.

As usual, we call your attention to a number of upcoming activities, events, retreats, and conferences you may wish to attend.  It’s wonderful to see how this list is expanding over time as interest in contemplative topics grows across our region and beyond.  July’s Insights come from Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Rabindranath Tagore.

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!

Here Are All the Details on Our 2017 One-Day Fall Workshop!

Register Now – Early Bird Discount Ends July 31

Discounted “early bird” registration is available now through July 31, online or by mail, for Contemplative Outreach – Chicago’s sixth annual One-Day Fall Workshop, which will take place Saturday November 4 at Benedictine University in Lisle.

Right now, you can sign up for the sessions that interest you most for only $50.  On August 1, the price will increase to $60, and then to $65 right before the event.

Please visit the Event page now to take advantage of the registration discount.   

Fall Workshop Agenda: Devote the Entire Day to an Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop, or Choose Two of the Four Available Half-Day Sessions

Introduction to Centering Prayer (Full Day)

This all-day workshop offers an opportunity to learn the method of Centering Prayer or, for those already practicing, an opportunity to deepen the practice.  In the early 1970s, Trappist monk and priest Thomas Keating and two other Trappists, Fr. William Meninger and the late Fr. Basil Pennington, worked to bring people living outside monasteries a form of silent prayer now known as Centering Prayer. With roots in the fourteenth century book, The Cloud of Unknowing, this kind of prayer allows people to sit silently and become receptive to God’s gift of contemplation.  Of course, contemplation has been an important part of Christianity from the beginning; Centering Prayer presents the teachings of earlier times in an updated form.  This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship.  The presenters for this workshop are Heath Missner and Phil Jackson (see below for bios).

Merton on Yoga (Half Day – Morning)

Thomas Merton wrote, “There is no salvation without yoga.”  To date, however, little work has been done to explore and explain this aspect of Merton’s spiritual legacy, despite its importance to him.  This workshop will introduce participants to Merton’s interest in Yoga Philosophy and Practice, which eventually led to the pilgrimage to Mahabalipuram and his last poem, entitled “The Kandy Express.”  In addition, the workshop will include an introduction to yoga meditation, as Dr. Belcastro believes Merton understood it.  Presenter: David Belcastro (see below for bio)

Sacred Breath, Sacred Chant (Half Day – Morning)

Explore contemplative chanting through guided group practice as a means of: expanding attention and presence; deepening embodied spiritual awareness; and freeing body, mind, and emotions from habitual ‘blocked’ energies and conditioned attitudes.  Whether you’re a confident singer or a hesitant one, a person who’s always enjoyed singing in choir, or one who hopes no-one will hear you, yet longs to join the music, this workshop will bring you closer to your true voice.  Anyone seeking a deeper, more embodied spirituality, will have the opportunity to discover, in a supportive group setting, how sacred chanting can enliven your practice of prayer and meditation, and enrich its outward expression in service to the world.

Conscious Work as Part of the Wisdom Journey

by Alan Krema

Is prayer a retreat for you into a separate place where you find rest and peace?  If so, why do you not find peace, wholeness and harmony in your daily working life?  Do you think it is impossible?  Our human condition is that we seem to consist of so many parts that we lose track of the wholeness of our being.   Any one of these parts can dominate our life at a given moment, so the many parts of our life take turns dominating and drive us nuts looking for wholeness.  We are driven by circumstances and tend to be frenetic, obsessed with our needs, anxious, and fatigued.

The difficulties and pain we experience rattle about in our body yielding physical symptoms associated with stressful, anxious energies.   Our efforts to control our lives and our circumstances are driven mostly subconsciously by our needs for esteem, affection, and control.

With experience in the practice of Centering Prayer, we acquire a means of releasing the grip that these parts of our life, (problem behaviors, difficult relationships) maintain over us.  As we go through a typical day, thoughts arise spontaneously and focus our attention on a specific energy or issue.  In Centering Prayer, we learn to drop the thought and release the grip it has on our attention, moving to our center, where we are a larger being than any one issue.  We are connected to a larger reality and experience.

Many of us practice Centering Prayer as a means of opening up to this greater sense of being.  We feel we are at least glimpsing our True Self, our divine nature.   Centering Prayer becomes a place we go to for wholeness.  But what if we could bring that method of releasing the dominant grip of our thoughts and needs into the ordinary activities of our daily life?

The 11th Step, via Centering Prayer

The 12-step AA program includes an 11th step during which participants seek “through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God….”  A recently established program in Chicago is among a growing number nation-wide that adapt Centering Prayer to this purpose.

At each meeting, silent Centering Prayer meditation is followed by a brief positive talk or reading, then by 12-step sharing in an open AA meeting format.  This creates a fellowship open to learning how the art of listening leads to developing an improved “real” relationship with a higher power and our fellows.

The group meets Fridays at 6:45pm in conference room “C” on the 7th floor of the Community First Medical Center, 5645 W. Addison Street, Chicago. Everyone is welcome to attend. (Coed, Non-Smoking.) If you have questions or would like further information, please contact Philip Lo Dolce:

Events, Retreats, and Conferences for You to Consider

Here’s a listing of contemplative activities you may want to be part of:

Last Chance to Register! Deepen Your Contemplative Practice by Taking Part in an Eight-Day Intensive or Post-Intensive Retreat at “the Port” August 6-13 

Registration closes at the end of July.  An extended retreat is an opportunity to deepen the practices of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina (praying sacred scriptures) in an atmosphere of profound silence and community support.  For further information and registration, please visit the Event page. 

Merton Society Offers Seven Sunday Afternoon Programs Beginning August 6 

The Chicago Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society has a series of talks lined up beginning August 6. 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.

August 6: Steven Millies on “The Merton Option: Religious Responsibility and the Common Good in the Post-Christian Era.”

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. 

A Range of Events at Healing Gardens in St. Charles 

Lovely Healing Gardens at Stone Hill Farm in Saint Charles offers many opportunities to visit this summer and fall, including an Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop on Saturday July 29 and a Level 2 Enneagram Workshop on September 16.   The gardens are open to the public on Sunday August 13 and Sunday September 10 (with optional outdoor Yoga, Tai Chi, and QiGong classes both days).  There will also be Silent Saturdays on August 5 and 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.

In August: Weekend and Five-Day Retreats with Susan Komis at the Benet House Retreat Center in Rock Island, Illinois 

A weekend retreat, A Journey to Interior Freedom and Transcendence Exploring the Human Condition (August 18-20), as well as a five-day Centering Prayer Intensive/Post Intensive Retreat (August 20-25), both presented by Susan Komis, will take place at the Benet House Retreat Center in Rock Island, Illinois.  The two events can be combined into a full-week retreat.

The weekend retreat includes four presentations: (1) The Awakening, exploring the stages of prayer and faith development; (2) The Human Condition and Divine Therapy, assessing the false self value system, bearing witness to a universal illness that afflicts the entire human family; (3) The Power of Formative Thought, exploring the role that Centering Prayer has in bringing awareness of “thoughts flowing down our psychological stream of consciousness” to realization; and (4) Transformation, affirming our true self identity that is deeper than psychological awareness, and exploring how it is experienced in daily life.

The week-long Intensive/Post Intensive Retreat, on the other hand, offers an opportunity for extensive periods of Centering Prayer to deepen the personal practice of contemplative prayer. This retreat focuses more on complete silence, with no educational component presented.  All meals are silent, with no conversation.  A minimum of one year practicing Centering Prayer is a prerequisite for attending the Intensive Retreat, while previous participation in an Intensive is a prerequisite for the Post Intensive Retreat.

Susan Komis is a well-known and very experienced retreat facilitator who has served Contemplative Outreach since 1990, including stints as Coordinator of the St. Louis chapter, as a member of the faculty of Contemplative Outreach, and as Director of Chapter Programs and Services, supporting the nation-wide spiritual community.

For further information and registration, please visit the Sisters of St. Benedict website, email, or call 309-283-2108.

Late August 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

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.  

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

Cynthia Borgeault

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 seven 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


You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from the desires and the cares and the attachments of an existence in time and in the world.

– Thomas Merton

The rational level of consciousness is the door that swings into higher states – the intuitive and unitive levels of consciousness.

– Thomas Keating

The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark.

– Rabindranath Tagore

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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