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Spirit Journal – May 2017


Our late-May, pre-summer issue begins with an invitation to the Intensive and Post-Intensive Retreats coming up in August; then we share several participants’ personal reflections on the recent Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Meninger.

We invite you to consider participating in a range of upcoming summer events, retreats, and conferences,  and  offer a link to Contemplative Outreach’s June national newsletter, which includes a valuable summary of our organization’s revised and updated vision.  This month’s Insights come from Rami Shapiro, Ram Dass, Rachel Carson and Patti Smith.

As always, we ask you to help us make Spirit Journal a valuable interactive forum for the members and friends of Contemplative Outreach – Chicago.  Just use the email address provided at the end to send in your responses, ideas and insights.  We look forward to hearing from you! 

This August: Deepen Your Contemplative Practice by Taking Part in an Eight-Day Intensive or Post-Intensive Retreat at the Lovely Portiuncula Center 

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.  This summer, Contemplative Outreach – Chicago is offering Eight-Day Intensive and Post-Intensive Retreats at the beautiful Portiuncula Center in Frankfort Illinois, Sunday August 6 through Sunday August 13.

In the Intensive Retreat, there are up to six 30-minute Centering Prayer periods daily, supported with viewing a selection of the Spiritual Journey video series by Fr. Thomas Keating.  Private interviews with the retreat guides can be scheduled.

The Post-Intensive Retreat has up to seven 30-minute periods of Centering Prayer daily.  Participants observe Sacred Silence for four days during the retreat.  (Previous participation in an eight- or ten-day Intensive Retreat is a prerequisite for the Post-Intensive.)

The retreat guides are Alan Krema and Julianne Buenting.  Alan Krema has served the Contemplative Outreach Chicago chapter in many roles, most recently as the chapter coordinator, and is a long time practitioner of centering prayer. He is a graduate of the Center for Action and Contemplation Living School as well as a Wisdom facilitator in the lineage of Cynthia Bourgeault.  The Rev. Dr. Julianne Buenting is an Episcopal priest and Interim Rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Illinois. She has practiced centering prayer for more than 20 years and teaches ethics and spirituality in Healthcare education.  She has an affinity for Carmelite Spirituality and the medieval woman mystics.

If the time seems right for you to renew and deepen your contemplative practice, we hope you will join us this August.  Further information and an opportunity to register are available here.

Reflections on the Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Meninger

(Earlier this month, Contemplative Outreach – Chicago presented the ‘Cloud of Unknowing Retreat’ at the Chicago Cenacle with Father William Meninger. 

Working closely with Thomas Keating and Basil Pennington during the 1970s, Father Meninger studied The Cloud of Unknowing, a classic 14th century book, and made it the basis of Centering Prayer as we know it today. 

All of the feedback we’ve received on the retreat indicates that the 80+ participants were extremely positive about what they experienced.  Below, we offer several personal reflections on the event, to give you an impression of what it meant to those who were able to attend. – Ed.) 

A Rare Gift and Opportunity

by Pat Benson

What a joy and privilege to spend a weekend learning about The Cloud of Unknowing from Fr. Meninger. His humorous stories, references to related texts from the past and present, and his personal insights on this book made his message on the contemplative way easy to understand and deeply meaningful.

Father’s teaching on intercessory prayer was inspirational. He stressed that when we are in contemplation, we are bringing the whole world to God.  When we love God, we are loving everything else that God loves. How awesome is that!

It was a rare gift and opportunity to see Fr. Meninger in person in Chicago. His loving presence and wisdom will continue to guide me and fill my heart with gratitude.

A Sense of Order and Relatedness

By Russ Huebner

I found Fr. Meninger’s teachings at the retreat helped me put some sense of order and relatedness into my 76-year spiritual journey in prayer.  He has a charming and disarming way of teaching that left room for my personal level of understanding and experience.  He was not simply doctrinaire but rather encouraging.

Three Things I Learned

by Mary Haas

In the months leading up to the retreat lead by Fr. William Meninger, I felt like a teenager about to see my favorite rock star in concert. With the amount of anticipation I was feeling, it would have been surprising if the experience had lived up to my expectations. And yet, with God, the weekend far exceeded them.

One of the first things Fr Meninger made clear was that everything we say about God is a lie (or at least a very inadequate half-truth). God is so much more than our words can even begin to express. I believe the same disclaimer is true about this article.

Summer Events, Retreats, and Conferences to Consider

With the unofficial start of summer coming up this weekend, in addition to the Eight-Day Intensive and Post Intensive Retreats described above, here’s a listing of other warm weather contemplative activities you may want to consider: 

Laurence Freeman: “Going Deeper” with Christian Mediation, June 8 in Western Springs

Father Laurence Freeman will offer day and evening programs under the title Going Deeper – Christian Identity and the Contemplative Experience on June 8 at St. John of the Cross in Western Springs.  Fr. Freeman is Director and spiritual teacher of the World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), the organization sponsoring his visit.  As a mantra-based practice, “Christian Meditation” is a bit different from Centering Prayer yet has similar goals – facilitating spiritual awareness and growth through silent prayer and contemplation.

The author of several books on Christian Meditation and Spirituality, Lawrence Freeman is a Benedictine monk of the Monastery of Christ Our Saviour, Turvey, England. Inspired by his mentor, the late Benedictine Fr. John Main, he works to recover Christianity’s own contemplative wisdom tradition. He also stresses the unique role of meditation as a spiritual discipline among all world religions, and thus, a common ground for interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of social justice.

For further information on this program, please visit the St. John of the Cross website or contact Mary at 708 246 5108, email:, or Betsy at 708 246 8315, email:

Rebirth in Christ on the Tree of Life – St. Louis, June 26-30

In St. Louis, June 26-30 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.

According to Father Carl Arico:

Kess Frey is part of a new generation of thinkers and meditators dealing with and pondering the wealth of contemplative prayer in relation to various spiritual traditions, as in Jewish Mysticism and Christian Qabalah.             

The retreat will include presentations, periods of Centering Prayer, silence and small group process.  For more information, contact Susan Komis – or 314-750-5100; to register, download the registration form.

In June and July: A Range of Interesting Events Including Enneagram and Centering Prayer Workshops at Healing Gardens in St. Charles

Healing Gardens at Stone Hill Farm in Saint Charles offers many opportunities to visit this summer, including an Enneagram Workshop on Saturday July 22 and an Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop on Saturday July 29.   The beautiful gardens are open to the public on two upcoming Sundays: June 11 and July 9.  There will also be a Silent Saturday Morning on June 24 and an Awakening in Nature Retreat on Sunday July 16.

The day-long Enneagram Workshop on July 22 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.” (Note: Healing Gardens will also offer a “level two” Enneagram workshop on September 16.)

The all-day Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop on July 29 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, there will be optional follow up sessions that assist in strengthening the Centering Prayer practice.

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

July 7-9: Conspire 2017, Online or at the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque New Mexico

Transformation is the theme of this year’s edition of the annual Conspire conference at Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.

The conference website suggests that “The separate self is the major problem, not the shadow self, which only takes deeper forms of disguise…We have always been one in love.”  Richard Rohr, angel Kyodo williams, Mirabai Starr, and Ken Wilber will share teaching duties at the conference.

To find out more, or to register for online or in-person participation, visit the Center for Action and Contemplation website. 

National Newsletter Provides Revised Contemplative Outreach Vision

If you are not already a regular reader of Contemplative Outreach’s national newsletter, you may want to start with the new June 2017 edition.  It provides an introduction to the Revised Vision of Contemplative Outreach, written by Fr. Thomas Keating.

The Vision details “theological principles” and “guidelines for service” to guide our organization, and includes a brief commentary following each statement to add greater clarity.  It makes for thought-provoking and inspiring reading.

The June issue also includes contributions from interim national director Patricia Johnson, international director Fionnuala Quinn, Fr. Carl Arico, and others.  Have a look.


I’m pro-God, and I understand God as that unnamable, nondual Reality in which we live, move, and have our being (Acts 17:28) rather than any of the named Gods of religion.

– Rami Shapiro

The question is, how do you awaken out of the illusion that you are separate?  The doorway out of that is through the heart.

– Ram Dass

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.

– Rachel Carson

The swan became one with the sky . . . and I felt a twinge, a curious yearning, imperceptible to passersby, my mother, the trees, or the clouds.

– Patti Smith 

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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