This month’s issue includes a personal reflection written by a participant in our eight day mid-summer retreat, thought-starters from two people who will be serving as session leaders at our Fall Workshop on October 3, information about “Silent Saturdays” at Healing Gardens and a Merton Society jazz concert, insights from Carl Sagan, Fr. Thomas Keating, Lao Tzu, and W.H. Auden, and a link to the very interesting website of a “center for contemplative activism.”
We hope you’ll enjoy it and invite your participation. Please use the e-mail address at the end to send your feedback.
Reflection: Mid-Summer Intensive and Post-Intensive Retreat
by Al Krema
(The Portiuncula, July 19-27, 2015) Have you ever wondered what a Contemplative Outreach intensive and post intensive retreat is like? Have you ever considered attending one?
If you are familiar with centering prayer and have read the book Open Mind, Open Heart by Thomas Keating, you have some idea of Keating’s contribution to the 2000-year tradition of Christian mysticism, and how he applies the understanding of modern psychology to the traditional description of the transformation process that takes place during the journey of the mystical path.
Our Chicago chapter of Contemplative Outreach recently sponsored an eight-day intensive and post intensive retreat at the Portiuncula retreat center in Frankfort, IL. I attended this retreat along with 19 others and found it to be a source of growth and transformation, true to the promise of faithful practice in centering prayer. Initially, I had felt that the event seemed a bit daunting — requiring a full week off and spending that week in silence. I hesitated for some time before making the commitment to attend, and did so because it was so conveniently located in the Chicago area, at a facility that I knew was a wonderful place to be.
Let me give you an idea of what the week is like:
Seven nights and eight days are structured with prayer and learning, with time for walks in nature and reflection. With beginning and ending activity, there are seven days spent in silence. Our centering prayer together in the group consisted of a 30 minute period of meditation, a meditative walk, then another 30 minute period of meditation. We did this three times each day. We also had two learning sessions each day, which were focused on Keating’s teachings on the process of growth, with the dismantling of the “false-self system.” I had felt that I knew this material quite well, having worked with it for the last 15 years, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much seemed new and fresh based on having a focused time to spend with it and looking at it afresh from the place of my own growth stage at this present time.
We ended each day with group prayer, using lectio divina based on various well selected scripture readings. There was ample time to walk outside after meals, and plenty of nooks and crannies to settle into some reading and journal writing.
Here are some notes from my own journal and readings:
I came across an essay by Cynthia Borgeault…
Her essay brought out a point made by Gerald May in Will and Spirit where he differentiates between willingness and willfulness. Willingness implies a surrender of one’s separateness – an entering into the deepest processes of life itself. A realization that one is a part of a cosmic process and is committed to participate in that process.
Willfulness, on the other hand, is setting oneself apart in an attempt to master, control, direct, and manipulate one’s environment and existence. Willingness is saying yes to the mystery of being alive in each moment. Willfulness is saying no – or perhaps “yes, but…”
The point of the essay was to compare centering prayer to focused meditation. Centering prayer is the prayer of consent, and is defined by intention, not attention.
In thinking about this, in relation to the format of strict silence, I realize I can either be willful and attempt to master the environment and our experience of God – to achieve it by my effort of silence. This approach gives a heaviness to silence as if it is a burden. Or I can willingly accept the invitation to open my heart to a deeper perception of my being than I can have in everyday interactive living. Willingness requires that I tread lightly – not just silently.
In my view of this retreat week, the goal is not the burden of silence, but the lightness of living in an environment where the priority is the value system of not succumbing to the demands of my reactive self, and rest ever deeper in the source of being, freeing up dependence on the false self system.
“To say that God is simply the ‘divine Being’ might lead to a total misunderstanding, if it indicated that among all the beings that can be there is one who is superior to the others, and this one is called “divine”…. The deist God who is a mere celestial watchmaker or ‘supreme Being,’ has long since ceased to have much meaning in the world, which can get along perfectly well without such a hypothesis.
The manifestation of the “divine” therefore, is not a manifestation of any special quality but of radical being, actuality, aliveness, power, love, concern. And all this is manifested historically by the deeds that flow from the commands and missions of the “hidden one” who simply ‘is’.”
From my journal…
“When I know myself, I am in love. When I am in love, I am connected to the Other beyond time and space. When I am with you and in you, in love with you, we are one and you are present in my heart. Your particular features become as an archetype, but your presence is strong and holds me whole, if not tight, in Truth.”
I invite you to consider spending time in this more radical way of being in which I promise the invocation to silence will yield insight, growth, and love for you.
Fall Workshop Thought-Starters
(Contemplative Outreach Chicago’s fourth annual Fall Workshop will take place Saturday October 3, 2015 at St. John of the Cross in Western Springs, Illinois. Full details and registration here.)
Below, Shawn Kafader and Judith Valente, two of our Fall Workshop session leaders, offer some initial thoughts on the ideas they plan to explore on October 3.
Archetypes in the Spiritual Journey
by the Rev. Dr. Shawn Kafader
Archetypes are psychological structures that are reflected in symbols, images and themes common to all cultures regardless of region, religion or time.
Archetypes are a vital part of the contemplative dimension of our spiritual journey. They set a path for the journey inward, allowing us to chart our own path and assist others in discovering their path.
This interactive workshop, will reflect on an evolutionary model of the eight spiritual archetypes, as presented by Fr. Thomas Keating. Together we will explore the Pre-Rational, Mythic Membership, Intuitive, and Unitive levels of consciousness with the Archetypes that relate to each level. We will be invited to open our minds and hearts to the ever deepening spiritual journey while learning to name and integrate – for ourselves and others – these universal archetypes that emerge in our practice of contemplative prayer.
The Art of Pausing: Lessons from Thomas Merton and Monasteries
by Judith Valente
The other day my husband showed me a cartoon he saw on the Internet. In the first frame, you see a fellow looking around and he says, “What a busy world! In the next five minutes I will do nothing.” The man is silent for the next two frames. Then he looks up and says, “Maybe I should tweet about this.”
In four short frames, that little cartoon sums up the conundrum of life in the age of Twitter, cell phones, email, Facebook and all the other white noise and distractions that infiltrate our days. I believe at the center of each one of us there is a point of being that longs for moments of silence and solitude when we can simply be.
Like many people, I suffer from a dual diagnosis. It’s called workaholism and over-achieverism. For eight years, I worked as a correspondent for The Wall Street Journal: six years in the Chicago bureau and two years in London. In London, we had an office on the 10th floor and I was fortunate enough to have a desk by a window overlooking St. Paul’s Cathedral. I’d arrive for work around nine in the morning, turn on the computer and promptly bury myself in the news wires and make phone calls to flesh out my story for the day. Inevitably at some point, I’d look out the window and it would be dark. The day had passed and I’d missed it.
I was like the narrator in a poem by A.R. Ammons, interestingly enough called Eyesight, who says:
It was May before my
to spring and
my word I said
to the southern slopes
I’ve missed it
So the poet decides to travel north to where spring is not quite so far along, in the hope of catching a glimpse of the first blush of the season. But make no mistake, he warns at the end of the poem:
it’s not that way
with all things, some
that go are gone
Some things that go are gone. Can we challenge ourselves even in the midst of a busy work day, to practice the art of pausing –to stop, look around, clear the mind of work concerns and pay attention to the mystery, the wonder, the beauty that is around us?
The African bushmen who lead safaris have a wonderful tradition. They stop periodically on the journey, and sit quite still, listening to the beating of the heart. They say they are trying to let their souls catch up with them on the rest of the journey. Sooner or later, we all have to let our souls catch up with the rest of our lives.
Much of what I’ve learned about the art of pausing, I received from my many visits to monasteries around the world. The one where I spent the most time is Mount St. Scholastica, a women’s Benedictine monastery in the heart of America’s heartland, in Atchison Kansas. In fact, I wrote a book about my experiences as a regular visitor there.
One of my favorite places to visit is the vineyard. The vines are among monastery’s the oldest residents. They date back to the original sisters who arrived in Atchison in 1863. Grapevines are wonderful plants. They’ll grow and grow without much effort. But they won’t produce much of value without the careful touch of the vinedresser’s hand, that several times a year, has to radically cut back the branches so that the grapes can receive the sunlight and nutrients they need. Too many branches dilute and dissipate what the grapes need to thrive.
There’s a stained glass window in the monastery’s chapel that shows a branch sprouting out of the earth. But the top of the branch has been cut off. And beneath it are some other words in Latin. In fact they are kind of a monastic motto: succisa virescit. Cut down, it will grow stronger. For someone like me, who is always running around trying to do five things at once, and be all things to all people, it’s a reminder to periodically slow down, to survey the grapevine that’s my life and radically cut back on what’s not necessary, what’s non-essential.
And what is essential? I love the final scene in a film called “Awakenings.” It’s the story of a doctor who develops a drug regimen that reawakens patients who have been asleep for decades in a post-encephalitic coma. Once conscious again, the patients revel in the most mundane of events, like shaving, being read to, sharing a meal across a table with someone. They remind everyone on the hospital staff what a joy it is to experience such ordinary things.
Eventually, the drugs wear off, and the patients slip back into their catatonic state. The doctor, played by Robins Williams, has to stand before his colleagues and explain what went wrong. He says that although the regimen ultimately failed, he learned something far more valuable. “The human heart is more powerful than any drug. And that’s what needs to be nurtured — with work, play, friendship, family. These are the things that matter,” he says. “These are the things we’ve forgotten. The simplest things.”
Succisa virescit. Cut down, it will grow stronger.
Can we find the courage to cut back on what’s non-essential to nourishing our souls? Can we re-focus on what really matters, which are so often the simplest things?
“Silent Saturdays” Coming Up in September and October at Healing Gardens
Take some sacred time for yourself to pray and reflect in a welcoming group setting, September 19 and/or October 17 at the lovely Healing Gardens, a two-acre expanse of woodland and perennial gardens in Saint Charles, Illinois. Each morning will consist of two, 20 minute meditation periods; a guided meditation walk in nature; silent reflection time; journaling and optional sharing. Drinks and snacks are provided; the cost is $20 per person. Further information and registration at the Healing Gardens website.
All That Merton Society Jazz
The Chicago Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society is sponsoring a very special concert at 3:00 p.m. Sunday, September 20, featuring a jazz performance by vibraphonist Dick Sisto and guitarist John Moulder, with Dick sharing reminiscences of his friendship with Thomas Merton, who he got to know in 1967-68. “I think this melding of music and remembrance is something Merton would have really appreciated,” says Mike Brennan of the Merton Society. The performance will be held at St. Gregory the Great Church, 5545 N. Paulina, Chicago. There is a $15 admission (cash or check) which will be collected at the door.
Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality.
Bring the same emptiness and freedom to each moment and its content. Then you will be happy even in the midst of suffering. Accept everything and everyone just as they are, where they are, and try to act as lovingly as possible in every situation. Be ready to be led you know not where or when. Hush the discriminating mind dividing things into good or evil for me.
Fr. Thomas Keating
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Both in the substance and the parabolic method of his teaching about love, Jesus never asks anyone to accept anything except on the basis of their personal experience of human love… In speaking of the fatherhood of God, Jesus is teaching that God does not love us because we are ‘good’ or because he is very ‘good’ and merciful but because he has to, because we are part of him, and he can no more hate us if we act badly than a man can hate one of his fingers when it aches: he can only want it to get well.
Website to Explore: Gravity
Gravity, in Omaha Nebraska, describes itself as a Center for Contemplative Activism, which exists to nurture the integral connection between mysticism and activism. “Gravity grounds social engagement in Christian contemplative spirituality, to do good better by facilitating contemplative retreats, spiritual direction and pilgrimage to places of religious significance as well as places marked by profound pain and hope.”
The center’s beautifully designed website includes basic information about 11 contemplative practices (centering prayer, examen, breath prayer, etc.), a thought-provoking blog, a recommended “starter library for contemplative activists,” and several other interesting features. It’s definitely worth a look.
Do you have a reaction to any of the items in this month’s newsletter? An upcoming event you think other contemplatives should know about? An inspirational quote you’d like to share? A book, website, podcast, or video to recommend? If so, please contribute by emailing the newsletter editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.