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Spirit Journal – March 2018


This issue provides updates about the ongoing 2018 Living Wisdom Program and the rescheduled “Winter” Weekend Retreat and releases the initial chapter of a story we think you may find interesting and inspiring: an in-depth personal reflection written by Phil Jackson about his solo wilderness journey in the High Sierras last year.

Importantly, this issue also includes a “call for new volunteers” to help Contemplative Outreach Chicago continue and expand its mission in support of the practice of Centering Prayer, along with information about several upcoming contemplative activities and events, locally and regionally.  This month’s Insights come from Mahatma Ghandi, Albert Camus, Thomas Keating, and Richard Rohr.

Thank you very much to all who have written in to help us make Spirit Journal an open and interactive forum.  We invite your active participation, as well: use the email address provided at the end to send in your responses, ideas and insights.  We love hearing from you!

The Living Wisdom Series Continues with Saturday Workshops on March 24 and April 14

Jeff Ediger

In the March 24 Living Wisdom workshop, Jeff Ediger will provide a unique look at Wisdom as presented in the Old Testament, which is the Wisdom that Jesus learned and embraced.  Registration for this workshop closes at midnight on March 21, so please sign up now if you’d like to attend.

This year’s Living Wisdom Program will conclude on Saturday April 14 with a session on the Wisdom of the Gospel of Thomas, presented by Alan Krema and Alison Hine. The Gospel of Thomas is a manuscript containing a collection of sayings of Jesus that was discovered among a cache of ancient manuscripts at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945.  Scholars are in general agreement that it is a legitimate text that is consistent with the canonical gospels.  It may actually be the oldest known record of the sayings of Jesus.

Thomas’ Gospel can be used to lead us into a way of knowing the teaching of Jesus as a path to follow and a work to do.  This is the inner work of the Christian wisdom tradition.  In the words of Cynthia Bourgeault, “What is Jesus teaching?  I would say he’s teaching a radically kenotic path (the path of self-emptying).”  We will use some of Cynthia’s teaching from the newly published Introductory Wisdom School ecourse and explore how these sayings can help us with our inner work of knowing ourselves.

About the Gospel of Thomas Presenters: 

Alan Krema is a Wisdom student with Cynthia Bourgeault and is a staff facilitator at larger Wisdom Schools.  He has completed the Living School program at the Center for Action and Contemplation.  He is a long-time practitioner of centering prayer, a certified presenter of centering prayer, and a facilitator of several centering prayer groups.  Alan currently serves as chapter coordinator of Contemplative Outreach Chicago.  Alison Hine brings an extensive background of study in several contemplative, esoteric, and wisdom traditions, focusing for the past nine years on a deepening journey into mystical Christianity.  She has created unique digital imagery which complements the Thomas Gospel, which she will share along with her experience of working with the Thomas Gospel in a group setting.

The workshops in the 2018 Living Wisdom Program take place on at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois.  You are welcome to sign up for either or both of the remaining Living Wisdom workshops, depending on your interests and schedule.  Please visit our website for more information and a chance to register.

Rescheduled: The “Winter” Weekend Retreat Now April 6-8

Our 2018 Winter Weekend Retreat had to be postponed because of a snowstorm that took place on the originally scheduled dates in early February.  But now that spring is arriving, it’s been rescheduled for April 6-8, still at the lovely Portiuncula Center in Frankfurt, Illinois.

The retreat titled “From the Mind to the Heart,” will share some of the wisdom teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault and engage in heart awareness practices to deepen our experience of Centering Prayer and the Welcoming Prayer.  There will also be an opportunity to review and discuss parts of Thomas Keating’s latest book, also entitled From the Mind to the Heart. Much of the weekend will be in silence.  The teachings are balanced with practice and experience.

We hope you will consider attending.  Registration is open through April 2.  For further information, please visit our website.

A Call to Volunteer

Alan Krema

by Alan Krema

Our mission in Contemplative Outreach is transformation in Christ via the practice of Centering Prayer.  This transformation shows itself in mindful actions of compassion and mercy.  Our contemplative path bears the fruit of mercy and love for others in action.  That is why Centering Prayer is so important to our times and our social consciousness.  It’s about learning who we truly are in Union and connection with others.

I am making a call to each of you to consider joining our service team in Chicago to aid and assist the various activities we sponsor in order to further Centering Prayer and the contemplative path.

You can join in the events we currently have planned or help us create new events and activities.  We would love to have you join our service team.  You can assist one activity for a year or just come to a meeting and see how we gather and discuss our work.  If something is attractive to you, you are invited to pitch in.

If you feel that you might be interested in joining our volunteer team, please read and think about the rest of this message and then, if you would like to learn more, please contact me at

Over the years I have often asked myself whether or not all this spiritual development I am involved with is self-indulgent; is this all just a means of self-improvement?  Am I just trying to be better, be good, and be good enough?

Here is a story by Jacob Needleman which has helped clarify this issue for me:

Once upon a time in a not so far away land, there was a kingdom of acorns, nestled at the foot of a grand old oak tree.  Since the citizens of this country were modern, fully Westernized acorns, they went about their business with purposeful energy; and since they were mid-life baby boomer acorns, they engaged in a lot of self-help courses.  There were seminars called “Getting All You Can out of Your Shell.” There were woundedness and recovery groups for acorns who had been bruised in their original fall from the tree.  There were spas for oiling and polishing those shells and various acornopathic therapies to enhance longevity and well-being.

One day in the midst of this kingdom there suddenly appeared a knotty little stranger, apparently dropped “out of the blue” by a passing bird.  He was capless and dirty, making an immediate negative impression on his fellow acorns.  And crouched beneath the oak tree, he stammered out a wild tale.  Pointing upward at the tree he said, “We… are …that!”

Delusional thinking, obviously, the other acorns concluded, but one of them continued to engage him in conversation: “So tell us, how would we become that tree?”  “Well,” said he, pointing downward, “it has something to do with going into the ground… and cracking open the shell.” “Insane,” they responded.  “Totally morbid!  Why, then we wouldn’t be acorns anymore.

(Jacob Needleman, Lost Christianity, reprint 2003)

I know I started my adult spiritual journey in earnest 20 years ago and I was driven and intent on self-improvement.  Over time I have come to the realization that you cannot understand others until you understand yourself.  Learning who you truly are is the work of the method of Centering Prayer.  our invocation from Jesus is to love our neighbor as ourself, not as much as ourself.

When we learn to hold others in the space of our heart without attaching categories and judgements, we come to know ourselves as sharing the same ground and source of Being as all those who enter our awareness.

Again, I hope you will consider volunteering with Contemplative Outreach – Chicago.  If you would like to learn more, please contact me at

Upcoming Events, Retreats, and Conferences

Here are some upcoming contemplative activities that may be of interest:

Ongoing Centering Prayer “11th Step” Programs in Northfield and Chicago

In AA 12-step programs, the 11th step is making a personal effort to get in touch with a Higher Power, however one understands it.  Increasingly, people in 12-Step programs are deepening their relationships with their Higher Power using the method of Centering Prayer.

Here in the Chicago area, two new Centering Prayer-based 11th step groups have formed.  One meets on Sundays, 4:30-5:15, at 319 Waukegan Road in Northfield.  For more information, please contact Leonette Kaluzny –

Another Centering Prayer 11th step program meets on Fridays at 6:45pm in conference room “C” on the 7th floor of the Community First Medical Center, 5645 W. Addison Street, Chicago. For further information on this program, please contact Philip Lo Dolce —

Healing Gardens 2018 Programs Include Introductory Centering Prayer Workshops and Enneagram Workshops

Healing Gardens at Stonehill Farm invites you to enjoy two acres of perennial gardens in a quiet wooded setting in St. Charles.  A growing list of contemplative activities take place at Healing Gardens, including the following:

Introductory Centering Prayer Workshop, Saturday March 24, 8:45am – 3:00pm (another Introductory Workshop is scheduled for July 28

Level One Enneagram Workshop, Saturday April 7, 8:45am – 3:30pm

Level Two Enneagram Workshop, Saturday July 14, 8:45am – 3:30pm

For more information and registration for these and other events, please visit the Healing Gardens website.

Participate in the 26th Annual United in Prayer Day: Healing Violence, March 31 in Park Ridge

This month brings United in Prayer Day, an important long-time Contemplative Outreach program.  The theme for 2018 is a timely one: “Contemplative Perspectives on Healing Violence in Self and Society.”

While March 17th was the “official” date for UPD, it was also St. Patrick’s Day, so the Centering Prayer group at Mary Seat of Wisdom in Park Ridge decided to observe it instead on Holy Saturday, March 31.  All are invited to a contemplative morning, 9:00-12:30, at the parish ministry center. The event will include Centering Prayer and will feature a video by Thomas Keating on Spiritual Evolution, with discussion.  For more information, contact Phil Jackson,

Noted Author and Nonviolence Activist John Dear Will Speak in Joliet and Lombard in Early April

John Dear

Author, activist, and Nobel peace prize nominee Father John Dear will be visiting the Chicago area as part of a national book tour to launch his new book, They Will Inherit the Earth: Peace and Nonviolence in a Time of Climate Change.

This just-published book connects the way of active nonviolence with solidarity with Creation, and shows how our global epidemic of violence and war could only lead to catastrophic climate change. Dear cites Jesus’ third Beatitude as the basis for his meditation: “Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth.” Thomas Merton said “meekness” was the biblical word for “nonviolence” (in the Gandhi/King sense), so Dear reflects how Jesus connected nonviolence with oneness with creation, how he practiced nonviolence and lived at one with creation, and how we need to do the same.

John Dear is Nonviolence Outreach Coordinator of Pace e Bene and an internationally known voice for peace and nonviolence. He is the author/editor of 30 books and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A former Jesuit, John is a Catholic priest of the Diocese of Monterey, California.

The event in Joliet takes place Thursday April 5, 7:00-9:00pm at the University of St. Francis.  For more information, contact Bill Bromer,, 815-740-3467.  The Lombard event is on Saturday April 7, 2:00-4:00pm at the Lombard Mennonite Church.  For more information, contact Frank Goetz,, 630-653-0597.

Merton Society’s Continuing Series of Sunday Afternoon Programs, the Next on April 15

On April 15, International Thomas Merton Society Board Member Judith Valente will discuss her forthcoming book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community. 

All of the Merton Society presentations are held Sundays at 2:00p.m. in the Rectory Assembly of Immaculate Conception Parish, 7211 W. Talcott, Chicago. Signs with arrows indicating “Merton Lecture” will be posted. No special reading or background is required for any of the 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.

Transformation in Times of Uncertainty, a Weekend Retreat with Nancy Sylvester at Siena Retreat Center in Racine, May 18-20

Led by Nancy Sylvester, IHM, Transformation in Times of Uncertainty is a weekend retreat exploring the power of contemplation as a transformative practice so necessary in our world today.  The weekend will include presentations and processes rooted in individual and communal contemplation.  The retreat will be held at the beautiful Siena Retreat Center on Lake Michigan between Chicago and Milwaukee.

Nancy Sylvester is the former President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and former Vice President of the Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan.  Her experience also includes leadership with the national Catholic social justice lobby NETWORK and founding the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue in 2002.  She currently serves as its President and brings to this project her commitment to dialogue, collaboration, contemplation, and an understanding of transformation through the lenses of Catholic social justice teaching and the emerging universe story.

For more information, please visit the Siena Center website.

Contemplative Outreach of Southeast Wisconsin Offers This Year’s Eight-day Advanced and Post-Intensive Retreats July 15-22 at St. Benedict’s Abbey and Retreat Center in Benet Lake, Wisconsin

The retreats, guided by Kathryn Ann Kobelinski, SSND and Ann Koerner, CSA, will immerse participants in the practice of Centering Prayer as taught by Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.  These Advanced/Post Intensive retreats allow participants to come together for Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and meal times. They provide an atmosphere of silence, solitude and community.

For further information, please contact Sr. Kathryn Ann at 414-282-7310 or To register, use this mail-in form.

Midwest Wisdom Schools in Dubuque Iowa in August and October

 If you are longing to go deeper in your Centering Prayer practice, and perhaps yearning for a community of like-hearted seekers, you are invited to participate in one or more Wisdom Schools being offered next year at the Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque:

August 6-9, 2018             Wisdom School:  Surrendering Into Presence (Centering Prayer and Non-duality)

Oct 15-18, 2018               Wisdom School:  Placing Our Mind in Our Heart (Introductory Level Wisdom School, Part A)

These Wisdom schools are led by Beth O’Brien, Benedictine oblate and Founder of Contemplative Presence.  A long-time Centering Prayer practitioner, Beth has been a direct student of Cynthia Bourgeault.  In 2014, she received Cynthia’s blessing to teach and carry forth the Wisdom lineage.  Beth led a one-day workshop on Mary Magdalene that was part of Contemplative Outreach – Chicago’s Living Wisdom Series earlier in 2017.  For more information & registration, please visit the Contemplative Presence website. 

Spirit in the Wild

Phil Jackson

by Phil Jackson

Last year, Phil Jackson (until 2016 the coordinator of Contemplative Outreach – Chicago) went on a two-week solo backpacking trip in the High Sierras of California.  It was a spiritual journey as well as a physical challenge, and it became a surprisingly intense experience.  Phil has now documented his journey in writing.  The first chapter, published here, describes his impressions as he was setting out on the trail; additional chapters will be published in future editions of Spirit Journal.

Chapter 1: Why the Wilderness

“The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights with us is so great.
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.

–   Rainer Maria Rielke, “The Watcher” (excerpt)

Why the wildness? Reasons and preparation.

The wilderness teaches everything we need in life. So I believed as I headed out for a long solo trip to the High Sierras.  And for the most part, I still believe it.

Thoreau, Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Mary Oliver: they all learned from and taught what they gleaned in the untouched wild. The Buddha obtained enlightenment sitting under a tree; Abraham in the desert. The Israelites as a people were initiated in the 40-year school of “wandering in the Wilderness;” Jesus returned over and over to the desert, the mountains, the sea to be renewed, often 40 days at a time; Mohammed heard and transcribed the lessons of Allah while alone in a cave.


I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.

– Mahatma Ghandi

Only a philosophy of eternity, in the world today, could justify nonviolence.

– Albert Camus

We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.

– Thomas Keating

Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now. 

– Richard Rohr


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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