- This issue leads off with a listing of resources we hope will help you feel more spiritually connected during the current crisis.
- With regret, we announce the postponement of one of our upcoming events.
- Alan Krema writes about the Welcoming Prayer practice, reflects on February’s Winter Retreat, and notes that the Living Flame program has moved online.
- Charlie Welsh shares his own personal take on the Winter Retreat.
- Sue Fox McGovern remembers a silent weekend retreat spent with her Centering Prayer group last fall.
- We publish a poem called Humility, which was a favorite of “Dr. Bob” and was brought to our attention by Sandy Janowski.
- March Insights come from Albert Camus, Sharon Salzberg, Desmond Tutu, and Helen Nearing.
At this time, with its potential for feelings of dis-connection, it would be wonderful to hear from you. Please give us your thoughts on Spirit Journal – and start your side of the conversation – by emailing the editor at the address provided at the end of the newsletter.
We look forward to hearing from you!
We recently received a note from friends at the Lawai International Center in Kauai reminding us that,
The connection of our hearts is beyond time, space and distances. We are always family.
The current situation is hard for everyone, including those of us who value opportunities to gather with like-minded friends for prayer, meditation, worship, and spiritual sharing. For now, we must be apart physically, so we offer this list of recommended online resources in the hope that it will help you find ways to maintain a sense of contemplative connection, until we can be together again.
The national website of our parent organization features an Online Meditation Chapel that is very easy to use and provides the opportunity to see, hear and join in silent prayer with others from all over the world. The site has many other resources, such as online courses, videos, books, articles, newsletters, etc. This may be an ideal time to learn more about Centering Prayer, the Welcoming Prayer, Lectio Divina, Thomas Keating, etc.
Northeast Wisdom and Wisdom Way of Knowing
Featuring the teachings of Cynthia Bourgeault, these sites are working to nurture the Wisdom community across the country and around the world through an active communications network, teaching retreats, Wisdom Schools, conferences, online courses, and other delivery formats.
Since 1973, the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation has worked to foster contemplative living and leadership through its many programs and resources, welcoming individuals wherever they are on the path of spiritual discovery. Current offerings include free virtual prayer gatherings, a free online retreat day, and numerous online courses.
This multifaith and interspiritual website is devoted to providing “resources for spiritual journeys” and has collaborated with Contemplative Outreach on many online courses. The homepage currently features a long and very helpful list of articles about, and links to, “spiritual practices and e-courses for the coronavirus pandemic.”
St. Clement Parish Centering Prayer Group Online
This longstanding Chicago Centering Prayer group has moved online and all are invited to participate. The group meets via Zoom conference from 9:30 to 10:25 on Saturdays. Please click on the link above for instructions on how to participate. (Other Centering Prayer groups may also wish to consider meeting online for now. If you need help in setting up, please contact Sandy Janowski: email@example.com
The Center for Action and Contemplation
In addition to Richard Rohr’s invaluable daily meditations, this site offers podcasts, recorded video and audio, online courses and a bookstore.
Parabola is the quarterly publication of the Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition, a not-for-profit organization devoted to exploring the myths, symbols, rituals, and art of the world’s religious and cultural traditions. The magazine is currently providing free access to its Alone and Together issue from a few years back, along with several relevant articles from the current issue.
This site is “a visual library exploring faith and transformation of the heart.” Using a reasonably priced subscription model, it provides access to a wide variety of short films and film series exploring many aspects of spirituality and religion.
For those who are able to get directly involved or can afford to contribute money, providing emergency help to those who really need it right now can help alleviate feelings of isolation and powerlessness. The above link will lead you to a Washington Post article that offers many good suggestions. If you are aware of a similar list with a Chicago focus, please send it to us.
Please let us know about any additional online resources you are finding to be especially helpful at this time, so that we can share the links with the Contemplative Outreach Chicago community. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Servant-Leader Retreat Postponed; Howard Thurman Workshop Date May Change As Well
We regret to announce that we have suspended registration for these two events, which had been scheduled for late May and early June. Due to the virus outbreak, the Servant-Leader Retreat will not take place as scheduled and we are evaluating the possible need to postpone the Howard Thurman workshop as well. If you have registered for an event that needs to be rescheduled, we will offer you the choice of a full refund or full credit toward the new date. Thank you for your patience while we sort out the details and consider scheduling options.
The Welcoming Prayer Practice: Where There Is Fear, There Is Also Hope
by Alan Krema
As I write this, our society is in great tumult. We are all wondering how our lives are going to be changed and affected by the new challenge of the corona virus. What is certain in this situation is the presence of uncertainty. The risk is unknown, the spread is unknown, the details are largely unknown.
Many of us will naturally be thinking of the Welcoming Prayer during this time. When I teach the Welcoming Prayer, I make the point that we don’t just use it when something has happened to us that we need to process, but that we can welcome what has yet to happen in our day. When we welcome, we notice what is resident in our body in this moment. Our body is always in the present moment, but our mind has the desire, or need, to interpret what is happening. The mind needs to cling to one of the energy centers, often resulting in thoughts of fear and anxiety.
When we enter the Welcoming Prayer, we put our awareness in the somatic nature of our being. Our body holds information about our reality. When we open ourselves to body awareness, our capacity to hold energy is much greater than what can be held in our mind. Our mind burns hot with many what ifs, why nots, or what else? These thoughts can grip us and drive our reality. When we observe our body, we shift our awareness and open to the opportunity of being with the spaciousness of our divine nature. In this spaciousness, there is room for the gripping and anxious thoughts to be dissipated.
Then our action is to let go of our instinctual and energetic needs for control, esteem, and security. This letting go is like moving our thoughts into the spaciousness of our heart, which is so large that the thoughts lose their energy and grip. We can then operate from this expanded place as we move into our activity and relationships.
The heart doesn’t need completely clear answers. In this place where there is fear there is also hope and where we might sense despair there is also joy.
The skill of letting thoughts go that we learn from Centering Prayer is the same skill of letting go of our instinctual needs in the Welcoming Prayer, but intentionally using our somatic field of awareness. I urge you to try to engage the Welcoming Prayer throughout your day, generating stops at various times if that helps, and keep this sense of awareness and self-observation as much as possible throughout the day.
Winter Retreat: Enter the Chaos
We had a very deep and engaging experience at the annual winter retreat this year. Called Enter the Chaos, this special four-day event was offered in junction with the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue (ICCD), who provided three wonderful retreat guides: Nancy Sylvester, Margaret Galiardi, and Vernice Solimar. Their use of cognitive tools in understanding spiral dynamics as applied to social psychological stages was very helpful as we held this knowledge of human interaction in the space of our heart, alternating between contemplation and mindful engagement.
We worked with how we might understand and engage with others who have different perspectives than our own and allowed a loving, nurturing capacity to take root. The presenters were very professional, both in the presentation of the spiral dynamics material as well as leading us in a contemplative experience.
I can heartily recommend and endorse this retreat, which is being held again at various times and places throughout the country. There are several opportunities to attend this retreat in the Midwest in the coming months. For information, please visit the ICCD website.
The Living Flame Program Moves Online
Our Living Flame program continues. We recently had a day focused on the Dark Night of the Sense given by Susan Komis. The Saturday workshops continue to be personally insightful and socially engaging with some of our local Contemplative Outreach confreres.
Special arrangements are in place to complete our next two sessions – scheduled for March 28 on the Welcoming Prayer Practice and April 18 on the Discernment Practice. Phil Jackson has been in touch with all Living Flame participants to provide information about how these meetings will be conducted online, subject to the guidelines of social distancing that we are all learning about in our new temporary reality. If you are a Living Flame participant and need more information, please contact Phil at email@example.com.
Going forward, we are very interested in hosting a Living Flame II program, which is a different set of topics than Living Flame I. We would likely start in late 2020 or early 2021. We are working on it and are not yet able to make an announcement, but we have a few volunteers who are willing to act as logistical guides and for that we are very grateful. We would hold Living Flame in a larger space next time, since we completely filled up our current location and regretted having to turn away some people who wanted to participate.
Emerging from “the Chaos”
by Charlie Welsch
I would just like to share with you a few reactions to attending my first Contemplative Outreach winter retreat, Enter the Chaos, which Alan Krema describes above. This is going to be a very positive testimonial – to me, it was a “10 out of 10!”
What I enjoyed the most …
1) the sharing and interaction among the 35 retreatants … during meals and breakout sessions … so many inspiring social justice activists, educators, spiritual directors, and sisters;
2) the extraordinary and diverse expertise of the ICCD guides – Nancy, Margaret, and Vernice;
3) the professional quality of the presentations, handouts, and exercises on Spiral Dynamics; and
4) three days of walking the beautiful grounds of the Franciscan Portiuncula in Frankfort IL.
What I’ve taken away …
1) a transformed centering prayer practice … from individual to communal … I now join with 900 members of the Contemplative Sit Network each morning;
2) the much broader intellectual framework of Spiral Dynamics for dealing with the chaos of our times;
3) practical tools for dialoguing, from a contemplative heart, with people at different stages of consciousness; and
4) ongoing direction from the ICCD guides via newsletters as well as access to the wealth of resources on their website.
Like Alan, I encourage you to consider taking part in this retreat when you have the chance.
Centering Prayer – Come to the Quiet
by Sue Fox McGovern
One of the highlights of 2019 for me was attending a silent retreat with the Centering Prayer group that meets at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Church in Park Ridge, Illinois, every Wednesday night. About ten of us headed out to Michigan on a Friday evening in mid-November to pray together for the weekend.
We toured the lovely, restored farmhouse with seven bedrooms, where we would be staying for a couple of days and enjoyed a steaming bowl of homemade soup prepared by one of our members. After settling in, we started to unwind in a spacious common room surrounded by nature. Sitting comfortably around a glowing candle, one of us read aloud a passage from The Daily Reader for Contemplative Living: Excerpts from the Works of Father Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. We closed our eyes and began our centering prayer session that would last for 20 minutes.
Our group follows the guidelines to Centering Prayer that are posted on Contemplative Outreach Chicago’s website. The method involves choosing a sacred word as a symbol of one’s intent to consent to God’s presence and action within. To begin, participants sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Then they silently introduce their sacred word. When they engage with their thoughts, they return ever-so-gently to the sacred word. At the end of the prayer period, they remain in silence with eyes closed for a couple of minutes.
Of course, this is not easily done since our minds are perpetually teeming with thoughts, but experiencing even a few moments that free us from ourselves and our worries is a blessing. Such silence opens our hearts to God’s indestructible love and deepens our relationship.
Our group usually centers for one 20-minute period of silence, but we decided to lengthen the time for the weekend. So, after our first 20-minute prayer session Friday evening, the group moved into a second quiet session for another 20 minutes after a brief walk.
We ended the prayer period in silence and retired to our rooms with grateful hearts and more-rested minds. At 8 am the next day, we convened to read aloud from Fr. Keating’s book and to immerse ourselves into two centering prayer sessions, followed by a slow and heartfelt recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. Then, a couple of us prepared a hot breakfast in silence in a large kitchen, and we all ate together as friends seeking a closer connection to God.
During break that afternoon, some of us bundled up and strolled along the magnificent Lake Michigan shoreline, breathing in and breathing out, simply being present to the waves. Returning to the farmhouse, we met again for another back-to-back 20-minute session. The day progressed, and we decided to suspend the silence to listen to a tape about forgiveness, which we discussed during dinner.
On Sunday morning, we met for our final centering prayer session. And, since one of our members is a Catholic priest, we were also able to celebrate Mass together. After Mass, we enjoyed lunch and traveled back home feeling more bonded to one another and to God’s gift of silence. Some of us still say we can create more silence in our lives than we could before this retreat. All of us are grateful for the practice of Centering Prayer.
This poem was a favorite of Robert Holbrook Smith, M.D. (better known as “Dr. Bob,” the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous). It was suggested to Spirit Journal by Sandy Janowski.
Perpetual quietness of
Heart. It is to have no
Trouble. It is never to be
Fretted or vexed, irritable
Or sore; to wonder at
Nothing that is done to
Me, to feel nothing done
Against me. It is to be at rest
When nobody praises me. When I
Am blamed or despised, it is to
Have a blessed home in myself
Where I can go in and shut the
Door and kneel to my father in
Secret and be at peace, as in a
Deep sea of calmness, when all
Around and about is seeming
In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.
– Albert Camus
Because compassion is a state of mind that is itself open, abundant and inclusive, it allows us to meet pain more directly. With direct seeing, we know that we are not alone in our suffering and that no one need feel alone when in pain.
– Sharon Salzburg
Do your little bit of good where you are. It’s those little pieces of good put together that overwhelm the world.
– Desmond Tutu
Everybody can love in the place where they are. We can all add our share of love without leaving the room.
– Helen Nearing
Please write in to comment on or add to any of the items in Spirit Journal. 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 can contribute by emailing the newsletter editor at firstname.lastname@example.org