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Spirit Journal – September 2018


This issue points you toward opportunities to register for two upcoming contemplative events: a silent retreat in Wisconsin next month and our seventh annual Fall Workshop on November 3 in Lisle.  Cynthia Bourgeault provides an invitation and welcome to the conversation she plans to lead at the Fall Workshop.  (Now is the time to reserve your place – the workshop is less than two months away and 350 people have already signed up to attend.  Please register soon so you won’t be left out.)

We share information about a number of other upcoming events and retreats in the Chicago area and across the midwest. This month’s Insights come from Richard Rohr, Marco Semarini, Ram Dass and Rabbi Rami Shapiro.  This issue also includes the sixth chapter of Phil Jackson’s Spirit in the Wild – a ongoing journal of Phil’s solo wilderness journey in the High Sierras last year.  In this chapter, things are getting more than a bit dramatic as unexpected snow and cold weather put Phil into a precarious situation.

Please let us know what you think about 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!

Register Now for a Silent Weekend Retreat in Benet Lake Wisconsin, October 5-7

Retreat leaders Spencer Foon and Becky Serpe invite you to leave the distractions and noise of your daily life behind for just a weekend and live into the silence of this retreat offering. You will have time for that much-needed rest and rejuvenation as well as an opportunity to listen more deeply for that “still, small voice of God” that may be nudging you.

For more information and registration, download this retreat brochure or contact Becky Serpe, 847.533.1285,

About the Retreat Leaders:

Spencer Foon is a graduate of the Shalem Institute’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats program, facilitates a contemplative prayer group, and participates in Contemplative Outreach Chicago’s Wisdom Practice Group.

Becky Serpe is a graduate of the Shalem Institute’s program on Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats, a Spiritual Director, and is the Lead Coordinator for the Christos’, Tending the Holy training program for spiritual directors. On request, Becky will be available for a limited number of spiritual direction sessions through the weekend.

Advance Registration Continues for Our Seventh Annual One-Day Fall Workshop November 3 in Lisle

Contemplative Outreach Chicago, 7th annual fall workshop. Christian Wisdom as Prophecy: an ongoing conversation between Centering Prayer and the Wisdom Tradition. With Cynthia Bourgeault.

This year’s Fall Workshop features Cynthia Bourgeault.  Her focus: How Wisdom work can help extend and deepen our transformation in Centering Prayer.

Don’t miss out – 350 people have already registered, so why not sign up today while you can still take advantage of Advance Registration pricing?   You may register online or download and print this mail-in form.

An Invitation and Welcome from Cynthia Bourgeault: “Contemplative Prayer to Contemplative Wisdom”

In our workshop November 3, we will begin grounded in the practice of centering prayer, and from that perspective, we will explore the view as “the eye of the heart” opens and traverses the path leading directly from a daily practice of contemplative prayer into the mystical wisdom lineage flowing like an underground river through the heart of the Christian mystical and contemplative heritage.

Rooted in the Christian mystical and visionary tradition, we will look at contemplation in its original sense, as “luminous seeing” and listen to the language of silence with its creative connections to the subtle realms, without which spiritual inquiry tends to become overly cognitive and contentious.

I look forward to joining you all for a day that will include a blend of teaching and narrative. Our day together will flow from describing the journey to re-open access to an ancient, but badly neglected, lineage of Christian mystical wisdom to, more importantly, creating opportunities to pray, practice, and dialogue together, building our own practical foundation for the wisdom journey.

Visit Cynthia’s website

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’ Upcoming Programs Include Yoga, Tai Chi, Silent Saturdays, and an “Awakening in Nature Retreat”

Healing Gardens at Stonehill Farm invites you to enjoy two acres of perennial gardens in a quiet wooded setting in St. Charles.  The many contemplative activities taking place at Healing Gardens, include the following: 

Yoga and/or Tai Chi in the Gardens, Sundays September 9, October 14

Silent Saturday Mornings, August 18, September 20

Awakening in Nature Retreat, September 16

For more information and registration, please visit the Healing Gardens website.

Merton Society Announces Three Upcoming Talks, September – November

The Chicago Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society has announced three talks this fall, Sunday afternoons at the Rectory Assembly of Immaculate Conception Parish, 7211 W. Talcott, Chicago.

September 16: Dr. Pauline Viviano, Professor of Theology Emerita, Loyola University, on the topic: “An Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living’ (Socrates): Contemplative Living à la Merton.”

October 21: Gregory F. Augustine Pierce, Publisher, ACTA Publications, will speak on “What Brian Doyle Knew: The Spirituality of Reading and Writing in the Age of Cable TV, YouTube, and Instagram.”

November 18: Pat O’Connell, founding member of the ITMS, former president and current Board Member will discuss the newly published, “Cistercian Fathers and Forefathers—Essays and Conferences” by Thomas Merton, edited by Pat. Also commenting will be Tom Masters, Editorial Director of New City Press, publisher of the book.

Talks are open to the public; park in the church lot. Freewill donation at the door, suggested $5, (free to dues-paying members) and refreshments will be served. “MERTON LECTURE” signs with arrows point to the entrance of the Rectory Assembly. For more information, contact Mike at 773-685-4736.

One-Day Retreat with Father Carl Arico, September 18 in Kansas City

The theme of Father Arico’s retreat will be “I s Y o u r Y e s a Y e s o r a M a y b e? T h e P o w e r o f C o n s e n t i n g” He will share the power of consent and the challenge of staying faithful. This is a unique opportunity to work with Fr. Carl, endearing, captivating and legendary in his wise, humorous and humble sharing. The retreat includes two periods of Centering Prayer and a Praying of the Scriptures.

Fr. Carl Arico is a founding member of Contemplative Outreach and a long-time friend of Father Thomas Keating. He is the author of A Taste of Silence and has traveled extensively in the United States and internationally to present workshops and retreats. For further information and registration, please visit

Seven-Day Intensive/Post-Intensive Retreat, October 7-13 in Dittmer, Missouri

Both tracks of this retreat at the IL Ritiro Retreat Center provide an opportunity to deepen the practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of profound silence and community support. The Intensive Retreat has up to six thirty-minute Centering Prayer periods daily, along with the viewing of a selection of the Spiritual Journey Video Series by Fr. Thomas Keating.  The Post Intensive Retreat will have up to eight thirty-minute periods of Centering Prayer daily, without any additional activity or input.

The retreat is sponsored by Contemplative Outreach of Central Missouri. Click here for further information.

Midwest Wisdom Schools in Dubuque Iowa

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 at the Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque.  The next session is:

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

The 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 in 2017.  For more information & registration, please visit the Contemplative Presence website.  (

“Disappear from View?” Thomas Merton Fifty Years Later, December 7-8 at the Catholic Theological Union

The Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union joins the Chicago Chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society and Loyola University’s Joan & Bill Hank Center for the Catholic Intellectual Heritage to host a two-day conference dedicated to the legacy and future of Merton’s work.

The schedule of addresses, panel discussions, concurrent presentations, and liturgy will bring together in Chicago internationally-known speakers including Richard Rohr, Paul Quenon, Judith Valente, Paul Pearson, C. Vanessa White, Robert Ellsberg, Christopher Pramuk, and many others.

Registration is required.  For further information and registration, visit the CTU website.

Spirit in the Wild Chapter 6 – The Deep Freeze

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.  If you want to start at the beginning, go to the March issue of Spirit Journal.  Here is Chapter 6:

“You are not that important.” Adam’s Return, the Five Promises of Male Initiation, Richard Rohr.

Utterly alone, deep dark, so cold that even lying in my sleeping quilt with dry socks, the cold is hardly bearable — wet stream crossings and the exhausting drudgery of moving through deep, damp snow is taking its toll, as well as the actual temperature.

I’m miles from any automobile road, and likely miles from any human, in this nondescript spot abandoned by a trail clearing team. If I were in a local town I might be aware that this night is not only well below normal temperatures, but well below the record low ever recorded here. As it is, all I am aware of is that I am cold, I need to cover a good distance tomorrow, and my tired body needs sleep so I can call on it for the ascent tomorrow. I eat the highest calorie food I have to build up my body heat and burrow into my quilt. Wrapped tightly, wearing every piece of clothing I have (except my wet pants and socks), I am bone-tired and bone-cold. Tiredness wins out and I’m knocked out.

I wake suddenly. My right arm is being grabbed and shaken. This is not a dream. With my senses of sight and hearing desperately returning from deep slumber, I become more aware.  Nothing could have walked through the tarp opening above me and not stepped on me. Silence.  No footsteps or movements. Total, complete silence, undeniable shaking. Something is reaching through and shaking my bicep. Another moment to orient myself and I know that what’s shaking me is the cold fingers of the night itself, just as solidly gripping my arm as if a bear held me. My right arm convulses. I am shaken full awake by the cold. This is hypothermia – the beginning of being frozen. My arm, sheathed only in a light jacket and thin shirt, is outside the quilt and off the pad. It rests on thin clear plastic. The freezing ground, without moving, is an earthquake.


 An old abba [desert father] was asked what was necessary to do to be saved. He was sitting making rope. Without glancing up, he said, “You’re looking at it.” Just as so many of the mystics have taught us, doing what you’re doing with presence and intention is prayer.

– Richard Rohr

We have to go forward in confidence that the little things we do might, in time, grow into mighty works.  It’s all up to God.  All we can do is our very best to serve him.

– Marco Sermarini

Compassionate action is a path on which we grow in awareness and insight.  As we grow, we become purer instruments for change. We become hollow reeds for the healing music of life.

– Ram Dass

Divine knowledge is always rooted in the details of ordinary life. The aim of all knowledge or visionary ecstasy is to increase the power of hesed [steadfast love] and compassionate action. . . It is alive with the awareness of the holiness of Creation and the boundlessness of God’s mercy, and is utterly honest about the necessity of living such awareness in loving service to all beings. . . With great knowledge and love [come] great responsibility to try to represent the Divine in all things and activities, and to stand up for justice and the dispossessed in a brutal society.

– Rabbi Rami Shapiro

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 always invited to contribute by emailing the newsletter editor at

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