This month’s issue includes thought-starters from two people who will be serving as session leaders at our Fall Workshop on October 3, a personal meditation on this September 11 anniversary, information about an upcoming weekend retreat that will focus on the teachings of Teresa of Avila, a reminder about “Silent Saturdays” at Healing Gardens, insights from Henry David Thoreau, Rowan Williams, and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, and a link to the very educational and interesting website of the Center for Action and Contemplation.
We hope you’ll enjoy it and invite your participation. Please use the e-mail address at the end to send your feedback.
Fall Workshop Thought-Starters
Contemplative Outreach Chicago’s fourth annual Fall Workshop is only three weeks away! It will take place Saturday October 3, 2015 at St. John of the Cross in Western Springs, Illinois. (Full details and registration here.)
Below, Al Krema and Nancy Sylvester, two of our Fall Workshop session leaders, offer some initial thoughts on the ideas they plan to explore on October 3.
Teilhard and Cosmology
by Al Krema
The common thread of Christian mystics is that union with the source of my True Self, once it is even fleetingly glimpsed, does not in any way diminish the flame of “I” burning in my soul. In fact, “I” am enhanced, expanded, and more nuanced with every experience of being united with something greater than myself.
If we are faithful to a contemplative practice, we come to know within ourselves the false-self parts of our mental make-up, which have to be seen to be tamed and, when seen, yield to a new depth of meaning: our True Self. Many Christian mystics have come to know that the True Self is felt as a mystical connection to the We and the Divine in an ineffable union.
Creation and Evolution. What we know about our world matters to our spiritual path. Our origin and the origin of matter matters! Evolution is becoming critical to our understanding of who we are in relation not only to each other but also to the place in which we live. Our understanding of evolution, as developed by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, is redolent with divine purpose and offers a theology which is as relevant today as when he lived in the first half of the 20th century. Teilhard’s was a vision of humanity in union, a union that enhances and completes us in creative ways.
The Noosphere. Who I am is very different from who I thought I was decades ago. I am faced with being “us” every day. What happens anywhere in the world is on my screen instantaneously. There are so many more of us. Not just in terms of quantity (I can’t even begin to understand the difference between 3 billion humans when I was a boy to the 7.3 billion human beings walking the earth today). In terms of diversity, there are so many different kinds of people. There are religious differences, gender differences, economic differences, racial differences. All this diversity I see every day on my screen if not in person. We will explore how I relate to we in creative ways. The Cosmos. Also, who I am in relation to the cosmic universe is so very different than 50 years ago. Now we can see with scientific observation the very large scale of the universe as well as the very small scale of the universe. If you travel into and through the infinitely small, will you emerge into the infinitely large? We will ask this question. We can now observe our movement on the earth orbiting the sun in relation to the moon and planets, as a solar journey in galactic space, creating a field of energy that is replicated in the living forms we encounter in our daily walks. We will look at ourselves from this perspective. Redemption and Omega. How we see the whole and our place in it matters. We have a unique role to play: human ingenuity and creativity are our means of progress, we are techno-sapiens. Teilhard de Chardin offers a redemption theology: participation in evolution as becoming the body of Christ, toward an Omega point. Creativity is the action of non-dual being.
The Noosphere. Who I am is very different from who I thought I was decades ago. I am faced with being “us” every day. What happens anywhere in the world is on my screen instantaneously. There are so many more of us. Not just in terms of quantity (I can’t even begin to understand the difference between 3 billion humans when I was a boy to the 7.3 billion human beings walking the earth today). In terms of diversity, there are so many different kinds of people. There are religious differences, gender differences, economic differences, racial differences. All this diversity I see every day on my screen if not in person. We will explore how I relate to we in creative ways.
The Cosmos. Also, who I am in relation to the cosmic universe is so very different than 50 years ago. Now we can see with scientific observation the very large scale of the universe as well as the very small scale of the universe. If you travel into and through the infinitely small, will you emerge into the infinitely large? We will ask this question.
We can now observe our movement on the earth orbiting the sun in relation to the moon and planets, as a solar journey in galactic space, creating a field of energy that is replicated in the living forms we encounter in our daily walks. We will look at ourselves from this perspective.
Redemption and Omega. How we see the whole and our place in it matters. We have a unique role to play: human ingenuity and creativity are our means of progress, we are techno-sapiens. Teilhard de Chardin offers a redemption theology: participation in evolution as becoming the body of Christ, toward an Omega point. Creativity is the action of non-dual being.
Listening and Speaking from a Contemplative Heart
by Nancy Sylvester, IHM, President of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
When I was in Tucson at a conference earlier this year, I met Alan Krema who asked me if I would be willing to be part of your fall workshop. At first, I wasn’t sure what I could offer such an illustrious group of people who have been practicing contemplation for some time.
Alan had heard me reflect on how I saw the power of communal contemplation impacting a difficult situation between U.S. women religious and members of the hierarchy at the Vatican. He said it was that aspect of contemplation, the transformational power that I focus on, that he felt would be of value.
With that I eagerly accepted. I entitled the workshop, Listening and Speaking from a Contemplative Heart as I find that is one of the first external manifestations of the transformation that flows out of contemplative practice. When asked to write a brief article for this newsletter I thought this piece that I wrote for the Global Sisters Report’s column, Contemplate This, was appropriate. I believe it gives you the context out of which I will be presenting:
“Be the change you want to see in the world” is a phrase I am sure you have heard. Changing, however, is not always easy. Having wanted to be perfect when I was a little girl, I was not attracted to change. Change implies giving some things up and receiving new ideas, insights, values, etc. Why would you want to do that? We were taught that God is perfect and unchanging and that in our culture leaders were leaders if they never changed their minds – if they didn’t blink! You were to develop your identity, values and beliefs and maintain them throughout your life.
So what is so great about change?
We are learning from quantum physics that change is our one constant. Everything around us, including ourselves, is constantly evolving and changing. Every interaction we have affects us and helps shape who we are becoming. But it is not just through what I have studied that I now value change. It is also through my experiences.
Having grown up a Catholic and white on the South Side of Chicago in the ‘50s, I was gifted with a set of lenses through which I viewed the world. A whole set of assumptions, beliefs and values shaped me and provided a way of navigating through my world. At different stages of my life I either read something or experienced something that made me pause. All of a sudden what I knew didn’t fit what was before me. I couldn’t make sense of it. It was as if I was vision impaired. . . I couldn’t see it because my lenses were too restrictive.
Those moments, when I faced into my white privilege or my church’s unequal treatment of women or a new understanding of how the Universe came into being or the clerical abuse scandal, were invitations to change. They were moments where the lenses with which I made sense of the world were broadened and I was invited to let go and to integrate these new realizations into my consciousness.
Those moments are never easy.
For me, bringing these experiences to prayer has been lifesaving. When I go through a shift in my consciousness – the way I view the world, the assumptions, beliefs and values I operate out of – I can feel so alone. My “critiquer” who sits on top of my head is full of admonitions, negations, doubts and warnings. The egoic self which I have cultivated for so many years does not want to change. It takes a lot of work to open myself up and allow the truth of these new realizations to shape me anew.
I believe that contemplative practice softens our hearts and minds in ways that can help us embrace the changes that are part of our becoming more complex, evolved human beings. There is much written today about how our consciousness changes in developmental ways. Our becoming more is what we are called to as members of the human species and as persons of faith.
We are called to encounter what Thomas Merton called le pointe vierge. It is “a point of nothingness at the center of our being which is untouched by sin and illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God . . . .”
The journey to that point passes through contemplation. As I have practiced contemplative sitting, I discovered I want to change. I want to change how I am with others and with myself. I find that as well among the women and men whom I encounter in my work.
The initial changes are in relation to how I listen to that “still small voice within” as John O’Donohue, the poet, speaks of God; to my “self” and my “egoic self;” to those whom I encounter; and to the wider realities that shape the social, cultural, political and historical world of which I am a part.
The workshop will focus on what I have learned in terms of listening and speaking as I journey toward “le pointe vierge.”
Reflection: Pansies for Remembrance, September 11, 2015
by Pat Benson
Last Sunday, after church, I planted winter survivor pansies in my flower boxes. As I was planting, a neighbor stopped by to chat. She told me that when she was young, her mother told her the meanings of the flowers, and pansies are for remembrance.
Today we observe a Day of Remembrance as we reflect on the events of 14 years ago—each one of us remembers clearly what we were doing when we heard the news—remembering that day is no issue for us. What we must remember especially today is to turn to Christ for strength and for hope that this is in fact God’s world, and God’s plan for us will prevail in spite of the anguish and pain in the world.
My pansies will bloom for a while this fall, and then die down as winter approaches. According to the guarantee on the label, the pansies will bloom again in the early spring—a promise I accept. So too, whenever illness, disappointment, or death confront us, we have faith in the promise that God will turn our winters into spring. Our hope is in God.
And when those flowers appear through the snow next year, they will serve as a reminder that God is with us, loving us and renewing us in every season of our lives.
Weekend Retreat October 23-25: Entering the Interior Castle
St. Teresa of Avila was offered a vision of the spiritual path as an interior journey. This weekend retreat later in October will visit the seven mansions of the interior castle, leading to the innermost mansion — the dwelling place of the Divine.
The Reverend Dr. Shawn Kafader will lead the retreat, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of Teresa’s birth, at the newly renovated Carmelite Spiritual Center in Darien Illinois. For further information and registration, call 630-969-4141 or visit www.CarmeliteSpiritualCenter.org
“Silent Saturdays” Coming Up September 19 and October 17 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.
For further information and registration, visit www.healinggardensatstonehillfarm.com/events/.
When we are unhurried and wise, we perceive that only great and worthy things have any permanent and absolute existence, that petty fears and petty pleasures are but the shadow of the reality.
– Henry David Thoreau
Contemplation is very far from being just one kind of thing that Christians do: it is the key to prayer, liturgy, art and ethics, the key to the essence of a renewed humanity that is capable of seeing the world and other subjects in the world with freedom–freedom from self-oriented, acquisitive habits and the distorted understanding that comes from them… To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter.
– Rowan Williams
It is not the end of the physical body that should worry us. Rather, our concern must be to live while we’re alive – to release our inner selves from the spiritual death that comes with living behind a façade designed to conform to external definitions of who and what we are.
– Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Website to Explore: Center for Action and Contemplation
Located in Albuquerque New Mexico, the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) is “an educational center grounded in the Christian mystical tradition.”
The Center was founded in 1986 by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher. Father Rohr has become one of the best-known and most influential teachers of contemplation and its links to compassionate action, blending Christian mysticism with a deep appreciation of other faiths and the Perennial Tradition.
The website offers a host of valuable resources including books, videos, audio recordings, and newsletters. It also provides information about the Living School, a two-year program of study that offers selected students “a unique opportunity to deepen engagement with their truest selves and with the world.” (See the June 2015 issue of Spirit Journal for a personal reflection written by a current Living School participant.)
For more on the Center for Action and Contemplation, visit www.cac.org
Do you want to comment on or add to any of the items in this month’s newsletter? Are you aware of 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 email@example.com.