What is hope? That's what I was asked to write about. I felt clueless: What insight can I offer that hasn't been discussed already?"
Fortunately, I received answers to my questions during Holy Week.
By Michael Kassner
What is hope? That's what I was asked to write about. I felt clueless: What insight can I offer that hasn't been discussed already?"
Fortunately, I received answers to my questions during Holy Week.
By Michael Kassner
Re-posted with permission from www.benedictinecenter.org
Two questions have plagued me over the years: How does one bring God into the process of making decisions, and how does one know if a thought is appropriate?
As a Benedictine Oblate, I knew of the Benedictine Center’s School of Discernment but did not immediately make the connection that the school, conducted by Dr. Kathleen Cahalan of St. John’s School of Theology Seminary, was exactly what I needed. Cahalan defines discernment as, “Following the inclination of Grace, those personal, subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit,” and adds that, “Decisions become sacraments of grace when we yield to ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.’”
It took about two seconds for me to check my schedule and sign up for the class. During the retreat, Cahalan introduced what she called afflicted thoughts, offered tools to recognize and eliminate them, and finally, suggested practical ways to bring God into the process of making decisions.
Not long after the school ended, I was able to apply what I learned, in particular, how to bring God into my decision-making. I was asked to join my parish’s sacristan team—truly an honor. However, I did not answer right away. The position required a significant time commitment, and I was unsure if I could make it work.
Cahalan, during one of the classroom sessions, talked at length about “how to imagine the possibilities and live into each one of them.” That seemed perfect for my situation. I imagined saying yes, as well as saying no. Several interesting scheduling options surfaced that I would not have foreseen any other way. After juggling my commitments, I found the time. Several weeks later, I am proud to say the decision seems right, and as sacristan, I have all sorts of new and exciting decisions to discern.
Michael is a freelance writer and editing professional with a particular interest in the field of cyber-technology. He is also an Oblate and volunteer of St. Paul’s Monastery and has attended both the School of Lectio Divina and the School of Discernment.
From the staff and governing board of Contemplative Outreach:
It is with deep sorrow that we share the news of the passing of our beloved teacher and spiritual father, Thomas Keating. Fr. Thomas offered his final letting go of the body on October 25, 2018 at 10:07pm at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. He modeled for us the incredible riches and humility borne of a divine relationship that is not only possible but is already the fact in every human being. Such was his teaching, such was his life. He now shines his light from the heights and the depths of the heart of the Trinity.
The monastic community from St. Benedict’s Monastery will join together with the Contemplative Outreach community for a memorial service in Denver, Colorado. The location, date and time of the memorial service will be announced shortly. The Center for Action and Contemplation will live-stream and record the service so that anyone who wishes may join remotely.
Details will be forthcoming for a 24-hour, worldwide prayer vigil, as well as suggested schedules and enrichment for local gatherings.
Please respect the privacy of St. Benedict's Monastery and St. Joseph's Abbey and do not call with questions.
Fr. Thomas was born in New York City in 1923 and remembers having an attraction to religious life from a young age. He started college at Yale University and then graduated from an accelerated program at Fordham University. While in college, a spiritual director at a camp where he worked took the counselors to Our Lady of the Valley Trappist Monastery in Rhode Island, which he ultimately joined in 1944. He was ordained a priest in 1949. He first came to Snowmass, Colorado in 1958 as the appointed superior to help build and run the new monastery, St. Benedict’s. In 1961 he was called back to St. Joseph’s Abbey and served as the abbot for 20 years. During that time, he was invited to Rome in 1971, following the Second Vatican Council where Pope Paul VI encouraged priests, bishops and religious scholars to renew the Christian contemplative tradition. As an answer to this call, Fr. Thomas, along with William Meninger and Basil Pennington, drew on the ancient practice of Lectio Divina and its movement into contemplative prayer, or resting in God, to develop the practice of Centering Prayer. The initial idea was to bring the contemplative practices of the monastery out into the larger Christian community by teaching priests, religious and ultimately, laypersons. After 20 years as abbot, Fr. Thomas resigned and returned to St. Benedict’s Monastery. He became more fully immersed in bringing the contemplative dimension of the Gospel to the public by co-founding Contemplative Outreach in 1984.
Another outgrowth of Vatican II was that Catholics were given permission and encouraged to acknowledge the work of the Spirit in other religions. In God is Love: The Heart of All Creation, Fr. Thomas states, “No one religion can contain the whole of God’s wisdom, which is infinite.” One of Fr. Thomas' lasting legacies is that for over 30 years, he convened inter-religious dialogue at St. Benedict’s, which became known as the Snowmass Conferences. It was an attempt to dialogue with and understand the contributions of the spiritual traditions of all religions and put to rest the cultural attitudes that lead to separation and violence.
As many of you know who have met him over the years, Fr. Thomas traveled worldwide to teach us about the Christian contemplative tradition and the psychological experience of the spiritual journey. He once told Mary Clare Fischer, a reporter for 5280 Magazine, that he thought the hardest thing about his commitment to monastic life would be the separation from the outside world because “I felt a great desire to share the treasures I had found in the way of a deeper relationship with God.” His seminal work on the Spiritual Journey Series is testament to his desire.
Within the last decade of his life, Fr. Thomas said, “I am at the point where I do not want to do anything except God’s will, and that may be nothing. But nothing is one of the greatest activities there is. It also takes a surprising amount of time! What time is left each day is an opportunity for God to take over my life more completely on every level and in every detail.” (God is Love: The Heart of All Creation).
Pat Johnson, a long-time friend and one of the founders of the retreat ministry at St. Benedict's Monastery, had a recent conversation with Fr. Thomas wherein he expressed his gratitude for her service to Contemplative Outreach over many years. She says, “Here is this man at the end of his life, in pain, and still giving his all back into the universe. If ever I had an example of what it means to love unconditionally, this moment in time was one huge example. The greatness of his giving, the greatness of his humility, left me with nowhere to go, nothing to do, and the recognition that doing nothing takes a long, long time. … What an amazing model he is for all of us as we attempt to move through our lives with grace and strength!”
Fr. Thomas is now entrusting us to bear his message of love and transformation, to continue to pass on the wealth of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel and the method of Centering Prayer to the next generation. Just before Jesus was taken up from the disciples after his passion and resurrection, he said to them:
“It is not for you to know the times and the seasons,
which the Father has put in his own power.
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you:
and you shall be my witnesses ... to the ends the earth.
And when he had said these things, while they beheld,
he was taken up, and a cloud received him out of their sight.”
- Acts 1: 7-9
Fr. Thomas is now taken from our sight. Let us open ourselves more than ever to the indwelling presence of the Trinity as we deepen our unity in prayer and service. Let us continue to persevere in our consent to the presence and action of God within us and among us and allow the inspiration and the breath of God to move us and guide us as we seek to embody and pass on the gifts we have been so privileged to receive.
With deep gratitude and hearts broken open,
The staff and governing board of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd.
by Carol Quest
On a Sunday afternoon this past January, Minnesota Contemplative Outreach sponsored an event called “Praying with the Eyes of the Heart.” We gathered at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and began with centering prayer and then went in groups of four into the museum; each group guided by a “museum sage.”
There were 50 of us—ten guides and 40 participants. I loved the experience for several reasons. First, it was exciting to see who chose to come to this event. As soon as I heard about it, I knew I would go. I also knew I would invite two artist friends who also practiced centering prayer. They both agreed to come and so did 37 other people. Some of the people who came were Minnesota Contemplative Outreach “regulars,” but others were people with a centering prayer practice and a curiosity about how centering prayer could connect with art.
As we gathered there was a certain light heartedness, perhaps a playful expectation to be surprised. We began our session of centering prayer in a large oval in the community room; then we broke into groups of four with each group assigned to a guide. Our guide instructed us each to think of a question that we had been grappling with—something we had been thinking about and were seeking an answer. Once we each had a question, our group went out into the museum. We were going to take turns considering our question with a work of art. The first to volunteer was told to close her eyes and take the guide’s arm as he lead her through the various galleries. He instructed her to tune into her senses of hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting until he brought her to a particular work of art. Then we gathered around her as the guide helped her observe the piece of art in terms of her question. The rest of us watched and listened. Eventually, the person shared her question and the guide invited us to join in the process by sharing our thoughts and observations.
That was the process, but the experience was so much more. As we each took our turn bringing our own question to a work of art, the others stood behind us listening to us, exploring with us, looking for insight to the question we had posed. In the end, the experience felt like stepping out of the usual, taking a chance on something new with four other people standing around you guiding you with their love.
After each person in our group had a turn, we quietly walked back to the community room. There we gathered with the other groups to share our experience. We had all been on an adventure—exploring with a team of friends. Now we each had a new friend—a specific work of art that finds its home at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. And my old friends?—we share the memory of this time together to pray and to open ourselves to each other in a unique way.
COMPANIONS FOR THE JOURNEY INWARD
There is a great paradox in navigating the spiritual path. It has been said by sages throughout history that the spiritual journey is a do-it-yourself project. No one, not even the wisest teacher, can walk the path for us. The best they can do is point us in the right direction. Whatever we are to discover, we must experience for ourselves. Yet, there is also wisdom in sharing the road with other seekers (think Martin Sheen’s unlikely band of fellow pilgrims in The Way). It is in this role of companions for the journey that we find great value in places like the Benedictine Center.
The individual nature of the spiritual journey has been taught by Christian mystics throughout the ages, from Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing. In more recent times, wisdom teachers such as Fr. Thomas Merton, Fr. Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Fr. Richard Rohr speak of the journey as one of self-realization – discovering the buried treasure of one’s True Self deep within – an “immortal diamond”, an inner radiance, a secret identity that is “hidden with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:3. These wisdom teachers, who have discovered this secret identity for themselves, have also spoken of the path to get there – one of solitude and silence. That is why mystics have historically devoted ever increasing amounts of time isolated in caves, forest dwellings, hermitages, or even small cells in churches (Julian).
Still, as anyone who has embarked on this journey on their own can tell you, it is very helpful to have teachers and guides who know the path, as well as fellow seekers who share their own questions and discoveries. These companions can keep us from getting lost in unfamiliar terrain and from deluding ourselves into thinking we’ve found the true path, only to discover we are in fact heading down a dead-end road of ego deception.
It was for the purpose of this guidance that Julian made time for seekers. After her “showings” revealed to her the true nature of her union with God, Julian went into seclusion in the Church at Norwich, but kept open a small window to provide guidance to those who sought her wisdom. In much the same way, today’s spiritual directors provide spiritual companionship to seekers who come to the Benedictine Center and other retreat centers.
From the Ashrams of ancient India to today’s retreat centers, spiritual seekers have long gathered in community to learn from wise teachers, get counsel from spiritual directors, and share with each other their unique experiences of God’s unfolding mystery in their lives. In many ways, the spiritual journey is a like a grand science experiment. There are many practices, prayer forms, and meditative techniques available–some resonate with one group of seekers, but not with another. In these settings, teachers, guides and other seekers can help us on the journey by sharing different approaches and what has worked for them. To that end, the Benedictine Center offers programs and practice groups to let us experiment with multiple approaches, including Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, art meditation, creative writing/journaling, the labyrinth, and many others. While we each have to do our own inner work, we don’t have to do it alone.
FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY WE SHARE
Years ago, when I served as director of another spirituality center, someone once asked me what we do there. In response, I talked about the many programs and retreats we offered and the opportunities for people to come for spiritual direction as individuals or as groups. I talked about our lending library and the various ways seekers could gather in our spirit-filled space.
After the conversation was over, the question stayed with me: What do we really do at the Center? Upon further reflection, the answer became quite clear and simple: we provide food for the soul to spiritually-hungry people. Unlike physical starvation, often the people we serve are not consciously aware of their hunger for deeper spiritual meaning in their lives. They know they are hungry for something, but often can’t articulate it until they come through our doors and a feeling washes over them and they whisper: “This is what I’ve been missing. I want more of this.”
It seems the depth of our collective spiritual hunger is increasing, as we search for answers to the big questions of our day: How do we respond to a changing climate and our responsibility to be stewards of God’s creation? How do we treat the immigrant as neighbor in the spirit of Benedictine hospitality? Protect our children in a world of increasing violence? Work for the common good to ensure the economic needs of current and future generations are being met?
Awareness, Change, Action
These big and difficult questions do not have easy answers, and I believe they are almost impossible to address without first addressing the deeper questions of meaning and purpose that are the source of our spiritual hunger. For the spiritual journey often leads us on a path of growing awareness (awakening consciousness), to an intention to change (inner transformation), which leads us to make different choices and take action for peace and justice (authentic relationships).
The journey begins with a simple recognition of our hunger, and when that happens, we are here to help you find food for the soul. The Spirit will take care of the rest.
COMPANIONS FOR THE JOURNEY OUTWARD
When Fr. Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation, his intent was to support both the inner journey of contemplation and the outer journey of action in service of the world. The inner journey is not an end in and of itself. We simultaneously embark on a path of action, inspired by the radiant love of our hidden selves. Now, more than ever, inspired action is needed in our communities and in our world.
We live in interesting times, perhaps unprecedented, in which the world’s crises seem to be mounting exponentially, but solutions are nowhere in sight. Polarization of our institutional leadership has led to paralysis in our ability to respond to pressing needs. Our leaders struggle to find ways to have meaningful dialogue, or even to find common language on which they can agree to define the issues.
Finding Common Language
What does this have to do with the Benedictine Center? We believe that the struggle for a common language may emanate from different worldviews and different understandings of meaning and purpose. Even so, every perspective is influenced by our experience of relationship–with the divine, our inner selves, each other, and all of creation. Our struggles may derive from a misconception that we are no longer in relationship with certain others. In short, we lack a sense of community.
The Benedictine Center’s vision is to create a place that reinvigorates people’s sense of journeying in community with one another. It is to be a place where people practice sacred conversations. The Benedictine tradition recognizes the longing and seeking that seems to be a part of everyone’s story. Through radical Gospel living, Benedict gathered people to exercise this longing together. The need is just as great today and the Benedictine Center carries forward that vision. Helping seekers gather with one other, identify their longings, and find the courage to discern and respond, the Benedictine Center nourishes companions committed to the journey both inward and outward.
Jeff Dols serves on the advisory committee for the Benedictine Center. This article posted with permission from the blog at the Benedictine Center of St. Paul's Monastery.
What Are You Talking About?
Have you ever had one of those experiences when seemingly everyone is talking about a book you haven’t read or a person you’ve never even heard of? When this happens for me in the realm of spiritual things, I feel especially left out. There was a time I felt this way about “spiritual direction.” Perhaps I surmised it was some form of companionship for the spiritual life, but I really didn’t know what people were saying. Since then I have grown to appreciate spiritual direction so much that I don’t want others to feel left out. With this short essay I want to help those who are unfamiliar with the practice find a place to begin.
I suggest we treat the topic just like we would in real life--conversationally. I’ll offer my experience as a spiritual director (about ten years) and as a person in spiritual direction (about twenty), and you can weigh my perspective against what you have come to know along the way. I hope you’ll even chime in with your questions and comments below.
Allow me to give you a bit of a back-stage pass to a first in-person meeting with a spiritual director. This one-on-one setting is my favorite for the conversation, especially when I have the privilege of welcoming someone brand new to spiritual direction. I listen for the important threads in people’s stories and answer each question as frankly as possible. No two conversations are exactly alike, but most of them unfold something like this....
What is Spiritual Direction Anyway?
At its core, spiritual direction is “companionship in your ever-deepening relationship with God.” You have likely had other similar companions (pastors, mentors, soul friends). These kinds of relationships, whether formal or informal, are essential to our lives. Personally, what I look for in a spiritual is someone who is trustworthy and intentional. She or he does not have to be a pastor or professional, but I do want a companion who is trained to approach spiritual direction in a way that helps me pay better attention to how the Spirit is working in my life.
Before we get too far, I’d also like to risk saying that spiritual direction may not be for everyone at every season of their lives. Part of me resists that disclaimer because I value the practice a great deal, personally, and because I see the fruit it bears in other people’s lives. Even so, not everyone feels drawn to spiritual direction at this time, and I trust that the Spirit is perfectly capable of stirring in people’s lives anyway. If you are a person that just isn’t sure spiritual direction is right for you, I encourage you to learn a little bit more and tuck it away in your spiritual toolbox, so that it’s available if and when you do become drawn to it. Spiritual direction won’t fade away. For centuries it has served seekers from all walks of life.
What Brings a Person to Spiritual Direction?
People like you and me inquire about spiritual direction when life changes in ways that are outside of our control, when we are trying to find a way forward and things are still fuzzy, when our old ways of praying don’t seem to be feeding us, or when we are just plain looking for “something more.” If you are now or have ever been in one of these places, know that you are standing among many honest companions.
For as often as inner restlessness and outer transitions bring people to spiritual direction, there is something even more common—the recommendation of a friend. Sometimes the people around us notice before we do that it’s time for us to be paying closer attention. I hear regularly that what brings a person to spiritual direction was someone who said, “I recommend you consider meeting with a spiritual director about this. All I can say is it’s been helpful to me.”
What Happens in Spiritual Direction?
What you probably want to know is, “What in the world would we do for an hour?” and that’s a fair question. There are some common elements. Whether people are meeting one-on-one or in a group, they generally experience some mixture of quiet, prayer, speaking, listening, and wondering out loud. It’s a little hard to predict how any particular conversation might unfold, but my experience tells me that we can trust the Spirit to be stirring in that sacred space, whatever happens.
At the beginning of a session, some people like to dive in and start talking about an experience or question they have been pondering. Others like to take a couple minutes to settle down from the drive and figure out what they might like to discuss on a given day. I have had a person sit in silence for 60 minutes and I have had a person speak non-stop for 60 minutes. Not incidentally, both told me that session was the best they had ever had!
The positive experiences of these two individuals—from the extremes of silence to speaking freely—suggests to me that people are longing to be heard and to be accepted wherever they are on the spiritual path. Spiritual direction serves this deep desire by holding a safe place for silence, attentive listening, and whatever helps us pay attention to God’s presence this day.
What About the Cost for Spiritual Direction?
At the Benedictine Center, we suggest a donation of $75 per hour for one-on-one spiritual direction and $45 for group spiritual direction. Some people give more and some people give less, but almost everyone contributes something for two reasons. First, donations allow the Benedictine Center to keep making professional staff available for important conversations. Your contribution honors the fact that these staff members have financial responsibilities to their families and communities. Second, people tell us, “Making a donation is like investing in my spiritual life.” The contribution seems to help people prioritize this practice and commit to taking it seriously.
I encourage you to consider a contribution that is both personally meaningful and sustainable. And, if the cost is still a hurdle, let’s talk about a scholarship of some kind. Truly, I have never heard of someone being turned away because of money.
How Do I Connect with a Spiritual Director?
You’re not starting from scratch, at least. The fact that you have made it this far means you also have at your fingertips both more information about spiritual direction, plus biographies for at least a few spiritual directors! Poke around a bit and see what resonates for you. You might also reach out to friends, leaders in your faith community, or other places like the Benedictine Center to get in touch with a spiritual director.
Once you identify someone, nothing beats an initial no-strings-attached conversation (many spiritual directors even offer such meetings for free, like we do at the Benedictine Center). You get a chance to tell your story, ask some questions, and see how the person responds. If you’re like me, you’ll soon sense whether this person feels like a good fit. Does it seem likely that her/his tone, comments, and questions will help you deepen your relationship with God? If so, try meeting with this person three times and then re-evaluate. Otherwise, nothing is lost in asking this person for a recommendation or two. Keep interviewing directors until you find someone with whom you find a good connection. Meeting with more than one person allows you to experiment with different styles and, importantly, to listen for the different ways you tell your own story.
One thing more: trust that the Spirit is at work in this process. Already something is bolstering your curiosity and courage, so be patient as things continue to unfold. Your relationship with God is worth the search for a companion who will walk this journey with you.
Wherever you are in the process, I would encourage you to take this step: Practice solitude with God. No one, not even the best spiritual director, will ever walk your path for you. Your relationship with God already deserves your attention. Spiritual direction may provide a setting for you to explore and express your experience with God, but it will never take its place.
After all this, my hope is that you’ve gained enough familiarity with spiritual direction that you don’t feel left out. If you’re ready to proceed with spiritual direction, contact the Benedictine Center or a spiritual director for an initial meeting. If you’re still pondering, take your time. We’re not going anywhere and there are plenty of resources online for you to continue exploring. We’ll drop some helpful links below.
Blessings on the journey and in your conversations!
Sam Rahberg is the Director of the Benedictine Center and a member of the spiritual direction team. This article posted with permission from the blog at the Benedictine Center of St. Paul's Monastery.
Presence & Action Blog
MN Contemplative Outreach publishes articles written by, and for, practitioners. They are designed to deepen understanding of the Centering Prayer Practice and its power to change lives.