By Meridith Schifsky
This was the theme for the Contemplative Outreach annual conference this fall, which was held in Chicago from September 24-27. Consenting to Divine Love…who would have thought that a simple request by a handful of people 25 years ago would lead to a world wide movement that continues to touch and transform the lives of so many people! A small group of spiritually hungry people asked Father Thomas Keating to lead them in a retreat on contemplative prayer 25 years ago, and he said "yes". They were so touched by his presentation on the dynamics of contemplative prayer, and by the actual practice of centering prayer as he presented it, a prayer that opens us to the gift of contemplative prayer, that they asked for a second retreat. And the rest is history, a rich history of the Spirit’s work among countless people all over the world these past 25 years. At the very heart of this movement is the consent and surrender to Divine Love by people who are saying yes to the Spirit, yes to transformation in their daily, ordinary lives.
Although Father Thomas Keating was not able to be with us for this 25th anniversary conference, we felt his presence with us in a very real way. As we held him in prayer for a full recovery from his illness, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, president of Contemplative Outreach, shared with us her phone conversations with him each day of the conference. In addition to this, we were able to view selections from two new resources on centering prayer.
Contemplative Outreach partnered with “Sounds True” earlier this year in filming Father Thomas Keating, Father Carl Arico, and Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler as they presented an introduction to Centering Prayer. In these DVD’s, centering prayer is described as a silent prayer practice that can move us toward a profound relationship with the Spirit of God within, a way of praying that opens the door to the Divine Indwelling-the ground of our being. This is the first in-depth home study course of centering prayer, a method of prayer for deepening our intimacy with God, which leads us ultimately to consenting to the presence and action of the Divine in all aspects of our lives. These presentations are a beautiful, prayerful and inspiring presentation of centering prayer meant to be made accessible to all people who seek a deeper relationship with the Divine, with the God who has “first loved us.” (available from soundstrue.com or from Amazon books).
The second resource that was shared was a selection from "Heartfulness, Transformation in Christ". In this new series of DVD’s Father Thomas Keating is being interviewed by Dr. Betty Sue Flowers. In these interviews Father Thomas talks about the importance of silence and contemplative practices as a means of opening the mind and heart, one’s whole being to God, the Ultimate Reality. He guides the viewer toward an understanding of the contemplative dimension of the Gospel and its extraordinary implications and applications for personal freedom and global peace. He says that the inherent human quest for happiness is in itself the greatest proof of God’s existence. But because we feel we are separate from God, we often seek happiness in other ways: we seek to be more clever, to know more things, to influence others, to attain power and authority, to have more money, a famous name, an attractive appearance, all maybe good things, but ultimately unsatisfying in themselves. This series goes on to say that “Rather we are called by God to open to a new reality that is our True Self…the image and the likeness of God. The path to this True Self and all its fruits and gifts is the challenge of becoming fully human. And to become fully human is to become fully Divine. This is the fullness of life itself, a life abiding in the grace and truth of Christ.”
The conference ended with a moving film of the gift that St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado has given to Contemplative Outreach, a gift of all the "intellectual property" of Thomas Keating. Translated this means that the many gifts of wisdom and understanding that Father Thomas Keating has shared with us these past 25 years via his writings, books and filmed presentations will continue to be available through Contemplative Outreach to any seeker who is hungering for a deeper relationship with God.
("Heartfulness" DVD series available at the Contemplative Outreach online store.)
By Carolyn Young
Is Life becoming unmanageable? Are you looking for and seeking God, but not experiencing God as God truly is? Do your relationships with family, friends and others seem to lack depth? Are you running out of steam? My recent answer to all of these questions was a reluctant "yes". I confess I love to create, implement and be a part of all the busy externals. But with that "yes" I knew I must take time to sit back and evaluate my "doing"
In daily life the Spirit is speaking in various ways. Christ is present under different disguises... The mystery of Christ is at work in everything, however humble or humdrum. Our response can be inspired by the false self or by the Spirit.
--Awakenings by Thomas Keating
Having been a Centering Prayer daily practitioner for the past twenty years, my first priority had been to seek a deeper relationship with God. Yet my actions were not bearing fruit and I was out of harmony with God, myself and others. I was trying to cram too much "doing" into my life. Impatience, shortcuts and tiredness had crept into the "doing". Everything had become unmanageable. This has happened before, but each time I learn something new and now the true self calls me up short again before I go too far.
I order myself to "slow down" without success. But this takes more than my own "self-sufficiency" so I begin to probe with God’s help by asking myself things like: How much do I want to slow down? Do I think my contributions to the kingdom are so very important and necessary? Are my desires for accomplishment, approval, esteem, and recognition getting out of hand? Am I too caught up in indulging my own fantasies? I conclude that the false self is pulling the wagon again and I am loosing a sense of God's presence.
But, how badly do I want to slow down? I even need God’s help for gaining a greater desire to overcome such busyness. What are my fears around slowing down? Things won’t get done? There won’t be enough money? I won’t be as highly valued? Would I feel guilty slowing down and saying "no"? Maybe I’d be left out I might even miss out on something.
A second fruit of the night of spirit is freedom from the domination of any emotion…This takes place not be repressing or unduly suppressing unwanted emotions by sheer will power, but by accepting and integrating them into the rational and intuitive parts of our nature.
--Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating
When Jesus calls us to "wake up", he is calling us to a new awareness. Because we know that we carry much of our human suffering in our body, the body becomes a helpful tool for calling attention to what we need to "let go" of.
So begins a process that comes out of our Centering Prayer midst the daily activities. Stop for a minute and notice the energy in the body; where is it? How intense is it? Where are the tense places in my body? How does it vary from activity to activity? I noticed that I was preparing meals with a ferocity that scared a well peeled carrot. I was looking at the new spring season without smiling back. I was listening to a friend without really hearing. With such awareness, I can begin to use the welcoming prayer at the moment I notice these things or I can take time later on to recall these feelings and pray. "Welcome pain, welcome tension, welcome confusion. Let us get to know each other? Let’s not continue this battle."
I am slowing down the multi-tasking, but my thoughts are still running the show. Push! Push! Push! Repetitious mental lists recycle only to lodge more discomfort into my well being and my other relationships. What are my emotions doing? Fear speaks, "You might not get everything done that you said you would". Sadness hovers over the lost times I might have enjoyed more had I not been so busy. Once again "Welcome fear, welcome sadness I will not resist you." I want to feel you and be aware of you so I do not have to react to you so spuriously. As I become more acquainted with all the parts of this "doing" I begin the next part of the Welcoming Prayer:
The Welcoming Prayer
May I let go of the desire for approval and affection.
May I let go of the desire for power and control.
May I let go of the desire for security and survival.
May I let go of the desire to change the situation.
From Contemplative Outreach LTD
Carolyn Young is a member of the Minnesota Contemplative Outreach Committee
By Bob Delastrada
This past March I went on a 10 day intensive retreat with Father Thomas Keating and David Frenette at the Garrison Institute in New York. David has been with Father Thomas since the beginning of Contemplative Outreach, and co-founded the earliest retreat community where people could learn Centering Prayer. He was at the monastery here a few years ago, giving a 5-day retreat on the growth of contemplative attitudes in the Spiritual Journey. He is currently developing curriculum to assist long time practicioners to deepen and move beyond common obstacles in prayer, so that it moves more easily into contemplation. There was also an emphasis on methods that help integrate the fruits of Centering Prayer into everyday living. Our day started at 6:30 A.M. and often went until almost 9pm with prayer, teaching and guided meditation. Father Thomas came for the final weekend as did Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler.
The Institute is located on the Hudson River about one hour north of New York City. The building and grounds are a monastery that had been vacated since Vatican II. The Institute's mission is to bring together the wisdom of various contemplative traditions, and apply the knowledge to pressing social issues. Father Thomas is one of the Institute's founding spiritual advisors. To be with him is always wonderful. He talked about unity and oneness as being the purpose of life. He said it's stupid and a mistake to believe that God doesn't love us! He spoke of the cross as witness to the infinite goodness of God who goes to any length to make us divine. There are layers of reality and to our own identity, and that Ultimate Reality is in fact God's own Self. As we move toward unity consciousness, our understanding is that God is the Ground of every experience and not separate from the content of our life. Our task is to be willing to become God, to receive the totality of the Divine nature through our consent. God's love has no limits and has the goal of making us equal to God. By identifying with the cross and moving through the process of transformation, the myth of the separate self is relinquished. The greatness of human-kind is revealed in the Paschal Mystery, as everyone is invited to the fullness of divine/human life.
David Frenette has a web-site called Incarnational Contemplation. He does contemplative spiritual direction and will be giving several retreats each year that focus on deepening our consent in Centering Prayer. Much of what he focused on involved images of receptivity. Even with many years of practice, we can get stuck in an effort of trying to make prayer happen rather than surrendering. Deepening receptivity means being still or "just to be," rather than forcing the issue. Prayer is like helping a flower grow by cultivating the best conditions for growth to happen. But the growing process itself is out of our hands and our consent is simply saying yes to an invitation that allows prayer to unfold. How must we act to acquire what is freely given and always present? David stressed renewal in the basics of the Centering Prayer method. The guidelines provide a solid foundation for when were struggling. His presentation was very helpful and I hope he can visit us. He has many good stories about the early days of Contemplative Outreach. At present he is only funded for several retreats a year, but my guess is that he will be very much in demand before long. I'd say we should be open to any possibility that might arise for his availability. We would all benefit through his extensive experience. Meanwhile, we can all visit his web-site and read his new book!
After this retreat, I'm left with a profound sense of gratitude for Centering Prayer and people like Sisters Virginia and Mary, as well others who started the ministry in Minnesota. Let's continue to consent to God's invitation and share in the work of transforming the world.
Vision: Awakening to Beauty, Truth and Goodness
Thomas Keating OSCO and Richard Rohr OFM
By Jim Babin
The conference schedule was broken into two parts. The first 2 days were attended by over 200 leaders and was dedicated to the work and business of the Contemplative Outreach organization. Reports were given by the various officers and coordinators of the programs, ministries, and regions of the USA.
Voting members and observers participated in a review and refinement process to the "Vision Statement of Contemplative Outreach" and "Theological Principles of Contemplative Outreach" which has been developing for several years and has been opened to input from all of it’s members. A facilitation process was used as we "chewed" on this work. It was somewhat awesome to participate in the process with this many people involved. We worked at eight person tables and periodically half of our table would shift to another table to compare view points and to work at establishing a consensus of that particular work. This was not an easy feat for the facilitator but was handled skilfully. Our work will be sent back to a committee for final rewrite. Everything was done very peacefully and respectfully.
All in all, when all was said and done, as we adjourned I left feeling that the Contemplative Outreach is sound spiritually, financially and organizationally. I also felt that while it is experiencing expansive growth and depth of its members and an increasing demand for its services, it is rising to meet the challenges of the future.
As a leader new to this level of the Contemplative Outreach I was somewhat overwhelmed by all that is going on through out the country and beyond. I feel a need to examine my role and look towards the future of our Minnesota Chapters of Contemplative Outreach.
I was able to connect and meet with Contemplative Outreach staff and other Contemplative Outreach leaders including the "Prison Ministry" and "AA Eleventh Step Ministry" Coordinators. These contacts will be valuable for our future local activities.
Fathers Thomas Keating and Richard Rohr spoke through out the conference, individually and jointly. They were very enriching and inspiring.
I purchased books that had just been published and am showing them around. Of particular interest, is a book called "Journey to the Heart, Centering Prayer for Children." Another new book, which I just finished reading, is titled "Centering Prayer and the Healing of the Unconscious." authored by Murchadh O’Madagain. It is a good resource book. It covers the relationship of CP to other types and kinds of meditations and answers various criticisms of Centering Prayer. I also viewed a copy of a new book that is just being printed, titled "A Pathway to Freedom". It is a workbook introduction to Centering Prayer for prison inmates. I forwarded an information sheet to Sr. Mary White and she will order a copy for possible use in our prison ministries.
Short video clips of a new nine part video series is being produced. It is titled "Heartfulness, The Path of Transformation in Christ" featuring Father Thomas Keating and Doctor Betty Sue Flowers. They aren’t exactly sure how they are going to use it. One possibility is a TV series. We will be hearing more about this in the future.
I visited a number of information booths and picked up literature for future use.
While the business half of the conference was somewhat gruelling because of the amount of activity we covered in a short time, the second half was a joy to behold. Our ranks swelled to almost five hundred people and we filled the grand ballroom wall to wall.
After a joint meal, our evening session began with "Sacred Sounds" by musician Jodi Roberts who played a series of different sized Tibetan singing bowls. The melodic rhythms settled us in for the program presentations. Timothy Koock, local coordinator from Houston and Gail Fitzpatrick Hopler, President of Contemplative Outreach welcomed us to the conference. Thomas Keating OSCO and Richard Rohr OFM spoke to the group. We finished the evening with a Taiz’e Prayer service. It was indeed a sacred time.
Saturday was filled with, Centering Prayer sessions, presentations by the featured speakers. There were several 12 step meetings available. These meetings were well attended. Meal time was a great opportunity to mix it up with a variety of attendees. Meals were eaten at eight person tables and we were able to sit with a different group at each meal. We connected with folks from Canada, Australia, Mexico, South America, Hawaii, Africa and other areas of the world. The group was very diverse and represented many different cultures, work situations and backgrounds. I felt elated at being able to connect with all these different groups. A significant group of Hispanics were represented from several areas. It was wonderful to hear their language flow through out the group activities. The busy day finished with a banquet, served buffet style in the open areas of the main floor of the hotel. The highlight of the evening was a concert featuring local choral singers and musicians playing stringed instruments. This was hosted and sponsored by the family and friends of Timothy Koock.
The conference closed at noon on Sunday. The morning began with Centering Prayer/Meditation, an optional Roman Catholic liturgy and breakfast. Father Keating closed with final words and a blessing.
The scripture theme for the event was from Philippians 4:8-9
"Finally my friends, whatever is true and just, whatever is pleasing and pure, whatever is gracious and beautiful, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, dwell on the good in others, and what you have learned and received, and heard and seen in me, put into practice: and the God of peace will be with you."
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.