My impression of the 2011 Annual Conference Reawakenings, was one of Contemplative Outreach undergoing transition. Father Thomas has laid a firm foundation so that the teaching of Centering Prayer can be passed on in all it's simplicity and depth. Having communicated and renewed the ancient teaching, there is a gradual transfer of leadership to the next generation of teachers and leaders. David Frenette, Pat Johnson, Father Carl, and Gail Hopler, who most of us know, along with others, will fill the role previously occupied by Father Thomas.
The substance of the conference had to do with with scientific evidence substantiating the claims that mystics have made known down through the centuries. It was discovered that Centering Prayer stimulated those portions of the brain having to do with relatedness and empathy. Just as humankind initially became aware of God through creation, so also a contemporary study of the human mind lends support to the reality of God's presence. Father Thomas considers evolution to be the means by which Divine Union comes to completion for the human race. He spoke with compassion about how difficult it is to be human. Our capacity for transcendence and animal instincts are all mixed together, making it extremely difficult to evolve. And yet this is precisely the reason God takes on the totality of the human experience. The empty cross signifies the stark reality of conflicted humanity. The cross with Christ signifies God embracing humankind, gathering us together, bringing us to the One Jesus called Father. This is our salvation, the full reality of Christ living in us and through us. We are invited to participate in the transformative process through the vehicle of Centering Prayer. God is with us, God is for us. We all share in the same divine destiny. God simply asks for our consent to share in this journey--to put up with ourselves and our difficulties and allow God to work in our lives.
It was mentioned that next year's conference could possibly convene in Snowmass, Colorado. This could make for some interesting opportunities to visit the monastery or have some of the monks participate. Father Thomas has a new book coming out, Death, Dying and The Unknown God. David Frenette will also have a new book on deepening our prayer practice. It should be an exciting year of change and growth. If you can make next year's conference, I'm sure you won't be disappointed!
Bob Delastrada is a presenter of Centering Prayer and a member of the Minnesota Contemplative Outreach Leadership Team.