Servant Leader Training Retreat, 2019

Participants in 2019 Servant Leadership retreat
Participants: back row (L to R) Glen Mower, Margaret McNulty, Jackie Evans, Elaine Wilkins, Clare Cole, Carole O'Reilly, Rev. Mel King; front row Julie Burnett-Kirk, Bella Cranmore, Jill Benet.

Another training week for servant leadership was held at The House of Prayer during May this year, lead by Jill Benet and Jacqueline Evans. A big thank you also goes to the House of Prayer for looking after us so well in many ways.

Participant Margaret McNulty provided the following assessment:

The course was a wonderful experience as well as a deepening of the practice and of my understanding of the teaching. It was good to revisit the essentials:

  • Prayer as relationship developing through the stages of acquaintanceship to friendliness to friendship and then intimacy, just as a human relationship develops
  • The method of Centering Prayer - revisiting the four guidelines
  • Thoughts and the use of the sacred word – a deeper exploration
  • Deepening our relationship with God

We were asked to stick to the format but “make it our own” so that we “transmitted“ our enthusiasm and commitment. Some however did find this difficult because the language and style felt uncomfortable and inauthentic to them.

Though we were all using the same material and hearing it several times I found myself still attentive and involved with each presentation and picking up on the nuances of the teaching and practice as each person presented the same material in their own way. It was useful to have the opportunity to voice our reactions and responses in the feedback sessions. This shared discomfort of adapting and adjusting to the material and empathising with each other’s difficulties helped bond us into a real Christian community. The daily practice of two double periods of Centering Prayer together also created that bond.

It was good to have fun together on the last evening with what was billed as “alternative methods”.

We were all deeply moved by the reading out loud of The Vision of Contemplative Outreach:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.

Luke 10:27

We embrace the process of transformation in Christ, both in ourselves and in others, through the practice of Centering Prayer.

And also by hearing the Theological Principles with commentary (which sounds as though it would be as dry as dust!).

We all felt that Contemplative Outreach must and will evolve to adapt to today’s needs and conditions. It was good therefore, to be reminded in a letter from Thomas Keating that this material was “the result of immense effort, collaboration, and a lengthy process of discernment” and also that “As people grow in grace and experience, various other expressions of the Vision may unfold” but to keep in mind that “it is important to balance this inspiration with the conviction that the Spirit is also at work in the leadership and the materials and resources that have evolved up to now”.

Thanks to Jill and Jacqueline, our lovely Facilitators, for holding it all together. Thanks for their humour, understanding and encouragement - and not least for their marvellously funny performance on that last evening!

Visioning Day for CO London

On November 10th, 2018 we held a Visioning Day for CO London at the Prayer Centre in Hammersmith.
The purpose was to review what we are able to provide in terms of resources, groups, training, retreats and online communities and consider how best these might be developed and added to going into the future.

We are aware that many of you who would have liked to come were unable to, so we were very encouraged that 41 people were able to attend. A summary of each of the 4 sessions is provided below both for those who participated on the day and for everyone who may be interested in what took place.

The day was very much the start of an ongoing process to help support you in your practice of Centering Prayer, whether a beginner or someone who has been practising for some time.

SESSION ONE: RESOURCES

facilitated by Deirdre Anthoni, Margaret Philpot and Pauline Hancock

A short presentation was given on the Resources available to Contemplative Outreach London. We aimed to identify existing assets and future needs. Information was provided on Spiritual Practices, useful Websites, Books, DVDs etc. To download copies of the handouts circulated click on the links below.

Small groups were formed to look at some possible areas for development and improvement. Here is a summary of the outcomes from these sessions:

    • To develop a ”skills bank” of all resources and make them more readily available to all who practice CP, including facilitators and presenters. We foresee that an administrator will be needed to organise and coordinate this.
    • To be more outward looking and inclusive by:
      • building and consolidating networks of people practising CP in local groups;
      • using online connections and Apps;
      • organising different patterns of retreats;
      • drawing much more upon inter-faith perspectives and experience to deepen our practice.

An agenda is being set up to move these issues forward over the coming months.

Handouts from Session 1:

Books etc.,
Websites,
Spiritual Practices.

SESSION TWO: GROUPS, TRAINING & RETREATS

facilitated by Jill Benet

We considered the value of Centering Prayer groups praying and studying together to support our practice and how to overcome some of the obstacles that get in the way of starting a group. Several handouts were made available to help group formation. These can be downloaded at the links below.

Two formation programmes were introduced:

  • Facilitator training (Non-residential). For new and experienced facilitators of Centering Prayer groups, these days are interactive providing essential skills for organising and facilitating small groups.
  • Presenter Training (Normally residential). To prepare presenters to teach the method of Centering Prayer at Introductory Workshops, to small groups and individuals.
  • This training enables participants to gain an in-depth understanding of Centering Prayer and provides practice in communicating the basics and essentials of the method of Centering Prayer, as well as aiding in the ability to articulate the basic conceptual background for Centering Prayer.

    For more information and pre-requisites, please contact Jill Benet (see below).

The purpose of all formation is to maintain the integrity of the method of Centering Prayer and to deepen the participant’s understanding of the practice itself.

Residential retreats offer the opportunity to spend extended time in prayer and silence with a group, as well as an in-depth study of background material — an essential way to deepen our practice. The need for non-residential retreats of one or two days was highlighted on the day. All retreats organised by CO London are listed on the Events page of this website.

Handouts from Session 2:

Value of Support,
Group Guidelines,
Group Covenant.

SESSION THREE: ONLINE

facilitated by Tim Hamilton (locally) and Monica Wilson (remotely)

Centering online guide

These guidelines are for Centering online with one other person:

  • You will need the use of an iPhone, iPad or Apple computer if using FaceTime. Skype works across most formats.
  • Ensure battery sufficiently charged.
  • Switch on aeroplane mode.
  • Position phone. A stand can be useful. Landscape works well.
  • Ring/receive call at the appointed time.
  • Allow 5 minutes for greetings/catch up.
  • Turn phone away to face icon/picture.
  • Opening reading of 2-3 paragraphs from Thomas Keating or other material.
  • Sound gong and press “mute” if desired.
  • Sound gong after 20 minutes, not forgetting to unmute first!
  • Closing prayer.
  • Turn back phones to face each other and bow.
  • Remain in silence and switch off the device to close.

Ideally, you should aim to complete the session in just over 30 minutes.

You will need to decide which of you will read the opening text and who will pray at the end. You will also need to determine who will keep time.

Centering Prayers by Peter Traben Haas is an excellent resource for closing prayers.

Should you also wish to join an online group, here are some useful links to the Peace Chapel -
Getting Started
Calendar.

SESSION FOUR: VISION FOR LONDON

facilitated by Carole O’Reilly and Chantelle Dusette

The final workshop of the day drew from the group foundational words/phrases to set up a Contemplative Outreach Vision for London, based on the premise that Centering Prayer is a response to what the city needs. The three key objectives focused on identifying the needs/hurts, discerning desire in response and exploring tools to meet them. The handouts which were given out to support and encourage dialogue and openness can be downloaded below. We were embraced with truly heartfelt responses, which we are drawing on to complete a draft vision statement for CO London.

Handouts from Session 4:

CO Vision,
London Objectives,
Prayers and Scriptures.

If you would like to know more about any of the sessions, please feel free to contact the respective facilitators:

Deirdre – d.anthoni@btinternet.com
Margaret – margaret_philpot@yahoo.co.uk
Pauline – pfhancock@gmail.com
Jill – jillbenet@hotmail.com
Monica – monicalwilson@yahoo.co.uk
Tim – timham47@gmail.com
Carole – coreilly396@btinternet.com
Chantelle – chantelledusettecreative@gmail.com

We are encouraged following the session and are very much looking forward to supporting one another in the practice.

Servant Leader Training, 2018

Presenter formation in 2018 took place at the House of Prayer from 26 February to 2 March and was led by Jill Benet and Brenda Bayne. The attendees were Claire Carruthers, Sebastian Harries, Peter Bone, Val Harding, Jayne MacGregor, Judy Lown, Julia Richmond and Teresia Hasanova.

Teresia Hasanova had already completed the training in 2016. This year she attended the training to become a trainer and prepare people in the Czech Republic to teach the method of Centering Prayer. She has been really faithful to her practice and Centering prayer is growing in Prague and the surrounding area and in Slovakia. If you are in Prague and would like to "sit" with the group at the Cathedral contact Teresia.

At the House of Prayer we formed such a close community we forgot to take a photo, but below you will find a description of the week below as written by Peter Bone, one of the participants.

In February 2018 the so-called “beast from the east” froze the country and deposited the deepest snowfalls seen for many a year. At the same time, eight students and two leaders were “holed up” at The House of Prayer in East Molesey for a Centering Prayer presenters course. Some braved an occasional walk outside despite the weather forecast promising temperatures which would feel like -11oC. A few of us just stayed inside!

How would I describe our five days being prepared to deliver the introductory talks? The words intensive, hard-work, tiring and challenging come readily to mind. But we were also affirmed, inspired and encouraged as we learnt how best to present the method of Centering Prayer.

The curriculum was pretty straightforward. Namely each of us presented each of the four parts of the introductory course, always led off by either Jill or Brenda. After each talk, the presenter reflected on how they felt about it, and each of the listeners offered a brief critique too. This may sound rather scary, but the comments were kind and affirming and learning points delivered in a helpful way so they could be heard and received.

On reflection, I can see how very generously and graciously we were held throughout the five days. Held by the warm hospitality of The House of Prayer, where the food was good and the heating system able to keep us warm despite the icy winds which battered us. Held by the kindness, enthusiasm and know-how of our leader Jill Benet and her assistant Brenda Bayne. Held by the pop-up community and new friendships which were formed. Held by the wisdom of the well-honed material we were training to deliver, the initial authorship presumably from the pen of Thomas Keating. And held by the practice of Centering Prayer that we shared together morning and afternoon in the prayer room.

And so it was that, as well as being affirmed, inspired and encouraged I also came away even more excited about Centering Prayer. It offers a spiritual path which is rooted in the historic Christian tradition but which feels wonderfully contemporary as well. It is an accessible and, ultimately, transformative way that leads to personal experience of the Divine, rather than a set of beliefs about the Divine. A way that leads to relationship and knowing first hand, rather than second-hand experience and a set of propositional truths. And that’s good news irrespective of which bit of the church (or not) you come from!

The snowfall was greatest on the Friday that we completed the training and, with some having a long journey, a number stayed on to enjoy The House of Prayer’s hospitality for a little longer, preferring this to being stranded on a freezing station or stuck in a snow drift.

Fr. Thomas Keating, Founder and Spiritual Guide, Dies October 25th, 2018

It is with great sadness that we have to pass on the news that Fr. Thomas Keating, the founder and much-loved spiritual guide of Contemplative Outreach died on October 25th 2018 at the age of 95. For the last 34 years he has laboured unceasingly to make the contemplative life available beyond the confines of monastic walls, believing that divine transformation is the vocation of all of us. He has inspired us not only through his retreats and publications but also by his simple presence. In addition to being the centre around which Contemplative Outreach circled he was very active in the field of inter-spiritual dialogue. We mourn his loss but in the hope and expectation that his light will continue to shine on the global community he founded as it grows in love.

A full appreciation of Fr. Thomas' life can be read on the US website where there are also links to obituaries in the New York Times and National Catholic Reporter.

The monks of St. Benedict's Monastery will be co-hosting a memorial service in Denver, Colorado on Friday, November 16th at 11:00am, local time. This service will be live-streamed by the Centre for Action and Contemplation so you can participate anywhere in the world. The video runs in the UK from 18:00 - 19:30 GMT and can be accessed here.

Departures and Arrivals

Departures and Arrivals

It has been a great disappointment to us to lose the services of Jim Walker (pictured) who represented Contemplative Outreach in the Brighton area for a number of years following the creation of this Chapter. The trajectory of Jim's life has taken him to Eritrea - yes that is right, Eritrea. His wife was given a placement there and Jim went along too. Last we heard he was teaching Centering Prayer to some nuns in Asmara and chanting the Psalms with them - in English! Such are the twists and turns of a contemplative vocation.

I once asked Jim if he had a favourite Thomas Keating quote. At the time he said not but a long while later he came back with "When we pray, we pray for everyone past, present and to come, the whole of creation". In other words, there's no such thing as solitary prayer. He may be totally off-grid electronically but he is still deeply connected to all of us through the Spirit.

We thank Jim for all his hard work and wish him every blessing in this new phase of his life.

Jim's place on the South Coast is taken by Rev. Guy Partridge whose details appear on the "Who We Are" page. Guy recently qualified as a Centering Prayer Presenter having travelled to Dublin to train with Fionnuala Quinn, the International Coordinator. We are looking forward to working with him.

21 Servant Leaders Trained by Contemplative Outreach London

The remit of Contemplative Outreach is very simple. It is to teach the method of Centering Prayer and support those that practice it. The method can be learnt at an all day workshop or a series of shorter sessions that cover all the topics of a workshop. A shorter-still version is a “taster” where the very basics of the practice are offered so that you can get a sense of what Centering Prayer is about and how to get started in the practice. A longer experience may be had by attending an Introductory Weekend.

Even though many of us may have read about Centering Prayer and are already practising it according to the instructions given in most books written about it, the benefits of attending an introduction in person is that our questions can be answered. We will have in front of us a committed practitioner who has the experience to be able to affirm and reassure us that in spite of what we might think we are on the right track. The simplicity of the method of Centering Prayer can be difficult at first to accept.

In the light of this, and in order to maintain the integrity of the practice, Contemplative Outreach from early on developed a programme to train individuals to “present” the Method of Centering prayer. Over the last eighteen months, Contemplative Outreach London has hosted two training weeks at the House of Prayer at East Molesey and nineteen people have been trained. Over the last few years another three people have attended training weeks held in Dublin hosted by Contemplative Outreach Ireland.

If you are interested in knowing more about Presenter Training and the requirements needed in order to take part please contact Jill Benet.

The first training week (February 15 - 19, 2016) was led by Sr. Fionnuala Quinn, currently the Contemplative Outreach International Coordinator and Jill Benet, currently London Coordinator.

2016 Group

Participants at the 2016 Training Retreat.

From the left: Teresia Hasanova, Christiane Ghose, Susan Taylor,
Lynne Scholefield, Brenda Bayne, Ruth Flockhart, Jill Benet, John O’Brien,
Fionnuala Quinn, Debbie House, Denise Moll and Iain Macfarlane.

Susan Taylor had this to say about the training retreat:

Looking around unsuccessfully for a taxi at Hampton Court Station, I noticed somebody else on the same mission and we discovered we were both going to the House of Prayer. As there were no cabs, we got our exercise walking briskly for 20 minutes plus to Seymour Road. I'd made it from Eastbourne. My fellow-pilgrim had come down from Inverness but we completed the last lap together and were in time for lunch.

This was the start of a wonderful week of happy encounters. There were ten of us on our way to being Presenters-in-Training. Fionnuala, the international co-ordinator, and Jill, our London co-ordinator, very gently took charge and together we blossomed. Our gathering was ecumenical. The South-East was well represented but people had come from further afield, from Norwich, Yate, Inverness and the Czech Republic. This was certainly an intensive experience of Christian Community.

We all wanted to be able to present Centering Prayer with integrity. Of course our own practice is key and we are all very familiar with the Guidelines; but presenting them to a group is something else. Thomas Keating and his collaborators have provided well-honed teaching materials. Fionnuala and Jill modelled the programme and we each had the opportunity to make our presentations in a small group and to everybody. Feedback from self, group members and our trainers followed. This whole process was a special grace for each person. We grew in competence and confidence. We grew as people and in our understanding and appreciation of each other, and the need to develop a contemplative stance in life. And it wasn't all work. We had fun making community too.

We received guidance and more materials to help our deepening understanding of what we and Contemplative Outreach are about, its communication in life and to others when we are invited to do so. We are grateful for the inspiration we have received and the efforts of so many down the years which has brought it to us.

The community at the House of Prayer looked after us beautifully. This also is a home of silence, solitude, simplicity and service.

Thank you again, very much indeed.
Susan

The second week (February 27 - March 3, 2017) was led by Fionnuala Quinn and Jill Benet joined by Brenda Bayne, an experienced facilitator and Presenter from Chichester.

Retreatants 2017

Participants at the 2017 Training Retreat.

Standing from left: Monica Wilson, Barbara Field, Clare Chigweder,
Pauline Hancock, Ingrid Bowie, Anna-Stina Ponsford, Emma Lanham,
Tim Hamilton, Wrio Russell.
Seated from left: Jill Benet, Fionnuala Quinn, Brenda Bayne.

Wrio Russell wrote about this retreat:

"The fundamental goodness of human nature ... is an essential element of Christian faith. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development." So writes Fr Thomas Keating in 'Open Mind, Open Heart'. And, judging by my experience of our Centering Prayer Presenters' training course which took place recently under the wonderful guidance of Sr. Fionnuala Quinn OP and Jill Benet at the House of Prayer, it rings very true. Never have I been dragged so profitably out of my comfort zone and come to realize the value of it so clearly. With no time to waste, we had to present the carefully drawn-up four sessions of an Introductory Day to Centering Prayer to the other members of our two groups, nine of us in all, and open ourselves to their scrutiny. It was not a comfortable thing to do.... but great experience nevertheless. And the 'fundamental goodness of human nature' shone through and bonded us swiftly into a team of loving souls who worked quite beautifully together. The anxiety and the fatigue were worth it.

The work of the course was interspersed with two periods each day of meditation and some wholesome meals which nourished and maintained us. Then. . . plop, dear Jill dropped another jolly event into our programme - a social get-together for the last evening. Could we muster the energy? Yes, we could only too well and it was a lot of fun. It enabled us all to release our tensions before hitting the hay for the last time. New knowledge, new experience......... . Thank you, all, especially Jill, Fionnuala and Brenda for your love and wise guidance.
With love and God bless, Wrio

Fionnuala Quinn Visits Westminster

Over the last year Fionnuala Quinn, the International Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach, has visited us twice at Westminster. The primary reason for her visits to the UK has been to help us train Presenters of the Method of Centering Prayer but as part of each visit she joined in and led our prayer meeting at the Hinsley Rooms in Westminster. In February 2016 she was accompanied by Grace Padilla who set up Contemplative Outreach in the Phillipines and shared with us her experience as a coordinator and how CP is flourishing there. On the same occasion Fionnuala gave an inspiring talk to the group on The Development of Centering Prayer. We are fortunate that Fionnuala has allowed us to share the content of this talk; you can read the text by clicking on the link at the bottom of this post.

Westminster Group 1

Fionnuala Quinn (seated at far left) and
Grace Padilla (on her left) with members
of the Westminster prayer group.

Jill Benet writes:

Sr. Fionnuala Quinn is a Dominican Sister. She was born in Ireland and as part of her vocation found herself living in New Orleans for many years. It was there she discovered the practice of Centering Prayer through the work of Basil Pennington. She was trained by Contemplative Outreach in the US and when her order brought her back to Dublin she founded Contemplative Outreach Dublin where she has been energetic and generous in sharing the practice and training others to do the same.

Three years ago she was given the post of International Coordinator for Contemplative Outreach. This was the first time this post has been held by someone from outside the US. She has done a wonderful job of training people and offering support all over the world except in the Spanish-speaking countries of Central and South America where they have formed their own body called Extension Contemplativa.

Since becoming International Coordinator, she has established a relationship with the leadership teams at Contemplative Outreach Ltd., contributing to their monthly calls. She has raised awareness of the difficulties and needs of groups and individuals living at a distance from the main source of training and support materials. She has also been able to tell them about the growth and enthusiasm for the prayer outside the US.

She has been very supportive of our work in the UK and other parts of Europe. In the last four years individuals from the UK, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic have been trained in London and Ireland to present the method of Centering Prayer. Her next port of call will be in the autumn when she has been invited to offer training to enable the groups in Trinidad to grow. Willing to go wherever she is called, Fionnuala "gets on with it", faith-filled and as authentic as ever. We wish her every blessing on the journey!

Read Fionnuala's Talk Here

Miami 2014: 30 Years of Grace and Gratitude

On behalf of the members of Contemplative Outreach in Southeast England Jill Benet and Steve Pearce went to Miami at the end of September to attend the Annual Conference of Contemplative Outreach. Under the title "30 Years of Grace and Gratitude" this was held to celebrate the 30th anniversary of CO in conjunction with Extension Contemplativa Internacional, the Spanish language branch of the network which began in the US and has subsequently spread all over Central and South America.  The full conference was attended by about 170 delegates from all over the world including Britain, Ireland, Canada and Australia as well as the USA and Latin America. For the enrichment day a further 100 people from the Florida area joined us.
With Carl & Gail
Jill and Steve with Fr. Carl Arico (left) and Gail FitzPatrick-Hopler, president of Contemplative Outreach

On the first morning we had three lectures on deepening the practice of each of the three supports of the contemplative life: Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and the Welcome Prayer. During these talks CO President Gail FitzPatrick-Hopler introduced a prayer of the breath - being aware of your breath, breathe in God and breathe out love. This was also mentioned the following day by keynote speaker Fr. Bill Sheehan, another founder member of CO. In his version you breathe in acceptance and breathe out surrender; he also pointed out that you can do this for a few quiet seconds at different times throughout the day. On the subject of the discipline of Centering Prayer he had this to say: "People on retreats used to say to me that they always did their first sit of the day but the second one was often impossible to fit in. When I was young and foolish I used to reply, 'Do the best you can.' Now I'm old and crotchety I feel it's a crime; get your priorities right." After telling us of the chapter of accidents that lead to his being at the first ever Centering Prayer retreat in 1983 Fr. Bill projected us into the next 30 years pointing out that it is the delegates at the conference who will be responsible for carrying it forward. He drew our attention to the fact that, after 30 years of the teaching of Thomas  Keating a new generation of teachers and writers is emerging to continue the Christian Contemplative Tradition, mentioning Cynthia Bourgeault, Martin Laird and Kess Frey. His encouragement, enthusiasm and lifelong dedication to all those who practice Centering Prayer was wonderful and inspiring.

Every session of the conference was bracketed by a period of chanting led by Marú Ladrón de Guevara who had a vocal style that reminded us both of Joan Baez. There were Spanish and English lyrics to every chant which we sang turn and turn about.

Contemplative Outreach in the USA is now on a cusp where founder members Carl Arico and Gail FitzPatrick-Hopler are looking to pass the torch on. It is entering a new period of discernment about it's future organisation. The Circle of Service is to be divided into a smaller body responsible for governance (i.e. defining overall policy) and another for management (i.e. implementation of the policy).

J. David Muyskens, who was wonderfully supportive during the creation of Contemplative Outreach East and South East England, is passing the post of International co-ordinator to Fionnuala Quinn who has always given us sound advice. Fionnuala has been very active as a Regional Coordinator for Ireland over the last 7 years and for many years before that was part of the Centering Prayer movement in New Orleans where she lived. Now based in Dublin she has trained and supported many new presenters and Centering Prayer continues to grow throughout Southern Ireland. We look forward to working even more closely with her and benefiting from her expertise.
With Fionnuala
Jill and Steve with Sr. Fionnuala Quinn (centre), the new International Coordinator

Some changes have been made to Centering Prayer teaching materials. Those who are familiar with the 6-week follow up to the Introductory Day will find that these DVD's are no longer being reproduced. They are replaced by the videos from the Centering Prayer Training Course which is available from Sounds True (soundstrue.com). Alternative materials have also been recommended for use on retreats; we will give more information about this as it becomes available. The Welcome Prayer booklet from the Contemplative Life Program has also been newly updated.

On the evening of the enrichment day we were shown a new film about the life of Fr. Thomas called “Thomas Keating: A Rising Tide of Silence”. It was made by his nephew, Peter C. Jones, over a period of 10 years and is very moving and beautiful. As always Fr. Thomas teaches and inspires throughout. The DVD is available from the US website (contemplativeoutreach.org) but we shall have some viewings in London shortly.

Most of you will be aware that, at the age of 91, Fr. Thomas no longer takes an active role in Contemplative Outreach so he wasn't present at the conference. However, he was there in spirit and surprised us with a call from St Benedict's monastery which was broadcast to the whole assembly. A video message followed which concluded 30 years of Grace and Gratitude with this blessing:
“Let us enjoy the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and allow ourselves to be loved unconditionally and so be inspired to meet the real needs of everyone in the human family, past, present and to come.”

Cynthia Bourgeault in London

On June 1st 2013 Contemplative Outreach in the East and Southeast of England celebrated its first year as an independent Chapter with an Enrichment Day held at St. John's, Waterloo. The day was hosted by Contemplative Outreach London and attended by delegates from all over the UK. We were fortunate to have the workshop taught by the Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault who spoke on

The Cloud of Unknowing: Centering Prayer and the Foundations of Unitive Consciousness.

The quotations below should help to give you some of the flavour of her three talks.

Cynthia St Johns

The prayer of The Cloud ... is the key source of the method of Centering Prayer. Over the years ... the practice of the prayer has been informed by other streams of Christian contemplative practice ... but still The Cloud of Unknowing is the immediate source of Centering Prayer. This is a core text.

Because you come to know The Cloud in a different way when you're actually doing the practice ... it's possible to understand what the author ... is talking about in a much more subtle way than academic scholars and even historians of religion have picked up.

What we have learned from our practice of Centering Prayer can help us to unpack and understand what may be difficult and confusing in the instructions in The Cloud... In a compatible way the instructions in [the book], once we can read them - and decode them - according to our practice, give us profound, new and deeper resources to encourage us along the radical path of transformation that Centering Prayer is.

The only thing that's really lamentable and disgraceful from the point of view of spiritual work is the distracted nature of our attention and our society is full of it to-day. Everything in our culture is set up to “grab our attention” ... and that weathercocking attention is basically useless spiritually.

What you're finding here that is embedded in The Cloud is very sophisticated teaching on the placement of attention ... through the withdrawal of attention from objects – even holy objects.

Cynthia Hammersmith

[In Centering Prayer we] practice the letting go motion with the thing we have in constant supply – our thoughts; and as we practice with our thoughts and as we practice with this letting go ... we begin to discover that it does create gradual but very definitive changes in the way we are able to be in the world. ...It actually helps us to put on the mind of Christ and participate in the transformation of the structures of our own consciousness.

Even though you may have sat there daydreaming your way through eighteen of the twenty minutes of Centering Prayer, the one moment you catch that and let it go you are in the Garden of Gethsemane and you are in solidarity with Christ.

What we have in The Cloud of Unknowing completely undetected by scholars is the description of the transition from one kind of consciousness - separated consciousness - into another kind of consciousness – non-dual perception, which is what he means by “contemplative work”.

It is only as we really begin to access this language of the non-dual that we see the world in a way which is compatible with the survival of this planet. There has been a general sense that Christianity lacks this tradition; we say, “No it doesn't at all – here it is in the 14th century, 600 years ahead of it's time!”

And the bottom line is - practice, practice, practice ...

2013_DSC4505_1rcs