Alumni Quarterly — Winter 2020
Dear Living School Alumni,
The new Alumni Quarterly is here—and this issue’s theme is Rhythm of Life, with a particular focus on contemplative solidarity. This electronic magazine exists to resource your daily lives at the intersection of action and contemplation, to keep you in touch with one another, and to inspire us toward lives soaked, ever more deeply, in the love of Christ.
I want to take this opportunity to share several pieces of news: I have recently accepted a position on staff with the CAC as the Managing Editor of Daily Meditations. I have loved editing the Quarterly and connecting with alumni, and yet I will be stepping away from my Quarterly role in order to focus my time and energy on the Daily Meditations. I am grateful to you all for your submissions, insights, encouragement, and friendship. It inspires me to see the CAC and the alumni community continuing to grow and evolve. The CAC’s new Engagement Manager, Brandon Strange, brings with him a passion for dynamic communications opportunities for the alumni. I look forward to seeing how the CAC will build upon the Quarterly to enhance alumni community and continue to feature alumni-generated content.
I also hope to see many of you at the Alumni Gathering before *CONSPIRE 2020 on May 14th in Albuquerque! This will truly be a special event for alumni friends from around the world to connect with each other and the Living School core faculty. The gathering will also be the first public opportunity to welcome and interact with a recently expanded teaching faculty featuring Barbara Holmes and Brian McLaren alongside Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and James Finley. For alumni who may not have studied with the new faculty, they are tremendous teachers. Holmes weaves reflections on contemplation seamlessly with piercing insights on racial justice and cosmology while McLaren brings a contagious passion for spiritual transformation, church renewal, and social justice. The Alumni Gathering is free and there’s room for all Living School sendees! Please note that to allow CAC time to prepare for these significant events, we have decided that there will not be a Spring Alumni Quarterly. Stay tuned for more on the alumni program.
This Winter Quarterly gives alumni a look inside the August 2019 Living School Symposium and takes up a recent evolution of the School’s Rhythm of Life. Students and alumni alike are encouraged to enact contemplative solidarity, which goes beyond contemplative service, in their lives and unique contexts. To highlight this theme, I speak with Fr. Richard about Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s “five conversions.” I also interview Oregon Court of Appeals Judge Darleen Ortega (’19), who has long worked on issues of race, equity, and belonging, and who helped shape a powerful ritual at the Symposium called Centering the Margins.
There are further Rhythm of Life touchstones throughout the issue: an invitation to visio divina with Julie Ann Stevens’ (’15) paintings, a Symposium audio opportunity to chant and sit in silence with Cynthia Bourgeault, a report from an alumni community in Northern California, a remarkable Bible-translation project that Andrew Breitenberg (’17) is undertaking, and more.
The Team behind the Quarterly hopes you will slow your pace, sip your favorite hot beverage, and, through conscious reading, allow your heart to connect with this global contemplative community.
I pray that this Quarterly inspires you in your rhythm of life—and that all our rhythms may bend toward divine grace.
Mark Longhurst (’15)
*The dates for CONSPIRE have changed due to the impact of COVID-19. For updated information about CONSPIRE, please visit our main CONSPIRE page here.
The new Alumni Quarterly is here—and this issue takes up addiction, a challenging theme for us all. If you are a recent Living School “sendee,” welcome! And if you are a long-time alum, a hearty hello to you, too. This electronic magazine exists to resource your daily lives at the intersection of action and contemplation, to keep you in touch with one another, and to remind us all that the Holy Spirit’s work of transformation is not done with us yet.
This edition leads us into the complex theme of addiction through multiple avenues: you are invited throughout to encounter paintings, artist Kyle Steed’s Stations of Jonah, as a way of personally engaging with your own “belly of the whale” experiences of suffering and addiction. CAC Core Faculty James Finley guides us, as only he can, in a video reflection on mystical sobriety. I interview neuroscientist Judith (Judy) Grisel (’18) about her recent book Never Enough and her own recovery process. Kristi Walsh (’19) shares the direct recovery experience of four men she works with at the Santa Barbara Rescue Mission. Tim King (’18) opens our eyes about America’s opioid crisis. Then there’s Ali Kirkpatrick’s (’16) new “Monk in Midlife” column, Debonee Morgan’s (’15) film corner, and more.
The Quarterly is crafted with care in the hopes that you will make a cup of tea, carve out some time, and engage in the type of slow and conscious reading process through which the Universal Christ speaks. May it be so.
This Quarterly celebrates the recent CAC Conference The Universal Christ while embracing a theme of “Nature: The First Bible.” In the Contemplative Practice section, readers are invited to pray that God does indeed love things by becoming them. Dani Kruetter (’18) offers alumni a chance to engage in visio divina with her nature-based photo essay from Uganda. I interview CAC core faculty Cynthia Bourgeault, who suggests that the question about “Nature: The First Bible” might even be “jury-rigged from the start” by assuming a God who exists separate from nature in the first place. George and Matilda Angus (’18), writing from South Africa, share their artistic process of creating sculptures from rock. Gary Paul Nabhan (’16), a conservation biologist and member of the Ecumenical Order of Franciscans, asks, “What if getting our relationship right with the Earth and all its creatures is . . . as crucial as getting our relations right with our Creator, our family, and our neighbors?” There’s also an inspiring integration project report from Indonesia, a “First Incarnation” inspired song from songwriter Alana Levandoski (’15), and much more.
As usual, I welcome your suggestions and submissions. The theme of the next Quarterly in August will be the challenging topic of addiction. I invite your articles, personal reflections, poems, photographs, and more. Send them to [email protected] by July 8.
Contemplative Practice Visio Divina (art) by Janet McKenzie
God Loves Things by Becoming Them (prayer) from The Universal Christ Liturgies
The Love of Wonder (photo essay) by Dani Kreutter
Contemplative Study Interview with Cynthia Bourgeault
How Do We Move Things Forward within Institutions that Constrain Us? (video) by Jacqui Lewis at The Universal Christ conference
First Advent (Ex Nihilo) (song) by Alana Levandoski
Contemplative Community “Can I Have That Rock?” (on streaming The Universal Christ conference) by Liz Walz
Listening by George and Matilda Angus
Being with Animals by Linda Hand
Contemplative Solidarity Getting the Earthʼs Sacredness Right Every Earth Day by Gary Paul Nabhan
A Xennial Franciscan by Rhett Engelking
Play Structures for Disadvantaged Children by Marc-Andr. von Allmen and Aprile Denise
This month, I’m thrilled to share with you a new format for the Alumni Newsletter. CAC Creative Director Nicholas Kramer and Graphic Designer Izzy Spitz have crafted something special for us, an interactive PDF that we’re calling the Living School Alumni Quarterly. In addition to an updated design, an inviting reading experience, and a navigable style, the contents of the newsletter are now organized around the Living School Rhythm of Life areas: Contemplative Practice, Contemplative Study, Contemplative Community, and Contemplative Solidarity. The Quarterly is an invitation to reflection, prayer, and “quantum-entangled” community. We’re hopeful that this will continue to serve as a significant resource for the alumni community to learn, share, and connect. Jump in, and I hope you enjoy!
Contemplative Prayer and Meditation Killing the Butterfly: Writing and Transformation by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
Introducing Icons to Children by Kathy Hendricks
Ancient Nest (poem) by Leigh Schickendantz
Contemplative Study Parenthood as a Hermit’s Cell by Dani Walker Kreutter The Universal Christ interview with Fr. Richard Rohr (scroll below for audio and transcript)
Contemplative Community Tending the Seed of Community (peer group report) by Kerri Power
Parenthood Contemplated by Kirk Drake
Letting Go by Mike and Emily Schweppe
Contemplative Solidarity Sacred Journeys and Barmen Today by Susan Stocker and Roy Hoagland
Hope in Focus (photo essay) by Steve Pavey
Debonee’s Film Corner Spider-Man:Into the Spiderverse reviewed by Debonee Morgan
Most of us, having been “sent” by the Living School, are doing the work of integrating action and contemplation. Fr. Richard Rohr tells us “and” is the most important word in the Center’s name. One way to describe Living School alumni is those who are “sent” to dwell in the ephemeral sweet spot of “and.” Some days we experience this more fully than others. I know I have more days of reactivity and anxiety than I do spacious, heart-centered presence. But it’s the continued quest that makes it real. As our teacher James Finley says, we commit to “assuming the inner stance of letting go that offers the least resistance to grace.” Then, in the midst of our action-contemplation, we encounter grace as utter gift.
Pulsing through this newsletter is a continual expansion of how we conceive and define “contemplation.” Or, to put it another way, each interview or article excavates further meaning from the transformative space of “and.” CAC Customer Service staff member Cliff Berrien speaks of the spiritual practice of customer service and the contemplative depths of drumming. We invite you to watch Barbara Holmes’ teachings for the 2018 symposium (made available only for alumni). Holmes’ work reframes contemplation and action for justice in critical ways; through a lens of cosmology, she sees a unifying way to navigate polarizing racial justice issues. We want to make sure the alumni community has a chance to learn from her.
There’s more, too: Byron McMillan (’19) reviews Holmes’ book Race and the Cosmos. Dennis McCain (’15) interviews Prison Contemplative Fellowship founder Ray Leonardini. I interview several alumni and current students about CONSPIRE 2018, and Sarah Lutterodt (’16) and Kathy Deal (’16) tell us about a recent Washington D.C. alumni retreat.
I pray that this newsletter equips you in some way for your own unique work of becoming incarnate love in our world.
Yours in action-contemplation,
Interview with CAC Staff Member Cliff Berrien
Cliff Berrien on CONSPIRE 2018, contemplation and drumming, the impact of Barbara Holmes, and the spiritual practice of customer service. Listen to the interview below or read the transcript.
“I came to realize that the incarcerated, marginalized in every way by society, have their own well-springs of grace. . . . I found that I needed less ‘effort’ and more ‘presence.’ . . . We are ministering to each other.” Dennis McCain (’15) interviews Prison Contemplative Fellowship founder Ray Leonardini.
A group of alumni in the Washington D.C. area planned a retreat with Living School Spiritual Director Carolyn Metzler. They reflect on their time together learning about wilderness spirituality and offer tips for other alumni who wish to plan retreats.
CONSPIRE 2018 opened a thematic gateway to challenging terrain that few spirituality conferences tread: the path of descent as the path of transformation. The conference and theme impacted alumni powerfully. As Hendree Harrison (’16) said, “I came home from CONSPIRE inspired to drop everything, and love.”
With deep sadness we share that alumna Therese Lynch (’18) has passed away into God. This video featuring Therese singing and Alishiya Kapoor (’18) dancing is from the March 2017 intensive and captures Therese’s loving heart. Watch the video of Therese and Alishiya below.
Art at top of message and above “Report Back from Washington D.C. Alumni Retreat” from “Stations of Jonah” (detail) by Kyle Steed
If you’re at all like me, the injustices of the world are weighing on you significantly these days. From global climate change to the scapegoating of immigrants in America, the times we are living are breaking hearts and bodies. What does it look like to pray and act during a time of moral crisis with a contemplative consciousness? I feel compelled to pray more than ever, and yet the limitations of prayer prick my conscience. Our global moment yearns for people who live their prayer at the cutting edge of action and contemplation. As Father Rohr has taught us, the most important word in the CAC’s name is “and.”
This newsletter contains examples of people searching for that faith-filled nexus of action and contemplation. I interview CAC’s Executive Director Michael Poffenberger, who describes how the CAC is laying groundwork for a courageous vision of new spiritual reformation, all while committing to embody diversity, equity, and inclusion. Core Faculty James Finley tells us liberating yet challenging truth that the suffering of our days and lives contains God’s loving depths. As he puts it, “there’s no refuge from suffering, but suffering has no refuge from the deathless love that permeates suffering unexplainably, all pervasively, and in all directions.”
Laura Snyder Brown ’16 reflects on contemplation, racial justice and her city of Charlottesville a year after a rally of white supremacists and neo-Nazis turned deadly. I also interview a pioneering practitioner of prayer and action named Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove. Jonathan is the author of the recent Reconstructing the Gospel, and is a leading activist working with Rev. Dr. William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign. He points a way forward in particular for white Christians who feel called to join God’s movement of love and justice.
May the apostle Paul’s declaration in 1 Corinthians be that of ours, too: “We are pressed on all sides but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair. “
Your in suffering, yours in love,
Mark Longhurst (’15)
Interview with CAC Executive Director
Michael Poffenberger talks with Mark Longhurst about what led him to the CAC, its future and vision, its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and what it’s like to work day-to-day with Fr. Richard Rohr. Listen to the interview below or read the transcript.
“It is my hope that, in the work for racial justice, we will all cooperate deeply with God…” Laura Snyder Brown (’16) writes about her city, racial justice, and contemplation a year after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“There is a still point in the turning world, and we practice contemplation as we ground ourselves in that place, not apart from action, but in the center of it… Read Mark’s interview with speaker, writer, and activist Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
Christ is evolving in us. Our Living School formation has taught us that, come what may, the love of Christ is constant. Paradoxically, this constancy of Christ is not fixed and static but ever-flowing and always changing. Life and faith do not fit into a box, cannot be pinned down, and throw us far more curveballs than for which we’ve practiced.
The invitation of faith, then, is to participate in and not resist Christ’s evolution. I know I’m tempted to resist Love’s emergence in me. We all have our blind spots and our cherished “programs for happiness” (Thomas Keating). As an Enneagram Type One, it’s amazing how frequently I’m attached to being “right,” often at the expense of love!
The theme of Christ evolving runs throughout this newsletter:
I interview CAC Board Chair, LaVera Crawley (’15), who shares about major steps the CAC is taking to evolve as an organization. In particular, she tells of a new and transformative “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” initiative underway.
Ilia Delio, a dear friend and guest teacher of the Living School, grounds the truth of Christ in cosmic evolution and invites us to a path-breaking conference hosted by her Omega Center: “Christianity as Planetary Faith.” Alumni and CAC staff Brie Stoner (’15) pens a personal invitation both to the cosmic vision of Christ and to the Omega Center’s conference.
Delores Montpetit (’15) tells how the town of Assisi has propelled her spiritual pilgrimage and called her to lead others on pilgrimage, too.
Living School Director, Tom Eberle, interviews physician Cleve McCintosh (’15) in South Africa about his work of solidarity and healing.
Molly Lannon Kenny (’19) describes how 20th-century African American mystic Howard Thurman’s book Jesus and the Disinherited has deepened her view of Jesus and her commitment to faith-based social justice.
As a film-lover, I’m delighted that Debonee Morgan (’15) has written the Newsletter’s first movie review in which she names the contemplative quest and framing of The Last Jedi.
And there’s more.
My goal is to curate an alumni newsletter that will richly resource your journey of evolving in Christ. As always, I heartily encourage you to pitch submission ideas to me via [email protected]. There are a lot of sneak peeks here, pointing to the full reflections on the CAC’s website. I invite you to read these contributions slowly, take a break, come back to them another day, share them with friends, and allow your inner being to participate in Christ’s love that yearns to expand in us, even as it is also expanding throughout the world.
Yours in evolution,
Mark Longhurst (’15)
Interview with LaVera Crawley
CAC Board Chair and Living School alumna, LaVera Crawley (’15), recently took some time to talk with Mark Longhurst (’15) about her life; vocation; work on the CAC Board; an important Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion process that the CAC is undertaking; and more. This interview kicks off an ongoing series with members of CAC’s leadership.
Mark: How did you decide to go more deeply into leadership with the Center for Action and Contemplation as Board chair?
LaVera: Several years ago, I really started an earnest shift in seeking my vocation. It was a very disciplined, well-thought out, emotionally active, heartfelt plan. One of the first things that I opened myself to was listening—not just hearing, the voice of the divine, but seeking it in everything.
After being “sent” through the Living School, I received a call from the CAC’s Board nomination committee. They wanted to find the talents, gifts, and charisms among people in the Living School to help serve the Board. By this time, I had learned to listen to the voice and callings of God. The invitation to serve on the Board felt very much like a calling, so I said “yes.”
Let’s face it. Religion is not popular. It tastes like old coffee. It seems to confine or constrain the human spirit. Religion is something old people do. It does not breed adventure, novelty, exploration or future. It conjures up images of mortification, sin, guilt, judgment, repression—images that reflect a lonely Jesus dying on the cross.
The Omega Center conference on “Christianity as Planetary Faith” aims to debunk the myth of old religion. For one thing, old religion is a certain type of institutional religion, not necessarily related to the message of the Gospel. The Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was keenly aware of this problem. His deep devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and his keen eye as a paleontologist led him to see the heart of God in the heart of matter. He devoted himself to bridging evolution and Christianity, to kindle the meaning of Christ and evolution and to construct a new religious myth of religion and evolution. His vision was, and is, revolutionary. . . .
In Teilhard’s view, our thinking about God is too small, too narrow, too rote. As Meister Eckhart exclaimed, “I pray God to rid me of God!” The mystics know from the depths of their inner lives that the name God points to the ineffable mystery of incomprehensible love at the heart of all reality. If we think we know God, we haven’t a clue of what we are talking about. Religion is a technology of spiritual energies that harnesses the endless depth of consciousness toward the absolute horizon of God. The whole point of religion, from a Christian perspective, is new life and future—to become new being, an ever newness in love. . . .
The peace of Assisi is unsurpassed, beauty speaks here like no other place on earth. —Peggy, Assisi pilgrim, 2017
When we gather with our pilgrimage groups in Assisi, inevitably the friars, guides, shop owners, and servers ask us, “How long are you here?” Their response is fabulous when we say 10 days. They repeat: “10 days, 10 days? No one stays 10 days. They usually come for an afternoon or at most one or two nights and say they have been here. They haven’t. You will truly experience St. Francis, St. Clare, and the blessing of Assisi in 10 days.” And we do!
Interview with Tom Eberle (Living School Director) and Cleve McCintosh (’15)
A Confounding Experience of Heart
Denise Davis (’16)
At the same time I began the Living School in 2014, my husband and I moved to Manhattan for a three-year job assignment. In seeking community, I did as I had always done: joined a progressive church and then engaged, advocating and working for social justice. One problem arose.
While others around me rallied with enthusiasm, I flat-lined. Nothing aroused the passion I once experienced as a high school theology teacher of social justice.
Confounding the issue was my increasing desire to spend time in Central Park. I even began taking tours, all of which presented this fact: The annual budget of Central Park Conservancy was $65 million. My old warrior-self couldn’t help but protest: “So much money doing what? Making a park pretty?”
The heart covered by the veiled universe longs for you
full moon on a clouded night
windblown seed finally nestled in frozen earth
an infant’s midnight sigh
your attention lies elsewhere
in the fragility that sits within the center of all things
with limitless inclusion
the security of known illusion
and still the gentle wind whispers
it does not have to be so heavy
the weight of what you think you are
release and abandon
your firmly rooted explanations
like a wispy white dandelion seed
for you are the seed
the open air
the fertile soil
sun, rain, leaf and flower
the infinite love in everything
waits eternally for your arrival
Matt Mumber (’15) is an oncologist and writer based in Rome, Georgia.
Letter and Invitation to “Christianity as Planetary Faith”
Brie Stoner (’15)
Dear alumni family,
Since I was “sent” from the Living School, my life resembles one of those indie movies with tragic and sometimes hilarious catastrophes that you just can’t seem tear yourself away from…But I also have to say: I have never felt more here, more tenderly compassionate for the way our love and suffering brings us together, or more alive.
I am strangely certain that we are all of us participating together in a symphony that is playing us more than the other way around.
Do you remember that feeling dawning deep within you, the recognition that our deepest intuition and experience of the cosmic Christ could be true?
Book Review: Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
Molly Lannon Kenny (’19)
It cannot be denied that too often the weight of the Christian movement has been on the side of the strong and the powerful and against the weak and oppressed—this, despite the gospel. —Howard Thurman
Howard Thurman’s short book, Jesus and the Disinherited, is a seminal treatise on Jesus as a radical social change maker—positioned divinely on the margins to encourage and uplift the most marginalized and oppressed among us. . . .
Although first published in 1949 and clearly intended to speak both to and on behalf of an historically Black audience, it is filled with wisdom and insight that is every bit as relevant today as it was over half a century ago and every bit as practical for contemplatives and social justice activists of any race or religion. . . .
The Last Jedi, or How Action & Contemplation Save the Day
Debonee Morgan (’15)
Many Star Wars fans were completely flabbergasted by the latest installment— The Last Jedi—in the film series. They were certain that “Luke would do that!” and “That’s not the way of the Jedi!” etc.
Yet from a contemplative or mystic perspective, I see this as Star Wars finally hitting its stride and delivering the spiritual epic it’s been progressing toward since Obi Wan’s first instruction to “Use the Force.” And like all good wisdom stories, it begins a long time ago. . . .
The Three-in-One God is giving birth to transformation in the world through you. Much of this transformation, I suspect, takes place under the radar as you go about your often-busy days, radiating love in a fractured world. Sometimes it is simply the full presence you give to a friend in crisis; sometimes it is your non-reactive, third-way response in a polarized situation; sometimes it is playing with your kids, toys strewn all over the floor. This is how the world changes and how God grows—small and simple like a mustard seed.
This newsletter highlights several of your projects that are nurturing transformation throughout the world. Daniel O’Grady (‘17) reflects on his experience teaching meditation classes at the Chicago FBI office. I interview contemplative songwriter Alana Levandoski (‘15) about her collaborative Thomas Merton album with James Finley. Hailey Mitsui (‘19) shares her experience attending the Mystic Soul Conference (co-founded by Teresa Pasquale Mateus, ‘15). Paul and Teresa Tratnyek (’15 and ‘16) offer a moving tribute to the recently deceased Dennis Murphy (’15). Holly Roach (‘15) invites us all to join the Poor People’s Campaign led by Rev. Dr. William Barber and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis. And, of course, this issue includes an update from a CAC staff member (Gigi Ross) and a poignant Lenten greeting from Cynthia Bourgeault.
This is the first issue of the newsletter I have the pleasure of curating. My name is Mark Longhurst. I was “sent” with the 2015 Living School cohort. I’m a United Church of Christ pastor in the Berkshire hills of Williamstown, MA, a father of two little boys (3 and 5), and a husband. Perhaps like you, my life sways with jam-packed days and ordinary life demands while I seek to walk the mystical path. I hope the alumni newsletters will resource and inspire your own journey of action and contemplation.
To that end, I enlist your help. How are you experiencing the contemplative dimension of reality in your everyday life? What projects are you working on? How are you being caught up in God’s Trinitarian flow? If you have reflections, articles, poems, photos, or alumni-related news you’d like to share, email me at [email protected]. I also invite culture reviews (whether book, film, music, or otherwise) and ideas. To start with, has anyone seen the film In Pursuit of Silence and wish to review for a future edition?
May we all more fully awaken to our inherent oneness in Christ. Our world is waiting and creation is, as the apostle Paul says, groaning in anticipation.
Yours in evolutionary love,
Staff Note from Gigi Ross
One of the last things I did as 2017 came to a close was to watch a short video in which Joe Brewer, Culture-Designer-in-Residence at The Evolution Institute, provides a third-force look at climate change. The video opens with the question, “What future are you living into being?” Seeing climate change as either a story of hope or a story of doom presents us with a false choice. The full story includes both hope and doom. We are invited to live a story of “authentic painful struggle worth having.” We create the story by living it in love. We discern our next steps by focusing on “something or someone in the future that we love and cannot let be lost.” Not knowing is an essential piece of living the future into being.
I find this way of looking at climate change applicable to other hard questions. At the CAC, we are looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion in our staff and program life. What kind of future of diversity and inclusion are we living into being? Are we willing to live a story of authentic painful struggle that is worth having so we might birth a more inclusive and diverse CAC and Living School?
You may have other hard questions that could benefit from a third-force way of including both hope and doom. Identifying and practicing with these opportunities is one way to continue living the school, living the learning.
I trust you will find something in this newsletter that will support your ongoing integration. I’ve stepped back from managing the newsletter to take care of the increasing details that have arisen as the Living School evolves. I’m grateful for Mark’s leadership and care as he midwifes this and future newsletters!
Faculty Reflection — Cynthia Bourgeault
“Remember, O man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”
As this alumni newsletter wends its way to you, we have barreled past Ash Wednesday, which this year—February 14—happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day. Does it strike you that there’s something deliciously ironic here: that in this of all years, the feast of love and the solemnity of self-examination and repentance come so closely intertwined?
I have to admit that I’ve always loved the Ash Wednesday liturgy. Antiquated, gender-challenged though its language may be, it inevitably and forcibly calls me back, as the ash is smeared on my forehead, to the palpable remembrance that we belong to earth: we are formed of her and will all too swiftly return to her. In a religion that seems to spend so much of its time getting out of the body, this fleeting remembrance of our universal habitat in the biosphere has always struck me as grounding, honest, and strangely comforting. . . .
Teaching Meditation at the FBI
Daniel O’Grady, Ph.D. (’17)
On November 15, 2017, after months of delays and set-backs, I began teaching my first meditation class with agents and support staff at the Chicago office of the FBI. . . . The program, titled “Mindfulness Meditation for Stress Management,” ran for six weeks, with one 60-minute session each week. . . . Each session consisted of a brief intro meditation to clear the mind, become conscious of one’s body, and set a personal intention for that session. I then shared some didactic teaching, followed by an individual exercise or small group reflection, ending with 8-10 minutes of mindful meditation. We would close with silent gratitude and dedication. . . . While driving home after the final session, I thought of another thing I learned from Fr. Richard. Echoing Catherine of Genoa, he said, “My deepest me is God.” Participants were clearly beginning to learn and be conscious of their deeper self. And they wanted more. Or as St. Augustine expressed, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord. And our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Alana Levandoski (’15) on Thomas Merton’s Point Vierge
and Collaboration with James Finley
Mark: Tell us about your newest collaboration with CAC core faculty, James Finley.
Alana: In December 2016, I set out to work on a musical album centered around James Finley’s acclaimed book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere. . . . It took nearly a year of daily sitting with Merton’s work . . . to get to the place where I felt I could unleash the creative process of composition.
Mark: The title of the album is Point Vierge. What does this phrase refer to?
Alana: Point vierge, French for the “virgin point,” or as Jim calls it, “zero variance,” is a term Merton used to get at the mystical metaphor for the door that is everywhere and nowhere. This is so far the calling of my life: to poetically engage with that which cannot be created or uncreated, that “point of nothingness that belongs entirely to God.”
Mark: What role did the Living School play in your vocation as a contemplative songwriter?
Alana: Part of what drew me to the Living School was that I had let go of my identity as a recording artist. Through the deep discernment process for my “integration project,” I was surprised to gingerly pick up the work of writing and recording music again. I was also greatly surprised that the music would be spiritual in its tone and breadth, something I had vehemently stayed away from as a folk/roots songwriter. This was in part because the thought of writing and singing anything that would lead folks to the God I had been familiar with—the punitive God who couldn’t look at me—made me feel disintegrated in my spiritual search. The Living School helped me find the courage to step into a spacious place for growth and renewal and take off some of the damaging lenses through which I was looking at God and reality. I suppose I could say that what I write now is more about that inner integrity at the heart of the universe—a benevolent universe that is “on the journey, too,” as Teresa of Avila would say. . . .
The Mystic Soul Conference
Chicago, Illinois, January 2018
Living School alumna Teresa Pasquale Mateus (’15) teamed up with Jade Perry and Ra Mendoza to produce the Mystic Soul Conference this January. Through creating this experience, they sought to, in their own words, center “the voices, teaching, practices, and wisdom of People of Color at the intersections of mysticism, activism, and healing.”
I had the great pleasure of witnessing their vision being born, on January 11-13. From the first moments of walking into the Mystic Soul Conference, my body felt that it was entering sacred space. Lights streamed decoratively from the ceiling of the conference room; large icons featuring saints of color framed a stage-size communal altar; colorful banners listed elements from Mystic Soul’s “Rule of Life,” with subversive wisdom phrases such as “Centering the Margins,” “Self-Care is Liberation,” and “The Monastery is the World”; seats encircled a speaker’s podium (rather than dutifully stacked in front of it, as if the speaker pedagogically held all the wisdom); and, what’s most important, more people of color filled the space than I have ever witnessed at any gathering claiming the mantle of “contemplative.”
It was beautiful and my white, heterosexual male body felt it. I nearly broke into tears upon entering the main hall—and the conference hadn’t even begun yet. Through the physical space, not to mention the skilled teachers, facilitators, chant-leaders, and healers present, Mystic Soul demonstrated that when it comes to the spiritual life, aesthetics matter, bodies matter, and people of color matter.
I asked a current Living School student and Curator of Contemplative Space for the Mystic Soul Conference, Hailey Mitsui, to share her experience.
Reflections on the Mystic Soul Conference 2018
Hailey Mitsui (’19)
I came to the Mystic Soul Conference with desperately high expectations.
My journey to the weekend had started when I met Teresa Pasquale Mateus (Mystic Soul Project Co-founder) at a contemplative retreat. We got to talking and I felt compelled to confide a fear that had started to overwhelm me. I asked her, do I need to choose between the contemplative path and my ethnic community?
Like many post-evangelical millennials (I know it sounds niche, but we’re a quickly growing demographic), I happened upon the contemplative tradition through Richard Rohr’s teachings, and they changed my life. They saved my relationship with the Divine and renewed my curiosity for the infinite.
I dove head-first into any and all Christian contemplative teachings. I inhaled every book, every podcast, every webinar and program. After a few years of racing down this path, I lifted my head and stopped dead in my tracks. Where was everyone else that looked like me? Where were the teachers that looked like me? Where were the speakers that reflected my experience as a woman of color in this world? I felt very alone and disoriented.
I felt like I had to choose between the path of contemplative Christianity and staying grounded in my cultural identity and traditions.
So, when Teresa looked at me with knowing eyes and replied, “Let me tell you about a project I’m working on. The Mystic Soul Project, a person of color centered approach to activism and contemplation/mysticism,” I responded without hesitation: “I’m in.”
On a Thursday night as I sat among the 400 seekers who had braved the below-freezing Chicago January weather to be alongside fellow Contemplatives of Color, I breathed the deepest sigh of relief. A community elder led us in our opening ceremony by singing, “Come on in from the outside, come on in from the cold,” and then all 400 joined in one voice, “Come on in from the outside, come on in from the cold,” now adding harmonies, “Come on in from the outside, come on in from the cold.” Tears streamed down my face.
They were tears of resonance, sadness, gratitude, hope, anger, relief. Come on in from the outside, come on in from the cold. I accepted the invitation to take off my layers of emotional protection and felt my whole self being held by all the strangers that surrounded me. What a feeling. I was home.
Remembering Brother Dennis Murphy, FSC (’15)
Paul & Teresa Tratnyek (’15 and ’16)
Brother Dennis . . . modelled life-long learning and spiritual growth as the oldest member of the first Living School cohort (’15). Dennis died on December 15, 2017, at age 86 in his hometown of Chicago after complications arose from surgery.
Dennis was a teaching Brother with the De La Salles for 60+ years and spent 20+ years with the Catholic Worker Movement in its promotion of non-violence, simple living, practice of the works of mercy, and, to quote Dennis, “an attitude of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” He founded Su Casa House in Chicago and worked at the Catholic Worker House located down the road from the CAC in Albuquerque. . . . His life of prayer, sense of humour, thirst for knowledge and understanding, and unrelenting commitment to serving and being with the poor, especially the homeless, inspired many of us.
. . . Dennis told us, “I’m working really hard at being present. When I’m with a person, I try to become aware of all of my thinking. I try to empty out my thoughts, my reactions, my emotions, my judgments, my getting ready to respond. It takes so much patience to really be faithful to being present.” All those who met and knew Dennis have been blessed by his presence.
As we go deeper into fall, I’m reminded of the cycle of the seasons and the energy associated with them. To borrow from the Chinese tradition, summer here in the northern hemisphere is a Yang time and winter is a Yin time. Fall, then, is a transition from Yang to Yin, from outward, expansive energy to inward, conserving energy. A shaman friend of mine takes the entire month of December off to honor this shift in the seasons and energy. I admire her attunement to this natural rhythm.
We see this energy shift play out all around us in the natural world. Outwardly, plants and trees shed parts of themselves as their energy goes inward, down into their roots, preparing for spring. Many animals come out much less frequently or even hibernate for most of the winter.
The Christian liturgical rhythm dovetails with the natural cycles in the Northern hemisphere. With fall we move into Advent, from the Latin Adventus for “coming.” For many, Advent and Christmas boil down to “Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again.” Advent seems to be a time of drawing inward and of preparation; Christmas is a time of rest. Christmastide ends on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, marking the 40 days Mary rested before her purification and presentation of her firstborn at the temple.
For me, this mirrors what we do in contemplative practice, especially Centering Prayer: gathering inward, preparing the ground of our being so that God may take root. As you read the reflections in this newsletter—from Richard and alum Charles Kennedy—I invite you to slow down, to listen to the questions and wisdom from your own heart.
Enjoy the season!
Faculty Reflection — Richard Rohr
Our world seems to be drowning in fear and sadness these days. We sincerely want to do our little part to reverse the engines of history toward nonviolence, earth care, and justice for all those pushed to the margins of our upwardly mobile society. That was the original intention of the Gospel. . . . Thankfully God is always leading us into the future, and the Living School has trained many in “the cloud of forgetting” so that healing can happen.
You’re no doubt familiar with my images of the container and its contents (from Falling Upward). Your two years of formal participation in the Living School—through symposia, intensive, readings, and study—were merely an initial container of the wondrous and healing message of universal reconciliation. The rest of your life is to discover the contents, the ever deeper mystery within this container. Your classroom is life itself, even your own life, and even our own confused times and culture. Remember, spiritual change moves from Order to Disorder to Reorder. No stopping! Onward.
Almost six years ago I moved back to my adult hometown of Dallas, Texas, to be near grandkids and to start a nonprofit called Directions: A 12 Step Recovery Campus. I quickly realized my leadership skill set was not going to suffice for this type of organization. Trying to start this nonprofit with volunteers, I saw my ego was in the way but did not know what to do about it. . . .
Participating in the Living School and being constantly encouraged to develop and grow a meditation practice has been the change that has changed everything. I now see my role differently. I see a vision that is not so much “all or nothing”; I find myself looking for ways to just get started and let things evolve. . . . As Father Richard says, “Suffering is the feeling I get whenever I am trying to control something.” This new way is much less stressful for everyone, including myself. God/Love does all the heavy lifting.
A few days ago, I stood with two cherished friends on the top of a knoll overlooking the mighty Atlantic in southern Maine. . . .
We stood together and stretched out our arms over the ocean in blessing of all the children of the world. Starting with our own children and grandchildren, then the children who have come through our lives, then all the children of the world: those who are hungry, afraid, without moorings, children displaced, children ill and dying, children whose lives have been ripped apart by war. We blessed children who were happy and healthy, growing into the people they were created to be. We blessed the wee beasties and young plants struggling to survive the ravages of climate change. I also prayed for you and your children, your grandchildren, all the children of your land.
Martha, one of my dear friends, commented how powerful she felt to be one of three grandmothers who could change the world for the children. So it is for each Living School alum. Never underestimate the power of a blessing. You don’t have to do the Big Stuff. A blessing is within your purview. Simply stretch out your hands and let the blessing flow.
In this newsletter, may you be blessed by Uncle Jim’s words of wisdom, a reflection by alum Kuno Kohn, a peek into CAC’s evolving landscape, and other ways you can stay connected with us.
I’d like to share with you some insights I’ve had lately that will hopefully help you in reading the classical texts of the mystics. For lack of space, I will offer a few bare threads that need to be fleshed out in further reflection. But I hope these intuitive tracings have evolved enough to help you enter more deeply into the intimate nature of reading mystical texts as a way to pray.
First of all, I think it is helpful to realize that the subject matter of the text is your own subjectivity. That is, the mystics’ offerings are intended to illumine your experiential self-knowledge. . . .
Secondly, it is helpful in reading the teachings of the mystics to realize the subject matter is the trans-subjective communion in which the interiority of your own subjectivity is accessing and is being accessed by the interiority of the mystic’s very subjectivity. . . .
All of this ripens into the tender-hearted way we are learning to treat ourselves and each person we meet as we go through our day. Over time . . . we join the mystics in realizing that our lingering illusions are just that, illusions that do not have the power to name who we are and ever shall be in God who loves us so in the midst of our ongoing illusions whatever they may be.
How would you like to help Richard Rohr start a school?
It’s been years, but those words of invitation still ring clearly in my ears. I was humbled to be asked, but more so, grateful that I was able to serve the Living School as the Director of Curriculum since its inception. Who wouldn’t want courtside seats to the transformation of consciousness? Little did I realize that when I first threw my hat in the ring, my whole body would follow. The years I spent shoulder-to-shoulder with students in Circle Groups, laughing over food and drink, or sitting together at the feet of our teachers have been profound markers in my life.
The CAC has changed and grown since the first cohort got their “little piece of paper” at the 2015 sending. I’m sure the same could be said for you. In acknowledgment of our collective growth and winds of change, I am transitioning to a new team here at the CAC, Program Design. This new team is seeking to serve the CAC (and the Living School) by codifying and baking into all CAC programs what the Core Faculty have embodied and taught so well—a deep grounding and alignment to the Christian contemplative lineage in loving service and the transformation of consciousness. The manifestations of this work will take shape in developing new online courses, the evolution of the Living School curriculum, supporting the Core Faculty’s endeavors, and a myriad of ways that are just beginning the birthing process. I’m grateful to be on this new team helmed by Kirsten Oates (LS ’16) with my fellow Program Designer, Brie Stoner (LS ’15). At this juncture, the question I am now being invited to live into is becoming clearer:
How can we best midwife the evolving Christian contemplative lineage in all that we do at the CAC and beyond?
Paul Swanson Former Director of Curriculum Current Program Designer
Kuno reflects on the G-20 conference that took place this July in Hamburg, Germany, where he lives:
Before the conference, many other residents left because they were afraid of potential violence and problems connected to the conference. I chose to stay because I work with the prostitutes there. They told me they still had to work during that time and wanted me to come as usual, to be present to them and share hot chocolate, iced tea, sweets, and bags of condoms as I do every week. For those minutes that I am with them, the sex workers know themselves to be respected and loved for who they are. . . .
It was important to me to meet with a few like-hearted friends in contemplation every day for an hour. . . . It was also important to me to take part in the demonstrations to be part of a movement of respect for all people and to call for a new economic world of justice and love. At Christmas we say, “Peace on earth and good will to all people.” This is the power of love which can move people to be connected like one family all over the earth. It was action and contemplation coming together.