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Encouraging the Evolution of the Living School

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August 31st, 2022

I flash back to a moment in the Fall of 2013, when Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, and Jim Finley ascend the stairs to take the stage at the first Living School Symposium. It was electric: superstar mystics, who could not care less about their status and could not care more about passing on the lineage that animates them. Students and staff alike were abuzz with the question: What is this Living School we are now a part of? Thousands of applications had been read, reviewed, and sifted, resulting in the invitation to these 180 students. The curriculum outline was drawn, but not filled in. Due dates for final projects were slated, but not explained. Starting a school is no joke—and starting a school that emphasizes a prophetic and incarnational mysticism in the Christian traditions in the belly of the American empire is nuts.

Nearly a decade later, I am shaving my beard looking for the right wrinkle to tell the story. The needs of the world were apparent, the CAC’s positioning to rise to the occasion was undeniable, and Richard’s casting of a vision was at the ready. In a thousand years (or ten), I never would have guessed we would be at this new chapter of the Living School. The Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes and Brian McLaren have joined as CAC Faculty members. Their presence and teaching contributions have expanded and reified the potential of the Living School. A Living School staff of skilled and gifted contemplatives encourages the evolution of the Living School in service to its prophetic vision.

And then we have the students, the beating heart of the program. Living School students are powerful changemakers who show up ready to be participants of transformation for themselves and in service to their communities. The goal of the Living School has been to create the conditions for that flourishing, in and with the Divine, for the sake of the planet and her kin. In its best moments, I have seen the Living School expand into an educational circle of empowerment, a community of learning embodying the blurred exchange between the roles of student and teacher. The Living School has always been an educational institution in motion, and credit (plus gratitude) goes to the feedback of students and alumni on how to create more opportunities for this flow. Thanks to them, the Living School has begun to sing new songs and pour new wine into new wineskins. May it continue.

The ongoing evolution of the Living School is what keeps the learning edge sharp enough to cut through the illusions blocking or hiding new arisings of God in our times. In this spirit, the CAC continues to keep an open ear to the ground for practices, learning modalities, and teachers that are making a rumble in the wider world and that might be partners for the next season of the Living School. 

God willing and the Rio don’t rise, I will still be around in another ten years. If so, I fully expect to be rendered speechless at the beauty of the latest incarnation of the Living School, its faculty and staff, and the students who live out the alternative orthodoxy.


Paul Swanson is Lead Program Designer at the CAC, where he supports contemplative education and formation. He is a jackleg Mennonite and member of Our Lady of the Tall Trees. Paul lives in New Mexico with his wife Laura and their two feral children. 

This reflection appears in the Summer 2022 issue of the Mendicant, our quarterly donor newsletter.

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