Advent Reflections- by Brian Mitchell

Star at the Centre by Paula Pryce

Outside, Douglas fir and larch are dancing in a brisk wind, ruffling themselves like chickadees in winter…

Practicing Living Presence – A reflection by Brian Mitchell

A review of Cynthia Bourgeault’s ‘Practicing Living Presence – Part One’ by Brian Mirchell…

Wisdom Solstice – the Yukon backstory

This post is shared by Jennifer England as a follow-up to our Wisdom Solstice event offered on Zoom on June 21st.   

In describing her experience and the backstory including what was occurring ‘behind-the-scenes’ as the event was about to begin, Jennifer provides a real-life example of applying our Wisdom practice to tap into a calm centering presence even while suddenly facing an unexpected set of circumstances. 

TCS is very grateful to Jennifer and the whole team at the Wisdom North Collective for their gracious leadership and guidance for this Solstice gathering. 


Dear Wisdom sisters and brothers,

Thank you for joining us, the Wisdom North Collective, here in Yukon, Canada in collaboration with The Contemplative Society (Victoria BC) for a celebration of love, unitive consciousness, and incandescent light. We were so pleased you could be with us. Our hearts were full of gratitude for the expansive wisdom community around the globe. And if you couldn’t make it, we have provided the recording below.


Yukon Yurt

Yukon Yurt

The real ‘behind-the-scenes’ scenario

I was hoping to have shared with you the gorgeous backdrop of the mountains and lake, with the beautiful light, at my friend Amanda’s yurt.

I got all set up there (after checking data on the weekend) but as it tends to go in the North, nothing worked. I tried to set it up in her house, but no luck. So with the Victoria/Vancouver tech sisters on standby, our local group somewhere on the highway, I had to make a decision to leave the yurt, head back for home (at a rather undisciplined speed), and get to my workspace (kid had a cello lesson upstairs at the same time) in the basement and hope for the best!

And then, the magic happened. Our local group made it to my basement, through the piles of laundry, just in time. My heart-rate came down. Paula from Vancouver was ready to do it all herself, with Eilen and Barb holding the Zoom fort with grace and calm.

So there it is…wisdom and our practice in action, holding us steady through the unknown- the shadows, bumps, and stress of the every-day. Holy-the-denying and Holy-the-Affirming in action—with our community and blessed space the reconciling. That, and my realization, that one doesn’t need a dramatic backdrop to be fully present and allow the Light to emanate.

body prayer

Jennifer and team leading a body prayer


With love from Yukon,


Wisdom North Collective


To find out more about Jennifer and her spiritual path, visit Seedlings at Northeast Wisdom.  You can learn more about Jennifer’s work as an Integral coach/leadership strategist at Spark Coaching.  For a wonderful interview that Jennifer hosted with Brother David Steindl-Rast and her father, John England, listen on her Weave podcast here.


Wisdom Solstice Recording & Resources


If you would like to access the Readings and Chants used for the Wisdom Solstice event, or make a small offering, you can do so here: 






Presence: Forest of Fear and Joy

by Paula Pryce


The following is part 2 of a Holy Week reflection provided by Paula Pryce from Vancouver, Canada. You can read the first part Absence: Forest of Longing here.



Forest of Fear and Joy


I throw open the gate to rushing wind and creaking branches.  Not knowing what lies ahead, I step into the forest with my companions, fear, awe, and more hesitantly, joy. 


Like many, perhaps even like Mary Magdalene, I have found myself increasingly worn by heavy times.  A veil of uneasiness and loss had shrouded me.  I dared to hope that I could free myself of chafing isolation, stand again in the forest’s open arms, and remember the hidden flow of bright, expectant trust. 


So I headed to the mountains of southeastern British Columbia, near where I grew up, for a month alone in a woodland cabin.  A privilege to sit on a mountain’s shoulder when people everywhere have clamoured for mobility and space.  Around me towered the Selkirk and Purcell ranges and before me lay the deep, dark waters of Kootenay Lake.  This enormous land and its formidable inhabitants – eagles, cougars, grizzlies – reminded me of my childhood perspective on humanity.  Rising cliffs and glaciers, still black water, impenetrable forest all show up our smallness. 


Kootenay Lake forest


I learned as a child in the mountains how the smallness of everything creates the great whole, woven together by the Divine’s glistening web.  Now I sought to remember that panoramic vision and wait with patience for the Beloved who connects us. 


Beneath the forest’s cloak, I crafted my days as do the monks with whom I have studied:  my own version of a Benedictine rhythm of ora et labora, or prayer and work.  My prayer stool sat before a makeshift windowsill altar, adorned with incense, candles, and an icon of Christ Pantokrator, and also an increasing collection of treasures:  scaly bark, jewel-toned lake pebbles, lichen, feathers, and marbled fragments from a wasp nest.  Like steadfast friends who together watch and wait, they accompanied me in pondering ribbons of pearly light on branches, water, and peaks. 


There I prayed and meditated four times a day.  In between I cooked, washed dishes, read, and wrote.  Mostly I walked. 


Using ears and eyes and heart in that extended silence and stillness, I sought to attune my senses to the Divine as I stepped along the path.  I listened intently and something began to take shape.  Over my hours and hours walking through that ocean of trees, something magical emerged.  Magical and completely ordinary. 


I began to sense the flowing undercurrent of the Divine, and I began to find my courage.  Courage to keep my vigil in the face of absence and death and uncertainty.  Courage to trust the age-old wisdom that all shall be well.  


FlickerI had not noticed before that ‘courage’ is very like the word ‘cougar.’  Each day I headed out into the temperate rainforest with cougars and bears hidden around me.  Their tracks told the tale, leaving no doubt about my vulnerability.  I cannot say that they did not inspire fear.  As I hiked, I found myself stopping and listening, scanning the forest for movement and sound:  the flute-like warble of a Varied Thrush, a chipmunk’s chittering, the rare thrum of distant noontime avalanches, a waterfall’s roar, the ratatat of Western Flickers foraging in the larch.  


Still, I ventured deeper.


Before I left the city, I knew that spending time in solitude in such a powerful landscape might cause old darknesses to rise in me.  As a young girl, when I felt threatened by the creeping mist of uncertain others, I learned to ask for God’s protection by invoking a circle of light around myself.  I hadn’t called on that Divine circle of light in a great long time.  I had forgotten.  Now seemed like a good time to try again. 


But as an adult with greater experience and knowledge, a defensive desire for self-preservation seems too much like a refusal to love.  Can we be sent forth to love and serve if we recoil and fence ourselves in?  Maybe that circle of light could transform from a tool of resistance and exclusion to a field of receptivity and welcome.  Could I imagine receiving a bear or cougar with love?  Could I see them as my neighbours? 


This is when I sensed a shift.  Choosing to stand vulnerable and open despite fear, I was surprised to find the stone cast aside and the tomb empty.


Before me, on the ragged juniper-edged trail, lay the remains of a freshly killed deer.  My adrenaline rose and my heart raced, alert for the territorial hunter.  But there was only silence.  There she lay with gentle unseeing eyes and fur the colour of linen.  Her twisted flesh and sinew lay scattered and torn like a shroud shaken off and flung into a corner.  Red cedar sentries stood nearby, with angel hair lichen and glowing robes of chartreuse moss. 


“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” they whispered.


Shafts of light pierced the forest canopy.  I sensed the Beloved rise.



With a mixture of fear and joy, I turned quickly to retrace the overgrown path.  Certainly, an aggressor could be at hand; there was a chance that I could be hurt.  But I had chosen, with God’s help, not to let that control me.  Like Mary Magdalene unsure and frightened at the mouth of an empty tomb.  The Gardener calls her by name, and only then she understands and sees.  Mary Magdalene takes her awesome fear and runs with it, full of vibrancy and joy, to tell the world that He is come. 


‘Yes!’ is the only possible answer.


How dense the forest is, how alive with trundling beetles, emerald ferns, and cliffside hemlocks risking themselves to eye the sparkling lake.  The mountain lion spreads herself languorously, keeping watch atop a verdant, mossy boulder. 


How splendid and how terrifying is the transformation of death to life. 


The Beloved radiates his field of love, generosity, and peace.  We dare to trust, and find that absence transforms to presence and fear transforms to joy.  Should we be surprised by the dissolution of fear? 



Easter 2021

Vancouver, BC


Paula Pryce is a cultural anthropologist and writer at The University of British Columbia who studies contemplative religions and ritual aesthetics. Her latest book, The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2018), includes ethnographic research with Cynthia Bourgeault and the Wisdom Christianity community. She is a board member of The Contemplative Society.





Absence: Forest of Longing – by Paula Pryce

The following is part 1 of a 2-part Holy Week reflection provided by Paula Pryce from Vancouver, Canada.


Forest of Longing


Absence mills around the body like a guard dog pacing the fence line.  Rigidly keeping off the night creatures, jealously defending its property.  I am within a picketed sphere of isolation.  Longing, despair, confusion at the memory of the banquet torn to pieces, guests fleeing, music stopped.  Not long ago the home was filled with shining lamps and food for all – now desolate in an endless stand of trees, mist creeping inward from the wetlands, penetrating the outer walls however much the dog may growl and bark.  


We have little choice but to brave absence this Holy Week. 


How the year has taken its toll.  Perhaps at first we were secretly exhilarated to be holed up and quiet.  A contemplative’s dream:  the world finally sees the necessity of stillness and seclusion.  We know that not everyone perceives our circumstances as vibrant potential, but nevertheless, solitude now has cachet, even nobility and valour.  How curious and refreshing to be in a world that is not entirely at odds with us.


Yet the novelty has passed, as months melt one into another.  Family, friends, and all of society suffer. The weight of days bears down. Anxiety rises over our vulnerabilities, collective and personal.  This has become a year of letting go and hanging on in equal measure.  Like an expanded Holy Week with no Easter yet in sight. We are like Mary Magdalene and the disciples, who don’t know where this is headed.  Are we sensing into a mammoth shift that requires our stillness and attention – and also our loss – or are we in freefall?  Is this the swamp that putrefies or purifies the water of life? 


An unexpected space has shambled open at my centre, not so clearly the contemplative openness of invitation and peace, but something more like a ravening maw.  However much I keep my practice of meditation and prayer, absence has begun to take me. 


I am surprised.  Have I not prepared for this necessary, desired dismantling?  Illness and death among family and friends, research at a standstill, writing projects crumbling like ancient papyrus exposed to sun and air, unspoken tensions surreptitiously rising in households, income lost, bills unpaid, loneliness, hunger.  If we who adore solitude have thus diminished, how can those who are in real need of lively, face-to-face interaction prosper in the enforced enclosure?


I hear the forest beyond the cabin walls, beyond the dog-stalked boundary.  At dusk the curling mist inches along the forest floor from wetland bogs, breaching my perimeter.  As I meditate, my hands sense the approach and gesture inquiry, fingers barely open like in-folded flames of delicate salmonberry buds, or in darker moments, like the spotted turquoise pincers of crayfish grasping in gravelled eddies, so eager for food to come their way. 


The mist lingers and moves imperceptibly over the rippling stream.  Shoots of cloudberry, sundew, and Labrador tea peek through sphagnum moss, a hint of possibility.  The mist edges through the understorey at the base of greater life: salal, Douglas fir, and yellow cedar.  It creeps towards me as I sit immobile, not knowing the way forward or back.  The bog mist creeps over the lotus of my meditating body, toward forlorn emptiness.  A gaping gash that cannot be sealed, memorialized, or lightly forgotten, but instead yawns to be filled, like Good Friday’s empty tabernacle.


Mary Magdalene didn’t know. Nor do we.  This story has no dramatic irony, where the liturgical actors are comforted in their knowledge of how the rite will end.  We don’t know if we will once again thrive, if our livelihoods will stabilize, if social and political institutions will ossify into harder battalions or transform for the good of all. We don’t know whether we are adequately equipped to respond and adapt to what may be a greater reckoning.


But that forbidding mist condenses into droplets that slake the thirst, leaching down into earth.  The water that seems stagnant and putrid in the muck of duckweed and slime filters still and quiet, ever more deeply, through peat and mud, silt and gravel.  In its own time, marsh water seeps into the torn body and unseeable depths to become a flow of pure groundwater seeking the right place to emerge.  What appears putrid may be the channel of purification.


The forest sounds begin to draw us out beyond the fence: rushing wind, chortling raven, creaking branches.  The aching cave of absence turns into the cave of the heart where we await the Beloved.  We cannot alone heal the absence but, like Mary Magdalene, we can choose loyalty and love, and thus keep our vigil, however unsure we may be. 


There is a tangle of underbrush in me:  parsing the harsh reality of mourning with the responsibility of consenting to the Divine on behalf of all.  I cannot pretend to understand the depth and breadth of the underground streams of the pain body that can be collectively nudged towards transformation.  I cannot pretend to fully grasp the enigmatic facets of intentional suffering – an intercession of purity, spaciousness, and generosity that seeks and welcomes the Divine regardless of our pain.  Humility is the best correction for my temptation to fake that knowledge (that I am beyond suffering or that I understand its purpose).  Despite me, despite my lack of clarity and fortitude, the forest mist condenses, seeps, and flows while I attempt spacious, generous, and pure attentiveness in the face of world-rending absence.


A steadier time may be at hand.  Steadier breath, when hands can again be put to work and eyes can again be opened and mouths can again form words.  Underneath, the waiting continues.  The vigil at the tomb.  The longing. 


I see now that the tomb is myself.  My cracked centre is the fissured rock face awaiting Christ’s body.  I hold the death; I throw open the gate to the forest wind and whirling mist. 


Who would agree to cradle death except for the sake of love?  Our only choice now is to wait at the tomb.


Maundy Thursday 2021

Vancouver, BC


Part 2 forthcoming on Easter: Presence: Forest of Joy

Paula Pryce is a cultural anthropologist and writer at The University of British Columbia who studies contemplative religions and ritual aesthetics.  Her latest book, The Monk’s Cell: Ritual and Knowledge in American Contemplative Christianity (Oxford University Press, 2018), includes ethnographic research with Cynthia Bourgeault and the Wisdom Christianity community. She is a board member of The Contemplative Society. 





Remembering “the Goodness of God” – Reflection by Linda Coggin


The following reflection has been provided by Linda Coggin from Victoria BC.  Linda was one of 100 people who participated in the recent virtual event with Matthew Wright, where he offered his heartful and profound insights, teaching, and practices on the theme of “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times.” For a prior post from another participant at Matthew’s retreat please see Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller.


Thank you so much Linda, for sharing your experience here!


Julian Norwich Cathedral windowJulian of Norwich seems to be everywhere. At least, since The Contemplative Society’s online retreat in August, I have noticed this. I have noticed Julian’s presence in conversations with friends, in books I’m reading, and while listening to podcasts. Since the retreat, Julian’s teachings have woven their way into my everyday contemplative practice.

In Isaiah 37:5, the prophet reminds, “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard.” This year more than usual, it seems, I have been lost in the words I hear, in the paralyzing rhetoric of these times, and in the personal what-ifs and unless-es of the story I’m narrating about my life now.

So, when Matthew Wright began the first session with his own sense of spiritual disconnection during this time and offered that Julian of Norwich is stepping forward to teach us, I was listening.

Matthew went on to say that:

“the fear and disconnect brought on by the pandemic, the divisiveness and sense of incoherence heightened by the global political moment describe our experience, valid as it may be, but not reality, that is Reality with a capital R.”

Matthew reminded us not to mistake our experience of fear and confusion for the reality of love and trust calling to us. With this awareness, I was opened to Julian’s teaching about prayer that has urged me forward in that call to trust.

The first realization that engendered deeper trust in my practice was Julian’s teaching that the highest form of prayer is the Goodness of God. Chapter VI of Julian’s Revelation of Divine Love begins:

“This showing was made to learn our soul wisely to cleave to the Goodness of God… the Goodness of God is ever whole; and more near to us, … and that we be evermore cleaving to His Goodness. For all things that the heart may think, this pleaseth most God, and soonest speedeth [the soul].”

open handsFor me, “cleaving” has taken the physical form of holding my prayer hands open at the palms to invite awareness of that Goodness, or I imagine being surrounded by God’s Goodness like the warm wool blanket I use for praying on cooler days. In centering prayer I abide in that goodness where, as Julian says, God is the doer.

Matthew explained that Julian invites us to trust this gaze of Love that never judges us. That “meaningless incoherence” we sometimes feel is from our side and so are my what-ifs. Julian teaches that the Goodness of God keeps us in all circumstances, in “woe as well as weal.” Love is the ground that holds both. In my own experience of “woes” and “weal,” I can trust that unfolding.

I was unsure how the online retreat would compare to the other Contemplative Society Wisdom School and day retreats I have attended. I joined the “Voice for Our Times” from my contemplative corner in my basement with almost 100 other people from around the globe. Matthew intuitively created a purposeful balance between teaching and practice and, alongside the community of participants, generated a welcome that was palpable. Matthew lead from heart filled chants and centering silence that surrounded guided teaching and discussion. His leadership threaded the “Goodness of God” through the introduction of Julian of Norwich’s life and path through her teaching on prayer, the parable of Lord and Servant, and revealing understanding of the Cross.

As we began with what Matthew called “the thick veils” of incoherence, fear, and confusion that is now, in the last session he ended with Julian’s wisdom that God is at work in both weal and woe. Matthew summarized that Julian:

“is inviting us to really see and trust that what we experience in time is only the surface of reality, and that we are eternal souls unfolding eternally in God.”

Note: I am grateful to The Contemplative Society’s recordings of events that enabled me to more faithfully reflect and return to this experience.




Image credits:

Julian of Norwich (window in Norwich Cathedral) from Wikipedia

Hands image by Avelino Calvar Martinez from Pixabay






Sacred Virtual Retreat Space – Reflection by Martha Keller

The following reflection has been provided by Martha Keller from Victoria BC.  Martha was one of 100 people who participated in the recent virtual event with Matthew Wright, where he offered his heartful and profound insights, teaching, and practices on the theme of “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times.”


Thank you so much Martha, for sharing your experience, and Matthew for guiding the event so beautifully!


In August, with a global pandemic in full swing, I signed in to an online Zoom retreat sponsored by The Contemplative Society.  I felt a certain amount of trepidation.  It was titled, “Julian of Norwich…A Voice for Our Times”.  I knew little of the Christian mystic, Julian, and had never attended a virtual retreat.  Needless to say, I felt a little out of my depth.  One by one, others from as far away as Australia joined the Zoom gallery of attendees, some perhaps feeling apprehensive as I did.

Soon Matthew Wright, the retreat leader, appeared and filled the screen with his generous spirit of grace and good will. He welcomed us to the retreat against an image of the church in Norwich where Julian spent much of her life.  I knew he was a gifted teacher and spiritual leader and suddenly felt I was in a sacred space.  As he led our first silent meditation, doubts about a Zoom retreat began to dissolve.

Matthew Wright

But I still wondered about spending 3 days with a Christian mystic I had barely heard of.  Who was she, and why was she being lauded as “a voice for our time”?  Matthew helped us understand: Julian was a woman who lived through waves of the plague that swept through Europe in the 1300’s. As many as half the inhabitants of her own town of Norwich died.  At the age of 30, she had her own health crisis. Near death, she had a series of revelations, or “showings”, that fueled her lifelong passion to share her mystical vision and minister to the spiritual needs of others.

Julian of Norwich In mid-life, she became an anchorite, voluntarily secluding herself in an “anchorhold”, a sealed cell, attached to the local church.  She lived as an anchoress for the rest of her life, meditating, praying, writing, and giving spiritual counsel to townspeople through a window in her cell.  It was in this period of her life that she found the greatest sense of joy and freedom.  

Oh!…I was beginning to see why Julian might have something to say to us as we sheltered-in-place during our own pandemic.  Peering out from the Zoom gallery, we appeared to be in cells of our own, isolated from one another, but still connecting through a window into the retreat community of around 100 participants.

What followed were three days of Matthew’s deeply engaging teaching about Julian’s words, along with periods of silent meditation and restful Taize music.  I cannot do justice to this special time in a blog post, but here are some of the words and thoughts that offer spiritual sustenance for the days ahead: 


  • Essentially, Julian reset the dial from a wrathful, punitive God she had known as a child, to one of Divine Love– a love that was expansive, generous, and endless. All the “fruits of the spirit” flowed from this Source.
  • She spoke of the “falls” that we all suffer in life as “behovely”, an archaic term meaning “necessary or advantageous”.  Through the parable of the Lord and the Servant, she illustrated that faults and failure can be helpful for greater connection and spiritual deepening.
  • She counseled that life’s repeating cycle of “weal” and “woe”, joy and pain, is education for the soul, a way of learning to trust a Divine Love that is deeper than everything.  We were challenged with the question:  How would your life be different if you learned to trust the Source who called you into being?


Matthew reminded us that the contemplative Prayer of the Heart practice is essential for cultivating the “fruits of the spirit” — hope, faith, love, kindness, compassion, and trust. It is what allows us to work on ourselves so we can serve from within and engage with healing in the world.  As Julian wrote, “Prayer soothes the soul and shapes us for grace”.

In this retreat Matthew opened a path forward for us with a comforting and hopeful message:

“Julian brings us back to trust, coherence, love, and meaning in a bewildering time.”  


Gratitude to Matthew Wright for his exquisite blend of scholarly teaching and heart wisdom.  And gratitude to The Contemplative Society for trusting that even Zoom could create a sacred retreat space!





Christmas 2018 – A Fond Farewell

Dear Members and Friends of The Contemplative Society,

I have had the great privilege of serving the society for the last 3.5 years as your administrator. Back in 2015, I was a fledgling meditator and fairly new to the contemplative side of Christianity. Since then, I have learned much and made many friends, and I am grateful to the board who have given me this opportunity to say thank you to you all.

As I pack up my things here at the office and prepare for a new chapter in my professional life, I am given many opportunities to reflect on my time with the society. From sunny board retreats on a small island off the coast of Sidney, BC to building a walkable enneagram with Cynthia Bourgeault, this job has given me so many opportunities to explore my academic interest in spirituality as well as my own personal path, and have fun while doing it! The people I have worked most closely with have mentored me and given me hope for the future, while brief exchanges with members and community members penetrated days of bookkeeping, event organising, and website maintenance with flashes of the unity we are all taught to trust in and cultivate.

I was also a fledgling at life when I started this position, already 28 but only a few years out of university and still gaining my adult “sea legs”. Two traumatic events that occurred in 2013 and 2014 respectively prompted me to spend my time more meaningfully, and it just so happened that the administrator position was opening up at TCS. I don’t think it was a coincidence. While these years have been very difficult personally, I can only imagine how cold and bleak they might have been without the love and support of this community holding me up and propelling me forward. While I probably can’t claim to be a wise adult now (I think I’ll continue to be singled out as the youngest person at retreats for a while yet!), I certainly have learned much from the society and the contemplative path to bolster me through the next stages of my life.

While I am moving on work-wise as I pursue my goal to become a clinical counsellor, I am not leaving the society behind. I sincerely hope to continue to see many of you at TCS events and retreats. In the meantime, I leave knowing that I am very much part of something cosmically good, and thank you all for showing me that.

Your generosity to the society in financial support, volunteer help, sharing resources, and loving one another is a wonderful Christmas gift to me and all those you serve. Have a wonderful holiday season and please give a warm welcome to the new administrator, Sharon Taylor, in the New Year.

Blessings and warm wishes,


Miranda Harvey, administrator