Today is Giving Tuesday! And while I am aware I am writing to you with a request for support, what I am feeling is immense gratitude for what The Contemplative Society has already received.
This year marks our 25th anniversary. Since 1997, we have grown from a tiny group organizing retreats on Salt Spring Island, BC to a significant hub of the contemplative network, providing countless resources to promote contemplative wisdom and sustain contemplative practice. With hundreds of members, and thousands more listening to and reading our work, not to mention participating in our retreats, The Contemplative Society is a vast tapestry of contemplative tradition and experience. And yet, together we maintain a precious intimacy that uniquely nurtures our spirit.
There have been so many people along the way that have contributed to this haven of contemplative practice and resources. As a valued participant, you are also someone who has contributed to The Contemplative Society. For that we are immensely grateful.
Our history and our present reality grounds the ethos “many hands make light work” in truth, and this Giving Tuesday we are especially inspired by this idea. We have an ambitious goal to raise $15,000 this year in order to strengthen and deepen this vast network. Specifically, this will help us
- train Centering Prayer group leaders;
- lend our expertise to organisations who wish to establish contemplative programming;
- offer a series of in-person and Zoom events and retreats with established and exciting new teachers;
- increase financial assistance and accessible practice opportunities;
- and hire dedicated staff to support these endeavours.
Along these lines, I hope you will enjoy this message from our ever-present teacher and guide, Cynthia Bourgeault:
As one of the founding members of The Contemplative Society, I am heartened to participate in yet another season—our 25th!!!—of requesting your support for this beloved and sturdy organization. To watch the evolution of the society from a local support network to a global midwife of contemplative awakening gives me great hope for our future. Just this September, I was able to reconnect with many friends in the Victoria, BC area and experience first-hand The Contemplative Society’s uniquely innovative contributions to the contemplative community. Our financial goal this year is indeed ambitious, but if everyone in our community gives what they can, I believe we can keep growing our contemplative network and deliver the impact the world is aching for. Not only do many hands make light work, they make for a bright future.
With blessings and gratitude,
I know there will be many requests for your support today, and that’s another reason why “many hands make light work” is so fitting. A gift of any amount from each one of us will be a major and foundational step toward global contemplative awakening (and enables you to become a member). A special group of donors have already contributed $3,795 toward this important project and next year’s initiatives, helping us achieve 25% of our goal. We hope that you will join them today!
Please visit contemplative.org/support-us to make your Giving Tuesday contribution quickly and securely (where you can also sign up to become a member)!
With hope and gratitude,
Henri Lock, Executive Director and Past President
On the traditional and unceded territory of the Lekwungen peoples of the Esquimalt, Songhees, and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations.
“Winter is settling in and we’re all responding in our own God-given ways to the changing of the seasons.”
From a fairly young age Mary-Clare Carder has had mystical encounters
with the spiritual world. In her late twenties she developed Sjogren
syndrome – a painful, incurable condition which blunted her career and
made her life very challenging. This challenging life led her to a deeper
spiritual path and an enriched interior life. Along the way she learned
about the wisdom of silence, a form of meditation known as centering
prayer, energy healing, and has after death communications (ADCs).
There are also many wisdom-filled quotes from a host of people who
have inspired her during her life. All these things have been a pool of
wisdom for her.
Mary-Clare intends the book to offer help and support not just to those
who face many challenges in life but to everyone. It is her greatest
hope that by reading this book people will be more present to the
wonders of their own inner life. She invites the reader to plunge in to
this pool of wisdom – it is her joy to share.
For more information, see the announcement at St George’s Cadboro Church.
My journey with the teacher named ‘covid’ began with odd symptoms that I did not connect and so for a couple of days worsened until the telltale cough put the lights on and my doctor sent me for a test. Soon I had night sweats, fever, nausea, diarrhoea, body aches, a ferocious headache upon waking in the morning and pain under my shoulders, and I couldn’t stay awake all day. My first reaction was denial quickly followed by waves of panic. My body has a history of over-reaction to virus and I was being very careful not catch covid. In my Centering Prayer sit that day I decide to explore the fear. Is it fear of dying, fear of illness, fear of dealing with this living alone? Going deeper I think of wisdom school teachings around kenotic release and that we practice this ‘letting go’ and I find myself doing the physical hand gesture.
It seems important to enumerate trust and in the trusting of so much I can list in my life—including my family doctor and the wonderful Canadian health care system—I find positive energy. I ask for help and support from my angelic realm companions. I am wondering if the structure of CP and kenotic praxis can be a container holding me. My faith feels like a path of Light forward. I want to try to release, get beyond, the waves of fear. I think of the women’s retreat I went to many years ago when, working with egoic self, we enacted Inanna’s journey into the underworld. Seven circles of descent releasing all material things, people, relationships, clothing, status affiliations until one is standing essentially egoically naked; totally kenotically—I think—surrendered. The little children who strip themselves in the owner’s field in the Gospel of Thomas logion 21 come clearly to mind. I think of the things I am, in this moment, called upon to release one by one and then I do it. I—just—let—go. What happens then is an immense release of energy. I find myself floating. It feels like I’ve untethered and am flooded with the sensation of being held, upheld by something powerful. It is such a huge relief. I feel buoyant, like a leaf in a stream carried along but in a different level of reality; more in kairos than chronos time. And the fear is completely gone.
As my symptoms worsen and I start to feel my breathing constrained, it is hard to walk upstairs or have short conversations without becoming breathless; I have had to leave the comfort of kairos time to deal with the practical. Legal documents need updating, a new Power of Attorny (POA) for healthcare put in place. I spend part of the first few days dividing my time between chronos practical territory doing paperwork, and taking every opportunity when there is no fever and the headache lessens also to write and to think. I cannot write when I have a fever or my head hurts. I am aware I have things I want to say. I am also aware I need to spend a lot of time in kairos mode just to keep the fear at bay…
A kind loving friend writes to me, “you must fight hard”, and I realize I don’t see this as a battle. Kenosis surrendering is not about ‘giving up’ but going deeper and trusting the process. I feel the golden threads of my soul are completely interwoven with, contained, and held in some great plan unknown to me—but solid and sure because I am anchored high on the vertical column. I know in every cell of my being that all shall be well. My reference point for wellness has become my alignment with the divine. I think of a healing touch retreat in which we explored the themes of curing versus healing.
I feel suddenly back in Assisi alongside the frescos I love and into whose energetic and wisdom depths I have often slipped, and knowing that the sacred figures as they are pictured there, in some way, are with me now. I am surrounded by Light, by healing figures—some in Light bodies, some in material form. I am safe because of all of them and I am being held by this Light. I do not have to fight. I have to stay connected—alignment is my most important task. In this frame I have no idea of what is going to happen but I absolutely do not doubt all shall be well. I hear Mother Julian and remember the time spent at her shrine; her voice in the cell that day with Alison… ‘all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’ and think: ah-ha maybe this is what she meant by the term ‘well’. I think how wonderful to have a life filled with such bright wise teaching.
Acknowledging that I don’t know what this part of the journey will be like, my job is to stay present, trusting I will be guided and supported.
After the realities of dealing with legal and POA decisions and self-care are done, I spend my time in this other spacious reality. Kenotic release has over the days (now 7) become easier than breathing.
I feel physically in the grip of unpleasant symptoms and I cannot take a deep breath which at times unnerves me, but at other levels—when I slip out of linear—I am light and filled with gratitude. What a paradox, I think, that as my illness worsens, my sense of well-being and gratitude increases. I am swamped, suffused in gratitude, sweetness and a sense of peace. Loving messages and Healing Touch energies being sent by my HT group at Christchurch Cathedral fill my body and my days. The headache on awakening is usually gone by mid-morning thanks to their morning work and I sleep fairly well at night thanks to their evening treatments of distance healing. Somehow in spite of symptoms, I know that I am well and whole. On Thursday the tightness in my chest gets worse and within hours I am straining for breath even when resting. My family doctor tells me to go to emergency and that he will call ahead.
It is a new threshold. I think, “When I walk into Vancouver General Hospital, I will be alone.” It feels immense and panic returns. WHAT DO I NEED. I walk around my house—some practical things in the bag, Ginger my monkey, and holy oil and eucalyptus. Then I remember Inanna going deeper into the underworld—stripping the material world away. I think what does anyone need at the portal? Wisdom teaching anchors me and I think: all I need is love. But I feel torn between the worlds of matter and spirit. I want to visit the memories of the material realm in my home. The memories of my late husband, my sacred home altar where I light the evening candles, my knitting projects in progress, the box of baby things knitted for my new baby god-grandson about to be born in the UK, not quite ready to mail. I struggle with material and non-material needs. It is true, if I am going to step through the portal and touch the face of God, all I need is love and support of my angelic team—and that I know I have—but I also feel the need to acknowledge the blessing of these material things or at least the relationships and experiences and meaning they hold for me in my day to day life. Stubbornly I think: I want my laptop. I feel determined as long as my brain is alive and not pounding with pain I am writing. I think I will write until the last moment. I wonder: is this my ego—my identity asserting herself or is there still something I need to say to others to leave for others. Indulgence versus obligation?
I am aware I have been procrastinating about writing to Vancouver School of Theology to express my gratitude for my spacious study experience and the support I have received there to make sense of Assisi. They don’t have any idea how important being there has been for me. Later, I write in bed in the emergency room. I am comforted by the description of my life with the frescos, my intention in 2012 to stay with the experience until I understood what to do with it. Cynthia Bourgeault has been helping me to understand the powerful experiences I have been having with my sisters at Santa Chiara. In writing to VST, I realize I have also been writing to myself, reminding myself of my journey, of the power of it. In the intensity of the present moment, I am beginning to see the immense achievement of my work from the first time I walked into Santa Chiara for vespers and saw the frescos. Process and clarity are happening at warp speed and yet at another level of my being, paradoxically, in kairos, I feel very slowed down.
As I walk into emergency I feel alone—only my sister who has been alerted as my medical POA and my family doctor know I am here. Francis’ journey with the lepers in Assisi comes into my mind: the reality of being an untouchable—ill and needing care but a danger to others. I ring my bell as I arrive—wearing a mask, keeping my distance and saying to others, “I have covid—please keep your distance.” This is a totally different way to be ill. For a kinaesthetic person whose primary interactions with her world are touch, it feels very isolating.
Thankfully, after investigations, imaging, and blood work, I did not need to be admitted longer term to hospital. In spite of the rigidity of my chest wall and acute breathlessness, my lungs were and remained in good shape. Two weeks later most of the symptoms—except fatigue—had disappeared. Like many life challenges, this illness has been a wonderful spiritual exercise; an opportunity to live what we say we believe about the value of kenosis, our CP praxis and my visceral sense of connection with God my divine mother. I am deeply grateful for many things and particularly for the wisdom and healing groups and communities that populate my life. My experience of illness and healing were different, were immeasurably transformed by the interior resources I have learned as a practitioner and as a recipient of the network of love and spiritual care of community.
Grazie a Dio!
The day before Islam’s holiest month Ramadan was set to begin, I received an email from The Contemplative Society. I was logistically and mentally preparing for my fourth decidedly non-traditional foray into this time of fasting and spiritual recommitment. While I am not Muslim myself, I occasionally take advantage of the opportunity to participate in a global joint effort to purify ourselves and reorient to what is truly important: community and charity through what I would call contemplation.
So I was intrigued when I opened the email and saw that our friends at Contemplative Outreach had moved a conference they were planning in South Africa online for the world to join. Titled Oneness: The Secret Embrace, Thomas Keating’s final gift to the world, it seemed like a wonderful opportunity to weave some of my personal spiritual orientation, contemplative Christianity, into my experience of this Islamic holiday. At $35 USD suggested donation for three mornings, the price was certainly right for a student like me!
For the next week, I struggled to pull myself out of bed pre-dawn to eat the hearty breakfast that would sustain me the roughly 14.25 hours until my nightly post-sunset meal. In between, I would spend about four hours on school, eight hours on work, and a couple more hours distracting myself by cooking, cleaning, walking, waiting, and yes, some contemplating. By the time the morning of the conference arrived, I had already calculated an average day’s hours of sunlight over the whole year in my region, math that bought me a couple more hours of energy and significantly improved my concentration for my priority endeavour, my master’s program. I’d also worked out a monetary cost for any hours I didn’t fast that I was “supposed” to, a plan I figured was in line with the charitable prescriptions and instructions I have seen that allow Muslims to make up for time not fasting during Ramadan as soon as they are able.
Feeling a bit guilty all the same, I settled onto my cushion in front of Cynthia for the first time in a couple years. Since I started my program, I have not been able to attend any retreats. These days, I mostly draw from the resources I collected from my three-year immersion working for The Contemplative Society. During that time, I had the privilege of unusually intimate moments with Cynthia, hooking her up with microphones when we were recording her. The warm nostalgia of seeing her getting settled into her own technological discomfort zone on the other side of the screen helped me let go of my preoccupations with perfection and open up to something new.
While I am not particularly familiar with Fr. Thomas Keating or his teachings as yet, the message I heard over and over seemed simple. As Cynthia shared his poems and some stories of his life, it became clear that Fr. Keating’s profundity as a teacher did not arise from a perfect life. By embracing the messiness, inconvenience, discomfort, pain, and, perhaps most weighty to consider during a pandemic, suffering, we create an opportunity to open ourselves to experiencing the overwhelming and undergirding perfection of “creation” as it unfolds. That does not mean we seek out the darkness in order to make ourselves perfect, but that we learn to lean in when it arises and see what might serve to let a little light in.
The way I interpret this, our little stories (of identity, identification, etc.) don’t get lost in a wash of sameness—as in, we all suffer, so ignore them. Rather, the honour we give to them transforms each experience into the unique thread that contributes to the tapestry of oneness. Our bits and pieces matter because, while particular, their similarities link us to the experiences of others and help show us what we might have to offer. A simple message, maybe, but not the easiest to live out.
After two weeks, I gave up on daily fasting and decided to do so only on Fridays. Term papers were coming due, and I needed all the energy I could muster in my off-work hours to keep up. One could say it was a pretty imperfect Ramadan. But rather than feeling guilty as I connected my experiences of suffering to the communities I would be charitable toward, I felt a sense of peace. Thanks in part to the conference with Cynthia and the lessons she drew from the example of Fr. Keating’s life, I saw that the month didn’t have to be perfect to be meaningful; I still saw where I could serve. And I saw that being ok with my imperfect Ramadan helped me connect with the community of people closest to me who were struggling with their imperfect pandemics: sourdough projects gone awry, social exhaustion despite isolation, and to-do lists still not getting done despite more time. Sharing the similarities between our unique experiences made to transform the bits of suffering into sustaining connection.
Ramadan Mubarak. Wishing you your own imperfect, blessed Ramadan.
Post-script: an online contemplative conference might sound pretty imperfect, especially to those who can afford in-person retreats. But given its accessibility, it is also an immense opportunity for unifying an incredibly diverse community of contemplatives. Deep bows to the organisers. I hope it happens again.
Posted on Facebook April 14, 2020
For the past four weeks, as many of you know, I have been hanging out here on the edge of the known universe on Eagle Island, taking the time to renew my flagging hermit skills. What little technology I have access to on my two-panel, four-battery solar system huffs and puffs to keep up. On days like yesterday when I sat in the teeth of a gale for twelve stormy hours, the whole system went down by sunset.
Surrounded by mostly time and tide, I have been slowly coming to my own decisions about what is my rightful participation in the virtual community that is being generated and sustained during this great pandemic re-set. I am aware that we are all called to participate in different ways; it’s not a “one-size fits all” solution to the conundrum, and all sincere contributions work toward the common good.
As for myself, however, I feel that the contribution specifically being asked of me is to be extremely judicious in my involvement in live internet community (zoom, skype, facetime, video-conferencing, etc.). Partly because it is so clearly a privilege reserved for the already privileged. Partly because it continues to support both economically and energetically the continued electromagnetic inflammation of the planetary atmosphere and the economy of unabashed economic and moral capitalism that drives it. And partly because the great spiritual traditions all know of a better, deeper, and more powerful means of intercommunication already seeded into the human heart, if we can only remember how to use it.
Repeat: this not a blanket statement, not an assertion of any presumed moral high ground. It’s just the place that seems to be accorded to me to uphold in this global transition.
My decision going forward is to limit my zoom participation to two areas only: continuing periodic board and task-force meetings with groups I am already committed to, and a few larger, “conference style” teaching events, particularly when they replace already contracted on-the-ground obligations.
I will also continue to support my online courses with the CAC currently running or in the works. And I intend to keep a limited but engaged presence on the internet through postings within the Wisdom School Community and through periodic blogs.
I will not regularly be participating in zoom retreats, zoom liturgies, or zoom classes or conversations of an ongoing nature whose primary purpose is to maintain teaching or fellowship. This is very good work, but it is not mine to do.
In general, I am limiting screen time in ALL formats (both online and offline; i.e., writing) to six hours a day. I am relying on the Benedictine rule, with its practical balance of “Ora et Labora,” to rebalance my three-centered awareness and help reverse the atrophy of those inner senses required for clear perception in difficult times.
I am in possession of no crystal ball here, but I suspect as we are able to begin moving about again, that my role is going to shift toward helping to re-open small, on-the-ground events. The human horde has been badly traumatized by its newfound terror of physical proximity, and this trauma will need to be released before truly embodied compassion can begin to take root in us again. Love still lies on the other side of fear, and the bridge will have to be rebuilt from the ground up. I am trying to prepare myself, both inwardly and outwardly for what this may require.
I want to emphasize that I am in full solidarity with the beautiful efforts many of you are making to sustain community over distance, and I will certainly be holding you all in my hearts as these conversations unfold. My decision is to be understood as simply my own way of putting teeth into this solidarity. And of trying to hold myself accountable.
blessings and love, Cynthia
This meditation on the Stations of the Cross during the Pandemic has been provided by Rev. Dawne Taylor of Kamloops, British Columbia. We thank her for allowing us to share this beautiful teaching.
She suggests this Good Friday service at Kamloops United Church.
GOOD FRIDAY STATIONS OF THE CROSS
In the Roman Catholic traditions, churches mark Good Friday by walking the 14 Stations of the Cross with a prayer at each station. The stations take the Christian from the 1st station (Jesus before Pilate) to the 14th station (Jesus’ body is laid in the tomb) of his walk to the cross and then state-death by crucifixion/execution. Some of the stations are based on scripture; others come from tradition.
I recall a sentiment I felt some years back when reflecting on Good Friday – and it was simply “how the hell could this happen?” In this time of the covid-19 pandemic, I suspect some are also asking now: “how the hell could this happen?”
There is a particularly good YouTube video on the stations of the cross by Irish poet and activist, Padraig O’Tuama, produced especially for Good Friday 2020. I heartedly recommend you watch it. O’Tuama makes it very clear that Jesus is the power of love, and love in the face of power.
In keeping with the Good Friday tradition of the Stations of the Cross, and following either the Zoom service with Mount Paul or the KUC Youtube service with Rev. Michael Caveney, I invite you to metaphorically walk these 14 stations designed particularly for this covid-19 time. Stop at each station and say a brief prayer for those named:
Station 1: Health care, emergency responders, cleaners and other front line workers
Station 2: Other essential workers: grocery store clerks, pharmacy clerks, truck drivers, day care operators
Station 3: Those who have contracted covid-19, are hospitalized or in self-isolation; those grieving the death of a beloved one because of the virus
Station 4: Those laid off and suffering financial stress
Station 5: Small business owners who may go under during this time
Station 6: The particularly vulnerable – elders, those in seniors’ homes, the immune compromised
Station 7: Street people, the homeless, those in shelters and cramped spaces
Station 8: Those particularly isolated because they live alone; the lonely, depressed and mentally ill
Station 9: Those whose surgery and medical procedures have been postponed, possibly worsening their medical condition.
Station 10: Parents homeschooling children, and especially those with special needs children
Station 11: Abused women and children whose situation is exacerbated during this time of the pandemic
Station 12: Refugees around the world, already suffering and running for their lives, now confined to cramped and unsanitary quarters
Station 13: Isolated Indigenous and Inuit communities lacking medical care, good nutrition, adequate housing and safe drinking water
Station 14: Politicians and provincial health officers having to make difficult decisions, inform their constituents, and at the same time buoy spirits.
No doubt there are others significantly affected by the virus that you may wish to add to this prayer list.
Below is a Good Friday blessing from Jan Richardson in her book Circles of Grace. I hope it speaks to you in this holy season. It’s called “Song of the Winding Sheet”.
We never could have wished it to come to this, yet we call these moments holy as we
Holy the tending, holy the winding, holy the leaving as in the living.
Holy the silence, holy the stillness, holy the turning and returning to earth.
Blessed is the One who came in the name, blessed is the One who laid himself down,
blessed is the One emptied for us, blessed is the One wearing the shroud.
Holy the waiting, holy the grieving, holy the shadows and gathering night.
Holy the darkness, holy the hours, holy the hope turning toward light.
Blessings on this Holy and Poignant Day. Rev. Dawne Taylor
Letter from Cynthia Bourgeault:
I am very grateful to Joseph Azize for his willingness to make five of the Gurdjieff exercises available to us within the cyber confines of our Wisdom School Community. These exercises are powerful tools of healing, cleansing, and clarity, and even when practiced individually or in small groups, they have a power to significantly shift our present planetary atmosphere. They are something you can actually DO: to steady yourself and ready yourself for the deeper energetic work that actually connects us and empowers us as a human species to do the alchemical work we were placed on this planet to do…
Learn more in Cynthia’s new publication, where she expands on her instructions at length:
MYSTICAL COURAGE: Commentaries on Selected Contemplative Exercises by G.I. Gurdjieff, as Compiled by Joseph Azize, by Cynthia Bourgeault