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Celebrating 25 Years of Contemplative Practices
“Celebrating 25 Years of Silence, Solitude, Solidarity and Service” – this was the theme of Contemplative Outreach Philippine’s anniversary event from Nov. 4 to Nov. 10, 2015 at the Santuario de San Antonio Parish in Makati, Philippines. From a small group of parishioners in the late 1980’s who were introduced to Centering Prayer and the Spiritual Journey program of Fr. Thomas Keating, the group led by Lita Salinas and Grace Padilla has grown to an organization that is now made up of 23 weekly Centering Prayer/Lectio Divina groups all over Metro Manila and beyond. Since its affiliation with Contemplative Outreach Ltd. in 1990, COP has given hundreds of workshops, retreats and formation programs to diverse groups of people – lay, religious, and the clergy -- for the purpose of spreading Centering Prayer and the contemplative dimension of the Gospel.
For its 25th anniversary celebration, Fr. Carl Arico, a founding member of CO, was invited to be the keynote speaker in a series of talks as COP’s thanksgiving offering for 25 years of God’s blessings. Cecile Betit of Vermont, a long-time practitioner of Centering Prayer also honored us with her presence giving a talk on the contemplative dispositions underlying our journey of silence, oneness, prayer and service.
The daily presentations were very well attended and warmly received by the audience. Having such Spirit-inspired speakers as Fr. Carl and Cecil helped the group to be open and receptive to the topics of each day, to put them into practice, and to celebrate the gifts that they are in our contemplative journey.
Fr. Carl’s presentations included the following: the Welcoming Prayer, the Spirituality of the Servant Leader, Eco-Spirituality, the Process and Prayer of Forgiveness, Centering Prayer, and Lectio Divina.
On the Welcoming Prayer:
The key words in the Welcoming Prayer practice are: “Focus,” “Feel” and “Sink into" what we are experiencing, in our body. By welcoming the Spirit in whatever we are feeling physically, we give ourselves some space or distance from our emotions and we allow the Spirit to heal our woundedness as human beings. Like the Serenity Prayer, the Welcoming Prayer is about “accepting the things that I cannot change, having the courage to change the things I can, and having the wisdom to know the difference.”
On the Spirituality of the Servant Leader:
In contemplative service, we bring our loving presence and full attention to the one we’re serving, keeping in mind that it’s not what we want but what the other person needs that is important. There is no place for competition. Each one is part of the whole process. … A leader serves by example, not by sheer authority or any disproportionate desire for control, affection or security. In true service, we see Jesus in the one we’re serving, just as we are conscious that it is Jesus in us who is doing the service. Let us never underestimate the value and the power of our good intention and genuine desire to serve others. Let us praise God for the good that we are able to do with His grace.
Spirituality is about my spontaneous and habitual response to what happens in ordinary daily life. What motivates me in my choices, in my decisions, in my actions? Spirituality is also about how God works in my life. As we mature spiritually, the challenge is for us to live more simply. Our prayer now is to say yes to diminishment, to become “smaller” and to consent to the reality of decreasing in our own human capacities, as well as moderating our personal plans and projects. “I must decrease that He may increase” (John the Baptist). Oneness with all that is – with all peoples, Nature, all of Creation -- this is how we are to live on earth, our common home. In the beginning, God, in the middle, God, at the end, God! We are in good hands because we are in God’s hands!
“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” We need God’s mercy to transcend our human weaknesses and start the journey of divine love, forgiveness and oneness with the one who has hurt us. With our choice to forgive the other person, we free ourselves from the chains that bind us to our “tormentor” and we are finally released from all the negative energy that was so toxic and destructive to our bodies, minds and spirits.
Forgiving does not mean forgetting. In God’s time the day may come when the sad and painful memory connected with a trauma we suffered may vanish. Through our regular practice of Centering Prayer we feel assured of God’s unconditional love and His abiding presence. We are better able to take life’s disappointments more serenely. Also, we are moved to be compassionate and forgiving because through Centering Prayer we have experienced first-hand God’s own unconditional, compassionate and forgiving love for us.
On Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina:
The journey starts with the heart, not the head. It’s more about heartfulness than mindfulness. What’s important is our experience of God, not intellectual or doctrinal knowledge. It is the silence and our openness to God that dispose us to receive the gift of contemplation. Scripture puts a face on our Lectio Divina practice. In Lectio, we bring the word, phrase or sentence from Scripture that caught our attention into the context of our life right now. Nothing is wasted in our practice of Lectio. The Word of God is always fruitful and will show in our transformed lives, not during our prayer time. The same is true with the fruits of Centering Prayer.
The week-long anniversary event was a time of joyous celebration of interconnectedness with both old and new companions in the contemplative journey, of reflection, prayer and growth in contemplative practices. We are renewed and recharged in our intention to consent to live the contemplative dimension of the Gospel and spread Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and other contemplative practices with our families, communities, our world.
A big "thank you" to Fr. Carl who showed us by his enlightened words and loving persona what a contemplative life is like – one that is full of wisdom, wholeness, unity and divine love.
By Tess Colayco
Contemplative Outreach Philippines