The Dominican Republic Centering Prayer Community (DRCPC) has a history of more than thirty years of following, supporting, and sharing the path of contemplative transformation taught by Father Thomas Keating. We also had the privilege of hosting Father Thomas in our midst on four separate occasions: in 1988, 1989, 2001, and 2005. These gatherings made his teachings even more personal for us and their fruits are being harvested to this day in unforeseen and deeper manifestations of the Spirit.
Just like the rest of the world, the Dominican Republic is experiencing the effects of the Covid-19 global pandemic. Our population has been instructed to stay in their homes and minimize physical contact. Among many other disruptions, this new reality made in-person Centering Prayer group meetings impossible. In addition to the sense of isolation, the pandemic brought about strong feelings of uncertainty, fear, pain, dejection, loneliness, and sadness. Some of us in the DRCPC Service Team began to wonder how we could respond to our local community, right here, right now, in this hour of need. We sensed that people were looking for peace, meaning, and a more intimate relationship with God. God’s presence is always in us and among us; even in the darkest moments his light shines on us and through us to others, but often we are not aware of this fact. We knew, from our own experience with the practice of Centering Prayer, that the contemplative journey holds the key to this realization, as well as to peace, growth, and understanding. Soon, then, the challenge of the pandemic turned into an opportunity and gave rise to the possibility of offering a path to silence, communion, and self-knowledge.
Little by little the inspiration of designing a virtual Introductory Workshop by using Zoom took hold and matured in the minds and hearts of the members of the DRCPC Service Team. Since we are an integral part of ECI, we presented the project to its international Circle of Service with a request for prayers and companionship. The response was immediate: why not broaden the invitation to include all Spanish and Portuguese-speaking communities? What had been a purely local initiative suddenly became a pioneering global project. The event was advertised widely throughout ECI, the first Zoom meeting on technical and logistical matters was set for March 30, and we began to prepare the materials and wait in the Lord.
The response was overwhelming! Our own Zoom account had a capacity for 100 participants and we never expected to exceed that number. Close to 200 people showed up for our initial gathering and thus many were left out, unable to attend. Sensing a cry for help, ECI right away increased its Zoom capacity from 100 to 500 and, ever since, our meetings had an average of 185 participants per session. (Actually, 202 attendees showed up to one of the lectures!!). We met sisters and brothers from Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Chile, Venezuela, Spain, Ecuador, and Peru. It has been a beautiful experience to witness the mysterious ways in which God acts. Something that started as a small, national, Dominican Republic-only initiative, soon became an international event for Latin America and the world.
The structure of the Introduction to Centering Prayer Course consisted of six one-hour themed sessions, as follows: March 30: Zoom, workshop format, and technical instructions; April 1: The Human Condition; April 3: Prayer as Relationship with God; April 5: The Method of Centering Prayer; April 6: Thoughts and the Use of the Sacred Word; April 8: Deepening our Relationship with God. Beginning on April 5, a period of Centering Prayer was part of all sessions and a real sense of belonging and connection was soon established, although we were geographically so far apart. In addition, we offered 3 very well attended follow-up sessions on April 22, 29, and May 6. Presenters also shared with participants Power Point presentations of each conference. A recommendation for the future would be to extend gatherings to an hour and a half, which is a more realistic time frame to promote interpersonal interaction.
Our first challenge as a team was to become proficient in using the Zoom platform for such a large venue, so we set up technical training in advance for our workshop moderators and presenters. We also met before each gathering as a service team, to review materials and to pray together. Besides the moderators and presenters, a second group of facilitators was assigned to handle the chat for technical questions, to collect the email addresses of participants, and to send them relevant materials, such as brochures and lists of resources.
What have we learned from this experience? First and foremost, the use of a virtual platform for presenting the workshop turned out to be much more effective than we anticipated. Participants felt connected in heart and prayer, united in the same intention, consenting to God’s presence and action in faith, hope, and love. The sharing was very personal and rich. It was quite moving listening to such a variety of Spanish regional accents, not to mention Portuguese, all expressing a common spirit and a oneness of heart. The only drawback we can think of is that internet connectivity is limited in many areas of the world, and this would prevent access for some to this kind of service.
In addition, we realized that the use of new technologies offers a range of tools for community sharing, training, and enrichment that will enhance our transmission of Centering Prayer and the contemplative journey well beyond the present crisis situation. The possibility of incorporating videos, images, readings, and music to our presentations is here to stay. Webinars can be excellent means of teaching, and virtual meditation groups like the ones gathering daily on the online Meditation Chapel respond to a perceived need for human spiritual connection on the part of seekers.
This has been a very special time. We received so much more than we gave, and what has been transmitted and received is both a blessing and a confirmation of the infinite love of Christ. Sharing in such deep unity with people from all over the world and witnessing how God manifests himself in everything and everyone has been an extraordinary grace.
In Christ’s love and deep gratitude,
Rafael R. Dickson Morales
and the Service Team of the Dominican Republic Centering Prayer Community