This time of year often brings memories of loved ones and events that we hold close. As I write this article, we have just celebrated the second year anniversary of the deaths of Abbot Joseph Boyle and Fr. Thomas Keating. I find it poignant, and yet somehow part of the divine plan, that they died within days of each other. Many of us who had the opportunity to spend time at St. Benedict’s Monastery were blessed with witnessing the relationship these two men shared and experiencing the charism of Trappist spirituality through their example and presence. Fr. Thomas felt this was important enough to include the monastery in the Guidelines for Contemplative Service, Guideline 10: “We maintain a spiritual relationship with St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.” The monastery is “our spiritual home and a place of retreat and renewal where new insights for our spiritual journey may be revealed.”
As I was reflecting on what this means for us and how we keep it alive, I received the news that Sister Bernadette Teasdale, the founder of the Denver Chapter of Contemplative Outreach, died on November 5, 2020. She was my spiritual mother, mentor and teacher and I feel blessed to have been formed by her love and nurturing. She used to say, “We are an extension of their spirituality (the Trappists) in the world.” In all my years of service to Contemplative Outreach this statement has been my North Star.
One of the most important intentions I hold is to live a contemplative life and I have spent years living into what that means for me. I never look much farther than my North Star for guidance. What I learned from Fr. Thomas, Abbot Joseph and Sr. Bernadette was to live the contemplative dimension of the Gospel; to be dedicated to contemplative prayer through practice – Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and the other practices for daily life like the Welcoming Prayer and the active prayer; to practice simplicity, silence and solitude; to honor what Abbot Joseph called “the other bible” – nature and all God’s creation; to extend God’s love through hospitality and service.
When I joined the Governing Board four years ago and we started holding board meetings in different parts of the country so we could meet with the local communities, I started learning about spiritual mentors and teachers all over the country who did the same thing that we were doing in Denver – living and teaching what we were given. Our bi-annual conferences have similarly introduced me to people from all over the world. I encourage you to watch a YouTube video created for the 10th anniversary of Contemplative Outreach called “Centering Prayer – Origins & Inspirations: Thomas Keating, William Meninger, Basil Pennington.” It is a good way to remember where we started as we see what is emerging within our communities now all these years later.
The Governing Board, challenged as we all are by the pandemic and currently not able to meet in person, had a couple board meetings this year on Zoom. (The minutes of our meetings are available on the web site.) During those meetings we focused on the Contemplative Outreach Vision, Theological Principles and Guidelines for Contemplative Service. We also spent time reflecting and sharing what seems important today. We especially listened for what the Spirit was bringing forth in each one of us from our reflection and we discerned common themes.
- We affirm how important it is for us to live and share the prayer at this time with a focus on simplicity and going back to basics. (Theological Principle 2. “A commitment to the practice of Centering Prayer is the primary expression of belonging.”)
- We continue to be committed to listening, sensing and responding to our whole community, including the staff, the service teams, chapters and other local communities, volunteers, individuals, the international community, and special populations such as the incarcerated and the marginalized. (Theological Principle 12. “The practice of Centering Prayer deepens our awareness of the oneness of all creation and our compassion for the whole human family”).
- We support continuing to dialogue and/or partner with other groups who share a contemplative purpose.
- We acknowledge that since the start of the pandemic the way we interact and come together as community has changed and even exploded online. Even when we can safely come together in person, what we’ve experienced as new opportunities for communication and connection will continue to shape our future and demonstrates that supporting the use of technology is increasingly important. (Guideline 1. “Contemplative Outreach is an evolving community with an expanding vision and deepening practice of Centering Prayer, that serves the changing needs of Christian contemplatives.”)
- We support increasing volunteer engagement in the organism, particularly seeking their expertise and honoring their commitment to service. Volunteers are the lifeblood of our communities. (Guideline 4. “Those who serve in leadership ordinarily do so in a volunteer capacity…”)
- We support the emergence, expansion, and development of Centering Prayer chapters and communities around the world. We see an increasing need for support in our international communities.
It’s exciting to be part of such a dynamic organism and witness where the Spirit is leading us and what is emerging in our worldwide community even in these challenging times. At Fr. Thomas’ memorial service Sr. Bernadette told us that “Now we stop praying for Fr. Thomas and start praying to him.” Something about that statement changed my grieving heart into one of hope and gratitude. When I think of all the beloveds – the ones I knew and those I never met – who gave us so much and have now joined the communion of saints since those three monks started this movement, I can’t help but feel how blessed we are to have so many guiding lights.
Bio: Julie Saad has been a part of Contemplative Outreach in Denver since 1994. She served as the coordinator for 2 years after Sr. Bernadette Teasdale, the founder of the Denver Chapter, retired. She is a commissioned presenter in Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina and the Welcoming Prayer, and is the coordinator of the Contemplative Living Experience program offered in Denver. She is currently serving in her second term on the Governing Board. She also volunteers at a local hospital with her dog, Joey, as a therapy dog team (currently on furlough due to the pandemic).