Our Contemplative Practices Move to Zambia


by Fionnuala Quinn O.P.
Dublin, Ireland

During this time of pandemic, when globally the life of every citizen has been disrupted and our personal connections with people very much reduced,  Zoom became the normal means of communication. Through it all, I found myself in a new place in relation to my comfortable silent practice of Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina.

Never did I think presenting Centering Prayer could be possible by Zoom, and as for Lectio Divina that was beyond my imagination, nor did I ever see myself reaching out beyond our Island, Ireland. However, it all came clear after one experience with PowerPoint and Zoom, I realized that I could  go beyond my familiar boundaries and be in different parts of Ireland and indeed the world.

My outreach beyond the familiar boundaries came when a Sister of the Holy Cross, Sr. Angela Sianga, living in Lusaka, Zambia,  invited me to present Centering Prayer to her eight novices (trainee sisters). Our introductory materials are outstanding, having been created by dear Fr. Thomas  Keating (1923 -2018). In the context of Relationship, using a minimum of words, the essentials are presented in such a way that hooks the listener into the experience. The sisters in Zambia, caught the experience and the transforming power of  silence and wanted more.

I too was hooked by the Zambian sisters;  their youth, vitality and  energy, so  when invited to present Lectio Divina, I didn’t hesitate.

The Lectio Divina Service Team has produced the most attractive PowerPoint, based on the teachings of Fr. Thomas  and Sr. Maria Tasto (1938 – 2014) who designed the workshops under his guidance.

This opportunity gave me a means of praying the scriptures in an online community using the monastic approach that runs through each of the four main presentations. We were struck when using the method for praying the wonderful reading from 1Kings 19: 11- 13 “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord; for the Lord is about to pass by”.  In these days of Covid 19, when restrictions are not removed, but renewed, one interpretation of this was stand on the mountain before the Lord; for the Lord is about to pass and wait for the pandemic to pass by in its own time.

We saw how engaging and relevant the scriptures are and connected to our lives.

Another very striking scripture passage from this Lectio Divina workshop is from Isaiah 55:3, 10 -11: “Incline your ear and come to me. Listen so that you may live.” At the end of our sessions, the sisters used this verse in their words of gratitude. Sister Helen explained that the drum is the best piano ever in Africa. This symbol of  a drum was picked in connection with Isaiah 55 and expressed their experience of having been listened to and cared for, especially when they asked questions.

Since Advent 2020, I have  become an accompanier to various groups of Holy Cross Sisters in Zambia, the experiences got richer and the connections deeper, when we moved from the silence of Centering to Lectio Divina.

It has been a privilege to have this collaboration with the Holy Cross Sisters in Zambia, and has given me a window onto a bigger world.  I am so grateful I found Contemplative Outreach over thirty years ago and to the service teams that keep the work of Thomas alive and relevant.