“Are we having fun yet”? This was Nestor’s way of greeting people in meetings and workshops. With these words, always accompanied with a broad smile and twinkle in his eyes, Nestor reminded us of the joy and goodwill found in sharing the gift of Centering Prayer, and in moving into the realm of contemplative prayer, the “greatest adventure … the world in which God can do anything” (Thomas Keating). Sadly for us, Nestor left the earthly portion of this greatest adventure when he died on January 3, 2022, passing into God’s full embrace and eternal joy.
“Utmost charity” – the other words Nestor readily and often spoke. When I was new to the Centering Prayer Group Facilitator Support Service Team, which Nestor led, his constant reminder of our call to serve and encounter others with utmost charity touched me deeply and revitalized my intention to “love one another as Jesus has loved us, that is with all our faults, limitations, and at times outrageous behavior” forgiving “completely and from the heart everything and everyone including ourselves” as the path to unity (CO Theological Principle #13).
Nestor modeled living with utmost charity with his open heart of service. He approached everyone with genuine interest and concern. He practiced “talk less, listen more”, inviting and empowering participation from all members of our team. Nestor went the extra mile to serve, to inspire and to be a friend. Eileen put it this way: “Nestor was a man of irrepressible joy with a boundless welcoming spirit and boundless energy for life and for so many people and causes to which he was dedicated. Always listening to get to know people, always trying to bring people in. What a life force – what a channel of God. So blessed to know him”.
Bob’s lasting memory from whenever he was with Nestor in Toronto, San Diego, Sewanee, Tennessee, and Bob’s home, Denver, both when they were on retreats and up in the mountains, “is how Nestor treasured each adventure, enjoyed each day and treated everyone with such kindness and reverence!”
My experience of Nestor
At first meeting, Nestor had a captivating unflinching presence; yet, his eyes emitted softness, acceptance, his gestures gladness and happiness. As time passed, I created or found opportunities to speak with him about spiritual experiences. I often sensed that I must be attending to him as Mary of Bethany attended to Jesus. His words and expressions entered my “spiritual level of being,” and my body relaxed into a subtle comfort of joy.
With these memories, I, like others, have grieved deeply the accident that left him unable to speak or write. Periodically, we exchanged text messages. In these, I often expressed my unresolvable grief over his limitations and my missing his words. I enjoyed telling him, “I know God in your silence is gifting you with insights, revelations, inspirations and other untold gems.” I would end saying, “One day you will reveal these to us.” It saddens me that will never happen.
On a joyful note, I am delighted Nestor is with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I am sure he is dancing, laughing and asking, “are we having fun, yet?” Of course, all giggle and loudly shout, Alleluias!!!
— Pattye Spezia
Nestor’s Centering Prayer journey began in 2005 when he was invited to an Introduction to Centering Prayer workshop. He admitted he went primarily to hang out with the friends who had invited him. The presenter was a monk he had never heard of – Thomas Keating. He said that Keating’s description of Centering Prayer promised to be the answer to the longing for resting in God he had been experiencing for some time. For the next seven years he practiced Centering Prayer alone in his room; Open Mind, Open Heart and other Contemplative Outreach materials his only companions.
In the years that followed, Nestor began attending retreats and considered his first retreat transformative. He answered a call to help start a Centering Prayer group at his church. To prepare himself he attended a Contemplative Outreach facilitator workshop in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. He became a vital part of the Contemplative Outreach of Central Florida community, including serving as chapter coordinator.
Attending to the needs of Centering Prayer groups and their facilitators became Nestor’s top service priority. He assisted Susan Komis form Contemplative Outreach’s Facilitator Support Service Team. He developed training materials for facilitator workshops and facilitated beginning and advanced Facilitator Formation Workshops throughout the United States, Canada and the Dominican Republic. Furthermore, Nestor recorded video presentations to make resources widely available to help people support each other in staying with the prayer. These videos for facilitator training are now available at no charge through the Contemplative Outreach website (See Volunteer Resources under “Centering Prayer Group Facilitators) . Nestor will live on through his teachings, captured in these videos, and in the hearts and memories of those whom he served and who served with him.
Nestor treasured his regular Centering Prayer retreats. He wrote this reflection on one of his trips to the mountain, inspired by Mark 6:31:
He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while”.
I wake up to stars hanging like diamonds on black velvet. I have come to this sacred valley to cultivate stillness: an unreflective awareness of Presence. For decades, pilgrims have come to this retreat in the Colorado mountains to listen to the music of silence reverberating off majestic mountains. I shiver as I slip on my clothes and step into the darkness. My headlamp’s bright yellow light dances down the trail. I relax into the soft rhythm of my boots crunching on the gravel. I reach the chapel and slip into my chair. I set my timer. My breathing becomes smooth … intentional. I softly and ever-so-gently consent to God’s presence and action within. Thoughts come. Again, ever-so-gently, I consent to God’s presence and action within. Eventually, thoughts become irrelevant. Stillness abounds. My timer’s gentle gong invites me back to ordinary consciousness. I sit for a few minutes savoring the transition. I experience all that is, is in God; and, all that is in God is One.
— Nestor de Armas
Nestor faced unspeakable challenges in these last couple of years. In July of 2019, shortly after our team had been together in Denver, Nestor and his wife Donna were in a horrible car accident with a semi-truck near Brunswick, Georgia, as they were driving to their mountain house in Little Switzerland in North Carolina. Nestor said the house was “a lifelong dream come true”. When tropical storm Florence had been threatening, he wrote “I feel burdened…uneasy…trapped. Then, I am startled by the sustaining love of God and I am whole.”
As a result of the accident, Nestor underwent emergency brain surgery. He lost most of his ability to communicate in words. But for this man of extraordinary faith, his family reported that rather than feeling frustrated or down in his recovery, he seemed more cheerful and full of life. He approached his recovery with steely determination and patience and with his sense of humor and lots of laughing. He continued to communicate with us in short words of love and prayer.
We will remember Nestor’s smile and query to us, “Are we having fun yet”? We will continue to be grateful for God blessing us with his presence. And, we will continue to treasure this beloved friend who showed us how to live and serve with “utmost charity”.
“I have called you by name, you are mine”.
– Isaiah 43:1
– submitted by Michele Jankanish and Bob Mischke, Pattye Spezia, Eileen McCaffrey Schuman, Jim Bailey, Linda Smith (former member) – the Centering Prayer Group Facilitator Support Service Team.
With Bob Mischke in the mountains of Colorado
Nestor served on the board of Sharing Smiles and made many trips overseas to assist in the cleft palate repair for families in need.