Cultivating a ‘Contemplative Life’


by Sue Fox McGovern

The members of a Centering Prayer group in Park Ridge, Illinois, USA say they have never felt closer to one another. Perhaps it’s because some of them have been gathering weekly at Mary, Seat of Wisdom Parish for more than a dozen years or maybe it’s because silent prayer has a way of bonding people together in a loving, mysterious way.

Or maybe it’s because the group is fortunate enough to have Phil Jackson as its facilitator. Phil has been to Snowmass, Colorado, on retreats with Fr. Thomas Keating many times and shares Thomas’s love of God with all. It really doesn’t matter what has drawn the members together, what’s fascinating is that they all feel the presence of God and the Holy Spirit when assembled and when apart.

Every Wednesday this group of 8-12 men and women circle around a glowing candle in a small wooden chapel and center for 20 minutes. Then they present their prayer intentions and move into a discussion about a book they are reading or settle in to watch a video. Most recently they completed nine months of immersion into Julie Saad’s 2021 book, Contemplative Life: Discovering Our Path into the Heart of God.

Last year they met with Julie via Zoom, who explained that her book is a guide to a spiritual transformation program that is usually held in person for one weekend per month for nine months. However, this group decided to discuss the book during its regular weekly meetings. With a blessing from Julie, the men and women delved into the chapters at home and shared their insights, comments, and questions when they convened each week.

Barb Hartz, who also regularly facilitates the group, said she didn’t really know what to expect before the program began and is thrilled that she got so much out of the experience.

“It really put me in touch with God more often,” she said. “The practices, such as Lectio Divina (praying with Scripture) and Spiritual Reading (any Spirit-infused book), gave me contact with God all day long.”

The exercises that Barb mentioned are meant to help lead people who are already committed to a regular practice of Centering Prayer to living a contemplative life. Additional practices outlined in the book include Logging (emotional impact writing), the Active Prayer (repetitive prayer request), and the Welcoming Prayer (consent to letting go).

For John Matzek, learning about the Welcoming Prayer through this program was life changing.

“By doing Centering Prayer, I’m more centered and focused and have a closer relationship with God,” he said. “But the highlight of this program was learning about the Welcoming Prayer. I am using it on a daily basis, mostly because it’s applicable to every moment of life.

“Julie said Fr. Keating said it’s the second most important practice after Centering Prayer. It’s everyday surrendering to the presence of God and the moments and accepting them. Welcome, welcome, welcome. That’s an everyday journey.”

Ever since their program started in February 2022, Barb believes God has been using her to reach out to people.

“God is telling me when to call someone and that person needed a call right then,” Barb said. “Last week it happened with my granddaughter. How did I know to call right at that moment?”

Judy Bacon most appreciated the opportunity to work through the program as a group.

“The fact that we talked about it together and were concerned about the same things that you don’t talk about with other people is so important,” she said. “You don’t want to read the book alone. You can rationalize anything when you’re alone; but when you’re with other people, there is a great chance something meaningful can grow out of it.

Sally McCarthy was impressed with the author’s spirituality and how down-to-Earth she is.

As a result of the program, Sally said, “I’ve become more disciplined. I’d gotten kind of loose and now I’m more intentional in my prayer life. This has given me some direction and reaffirmed what I needed to hear. Of course, it’s in addition to my Centering Prayer practice.”

At the end of the book, Julie offers readers the opportunity to create their own Contemplative Rule of Life. She invites each person to design a sentence or two that makes a commitment to live out the contemplative life. Barb mentioned that she had crafted one.

“I did the Contemplative Rule of Life,” Barb said. “I decided to do it because I’ve been through retreats and when I leave, it’s just over. I didn’t want that to happen. So, I have done that. I’ve fallen off some, but I’m getting myself back on track.”

Another significant aspect of the program is called Holy Listening Circles, which involves one person at a time sharing what’s on their heart with the whole group in a prayerful, controlled environment. Such deep and sacred sharing and listening often filled those present with divine energy.

Barb is grateful for the time she spent reading the book and working through the program.

“We talked throughout the months, and I learned what other people were doing and how they added God to their life,” she said. “All I know is that life now is better than the life I was living a year ago.”