Voices of Community
Last year, the founders of four contemporary Christian contemplative movements (Fr. Thomas Keating, of Contemplative Outreach; Fr. Laurence Freeman, of the World Community of Christian Meditation; Fr. Richard Rohr, of the Center for Action and Contemplation; and Tilden Edwards, of the Shalem Institute) gathered for a week of dialogue and meditation at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. As a result of that meeting, they came up with an extraordinary idea: to gather a group of committed younger contemplatives from their respective movements to share for a few days on the practice of contemplative prayer. Each of the founders invited five younger members to attend the meeting (from now on referred to as “the Gathering”) which was held at St. Benedict´s Monastery from August 14-18, 2017.
By the sole grace of the Spirit and without any merit on my part, I received an amazing and loving invitation from Fr. Thomas Keating in mid-October, 2016. I never expected in my wildest dreams to be part of this unique opportunity to share fellowship and prayer, but with an open and grateful heart, I said yes. That is how my journey with the Gathering began, allowing the unknown and the Spirit to guide my steps to better serve Extensión Contemplativa Internacional (ECI) and my home Centering Prayer community in the Dominican Republic.
The initial intent of the Gathering was to promote an exchange of our evolving experience, understanding, and practice of Christian contemplative prayer among practitioners from different backgrounds, cultures and affiliations.
Along with the founders, Sabina Alkire from the United Kingdom, Sarah Bachelard from Australia, Sicco Claus from Switzerland, Leonardo Correa from Brazil, Vladimir Volrab from the Czech Republic, and I from the Dominican Republic participated in the meeting. The representation from the United States was as follows: Adam Bucko, from Wisconsin; Phileena Heuertz from Nebraska; Stuart Higginbotham from Georgia; Erik Keeney from Colorado; Mark Kutolowski from Vermont; Justin Lanier from Vermont; Bo Karen Lee from New Jersey; Mark Longhurst from Massachusetts; Rory McEntree from New Jersey; Kirsten Oates from California; Karen Pedigo from Illinois; Jessica Smith from Washington, DC; Gabrielle Stoner from Michigan; and Matthew Wright from New York. Margaret Benefiel, Executive Director of Shalem, facilitated our conversations over the four days, and the entire event was funded by the Trust for the Meditation Process.
Upon arrival in Snowmass, Mark Kutolowski and I, who had been invited by Fr. Keating, had the privilege of meeting him in private. The conversation was very friendly and intimate, and it gave me the first insight into the purpose of the gathering: to know and relate to each other in a more profound and personal level, getting to know one another’s backgrounds, experiences and interests.
Every morning started with a 6:30am meditation, followed by the Eucharist in the monastery chapel. Instead of the latter, we were given the option to simply enjoy the Grand Silence instead. This was a moving experience that continued in the small group sharing that began at 9:30am. Throughout the day, we practiced two more meditation periods and had a plenary session.
The first day, the dialogue started in small groups with the invitees. Later, we shared all together with the founders to summarize the small groups discussions. The same schedule continued during the next three days. There was a great sense of freedom, since small groups were formed by the preference of each participant and with a methodology of open space. Among the topics discussed that resonated the most with me are:
- Networking: how to connect and harness the wisdom of the contemplative spectrum.
- Formation and educational models within and across spiritual traditions and at different levels.
- Integration of contemplative practices and the public sphere: How can a contemplative approach to life be transmitted to the economic, political, and business world and its leadership? Personal sphere: Integration of contemplation from the start with one’s vocation; contemplation as the groundwork for active life, integration of contemplation within marriage and family life, integration of contemplation and priestly ministry.
Throughout these days I reflected a great deal on how I can contribute to the integration process between the public and the personal spheres. Another aspect that touched my heart was the founders’ response to our dialogue and their desire to interact with all participants on a more personal level. I was also deeply moved by the humility of the founders and the deep trust of these four contemplative leaders in the work of the Holy Spirit in our generation and in the whole world. This reaffirmed for me the unity of the Body of Christ.
After a couple of days, a significant shift occurred. We started to relate to each other with more openness and vulnerability, and friendships began to deepen. We were not sharing anymore from our knowledge and our minds, but consenting to the flow of whatever came from our hearts, our fears and our hope for the whole world and for ourselves. As we chanted “become a whole world, for a whole world,” the sense of unity was like nothing I had ever experienced. Perhaps we were relieving the wounds of the world without even knowing it.
The final day continued in that mood of union and deepening relationship. Since we were in the sacred valley of Snowmass, a hike through the mountains was proposed. At the top of the mountain we shared a moment of silent prayer. I felt deeply united with nature, humanity and the world.
At the last plenary session, we shared ways and possible scenarios in which we can all collaborate at ever deepening levels that also include those contemplative groups that were unable to attend this Gathering. The highlight of the session was the opportunity to listen and to speak with each other regarding our practice, our personal journey, as well as our achievements and struggles, in light of the Christian contemplative tradition and the wisdom of our founders.
My soul is full of gratitude and love for everything we shared. I feel great joy in being part of a community of love that regards contemplation as the heart of the Christian life. Deep thanks also to our respective founders for all the love and unity they have spread throughout the world. This was a very simple, but very profound life-changing experience. What we lived during those days is only the beginning. I look forward with hope and enthusiasm for what is yet to come, trusting that the Spirit will guide and show us the path toward the future. We only need to be alert, connected, open, and consent to whatever the Spirit may bring. It will be a very interesting and awesome journey.
Rafael Dickson Morales