Wednesday, 6 September 2017

New Contemplative Leaders Exchange

From August 14-18, I had the extraordinary privilege of participating in a gathering of contemplative scholars and practitioners from seven countries, meeting at St Benedict's Cistercian Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado.

This is the chapel in the retreat centre where we spent much of our time.

And here it is in context - in a protected valley populated by deer, chipmunks, humming birds and a monastic community of silent prayer (photo by Vladimir Volrab).

We had been gathered at the invitation of four teachers recognised as being at the forefront of the Western Christian contemplative renewal: the Cistercian Thomas Keating (Contemplative Outreach), Benedictine Laurence Freeman (World Community for Christian Meditation), Franciscan Richard Rohr (Center for Action and Contemplation), and Rev. Tilden Edwards (Shalem Institute).

In 2016, these four 'founders' had met together for the first time and, united by their shared commitment to the Christian contemplative tradition and concern for the healing of our world, they resolved to gather a group of younger leaders from their respective communities for what was called the 'New Contemplative Leaders Exchange'. I was participating at the invitation of Laurence Freeman, and I formed part of the WCCM group which comprised five members in total - Karen from the USA, Leonardo from Brazil, Vladimir from the Czech Republic and Sicco from the Netherlands.

It was an amazing privilege to be part of this conversation, the point of which wasn't so much to come up with an 'action plan', but to get to know one another, to share from the resources of our different traditions and communities, and to be open to listen to what might be being called forth and how we might participate with each other.

One important insight to emerge, I think, was the sense that whereas the contemplative renewal had been pioneered by our four founders, each developing his own approach and community, the next phase of the contemplative movement would be more cross-communal and collaborative. It was deeply encouraging to meet with others who are exploring how the contemplative gift and way of life might be opened up for the healing of the world, and participants were involved in such varied callings as offering contemplation for activists, ecological awareness, contemplation in parish life, contemplative theology, inter-spiritual practice, contemplation and justice, and contemplation in daily life.

Others who participated have written some of their reflections on the time, particularly Phileena Heueurtz from Gravity: Center for Contemplative Activism [] and Stuart Higginbotham, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Gainesville, Georgia [].

Here are some of us walking from the retreat centre towards the monastery for Mass - the monastery hidden in the trees on the left side of the picture (photo by Vladimir Volrab).

There was much interest in the life of our Benedictus community and what we are discovering about being a contemplative church. Personally, I came away nourished and deepened in my own meditation practice, as well as strongly confirmed in my calling to Benedictus and our life together.

Although we left without a concrete plan for what is 'next' for the Contemplative Leaders Exchange, we all had the sense that we are at the beginning of something - that we will continue to be in touch, and that in the Spirit's good time, what is emerging will become clearer.

I am so grateful for the gift of this time and the opportunity to form friendships across the world. One of our participants, Mark Kutolowski from Metanoia of Vermont, put it this way:

'I left feeling incredibly humbled by the deep trust of these four contemplative elders - trust in the Holy Spirit's work in our generation and in the world. In our group I saw people who have committed their lives to building on the founders' insights, and who seek to bring the gifts of contemplation to effect bodily transformation and profound social change. I feel great joy in being part of a community of love who experiences contemplation as central to the Christian story, and is ready to support the larger body of Christ in growing in prayerful intimacy with God'.