A silent retreat — where do I sign up?

Various forms of prayer have helped me experience God’s presence directly during the daily moments of life with the brothers… during those early morning times alone, I have learned to devote some time to silent prayer. Not every day, but frequently, my mornings start with that time of openness, contrition, and longing. Making deliberate efforts for prayer have helped me actually receive the gift of love available in life with the brothers.


See Mindy’s fabulous full post at……   http://conversationsjournal.com/2015/03/life-with-the-brothers-2/


MYSTICISM: From Faith to Wisdom

Now faith actually brings all of the unconscious into integration with the rest of our life, but it does so in different ways. What is below us is accepted (not by any means merely rationalized). It is consented to in so far as it is willed by God. Faith enables us to come to terms with our animal nature and to accept the task of trying to govern it according to the divine will, that is, according to love. At the same time, faith subjects our reason to the hidden spiritual forces that are above it. In so doing, the whole man is brought into subjection to the “unknown” that is above him.


Source: MYSTICISM: From Faith to Wisdom


YET ANOTHER MASTERPIECE — a must see in the wrangle of paradoxical Christianity– as Rob Rife puts it: “In order to live, one must die. To be found, one must admit one is lost. To be strong, admit weakness. To gain success, embrace failure. To find yourself, give yourself away.”



An interesting and insightful interview with Amma Cynthia Bourgeault, wisdom mentor and “Rabonni” — thanks be to God, for her, and her incredible ministry!  She is a Desert Mystic and Contemplative extraordinaire!



Pentecost and Pacemakers

Here’s a most astounding story of god’s Grace in the life of a dear sister in Christ.  I praise Him for allowing her to remain in this realm a while longer; as her sudden loss, would have left this world bereft of another great soul — so much a conglomerate of Mother Teresa, and Thomas Merton.

My prayers reach out to you, Dearest One.  May His peace fill your life as you slip back into “Rio Abajo Rio”. Translated literally, it means “the river beneath the river”, suggesting that the spirit of life lies hidden beneath (within) the ordinary.

Pentecost 2015

Dear Wisdom Friends,

I guess you’re all wondering what happened to me last week.

The long and short of it is that on Saturday a week ago, while driving down from Maine to Massachusetts for our upcoming Ascensiontide Wisdom retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, I began to feel decidedly strange behind the wheel, needing to muster my entire concentration to keep from passing out. I spotted one of those blue hospital signs at a freeway exit and decided to follow it. A good intuition, it turns out! I was admitted with what’s known as acute third degree heartblock (which means that the heart’s electrical system is essentially in total meltdown), and emerged from the ordeal three days later with a new pacemaker happily ticking away in my chest.

It’s not exactly as if this came out of the blue. For a couple of years now I’d been complaining about difficulty with shortness of breath walking up hills, and I could tell inwardly that something was off. But my cardiologist had been focused on arterial issues rather than electrical ones, and the electrical system gave no outward signs of misbehaving. Just last January I’d been given a clean bill of heart health.

Glad I didn’t take his recommendation to begin a regular cardio fitness regime!

Drawing by Cynthia's grandchild

This has all turned out as well as possible. While a heartblock is definitely a serious condition (worst case scenario is progression to sudden cardiac arrest), it is also one of the most easily treatable. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am literally bionically reborn! My new high-tech pacemaker is programmed to cue off my natural atrial electrical impulse (the “top half” of the heartbeat) and help the ventricular impulse (the “lower half,” which was getting blocked) to synchronize. The result is that I am simply, fully “me” again, back in the ballgame with the old familiar pizzazz, and my eyes still blinking in wonder.

There is so much to be grateful for. If you have to have a medical emergency, this is about as cushioned as it gets. I was under 24-hour cardiac surveillance at a fine hospital until the surgery could be arranged, with the emergency pacemaker (if it came to that) right in the room. My daughter Lucy lives nearby, and was there at my side throughout the whole adventure — and now, is providing a wonderful space for recuperation while my new device and I settle in together. Best of all, my brilliant senior wisdom students, spearheaded by Bill Redfield and Patricia Speak, rose to the occasion magnificently and jointly co-created a memorable Ascensiontide retreat.

And from around the world, your love and prayers poured in. I felt deeply “carried” by a higher hand.

Everything being equal, I will receive the “all clear” from my pacemaker surgeon tomorrow and make my way back to Maine over the following two days, slowly resuming my normal activity (on which there should be no limitations). Thank heavens it was already a “hermit time” in my schedule, deliberately left wide open for writing and family visits.

The spiritual implications will take a bit longer to sink in. But for the moment, this is what’s uppermost in my mind:

For many years now during my evening psalmody I’ve chanted the line from Psalm 139: “the number of my days was appointed before one of them came into being.” And I think it’s Ecclesiastes where one finds the line, “Lord, make me to know the number of my days.” I know I’ve sung it in the Brahms Requiem. In fact, just six years ago at my first husband Cal’s memorial service.

Well, for better or worse, I now know the number of my days: 68 years, 2 months, 3+ days. Without being overly alarmist, it’s pretty clear to all concerned that the situation I experienced this weekend was not going to self-correct. Without those equal infusions of grace and modern technology my life would even now be winding down, or wound down already. As it is, I apparently have a 10-15 year medical extension, easily renewable if the rest of the one horse shay holds up.

It’s not like I’m now living on borrowed time, for this second wind that’s been given to me is fully my own life in this skin and bones, on this precious planet, and I intend to make the most of it. But you could say, perhaps, that it’s borrowed time from the Imaginal realm, a bit more space to explore the crucial dimensions of being finite, of bringing this all to a conscious fulfillment. And as I gradually get back into the rushing river of my life, I will try not to let this precious realization slip away.

Boundless thanks to all! In both realms. May I use this extension consciously and gratefully.

~ Cynthia

A gentle, beautiful description of Contemplative Prayer

Spiritual Practice: Sitting with a Question
by Beth A. Richardson

We live in a world full of questions, some of which cannot be answered. Living in questions rather than answers is not a comfortable place for many of us.

Try the following practice for 5 to 7 days. Rather than finding an answer to a question or thinking about it, the idea is to let a question float into your heart, where God’s presence can sit alongside it, be present in your feelings, or speak to you in the silence.

Set aside an uninterrupted fifteen or twenty minutes. Invite God to sit with you in this quiet time and ask for God’s presence as you ask yourself a question.
Settle yourself comfortably, yet solidly, in a chair. Take a few deep breaths. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth five or ten times. Then close your mouth and breath normally.

Observe each breath as it comes and goes. Concentrate on where you feel the rising and falling of the breath in your body. If it helps you focus on the breath, count the breaths up to ten and then start over again. Or think about a prayer word or phrase that will help your thinking mind slow down and come to a quiet place.

When you find yourself distracted by a noise or a thought, gently return your focus to the breath or to your prayer word or phrase.

When your mind is quiet, ask yourself a question. This could be a big or a small question, one that has just occurred to you or one that you have been carrying inside for a long time. Ask the question as though you were asking someone else. Then let the question sink into your heart, into your breath. As you continue to breathe, observe the emotion, the image, the sense, that comes to you. Let yourself breathe into, pray into, soak into whatever comes to you.

If you find yourself engaging in vigorous thoughts or debates about the question, gently return to counting your breaths or focusing on your prayer word or phrase.

After a time, gently let your awareness come back to your surroundings.

As you finish your time of meditation, say a prayer of thanks for God’s presence, for quiet, for questions, for feelings.

You may find that after a day or two or three, you have a sense of the answer to the question. Or it may be a question that you might need to sit with for a week, a month, or longer. Sometimes you might find that the question of your heart changes. The point of the exercise is to make the space to ask the questions. To listen to what comes forth, not from your thinking mind, but from the space within you when you quietly connect with God’s Spirit in prayer and meditation.

Adapted from "Questions from the Heart," Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, Vol. XXX, No. 3 (Nashville, TN: The Upper Room), 2015, 45-46


Doherty, Catherine de Hueck. Poustinia: Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1975.

Revised edition with new subtitle: Encountering God in Silence, Solitude, and Prayer. Combermere, ONT: Madonna House, 2000.

Evaluating the impact of Catherine Doherty (1896-1985) and her idea of poustinia is complicated by the issue of her personality and how she was received and interpreted by the hierarchy and religious of the Catholic Church in her day. Books of her reflections and talks only began to appear late in her life, when a certain degree of co-existence in Church circles appeared to tolerate her and her movement, by then its ideas having been largely absorbed by larger issues championed by more institution-friendly groups.

What was the Anglo-American ecclesiastical establishment to make of this outspoken Russian-born woman, a convert baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, an émigré to Canada and the U.S. who went from rags to riches to rags again, a divorcee who eventually got an annulment (itself controversial) back in the 1940’s, a woman who criticized Church and public policies on race, segregation, poverty, and economic justice long before they were mainstream Catholic issues?

Catherine Doherty remarried in 1943 and moved to Combermere, Ontario, an obscure place where she could work with the local bishop in reconstituting her Friendship House model, renaming it Madonna House. These houses were established as lay communal quarters, renouncing individual ownership, its residents embracing a life of economic and spiritual modesty on the model of traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The effort grew slowly but only thrived with the liberalizing atmosphere of the Vatican Council and its aftermath, intersecting, however, with the already popular vocabulary of ecumenism and — in the case of the poustinia concept — the retreat movement.

But none of this biographical information is told in the book Poustinia. The concept must be evaluated on its own terms.  The first of three sections of the book is about poustinia and clearly are the most original of the sections, apparently composed in the 1960’s. The remaining two sections are primarily talks to staff and visitors.

Poustinia is Russian for “desert,” and represents the path of solitude in searching for meaning. It evokes the long traditional of hermit monks and the figure of the forest-dwelling staretz. But the book never gets too far in explaining this tradition or how it can be presented to the West. Doherty assumes that the force of her personality is sufficient — and, indeed, it may have worked in person. But as a book the treatment is insufficient and lacks depth. For example, here is a concluding comment about poustinia:

It seems strange to say, but what can help modern man find the answers to his own mystery and the mystery of him in whose image he is created, is silence, solitude — in a word, the desert [emphasis in original]. Modern man needs these things more than the hermits of old.

Doherty briefly describes the Russian poustinik: the hermit living on the edge of town, door unlatched, welcoming anyone but seeking out no one. She relates what must have been an impressive childhood memory, that of Peter, a friend of her father who sold all of his considerable property and set out alone and barefoot like a medieval pilgrim or beggar, one of the jurodivia. Years later and in another city, her father recognized his friend’s expressionless face in a crowd of beggars.

He called out his name and intelligence returned to that face. They embraced. They went to Mass together and then had breakfast. My father asked, “Why have you chosen this vocation of idiot or retarded person?” Peter answered, “I am atoning for the men who have called Christ a fool during his lifetime and during all the centuries thereafter.” They kissed each other again, and Peter disappeared. My father never saw him again.

But these are the only anecdotes about hermits and eastern spirituality in the entire book. We are left wanting so much more!

In the remainder of part one Doherty adapts the concept of poustinia for lay people and occasional religious visitors. On the grounds of her House is a smallish house or cottage, furnished with cot, table and chair. The only permitted reading is a Bible, and the only permitted food (supplied) is bread and hot water for tea or coffee. The pousitnikki is to immerse himself or herself in sheer solitude, not reading more than the Bible, not working, no communications, not even praying if the spirit does not persuade. Walks in the woods or puttering in the cottage garden are permitted for the visitor’s weekend stay. Doherty even gives license to just sleep if that is all that the exhausted but honest wayfarer can accomplish. But solitude, sacrifice, silence, self-discipline — all these tools are intended to open the person to finding God experientially. Then the poustinikki can return to the “marketplace” of the world carrying the desert within the self.

Doherty’s book is conversational and informal. There are very few references to other writers or books, and no deep spiritual insights on the topic of solitude and silence. Doherty is eminently practical, like an administrator, though one remembers that Teresa of Avila was both an administrator and a mystic. There is little or no mysticism about Doherty’s style or personality, which would have been a redeeming quality in her lifelong battles with the Church. Instead, the charismatic movement has found room for her, and perhaps that is where her ideas best succeed, for they do not really reproduce the “spirituality of the East” nor did they ever take off in the West.

There is a small group representing Madonna House that is lobbying for Doherty’s canonization. Such efforts on behalf of any number of candidates these days have taken on an embarrassing aura of public relations and fund-raising. Poustinia is a valid concept, but given the many retreat models both Catholic and other in today’s self-help marketplace, one wonders how successfully this fragile plant has fared in being roughly transplanted outside of its native soil.