born again.

by Kevin Eicher

Many years ago I was deeply involved in what I will call “the church of my youth”. One day a friend asked me a question about my beliefs. That question lead me to other questions and I soon found myself, as I put it then: “lying on the valley floor” beat up and bloody without a single belief I could really hold on to. Over a period of time I developed new beliefs which lead to new questions and new valley experiences until eventually I came to a single unshakable belief: There is a god, and a single question: What’s he like? I have a real heart for the many people I meet that have asked the “questions-that-must-never-be-asked” and found themselves alone and hurting by what they found. I want them to know it’s all part of the journey, and it’s okay. This poem is about the journey of transformation. Transformation…it is painful …it is confusing …it is necessary, I hope it never ends. 

Born again. By Kevin Eicher

I was born into an understanding, of the world around me, 

and my place within it. 

I tried, very hard, to fill that place, in that world. 


One day while enjoying the view from the pinnacle of my understanding, 

I caught a glimpse of a distant peak, and the earth moved, 

and I fell, crashing, to a new understanding, with a new place within it. 

I was born again. 


One day while enjoying the view from the pinnacle of my new understanding, 

I heard music, and as I listened , my heart broke, 

and I fell, crashing, to a new understanding, with a new place within it. 

I was born again. 


One day while enjoying the view from the pinnacle of my new understanding, 

I heard a voice, and my mind doubted the voice, and darkness overcame me, 

and I fell, crashing, to a new understanding, with a new place within it. 

I was born again. 


One day while enjoying the view from the pinnacle of my new understanding, 

I felt the waves of the ocean break upon my soul, 

and I was swept away, to a new understanding, with a new place within it. 

I was born again. 


One day while enjoying the view from the pinnacle of my new understanding, 

I leaped, heart, mind and soul,  into the view, and the music, and the Word, and the water, 

and I was carried away, to a new understanding, with a new place within it. 

I was born again, and again, and again…


Kevin Eicher is a spiritual pilgrim, a thinker, and a creative. He and his wife have used their careers in long distance trucking as an impetus to a simple life and a gateway to relationships and adventures in areas they would otherwise never have encountered.When they are not running the roads or exploring the world, they live in Council Bluffs Iowa with their children and grandchildren. 


by Allison Cloud

One summer day last year, while repeatedly surrendering to the unraveling of mid-life, I found myself caretaker of two caterpillars, one monarch and one black swallowtail.  As they munched and grew on my screened porch, I was able to watch them molt to their pupa state, the chrysalis.  Did you know that a caterpillar must break itself open to become the chrysalis?  So they can become less themselves and more themselves at the same time?  It was incredible to see.  This liminal space, this in-between became a powerful image to me as I waited and watched throughout the day, meditating and praying with the chrysalis in front of me, but also in my heart, spirit and mind.  I researched what happens to a caterpillar while in the pupa state.  I found scientists who have been able to record the sounds from within a chrysalis.  It is heartbreaking to hear.  Nearly two weeks later, I watched the monarch emerge (I missed the swallowtail, sadly).  The slow and painful process of exiting the chrysalis had me mesmerized.Finally, after the wings had dried, stretched and strengthened, the monarch butterfly took short flights for another hour, then was gone forever.  For my birthday that fall, my husband planted a butterfly garden in our backyard so that I can continue raising them.  Currently, there are hundreds of caterpillar eggs covering the milkweed plants.  I can’t wait to see it all unfold again.

Metamorphosis By Allison Cloud

break me open
wrap darkness around

descend to


til I


do you hear?
anguished moans
unbearable cries
desperate pleas to



my suffering.

for I am being

as I
inside my tomb-womb.

where on the outside all is
glittered gold

my tragic beauty

where darkness must become
as light to me

where I must embrace the torment

I consent!
I surrender
to this, my chrysalis.


Allison Cloud is a creative and contemplative from Kansas City, who enjoys roles as teacher, leader, wife, mother, gardener, lifelong learner and community theater actress. She serves as Assistant Director of a large KC-area homeschool academy in order to provide them with enrichment and social experiences. When not pursuing these endeavors, Allison raises her four sons, plus butterflies on her porch.  She is beginning spiritual formation and spiritual direction certification through Souljourners and the Benedictine Sisters at Mt. St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas this fall.  Connect with her on Instagram @alcloud.


turning tables / space making

by Eric Leroy Wilson

Holy Monday is fast approaching.  I am faced with a time of reflection about Jesus turning over tables and benches as He cleanses the Court of the Gentiles.  While several moments in Jesus’ life are not included in all four gospels this moment certainly is.  John places this event early in the earthly ministry of Jesus while Matthew, Mark and Luke tie this event to the Pharisees justification for his unjust arrest, imprisonment, torture and eventual execution.   This rhythm is still very much in play today.  As we suffer from our current psychosis of nationalism we look for clear cut justification for heavy handed policing, quick convictions, and the expansion of the prison industrial complex.  But Jesus turns over tables.Jesus turns over tables and benches in our lives to jar us into seeing our world in vastly different ways.  Circumstances present themselves on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis to invite us to disenthrall ourselves of our surety, romance with certainty, and our clinging to status quo.  These table turning moments, chance encounters, acts of beauty and of banality, awe inspiring connections with creation, can serve to usher us toward an embrace of Christ counsiousness. In the following poem I attempt to capture this moment of table turning.  The attempt is to explore the moment in the temple frozen in time and space where Jesus takes radical action to shake the world out of it’s lust for isolationism and avarice.  May it serve to speed us towards a day where there is space made for all. 

Turning Tables/Space Making
By Eric Leroy Wilson 

The gasped word “wait“ hangs full bodied in thick air. 

Tables fly and the jangle of shekels, silver coined clashing ring like the sound you’d image the song sun beans make.  

Tables and benches in slowed rotation in space before gravity gets it way. 

Wait…. Hold on…


Muscles of a Rabbi exhale as wood gives way to force, 

Hands that would soon hold nails find release as objects once supine now fly.

The gasp of a moneychanger far too familiar with his own greed,

The flutter of birds questioning why are they now freed,

The strain of a vein on the furrowed visage of a gluttonous High Priest,

The subtle pop of boiling blood from the heated hearts of Pharisees hardened for far too long,

Wait… hold on… My hand half raised. 


As the guttural rumble of oxen grow to the beginning of their baying,

As the sheep build up pressure behind pallets for their bleating,

As Peter reaches for the prophet for restraining,

As the corner of my eye clinches to protect for projectiles and stray pinions,

Far away in some far corner of creation a host of six winged angels fall back defensive.

As God and the Holy Spirit shout acclamation,

Empire is critiqued, with no need for explanation.

What was alluded to as implicit now made full physical and explicit.

Sweat from a Saviors brow now dripping.

Wait… wait… hold on, I stutter with one hand raised.


The crack of leather cuts the fleshy back of open temple atmosphere.

A gall force wind whips with a backhand slash.

I’m pushed forward by the blast.

If only to stand, adjusting tendon, sinew and calf.

Heart being pushed from its lodging by a battle cry I never knew I knew.

A yell held silent for thousands of years I find myself now screaming:





His rage so well placed; 

Not on merchant, 



Or priest.

But on this nationalism so ensnaring there is no place for the other to be. 

An anger made beautiful by its sublimity.


Hold on Jesus!

You would do all of this for me?

To make space for the likes of us to pray?

And find our way,

In the presence of loving



Eric Wilson serves as the Associate Chaplain at Pepperdine University in Malibu California.  Wilson is a certified Spiritual Director, Executive Coach and is a religion blogger for the HuffPost.  He is an award winning playwright and theatrical director.  His work has been published and performed around the country including the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  Eric’s work attempts to leverage contemplative practice, the arts, and soul care for the purpose of fostering social justice in the world. Wilson’s book, Faith the First Seven Lessons was released Fall of 2016.

*header photo credit: Tomasz Sroka

Second Axial Awakening

by Matthew Wright

Running through the history of our planet is a current of spiritual awakening. Beginning as a trickle, it flows through the cracks of history, touching at first individuals, now washing out, over and through interconnected circles, building in force, moving to gather up all things in its embrace.

The current flowed in the first great Axial Age, awakening us to a new depth. Abraham and Sarah left tribe and tribal gods to seek after the One. The Indian rishis retired to their caves in search of the Self. The Buddha left wife and child in the palace and set off on his quest for enlightenment. Ties with family, tribe, and Earth were broken and a new possibility emerged.

We climbed ladders of ascent and journeyed into subtle realms of Spirit. We touched the Transcendent. And often we imagined that we had discovered the purpose of our existence: escape from this world, a flight to the Beyond. We struggled to break the cycle of suffering and rebirth and to attain to the heavenly prize.

All the while the water continued to quietly flow, its force increased through the door that was opened. Not at all what we had imagined—an escape route—this channel instead allowed the qualities of Spirit to flow more fully into this world, guiding the evolution of our planet toward its fullness as an ever-deepening revelation of the Divine Heart.

This is the story I imagine as I ponder the subtle shift being felt around our planet today. For the longest swath of our history, we’ve imagined the spiritual journey as an individual quest for salvation or enlightenment, with the ultimate goal of escape, or liberation, from the world of matter. Whether we’ve seen the problem as samsara and suffering or falleness and sin, something is wrong with this place—and we want out! Images of separation and exile have long dominated our spiritual consciousness.

But slowly over the past century, and now with increasing speed, a sense of oneness is emerging in the consciousness of our planetary body. We are realizing instead that we belong. Multiple strands of knowledge point us to this truth: from environmentalists, recognizing that we are part of a global ecosystem; to quantum physicists, uncovering the deep interconnection at the most subtle levels of matter; to evolutionary biologists, revealing life’s unfolding as a vast, single process. Slowly we are beginning to discover that there is ultimately no separation within the field of existence—only one seamless dance. We belong deeply to this world, interwoven fully into its fabric.

This realization is forming the headwaters of a Second Axial Age[1], another great shift in consciousness equal in weight to that which gave rise (roughly between 800 and 200 BCE[2]) to the impulse that eventually manifested as our existing great religious structures. With that first great turn of the wheel, we opened to the beauty of the individual and the possibility of the Transcendent, and a new human journey began. But in the process we lost much of an earlier, collective sense of belonging rooted in tribe, and a deep, felt sense of connection to Earth.

In this next great turn in the spiral dance, we are picking up what was lost—no longer at the tribal, but at the global level. We are entering a period of deep integration, weaving together the primal, collective, and cosmic with the rational, individual, and transcendent—binding together Heaven and Earth. The Divine Heart is moving towards the fullness of its expression in form. With this new turn of the wheel, we release our sense of exile and settle in for the work at hand. Our Second Axial awareness begins from a new starting place: union. We have never been separate: not from one another, not from the Earth that holds us, not from the Infinite we long for.

Instead, we discover that our longing is itself the longing of the Divine Heart, struggling to come to birth in the world of form; it is the very current of awakening that drives the planet toward its fullness. We have misunderstood this longing as a defect—a symptom of our exile. It is instead the deepest sign of our belonging to the work of this world. It is the driveshaft of the entire evolutionary process as we move towards our awakening as a single planetary body.

We have not been left unprepared for this work. While the Second Axial impulse is only now gaining global traction, it has been subtly shaping the spiritual currents of our planet for the last two thousand years. We see it forcefully in the rise of the Bodhisattva vow within Mahayana Buddhism: a shift away from individual enlightenment and escape into Nirvana, toward a pledge to remain in the phenomenal world for the service of collective awakening.

We see it in the birth of Christianity, directly in the life of Jesus, who rejected a First Axial ascetic path in favor of one that fully embraced the world—he feasted, danced, and wept, all the while associating with those designated outcasts and sinners. He refused to recognize the expected divisions between sacred and profane. This full on embrace of phenomenal existence was enshrined in Christianity’s core doctrine of the Incarnation—that “the Word became flesh” in the world “God so loved”—but the Second Axial impulse of its founder was repeatedly roped back into the existing First Axial road maps.

Most clearly, perhaps, we see the Second Axial emergence in Islam and its mystical tradition, Sufism. The Islamic world took the rhythm of monastic prayer and offered it in the marketplace. Like Christianity, it broke out of the ethnic and tribal identity of its parent religion, Judaism (which itself never completely lost touch with its pre-Axial earthiness and embrace of the world). Islam’s mystical path, based on the life of a prophet who was husband, lover, parent, warrior, and statesman, found it practically impossible to give way to the First Axial impulse toward asceticism and monasticism. Sufism pledged to keep the contemplative life fully integrated into the life of the world. It was in many ways the first wave of what many today are calling “the new monasticism.”

Today we can claim these streams for what they are: the early in-breaking of Second Axial consciousness, a dramatic shift away from the dualistic separation of “Spirit” from “world.” Channels for these waters are the ones we must dig and deepen. As this Second Axial Awakening takes hold on the global scale, we must begin the work of reimagining and realigning our First Axial religions. What will change when we see these great traditions as so many currents within a vast planetary movement of awakening and integration? How will we carry their wisdom forward in an age characterized by a primary consciousness of union, belonging, and interconnection?

I believe that our hope still lies in our religions, and that we abandon them at a great loss. They hold much of the wisdom we will need in this next great transformation. But the invitation now is to a dance, not a lecture. The traditions will no longer be only the teachers, but the students as well. As they teach us, we will teach them. The evolution, like all such dances, will be mutual. The wheel will turn once more and the waters will flow powerful and strong, the Divine Heartbeat loud and full.

[1] named such by Ewert Cousins in his stunning Christ of the 21st Century (New York, NY: Continuum, 1992), 7ff.

[2] credit for naming this window of history the “Axial Age” goes to Karl Jaspers in his seminal Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History (Zurich: Artemis, 1949), 19-43.

 Matthew Wright is an Episcopal priest working to renew the Christian Wisdom tradition within a wider interspiritual framework. Alongside his practice of Christianity, he draws deeply from the sacred worlds of Islamic Sufism and Vedanta. Matthew serves as priest-in-charge at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock, NY and is a teacher for Northeast Wisdom, a non-profit rooted in the contemplative teaching lineage of Cynthia Bourgeault. He lives with his wife Yanick alongside the brothers of Holy Cross Monastery. Matthew is an up-and-coming speaker and retreat leader, and regular contributor for the Contemplative Journal where he writes on a variety of spiritual subjects.

This article originally appeared at

*header photo credit: NASA

The Enneagram as a Tool for Excavating Your Essence with Chris Heuertz (Author of The Sacred Enneagram)

Podcast: Contemplify
Host: Paul Swanson


Enneagram teacher Chris Heuertz will help you understand how to utilize the Enneagram to work with these questions with a deeper sense of self-awareness to find your way home to your True Self. He is the author of The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth.

New Contemplative Leaders Exchange

 A Reflection by Phileena Heuertz


Last year, at the invitation of renowned Cistercian monk Fr. Thomas Keating, four of among the most prominent living western Christian contemplative teachers gathered in Snowmass at St. Benedict’s Monastery. In addition to Fr. Keating, three others gathered in respectful friendship: Rev. Dr. Tilden Edwards, Fr. Laurence Freeman, and Fr. Richard Rohr. Each of these men are recognized as being at the forefront of the Western Christian contemplative renewal, and each founded respective contemplative organizations.

United by their shared commitment to the Christian contemplative tradition and concern for the healing of our world, after their week-long dialogue, they determined it was important to gather a group of younger contemplative leaders. A name for the gathering soon emerged: “New Contemplative Leaders Exchange.” It was important to the founders that this be a genuine “exchange,” learning from one another and the Holy Spirit within each of us.

So, August 14-18, 2017, I joined twenty other “younger” contemplatives at Snowmass, along with the four teachers who invited us. We were organized in groups of five or six according to the founder and his organization that we were representing.

Rev. Dr. Margaret Benefiel, the current Executive Director of Shalem, was asked by the founders to facilitate our conversations, and the entire gathering was funded by the Trust for the Meditation Process, Minneapolis, MN.

As you can imagine, it was an opportunity of a lifetime. I was so honored to be included in the meeting, and upon arrival was greeted by some of the brightest and most compassionate Christians I’ve ever met.

While it was obvious that we were not the only younger leaders on the contemplative landscape, it was apparent that our relationship with the teachers was one of trust. We had been invited out of the inspiration that emerged among the elders the year prior. They wanted to identify a few younger contemplatives who could be entrusted with their wisdom lineages in order to nurture and advance the movement in the coming years.

Following are the next generation contemplative leaders who were present at the Exchange, representing the corresponding founders and their organizations. 

Tilden Edwards, Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation:

Thomas J. Bushlack, Ph.D. St. Louis, MO, Associate Professor of Theology & Christian Ethics, Aquinas Institute of Theology, Representative to the Exchange and Trustee, Trust for Meditation Process

Rev. Dr. Stuart Higginbotham, Gainesville, GA, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church

Bo Karen Lee, Ph.D., Princeton, NJ, Associate Professor of Spiritual Theology and Formation, Princeton Theological Seminary

Jessica (Jessie) M. Smith, Ph.D., Washington DC, Director of Research and Planning, General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church

Rev. Matthew Wright, Woodstock, NY, Rector, St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church

Laurence Freeman, World Community for Christian Meditation:

Sarah Bachelard, Bruce, Australia, Director Benedictus Contemplative Church

Drs. Sicco Claus, MaPhil, Den Haag, Netherlands, Ph.D. student,  public school teacher, and National Coordinator of the Netherlands for World Community for Christian Meditation

Leonardo Correa, Porto Alecre, Brazil, Director of Communications, World Community for Christian Meditation

Karen Pedigo, Ph.D., Frankfort, IL, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, The Center for Mindfulness Psychotherapy, Teacher, World Community for Christian Meditation

Fr. Vladimir Volrab, Decin, Czech Republic, Hussite Priest, Bishop’s Vicar, National Coordinator of World Community for Christian Meditation

Thomas Keating, Contemplative Outreach:

Sabina Alkire, Ph.D., Oxford, United Kingdom, Director Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI), University of Oxford, Associate Priest, Parish of Cowley St John, East Oxford 

Erik Keeney, Snowmass, CO, Cistercian monk St. Benedict’s Monastery, OCSO, Thomas Keating’s assistant

Mark Kutolowski, Thetford, VT, Metanoia of Vermont

Fr. Justin Lanier, Bennington, VT, Rector, St. Peter’s Church

Rory McEntee, Madison, NJ, Ph.D. student, Drew University

Rafael Dickson Morales, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Richard Rohr, Center for Action and Contemplation:

Adam Bucko, Nashotah, WI, M.Div. student, Nashota House Theological Seminary

Phileena Heuertz, Omaha, NE, Founding Partner, Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism

Mark Longhurst, Williamstown, MA, Pastor, First Congregational Church, Editor, Ordinary Mystic,

Kirsten Oates, Sausalito, CA, Managing Director Program Design and Teacher Relations, Center for Action and Contemplation

Gabrielle Stoner, Ada, MI, M.A. theology student Chicago Theological Seminary


During the course of four days we began each morning at 6:30 for meditation, followed by grand silence through breakfast until beginning our dialogue for the day at 9:30 am. Two more meditation or silent prayer sits punctuated the days, in addition to prayer and Eucharist with Fr. Thomas’ Cistercian, (Trappist), community.

During the first complete day, the left brain came out in full force with each group proposing important issues of concern for the future of the contemplative movement. Chief among the issues included addressing two elements in the movement’s shadow: one that is dominated by white middle and upper class Christians and lacking concerted action for social change. Several recognized the poverty of our friendships and the need to join with more leaders of color to be able to do the collective healing our world needs.

The Rohr group, of which I was a part, made the following statement:

We cherish the gifts of the Christian Contemplative Tradition. We honor the lives and work of our founders who have evolved this tradition. We desire to participate in evolving this contemplative tradition and make it accessible to the masses because we believe in its relevancy and transformative depth. 

And for it to be truly transformative we need to address our movement’s current shadow:

We recognize the poverty of our friendships in this Exchange and desire to heal divisions with historically oppressed people unrepresented through humble, open, dialogue, friendship, and co-creating communion paradigm models (social justice).

Our ideas shape reality. Incarnational theology and embodied mysticism require paying attention to the bodies around us.

Teresa Pasquale Mateus’ leadership with the Mystic Soul Conference coming up in January 2018 was mentioned, and members were invited to consider attending the conference to listen, learn, and build community.

Other issues brought into focus included:

  • The phenomenology of contemplation from impasse (domination paradigms) to prophecy (communion paradigms)
  • Networking (How to connect and harness the wisdom of the contemplative spectrum)
  • Formation and Educational Models (Congregations, communities, etc. as schools of contemplative embodiment)
  • Contemplative Action: Prayer, service, activism (How action becomes contemplation)
  • Mindfulness and Christian contemplation
  • Body and incarnational contemplation

By the second day, a significant shift occurred. The right collective brain awakened (no doubt due to our collective prayer sits). This day was marked with vulnerability, deepening friendship, and a commitment to supporting one another.

Being located in the sacred valley of Snowmass, drenched in solitude, silence, and stillness and years and years of collective prayer, and participating in a minimum of ninety minutes of meditation each day, served to help open us to the intuitive, spiritual dimension of our collective body. So that by the final day, we were grounded in friendship and deeper trust, and unified in a collective desire to work together in service of the healing of our world.

But of course, four days for a group of unfamiliar people is hardly enough time to tackle the challenges before us.

So, by the final day, with the left and right hemispheres of our collective primary brain united, and the secondary brain (our intuitive gut) energized, and with the insights and wisdom of our founders, we agreed to a few modest commitments:

  • Select a representative from each of the four groups who will be responsible for connecting us to the larger body.
  • Continue to nurture the small group entities (organized by the founder we were representing) for deepening friendship, mutual support, and possible initiatives.
  • And to look for ways in which we can all collaborate at greater levels, keeping in view the larger contemplative landscape and its leaders who were not in attendance at this meeting.

This is only the beginning.

Since the founding of Shalem in 1973, Contemplative Outreach in 1984, Center for Action and Contemplation in 1986, and World Community for Christian Meditation in 1991, we have spanned nearly half a century. These renowned Western Christian contemplative teachers and their respective organizations have determinedly helped to renew the Western Christian contemplative tradition for our time. And in all those years of sacrificial service, 2016 was the first year all four of the founders had ever been altogether.

2017 marks a huge shift in connection, friendship, networking, and support for the contemplative movement. It seems only natural that we can anticipate a compounding effect of our meeting this year—the beginning of a commitment to unite contemplatives everywhere in our shared desire to be of service to the evolution of consciousness, and to heal our world through contemplative practice and compassionate action.

Mark Kutolowski 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 affect bodily transformation and profound social change. I feel great joy in being a 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.” 


Benefiel, Margaret (2017 August 3). “Contemplative Founders Meeting with Young Contemplative Leaders,” Religion News Service. Retrieved from

Other New Contemplatives Reflections:

Bushlack, Thomas (2017 August 25). “Bearing (True) Witness,” Creating Space for Transformation. Retrieved from

Higginbotham, Stuart (2017 August 25). “Minister’s message: A Journey from impasse to imagination in Christ,” The Times. Retrieved from

Photo Credit: Tom Bushlack, Richard Rohr, and Phileena Heuertz


the shout of sacred consent

by Eric Leroy Wilson

The memories of the older women I observed as a child at Riverview Church are etched indelibly in my mind. This church, built by the sweat and labor of my grandmother and grandfather, was the seedbed of my contemplative life. That church was sacred ground defended and held by these warrior women of faith. Their work-creased hands, sculpted by caring and cotton picking, offered bits of peppermint candy out of the corners of secondhand purses. Their backs were made strong by stooping and picking up the pieces of broken men shattered by a world antagonistic to their very being. These women were fierce. While denied access to adequate education, these women held depth. Their very presence functioned as midwifery to my faith. As they held vigil over their own sorrows during worship they would coax and wheedle the sacred, which was buried within me, to the surface. And these women moaned as the Holy Spirit moaned and as the earth moaned. They sang from a place as deep as the bowels of slave ships and yet from such a thin space you could swear you saw a glimpse of heaven and earth becoming one. And as the preacher preached and as holy words were proclaimed they would say, “Yeeeeeesssssss! This was different than a typical exclamation of, “Amen!” This was not just some throw away, “Hallelujah!” This was a profoundly felt and richly stated, “Yeeeeeesssssss!” And their “Yeeeeeesssssss!” may be the solution to many, if not all of the problems our world faces today, because their “Yeeeeeesssssss!” is so vastly different from the dangerous “yes” of our day. 

So often our “yes” is the reactionary “yes” to obligations we never really bought into. Sometimes we say yes and agree to do things we don’t have time to do only to gain approval from people we don’t even like. The dangerous “yes” of our day is a “yes” to exploitation of the other due to the false vow we make in our heart that we live in a world of lack, want, and scarcityThe “yes” we say from a place of assumed deficiency affirms our willingness to horde resources, turn a blind eye to systemic disparity, and find comfort in our apathy for the other. Yet all the while Jesus invites us to see a world that can feed a multitude with a few loaves and fish. Jesus bursts on the scene turning our eyes from scarcity to living life, and living it to the full. 

Sure there are the benign “yeses” of our day. The “yes” we say to meals with loved ones, the “yes” to walks with four-legged friends, the “yes” to coffee breaks and “yes” to social media likes of smiling babies and silly memes. All of these “yeses” are good and are the stuff of life lived. But so many of the “yeses” we use as common currency purchase for us all hardships when they are spent on agreeing to exploitation, estrangement, and indifference.

But if we look into the depths of our being there is the “Yeeeeeesssssss” within us all. In the recesses of our heart where our spirit and the Spirit of the Divine keep company with one another is our “Yeeeeeesssssss” of sacred consent. This is the place where your heart says “yes” to eternity. There is in the deepest place of your heart a space where you offer consent to all of God’s invitation. This is the place where we say “yes” to God’s invitation to intimacy. This sacred place within is where we say “yes” to God’s invitation to be transformed in the likeness of Christ. This is a likeness characterized by grace, joy, forgiveness, and vast pools of compassion — all of which is willing to be spread thick and wide and indiscriminately over all. In times of silence, stillness, meditation and keeping company with God, God is faithful to reveal this glorious area of our sacred consent. Our job is to familiarize ourselves with this place of sacred consent. And once we are familiar with this space, we must stand up with in this interior place and practice living from our sacred consent.

I’m convinced this is what these women were attesting to so many years ago in that shack of a church building. As the rough-hewn pews creaked under the weight of the lives they carried, these women offered shouts from the place of their sacred consent. While they knew the pain of loving too hard and working fingers to the bone, they also knew there was a place inside themselves where they and their God met. And anytime a passage was read or a song sung or a thought offered that happened to brush up against that place in their heart, they had no choice but to offer to us all a resounding, “Yeeeeeesssssss!” And I’ve spent the better part of my life now trying to find mine. When I do, I pray my “Yeeeeeesssssss!” brings as much light in this world as their “Yeeeeeesssssss!” did mine.

Eric Wilson serves as the Associate Chaplain at Pepperdine University in Malibu California.  Wilson is a certified Spiritual Director, Executive Coach and is a religion blogger for the HuffPost.  He is an award winning playwright and theatrical director.  His work has been published and performed around the country including the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.  Eric’s work attempts to leverage contemplative practice, the arts, and soul care for the purpose of fostering social justice in the world. Wilson’s book, Faith the First Seven Lessons was released Fall of 2016.   

This post originally appeared on HuffPost in February 2016.  
*header photo credit: Kathy Hillacre

i am because we are

by Elisabeth Barahona

Marriage is a mysterious journey of learning how to consent to God in order to learn how to say “yes” to one’s spouse.  It is a delicate interdependence of honoring both the I and the we in this journey towards marital togetherness.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu provides a powerful framework called Ubuntu that encapsulates how the individual and the community cannot be divorced.  In short, Ubuntu is “I am because we are.” 

The difficulty of marriage cannot be underestimated.  The first years of our marriage forced us to examine painful and ugly parts of ourselves.  We decided that one thing we would always strive for is to be honest with ourselves first prior to compromising on a given issue. Ten years in, we are still figuring out how to live into that.  We have learned that when we begin to feel anger or resentment towards each other, it is a sign that our individual voices have already been muted.  We have to spend time hearing our own voice before we can offer it to anyone else.  That is our individual responsibility; no one can do this for us.  I am learning that there is room for the Ubuntu phrase to also become inverted, We are only if I am.

How can we honor the I in we?  Contemplative Christian practices offer us a model.  These practices (centering prayer, breath prayer, lectio divina) teach us to listen instead of talk.  Prayer becomes communion, rather than just one-way communication.  Submitting ourselves to this Divine presence requires us to show up and to consent to God’s movement.  I am not in charge.  I am not in control.  I am not the one changing or illuminating.  Although a limited analogy, it is as if I am a cell phone showing up to be connected to the power source.  I am doing the work of showing up to prayer, but I relinquish the power and control to the one who is doing the charging.  I am showing up to wait on the Lord to illuminate and change me.

When we wait on the Lord to show up to us, we encounter a God that has always offered this remarkable story of Love.  Contemplative prayer allows us to cultivate the tools through silence, solitude and stillness to tune into the Divine. This invitation has always been extended, we are just learning to accept the invitation.  This invitation is not new, it’s just newly available to us because we are learning to finally listen.  Learning to listen to God’s voice is, in fact, learning how to listen to our own voice.  And listening to our own voice is learning to listen to God’s voice.  I am because we are.  We are because I am.  When our vertical relationship with God is strengthened, our horizontal relationship in marriage is equally strengthened.

Contemplative practices are offering me a model for communion with God that first allows me to find my own voice in this Divine story of Love.  I cannot know my voice apart from God’s.  Our job is to show up.  God’s job is to do the rest. Then, only then, can we truly show up to our marriage with our voice that is now grounded in the I and the Divine we.  We have expanded the circle of love into three way communion.

I am because we are.  We are because I am.  Marriage is a mysterious journey of consenting to the Divine first, which in turn fuels the “yes” to our marital union. Marriage is a painful and amazing process of learning to expand our internal and external circles of love.  Expand the circle from I to we.  We were never meant to do this life alone.  It teaches us about the fullness of what love can be.  The circle is much bigger than we can imagine.

fb_img_1486760090966-187x300 Elisabeth Barahona considers herself rich because she has the privilege of sharing her life with her amazing husband and three children. Professionally, she is a Licensed clinical social worker at Maple City Health Care Center in Goshen, IN. She is an artist, beauty-seeker, life-learner, justice-pursuer and ever on a quest for her soul.


This piece originally appeared on Menno Snapshots, the official blog for Mennonite Church USA

Active Contemplation in Response to Socio-political Upheaval

by Phileena Heuertz

Our recent presidential election has exposed and emphasized a great rift in the people who make up our nation. Political, economic, social, and religious ideologies may not have ever been more at odds with one another.

Our new millennia has brought with it so much change. It’s as if our world has been advancing at a faster rate than ever before, and it’s hard for us all to keep up. So some of us are nostalgic, looking backward to bygone days when America seemed simpler and safer. While others are dreaming, look forward to what America can be. What’s critical is that we examine what America is, right here, right now.

That’s what the current socio-political climate is giving us a chance to do. And it’s clear that we as a people are severely divided in our experiences and our perspectives. But I gather when it comes to our values, we all hold a lot more in common than it appears; values that our Declaration of Independence upholds as inalienable rights:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And so rather than demonize one political party or another, or one person or group of people or another, let us find ways to see and hear how one another desires these rights, as a people, as a society, as an American family.

We belong to one another. Let us find ways to see our self in the other. For ultimately we are not battling each other, but illusory ideologies that threaten our common humanity.

Many of us have felt very overwhelmed by the president’s first thirteen days in office and the upheaval his executive orders have caused. Being overwhelmed can lead to apathy and disempowerment. So let us resist such paralytic responses by taking a big deep breath. Then, in addition to fortifying a daily contemplative practice, consider the following commitments related to constructive ACTION that you can take:

Be (A)lert.

These times require we not sit idly by. Recognize that if you feel relatively unthreatened by the current administration that that is a luxury for you. Recognize the populations of people who are genuinely afraid (women, LGBTQIA persons, blue collar workers, the disabled, immigrants and refugees) and stay accurately informed about how Trump’s executive orders and administration may impact their right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Imagine what you would hope from others if it were your life that felt threatened.

Be (C)ourageous.

Be willing to stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable members of our society regardless of political party, race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation.

Be (T)houghtful.

Before you react to the socio-political climate, practice a little restraint and think. Let thoughtful observation of your own biases and compulsions inform the way you interact with others.

Be (I)nquisitive.

Stay curious. It’s easy to dehumanize the “other” when we don’t personally know her or him. Get to know people who look different, think different, and behave differently from you.

Be (O)pen.

When we feel threatened, our basic physiological reflex is to self-protect. But we are more than our physiology. We have consciousness and inherent power to transcend our impulses. Rather than close up and withdraw or close up and attack, let’s dare to remain open, knowing that the greatest threat we face is betraying our highest potential to love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and co-create a peaceable society.

Be (N)ourishing.

During trying times on a personal or collective scale, men and women committed to contemplative activism will practice restraint from their impulses to fight or flight and choose the more challenging way of nourishing that which is hurting. Our society is hurting. Our neighbors are hurting. Members of our family are tired and afraid. Consider what you can do to nourish the people around you and the spheres of influence you inhabit.

And if these commitments are difficult for you, as they surely will be at one time or another, remember that contemplative practice makes such embodied commitments possible. Now more than ever perhaps, we must adopt regular contemplative practice. For spiritual practice like contemplative prayer and meditation open the mind and the heart, releasing our best selves to co-create Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness for all.

*header photo credit: Christian Battaglia

The Contemplative Way as a Practice in Death

by Drew Jackson

In William Shakespeare’s play Measure for Measure, it was Claudio who said, “Death is a fearful thing.” These words resonate with each of us in one way or another. We all have fears associated with death. Like the child who is afraid of the dark, we fear what we cannot see. We fear that which we cannot know for certain. Fear of the unknown causes us to have great anxiety at the thought of death.

Will the process be painful? Is there any life after death? How will I be remembered when I’m gone, if I’m even remembered at all? These are just a few of the questions that race through our minds when we are confronted with the thought of our own death.

Not only do we have fear of the unknown when it comes to death, but we also fear the loss of control. Death is the ultimate surrendering of control. It is the final act of letting go. This, however, is what causes us to fear because we like to grip tightly to life. We fear death because we don’t want to lose life. Yet it was Jesus who said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

This is the great paradox: that life best lived is lived as a series of losses, a series of deaths. Death is not meant to be a one time event at the end of life but, rather, a daily experience by which by which we learn to continually embrace the unknown, step into mystery, and release the need to control. The last words that Jesus breathed out as he hung on the cross were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” However, we know that this committing or surrendering of the will to God, this death, was not just a one time act but, it was a moment by moment practice throughout the life of Jesus.

The practices of contemplative spirituality, such as silence, solitude, and stillness, make space for us to learn this type of surrender in the midst of our daily lives. Thus, the contemplative way is a practice in “death.” If you have ever witnessed the moment of death you know that death is ultimately silent, still, and alone. The practices of contemplative spirituality prepare us for this. The contemplative way thrusts us into the beautiful struggle of embracing the unknown and losing the need to control.

In silence and solitude we confront our fear of the unknown because we are forced to come face to face with ourselves. We fear what we cannot see or discern, and most of us live without being able to see what lies beneath the surface of our own lives.

We often drown ourselves in noise and busy ourselves with activity because we don’t know what we will discover if we are left to our own selves and our own thoughts. Yet it is when we come to see ourselves that we learn what must metaphorically, die. The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:31, “I die every day.” The death he was referring to was the death of what he often called the flesh, or what the mystics call the false self or the shadow self. When we adopt contemplative practices as regular parts of our lives, we are taught how to welcome death to our false self, instead of resist it.

Both Scripture and nature teach us that death is the pathway to life.

Jesus said in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Without death there can be no life. Learning to practice death through contemplation teaches us what it looks like to live, and live fruitfully. The fruit that results from death to the false self is rarely, if ever, for us, but it is for others to experience life. The Apostle Paul speaks to this when he says in 2 Corinthians 4:12, “death is at work in us, but life in you.” This is the story of the Christian gospel, that death for Jesus meant life for the world. When the gospel becomes a lived reality in our lives, we practice death so that others can experience life.

To some, pondering death seems morbid, but Scripture teaches us that in doing so there is wisdom to be found. This is because pondering and practicing death teaches us how to live. Death shows all of us that we are finite and have limitations. When we learn to practice death through contemplative practice we develop the ability to see our manifold limitations. The practices of silence, stillness, and solitude help us learn that we cannot control everything, and they invite us to practice death by embracing our limitations.

William Shakespeare famously said in his play Julius Caesar, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” In making comment on this quote in his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway says: 

(The man who first said that) was probably a coward…. He knew a great deal about cowards but nothing about the brave. The brave dies perhaps two thousand deaths if he’s intelligent.

I stand in agreement with Hemingway in saying that wisdom is found in learning to die many deaths. Contemplative spirituality invites us to be those who can say, “every day I die a thousand deaths.” This is wisdom. This, indeed, is life.

Death and resurrection are not reserved for the end of life. Both realities are meant to be experienced every moment. The practices of contemplative spirituality are given to us as gifts that lead us into dying a thousand deaths each day.

As we learn to practice death by way of contemplation, death at the end of life is no longer a fear, but is received as the next logical step. Death is no longer an unknown for us because we already know that life comes through the process of death. We will have lived that reality each day.

At the end of life we will no longer fear the loss of control because we know that the loss of control leads to true rest in God. As we learn death through contemplative practice, we experience afresh what life is like connected to the Source. Contemplation teaches us to die to the desire to go our own way, and to embrace the continual invitation to return to God.

All that death is, finally, is a return to the Source, our final return to God.

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Drew Jackson serves as the Associate Pastor at GraceWay Community Church. He is also a part of the Lausanne Movement. He lives in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania with his wife Genay, and their two beautiful daughters Zora and Suhaila. 

Questions > Answers.

By George Mekhail 


I have changed a lot over the past 18 months. I’ve deconstructed much of my worldview and consider the journey as just getting started. I am a heretic, a pirate and a mystic. I used to see things very differently than I see them today, and I hope that this process of change, growth and evolution only continues. I cannot deny that what I’ve experienced has been healthy.

I often ask myself how I got here, why I’m here and if it’s a good thing that I’m here. I talk to myself more and more these days. I ask: what factors lead to my spiritual curiosity, what moments shaped my trajectory and what common thread has been there throughout? Do I like me more or less? Do I allow others to define me or do I find my value and worth in Eternal things?

I’m learning that asking questions is far more important than answering questions. This is one of the most valuable lessons that contemplation has taught me on my journey.

Let’s be honest: on the surface, answering questions is way more fun than asking questions. If I am answering a question, I am the center of attention. I am on the conclusive side of the discussion. I am in control. But, if I am asking a question, I am deflecting attention. I am teeing up the discussion, for better or worse. I am releasing control. Asking a question opens things up and possibilities abound. Answering a question shuts things down, declaring alternative possibilities irrelevant.

Now there is obviously a time to answer questions, I’m not anti-answers. But I would describe this pivot towards more question asking and less question answering as the largest contributor to this current season of peace in my life. A paradoxically difficult season, filled with extremely challenging days, betrayals, insecurity and instability. But despite the external factors that might be perceived as negative, contemplative practice helps me count them as blessings.

A few weeks back, after some time in reflection, I started to realize that I was feeling misunderstood. I’m not sure if that’s common or not, but this came to light in a recent session with Phileena, my spiritual director. She proceeded like she often does, by asking me to “withhold judgement, consider how it feels to be misunderstood.”

If you’re like me, that is a difficult question. I’m generally unaware of my feelings, often preferring solutions to stillness. So if I feel misunderstood, my next step is typically to ramp up efforts to deliver clarity so I can be understood. Boom. Problem solved, question answered. No feelings necessary.

Except when it doesn’t go down that way. Which is more often the case. It starts a fruitless cycle of frustration which does not satisfy the soul. Even if I successfully deliver clarity, I never actually dealt with the ramifications of feeling misunderstood.

That’s why I love the phrase “without judgement.” Phileena always emphasizes this part of the process, and it took me a while to see its real value. But in my desire to explore why I’m feeling misunderstood, the temptation is to offer simplistic answers which carry unhelpful judgements like “because ‘Nikole’ just doesn’t get it” or “because I haven’t spent enough time explaining my idea to ‘Nikole’.”

In my case, feeling misunderstood requires me to actually FEEL misunderstood.

That’s a huge step. To feel our feelings instead of merely talking about them.


Then a deep breath.


Man. I feel really misunderstood.


Now, without judgement. {I’m not mad, upset, disappointed, proud of myself/others for this feeling. This feeling simply is my experience.}

I am now aware of this feeling. I acknowledge it, I welcome it, I learn to integrate it – without judgement – into my present circumstance.

How does this feeling of being misunderstood relate to my ego? What other questions does this reveal and how do they reveal the unconscious patterns I operate out of daily?


Another deep breath.


I don’t want to oversimplify a contemplative process that actually requires a lot of hard work. Adopting a contemplative stance in life is like working out, studying for an exam or investing in a relationship. It requires focus and commitment. But the fruit is incredible. Instead of reacting to life, we learn to respond. Reacting generates a lot of contraction. Responding generates expansiveness.

Instead of relentlessly pursuing to deliver answers, I’m learning to reach out and claim the gift of more questions–which have turned out to be critical to my growth. Questions develop our awareness. Furthermore, questions acknowledge that no matter how much “Nikole” doesn’t get it, her experience is also her experience and it carries its own validity.

Contemplation is teaching me that questions are greater than answers, because questions lead to more meaningful connection to myself, to God and to others.


GM_blogpic2George Mekhail has been serving as the Executive Pastor at EastLake Community Church since July 2011. He is also the Chair of the Board for Gravtity, a Center for Contemplative Activism. He lives in Bothell, Washington with his wife Danielle, and their two beautiful children, Kingston and Saxyn. He has a deep set love for his family and makes it a goal in life to show up for them. 

Gravity’s Contemplative Activist in Residence

September 15, 2016 – February 15, 2017 

From September 15, 2016 –February 15, 2017 Gravity, a Center for Contemplative Activism welcomes Chiraphone Khamphouvong as our Contemplative Activist (not) in Residence (CAIR).

The CAIR program supports leading, innovative activists who desire a sabbatical for personal, professional, and spiritual development. CAIR is for bold and courageous leaders who have forfeited the American dream to actively dream of a better world for all people.

For Chiraphone, the CAIR fellowship includes a series of retreats, spiritual directions sessions, enneagram sessions, and mentorship meetings to support her evolving vocation.

As a child, Chiraphone escaped a civil war in Laos, became a refugee in Thailand, and eventually immigrated to the United States. Her familiarity with crisis and hardship led Chiraphone to a life of service in more than 35 countries. Her service work has focused on dignifying and sustainable community development in the private and public sectors of society.

Chiraphone began her service in the Peace Corps in South Africa’s post-Apartheid, where she CK Angkor Window_BWvolunteered as an Education Resource Worker training 600 educators in 28 schools. Most recently, she served as World Relief Cambodia’s Director for Partnerships and Resource Development—the very organization that originally helped Chiraphone and her family find refuge in the United States.

Now at an unexpected crossroad, Chiraphone desires space to process her years of tireless service to discern the next step in her vocation. Chiraphone is making sabbatical specifically around the themes to remain, reflect, and reimagine.

Chiraphone hopes for a better world for all people and, therefore, values Gravity’s emphasis on integrating contemplation and action to help realize that better world. She’s grateful for the opportunity to find restoration through CAIR’s programs and services.



Integrating Contemplation and Action: An Aid Worker’s Reflection from the Refugee Crisis in Morocco

Recently, Chris and Phileena visited our team in Ifrane, Morocco. I’m one of about 40 university and post-graduate students offering emergency aid to the thousands of refugees and immigrants desperately making their way through Morocco.

I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have participated in the retreat which was focused on integrating contemplation and action—something which was rather new for most of us.

Whenever we are presented with new ways of doing things, there’s naturally some level of skepticism that arises. Contemplative prayer practices were very new for us. At first it was somewhat awkward. But it didn’t take long before I started to appreciate the practices.

As Chris rightly pointed out in one of his remarks, it’s advised that one tries out a new prayer practice for at least six months before deciding whether they like it or not. I have personally realized that I don’t even need to wait for six months in this case, because based on the various exercises we tried, I’ve already detected the positive impact.

As we spent time together during the retreat, it came into focus that we are living in a seemingly chaotic and fast moving world: the current global migrant crisis, economic uncertainties, the constant flow of information (both good and bad, relevant and not so relevant), terrorism, and lots of distractions here and there etc.

This tense reality makes a lot of people ever more anxious, afraid, and depressed. Many, people on our team included, feel like we’re drowning in the sea of noise and need.

Being able to find stillness, calmness, and focus in the midst of our stormy reality (needs of refugees, information saturation, problems, anxieties, chaos, noise etc.) has become more important now than ever before.

Furthermore, the need for discernment to be able to navigate through it all, to determine how to respond to the dire needs of our neighbors as well as our own families, cannot be underestimated.

This is why contemplative prayer practices are so very important. These exercises for our soul help restore inner peace, equilibrium, and focus, which in turn help acquire and develop the discernment needed to effectively manage and resolve the various issues we face daily in our personal lives as well as with the unrelenting demands of the immigrant and refugee crisis.

Just like Jesus, who always elevated the discussion when confronted with questions and issues, we also do not necessarily have to have answers to all the questions and problems we face. We only need to ensure we’ve got the central focus right. When this central aspect which consists of inner peace, stillness, calmness, oneness, inner equilibrium and discernment are firmly in place, then we can be able to face any challenges that come our way and effectively navigate through all that life throws at us. Contemplative practice helps us realize such centeredness.


Theophilus Balorbey, an Aachen Peace Prize laureate (2015), is a student volunteer with the International Aid Committee (Comité d’Entraide International-CEI) in service to migrants & refugees in Morocco. He is passionate about contributing his bit towards making our world a better place for all humanity.

Contemplative Prayer Fosters Solidarity

by Kent Annan


When writing my new book, Slow Kingdom Coming, my attention kept getting drawn to themes of contemplative activism and of doing good better—that is, to very Gravity-like themes!

My work with Haiti Partners over the years has given me a deep appreciation for values like solidarity with people in poverty, justice for the oppressed, and loving our neighbors with respect. I share these values with Phileena and Chris and admire their thoughtful approach to integrating spirituality with building a better world.

Some of the spiritual practices they teach at Gravity, like lectio divina (divine reading), have helped shape me and my relationships with people on the margins of society.

The practice of group lectio divina with my friends and partners in Haiti has been an incredible experience for integrating contemplation with action and learning to do good better in relationship with people in poverty.

One of the predominant themes that has emerged in relationship with my Haitian friends is that of respect. How can people of different socioeconomic status, race, and gender genuinely respect one another, essentially affirming the value of the other and our need for one another?

I’ve learned that living into respect of one another requires just a few critical commitments: listening, imagining, and promoting rights. And the practice of shared lectio divina has helped us grow into and live into these commitments in our interactions with one another in daily life. 

During the first year I working in Haiti I had the opportunity to introduce lectio divina to my Haitian and American colleagues. One morning, thirty very different kinds of people sat in a circle listening to Scripture. Because not everyone spoke English, the text was translated to Creole to make sure everyone could participate. The Scripture text was read several times with a prayerful pause between readings when the group was invited to reflect audibly on what they were hearing.

Afterward, a Haitian school principal told me we should do this again. So we did. Since then we’ve shared the contemplative practice of lectio divina with thousands of people.  Remarkably, group lectio divina has a natural way of affirming our commitments to respect through the values of listening, imagining, and promoting rights. 

Listening. In a country where about half of the people are illiterate, listening to sacred text together makes room for everyone. One doesn’t have to have the ability to read to participate. As we practice listening to the Scripture and listening to one another’s response to the Scripture, we deepen our capacity for listening to one another in daily life.  Likewise, listening guides us in the ways our community practices justice and mercy.  

Imagining. As we collectively and prayerfully listen to Scripture, each of our imaginations are naturally activated. As our hearts open more to the wisdom teaching of the text we imagine more clearly the reign of God and how we can each take part. Over time our activated imaginations move us more deeply into respectful ways to practice justice and mercy.

Promoting rights. Whether someone in the lectio divina group is an illiterate subsistence farmer or holds a theological degree, is a man or a woman, is sitting in a cathedral or on a rickety church bench over a dirt floor, everyone shares common ground and is on equal footing. Each is able to share about their experience of God and life, and is naturally respected for doing so. Our practice of respect for one another in shared lectio, forms us to walk more humbly and respectfully with our neighbors as we attempt to exercise justice and mercy.

For eighteen years now lectio divina has helped shape me and my understanding about the importance of respect in the work of justice. The people I’m with usually hear God much better than I do, and I’m grateful they let me sit in the circle with them.

Shared contemplative practice, like lectio divina, creates a safe place where there is no high or low, everyone comes to the circle as an equal, one to be respected, and to learn from. And as we deepen contemplative prayer, we are formed and transformed, becoming the people we long to be, building the world we all want to live in.

Slow Kingdom Com #4455


*Adapted from Slow Kingdom Coming by Kent Annan, copyright @2016. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.


Kent AnnanKent Annan is author of Slow Kingdom Coming (May 2016), After Shock(2011) and of Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle (2009). He is co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti. He’s on the board of directors of Equitas Group, a philanthropic foundation focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia.

When Life is Like a Jar of Mekong River Water

by Craig Greenfield

The Mekong is a broad brown river that runs through Cambodia and Vietnam. Craig Greenfield, a veteran of Cambodian slums and inner city ministry explains in his new book, Subversive Jesus, how a jar of Mekong River water helped him find the balance between activism and contemplation. This is an excerpt…

At first the water in the jar looked murky and muddy. But when I placed the jar on a table, the silt in the water gradually sank to the bottom of the jar.

As soon as I picked it up, everything churned up again, but the longer I left it in stillness, the clearer the water became.

In the same way, I sensed God calling me to rest in him and his peace. I heard his gentle whisper, “Be still and know that I am God.” In silence and solitude with God, I knew that my heart, mind and soul would settle and clear.

As Phileena Heuertz has said, “Through activism we confront toxicity in our world, through contemplation we confront it in ourselves.”

For years, I had pursued the heart of God through activism in the slums of the world. The subversive Jesus I had come to know and love had placed a youthful passion in my heart for justice and the poor. But I had come close to burning myself out by pursuing his Upside-Down Kingdom in my own strength.

Now, God was subverting my drivenness and destabilizing my arrogance by calling me back to the very things that would give me the power to continue for the long haul. In this complex dance between contemplation and action, I had been out of step too many times to mention, each foot tripping over the other. But it was a dance that I needed to stumble my way through.

Mother Teresa, who probably knew better than most what it meant to be a contemplative activist, said, “We need to find God, and God cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence…We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

This is not about external silence, which Mother Teresa would not have found in Kolkata, but rather an internal slowing down in order to become aware of God’s presence.

Evenings at our community home in the Downtown Eastside can feel overwhelming and out of control. Some of our homeless friends smell of the streets and unwashed socks. Many who are consumed by their addictions or mental illness have lost interest in personal hygiene. Some do not know what it means to talk quietly, including my own children—and my wife Nay says they get it from me.

But regardless of what might have happened during our often chaotic house during the evening—whether a spontaneous jam session on the guitars, or the painful detoxing of someone withdrawing from crack—at nine o’clock, everyone knows that it is our community’s time to gather for listening prayer.

Drawing on the rich prayer tradition of St. Ignatius, we seek silence in the cloister within our hearts. Through Ignatius, we have learned that we don’t have to retreat to a monastery to find space for prayer, but can be in silence together and become aware of God’s presence right in the midst of our chaotic inner city neighbourhood.

And in that place of inner silence, we invite God to shine light on our day.

The churned up water of our hearts slowly clears.


CraigCraig Greenfield is the author of Subversive Jesus: an adventure in justice, mercy and faithfulness in a broken world.

Craig is the founder and director of Alongsiders International, a grassroots movement working in a number of Asian and African countries, equipping young people to walk alongside those who walk alone – vulnerable children in their own communities.

Contemplative Life and Parenting

by Mindy Durias


The alarm rings. It’s 5:00am.

I drag myself out of bed, prepare my favorite French pressed coffee, grab my stack of books and settle on the loveseat for the hour or so I have before the rest of the house begins to stir. I read words of wisdom and hope from a Jewish Rabbi, a Buddhist monk, and a Franciscan priest. The words sooth like a healing balm for my longing heart. In the silence, they ring clear and true, resounding in my soul.

Gradually, little ones enter my quiet revelry. I kiss them and send them back to their beds for just a few minutes more, while I read and enjoy the last few sips of coffee.

Ten minutes later, I place my friends back on the book shelf and call the kids out of their rooms. The next hour rushes by like a raging river at flood level. By 7:15am, 3 of the 5 kids are fed, my husband has left the house for a meeting, most morning chores are complete and it’s time for prayer. The 3 youngest kids and I settle in the living room for a 10 minute time of silent reflection. It’s the season of advent, so we focus our thoughts on the Christ light that shines in our darkness. Then they leave to play, while I set out my candle and mat for a 20 minute centering prayer sit alone before the rest of the day’s demands consume my attention. I light my little candle and settle in. Grounded, upright, peaceful. I’m still, silent and alone in the living room.

A w h o l e m i n u t e , m a y b e t w o p a s s b e f o r e t h e y c o m e . The distractions.

I hear the kids and their realistic sounding light sabers re­enacting scenes from Star Wars downstairs. One is yelling, “Action!” Another is whining that they don’t want to be Darth Vader again.


I inhale deep and exhale, feeling the rising annoyance in my heart, quickly forcing its way to my tightening throat.

Next the family dog trots into the living room, walks towards me, sniffs my face, passes gas, and exits­leaving a stench that rivals any honey bucket. Trying to remain centered, I breath deeply again, but the lingering smell is overwhelming so instead I hold my breath.

The kids continue their filming downstairs, planes are taking off and landing at the nearby airport. A train rumbles by 300 yards from our house and the wave like sounds of the freeway intensify as rush hour hits.

My teenage son exits his room and lumbers past me to the kitchen to see what’s left from breakfast and the dog returns standing at the sliding door four feet from me, whimpering to be let out.

Inhale, exhale….Inhale. And. Exhale.

My soul calmly says, Yes.

My heart questions, What good does this do?

While my mind screams, Why the hell can’t everything and everyone be quiet for just 20 minutes!

This is reality.

Why do I do this to myself? Wouldn’t it make more sense to practice centering prayer at 5:00am, when not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse? Before people, planes and pets can hijack my attention.

Sometimes I do just that. And it’s wonderful! True bliss. It’s a precious gift to sit in complete silence, stillness and solitude. I know that my heart has emptied and expanded in those undisturbed times. I’ve come to embrace more fully who I am and who I am not. I’ve found a place of unshakeable belonging in the the heart of God through blessed hours spent in complete silence.

But if I’m being honest, sometimes after a quiet and undisturbed prayer sit, instead of gratitude flowing freely, I enter the rest of the day with a discontent that challenging to admit and even harder to shake.

Too often, I’ve left a time of uninterrupted prayer wishing that it would never end­wanting that same silence and stillness to last all day long, so that I can feel calm and near to God. But, that desire is itself an illusion, unless I were to abandon my life and become a hermit. My true colors, in these moments, are completely exposed when I enter back into the usual business of daily life as wife, stay at home mom and teacher and struggle to remain calm and present with life taking place all around me. I struggle so to see God within myself and all things and say yes to what is happening through the challenges presenting themselves moment by moment.

This is my life. Noisy, fast paced, ever changing, demanding and relentless. Full of people to love, serve, care for, and listen to. Work to be done and not enough hours in the day to do it all. Does this sound familiar?

I’m sure that my lot is not that unique. In this day and age, what I’ve described is probably seen as just normal­the way things are. So I wonder then, how are we to cultivate silence, stillness and solitude when these very things are so counter cultural?

It’s not too difficult to see the appeal of the desert mothers and fathers, who left all normal way of living to find God. While I’m certain even their lives presented obstacles of their own in the search for union with God, I imagine it being at least a little simpler being.

Embracing and entering fully the blessed life I’ve been given by God, I’m beginning to see that the deep work of transformation within is being greatly assisted in praying with and through the many distractions of life. Why fight them or try and escape them? They will always be there in one form or another. The needs of partners, children, friends and neighbors. Deadlines and obligations of work. The hustle and bustle of a world that never slows down, not even for a single moment of the day.

I am experiencing in the acceptance of distractions that true silence, stillness and solitude is only cultivated within and not at all dependent upon the environment surrounding me. In fact, the distractions serve as a beautifully poignant contrast to the non reactive, gracious and peace-giving presence of God within. They help me to more clearly see the mystery of the divine Presence of God right here, within the mundane and ordinary stuff of life.

Isn’t this what I long for most in silence, stillness and solitude after all? To be present to God in all the moments of my life? To see divine light as it pierces the darkness and hardness of my own soul and the world around me?

Distractions. I can either view them as obstacles that obstruct my view of God within. Or I can choose to see them as the very things that usher me into the presence of God! For Christ, pure heavenly light itself, always shines brightest through chaos and darkness. If only I show up and wait for this light to dawn through the shadows of the blessed distractions in my life.



Mindy Durias

Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

Finding Our Divine Center: A Father’s Reflection

by Ashton Gustafson

It was one of those days where I had simply just had enough. My inbox was overflowing with other people’s agendas, my voicemail was full, the list of to-dos grew every time I looked at it, and the smallest inconveniences were creating an unrecoverable derailment of my peace and purpose for this day.

I’m sure this sounds dramatic, but we have all been there haven’t we?  We take on more and more, we overcommit, we say a half-hearted ‘yes’ to avoid a full-hearted ‘no’, and then something small and insignificant causes a boil that our cup’s brim cannot contain.  This “happens gradually, then suddenly” as Hemingway said.

I drove home, pulled into the garage, and then closed the garage door closed behind my taillights. That was the first shield I had felt from the war zone of the day and I paused in my car for about a minute and still could not shake the overwhelming emotions that brewed from an assault of email grenades and Mr. Fix It voicemails.

Before I walked into our home to greet my wife and daughters I knew that I had to go sit, be still, and center myself before I was going to be in the right mind to be with them for the evening. “Hey Brynn, I’m going to take the girls into the back room to do some centering prayer.” “You’re going to do what?”, she said. “We’ll be back”, I said.

The girls ran up to me with their homecoming hug routine and immediately I gave them the marching orders. “Girls follow me! We need to center.” “Ok Daddy!” My orders were fulfilled like it was something we had done a number of times before. But we hadn’t ever done this and I honestly didn’t know what I was about to do.

I closed the door and we sat in a circle with our legs crossed. Sterling’s right hand was in my left hand, Story’s left hand was in my right hand, and they completed our circle with their available fingers that together weren’t even eight years old.

I asked them to close their eyes. They giggled. And then I began. “Ok, hold my hands….”

Click to hear this moment as it was recorded.

There it was. In the stillness we made room for a moment to interact with the Divine and every bit of angst, resentment, and frustration that I brought into the house with me melted away. I was centered, we were centered, my little cognitive universe was centered, my heart found its rhythm again, and all was well with my soul and the little souls I was holding hands with.

In that moment, joy entered the room as wide as the sky and an ocean of love poured back into my being. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel that same energy move through the little hands of my three and five year old daughters. I left that room ready to BE with the ones I love and was gently reminded of someone once telling us that we have to become like the little ones to get it.


Ashton Gustafson

Ashton Gustafson is a highly sought after public speaker, nationally recognized Realtor, artist, musician, poet, amateur cosmologist, and currently in pursuit of more things to become. He writes about the art of living, finding beauty in the hidden places, and making music with your life, relationships, and business. In addition to his writing and speaking, Ashton is currently a partner at Bishop Realtor Group, Meadowlake Management, and Muse Capital in Wichita Falls, TX as well as A.G. Real Estate & Associates in Waco, TX.    

centering prayer & the process of transformation

by Mindy Durias


I often think about these words from Jesus,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them. For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

What was so special to Jesus about children, that he would gift them the kingdom of God?

I’ve been raising children of my own for 16 years now. And there are a few things I’ve picked up along this journey that give me some insight as to what Jesus might have deemed so special about children.

For starters, children, especially those 2 or 3 and under, are intrinsically trusting. Whatever you tell them, they believe it. When they are told by someone, I love you, they don’t question it. They don’t ask for proof, demand to know why, doubt whether it is earnest, or deny that they deserve it. They simply receive it as fact. They are loved. They belong.

Little children not only don’t struggle with being loved, they also don’t hesitate to give that love away. They don’t ration out their love only to those they deem worthy or withhold love from those who hurt them until they receive apology. Very little children extend boundless grace. They love without judgement, prejudice, selfishness, or hesitation. They forgive effortlessly. They hold no memory of wrongs done to them. They love others for the pure joy of it. Much like God does.

However the most enlightening thing I’ve seen time and again, is that little children, without trying, know God. They know God in a way that we adults are almost incapable of. Unconditional love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, kindness and generosity are no mystery to children. They live in harmony with God in these attributes. I might even say, children live in union with God. Not just my own children, but all children.

Then what happens? Obviously, most children do not remain in this state of union with God. Some may do so longer than others. But all of us, through lifes many experiences, eventually leave the God we know and mirror so well as children. Some so early in life, that they don’t even remember having ever known God at all.

This was the case with me. I can’t remember a time in my childhood when I knew God. And so it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I even began searching. For years, I looked for God outside of myself. And while those years taught me a lot, I wouldn’t say that I ever felt near to God necessarily. And I didn’t feel like I was living a transformed life for sure. Any difference in me was of my own making. Not something I would attribute to God, when I was honest. In fact, looking for God outside of myself brought me to a place where I didn’t think I wanted to go on searching anymore. If God was out there, he certainly wasn’t near and I was weary of turning over stone after stone only to find myself still alone.

Then I was introduced to Centering prayer. All of a sudden, God went from being something that I was unsuccessfully looking for outside myself, to something I was curiously looking for within myself!

And what a treacherous journey it has been. The child in me that once was in union with God, has grown up and created layer upon layer of massive concrete walls between herself and God. Turning inward and realizing this has been incredibly sobering. There are days when all I can do is sit in silence, staring at the walls within myself, and weep and wonder how these walls will ever be broken through? How will I ever make my way to God within? Especially when it seems like this demolition is going to proceed brick by brick. Oh how I wish that God would bring in an iron wrecking ball and lay waste to the walls I’ve built between us. But that’s never happened.

Yet, I’m learning to see this as grace. For even the removal of a single brick can at times be so excruciating that I can barely breath. But with the tearing down of each old brick, cracks are forming. I’ve begun to see light through the cracks that show me small glimpses into the rich garden of my soul where my truest self lives in union with God. She looks like a small child, dancing and singing a simple song of love and joy.

And her name is Enough.

As of late, God has brought me to the biggest wall I’ve encountered yet. A wall that I began building at a very young age, judging by its size. It’s not only massive, but seems to also be fortified with extra protection. Like barbed wire put up to keep trespassers out. I’ve learned that all I can do is sit and wait before a wall such as this. Wait for God to do what I cannot do for myself. Slowly and gently, in silence and stillness the wire has been removed, allowing me to approach the wall and touch it. And as soon as I touch it, I know what this wall is.

It actually has a name too. Mother.

I created this wall with every painful memory I’ve ever had in relationship to my mother.

For months, all I could do was sit before this wall named Mother and weep. Because she was not the mother I wanted her to be, the mother I felt I needed. I grieved this, until I felt empty and numb. And yet the wall remained. Seemingly un-effected, ever pressing in on me and weighing me down.

Day after day, I would come and sit. Then one morning recently, as I prayed a thought came. Usually, I lay my thoughts down and come back to them later, after prayer. But this one would not let me go. It was this:

I accept who I am and who I am not.

I accept who I am and who I am not.

Over and over again, like a skipping record these words played. This was big! I am notoriously hard on myself. As the words repeated, they resonated more and more deeply. Filling my entire being with acceptance of all that I am and all that I am not.

What happened in the moments that followed are nearly impossible to express in concrete language, but I’ll try.

With one deep exhale it was like a mighty damn broke open. The wall of hostility and pain came crumbling down and tears started to fall uncontrollable. It was acutely painful and at the same time filled me with intense joy! In that moment it was like I knew the work of forgiving was done and that I was in a new place of being able to truly love and accept who my mother is and who she is not.

On the next inhale, it was as though the door to a giant empty ballroom had been flung open as I took in a breath so deep that it seemed as though my lungs would expand forever. And with that breath that enormous, empty space was flooded with peace. Such sweet peace! I knew then and there that God had done what I was completely unable to do for myself; breaking down the wall of hostility and hurt I held towards my mother. And the heaviness of that wall pressing in on my soul was simple gone.

Through Centering prayer, God has shown me the light and free child that I truly am, by breaking through the walls of shame, vanity, selfishness, perfectionism, distrust, passivity and much more that I erected. Graciously teaching me to love who I am and forgive what I am not. And God has enabled me to do what I doubted was ever possible. Extend that same grace to my mother.

As I enter into solitude, silence and stillness I’m reminded of the child that lives within the-still-to-be demolished walls of my soul. I see her twirling and laughing with God. I hear Jesus beckon,

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

And I wait.

For God to remove all that’s left keeping me from reuniting with my true self–a little girl called Enough.


Mindy Durias
Mindy Durias
 lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.

Coming Home to God: A Family’s Experience with Centering Prayer

by Mindy Durias

Our world is moving forward at an unprecedented pace.  The ability to be so easily connected to one another has made this planet very small indeed.  Endless information and people around the world are literally a touch away. Yet, it is quite possible that we have never been more disconnected from our true selves and to God.  The moments of our lives are filled with the buzz of technological noise that never sleeps.

As a mother of five children, in this age of concrete technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, I wrestle with how to communicate the abstract, mysterious, and intangible relationship we are created to share with the Divine.

In the past three years, I have been practicing contemplative prayer as a way to connect more intimately with God. This has included introducing my children to Lectio Divina as a way to listen to the Spirit of God speaking uniquely to their individual hearts. They have been very open and receptive to this practice, and consequently have grown in their day-to-day awareness of God speaking into the moments of their lives.

Lectio Divina is a very accessible contemplative prayer practice.  Especially in the sense that it allows for verbal response.  This makes it one of the easier practices to introduce to anyone unfamiliar with contemplative prayer, and to children in particular.

But what of the apophatic (non-verbal) prayer practice Centering Prayer? This prayer has been transformative in my life.  I’ve found abundant grace in the silence, stillness and solitude of this practice.  It has helped me to disconnect from the noise and activity of life and find myself in God’s embrace.  And more profoundly, Centering Prayer has created a deeper awareness of who I truly am in God.  In the practice, I’ve come home to myself and God.

In the fall of 2014, I decided to experiment with my children and see if they would have a similarly positive experience with Centering Prayer.  At first, the struggle was to find language to communicate the practice to children ranging in ages from five to sixteen.  It became clear right away, that while she could understand what Centering Prayer was, my five year old was not ready to sit in silence, stillness and solitude for any amount of time!

My other four children ages nine, twelve, thirteen and sixteen also quickly grasped the concept of the practice, so we began trying it out.  We started with three minute sits.  Gradually, we lengthened the time to five minutes, then eight, ten and so on-until we reached the twenty minute mark.  That is where we are now.  Our intent is to practice everyday after breakfast and before we begin the rest of the day.

It has not been perfect.   In fact, some days it feels like a complete waste of time.  Wiggling limbs, wrestling in chairs, bodily noises, rough starts to the day, the irritation of relational conflict, you name it.  We have experienced it.

Yet, I keep reminding myself, that this is a practice.  A perfect experience should never be the goal.  For no such experience truly exists.  The fruit of the practice itself, is seen in the rest of life.  My hope is that we are becoming more aware of God in everything.

So, we continue to practice.  To open our hearts together to the presence and action of God within us.  We enter with the invitation of Psalm 46:10 which says, “Be still, and know that I am God”.

Little changes have been made along the way to accommodate the needs and development of each child.  Currently, most days my husband, sixteen and thirteen year old and I sit for twenty minutes together.  Then, my twelve and nine year old and I sit for ten minutes together.  Our five year old talks about joining us when she is bigger.  For now, she is learning Breath Prayer and the beauty of God being as near to her as every breath she breathes.  It is perfect for where she is at right now.

In Centering Prayer we are all learning to come just as we are, and to find our true home in God who continues to affirm that we all belong.  

In this place of belonging, it is my hope that each of us will choose to embrace one another in love and help bring healing to this world in search for peace with God and humankind.



Mindy Durias lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s been happily married for 16 years and is the mother of 5 lovely children. Her passions are teaching her children, running outdoors, and advocating for children living in poverty around the world.


Are You Living a “Normal” Life?

by Damien Faughnan


Last November, my acupuncturist bluntly stated, “The way you are living is not normal.” It stung, and not just because he was sticking needles in me at the time! The truth is, I spent last year in a fog of being “too busy.”


Since then, I’ve been immersed in a conversation with myself about what constitutes a “normal” life. I’ve been asking myself: Why? Why do I do this to myself? Why have I succumbed to living as a human “doing” when I really want to be a human being?


I know I’m not alone. I hear it from my clients and from my brothers in Illuman. In our so-called “advanced” world, we have created a way of living where we are all too busy. Too busy for sitting and listening. Too busy to create and nourish community. Too busy to just be.


And this appears to be worse if you have kids! I hear my friends who have kids tell me that they are run ragged trying to manage their kids’ schedules. It would appear that we are raising really busy kids too.


We’ve not been helped by technology. What is supposed to make our lives easier and simpler is, in fact, demanding more and more of our attention. Emails, social media, breaking news; they all battle for our attention. And we now have a new condition for those who can’t disconnect: FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).


People experience anxiety because they are afraid of missing something, and thus they constantly have to check their digital device. Who isn’t overwhelmed with a daily avalanche of email? I have clients who come home from work, have dinner, and then go back to work, fighting a never-ending battle with the ever-filling inbox.


The unexamined life is not worth living, or so they say. With all of this “busyness,” how do we stay grounded and connected?


I know that lots of us crave a different relationship with technology, our work, our families, and our community. We want to be connected and grounded. This is precisely why we need a spiritual practice.

At a very basic level, it challenges us to “show up” and be fully awake. It challenges us to both live differently and engage in a different way of “knowing.” I know it challenges me to be centered, grounded, and genuinely connected.


I’m a work in progress. That’s what the spiritual journey is all about. I’ve made some significant changes in order to better manage my commitments, my travel, my use of technology, and my engagement with the world. I am also choosing to continue to grapple with the question: “Are you living a normal life?”


Faughnan,Damien_mini Damien Faughnan is an executive coach who works with senior executives seeking to become more effective leaders. He serves as Chair of the Board for Illuman, a non-profit that supports men who desire to deepen their spiritual lives. Damien is happily married and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. Illuman is an organization for men dedicated to safe-guarding and expanding Fr. Richard Rohr’s transformative men’s work.