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Spirit Journal – September 2016


This issue provides more information about our upcoming, fifth annual Fall One-Day Workshop – it’s just a month away now!  There are two articles by workshop session leaders, describing what their sessions will be about, along with links to complete Workshop information and registration.  We also update you on a number of other important events you may want to add to your calendar, November 2016 – May 2017.  In addition, we share Insights from Saint Benedict, Shunryu Suzuki, Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton.

We’d like your input, please!  To give us ideas for Spirit Journal, please use the e-mail address at the end to send your contributions and feedback.

Only One Month Left Until Our Fifth Annual Fall One-Day Workshop – Here Are Previews of Two More Workshop Sessions

270px-Acer_japonicum_Vitifolium_JPG1fuMid-September is here, and now would be an excellent time to choose the sessions you’d like to attend at our fifth annual Fall One-Day Workshop, which takes place Saturday October 15 at Benedictine University in Lisle.  Many people have already registered early and, before long, one or more of the workshop sessions may reach capacity and have to be closed to late registrants. (It happened last year.)  So why wait any longer?  Visit the event page and register today!

One option at the Fall Workshop is to spend the entire day taking part in an in-depth Introductory Centering Prayer workshop.  This is a great choice for those who are new to Centering Prayer or would like an opportunity to deepen their practice.  Alternatively, four half-day workshop sessions are also available — you may choose to participate in one morning session and one afternoon session.  All four half-day sessions are described here.

Below, two of the session-leaders offer personal perspectives on what their sessions will focus on.  To read similar articles about the other two workshops, see last month’s Spirit Journal.

The Power of Formative Thought

By Susan Komis – Director, Chapter Programs and Services, Contemplative Outreach

Thoughtfulness and Thoughtlessness:  A State of Consciousness

Thoughts really do matter!

“For the thoughts are below the thinker, precisely because they are being thought and are thus limited.  They constitute a scattering, a dismemberment of the spirit, for the spirit is simple, without division. Thoughts, on the other hand, are innumerable and scattered”   

 John of Scythopolis

Positive or negative thoughts emanate from us, and by the law of attraction, find other “streams” of thought which are positive or negative.   Positive thoughts produce love, hope, joy, courage, etc., while negative thoughts “swell” the negative aspects of the stream of the collective mind.  The consequence may lead to confusion, despair, anger, cruelty, and even violence.

Have we ever stopped for a moment to “think” about our individual thought processes and how they impact our lives and the lives of others?  Our thoughtfulness – or thoughtlessness – is a contribution to the collective mind upon which humanity depends for its existence.  A powerful thought!

Is it possible to come to full awareness of our thought processes on a daily basis?

Join us to further explore this human dynamic and the role that our contemplative journey has in bringing awareness of the “thoughts flowing down our psychological stream of consciousness” to realization.

Integral Insights on the Path of Centering Prayer

By Bill Epperly PhD –

This experiential workshop will consider the Path of Centering Prayer from the perspective of Ken Wilber’s integral approach to spirituality.  You’ll see your path from a novel perspective and learn tools to enrich your contemplative journey.

Together, we will examine Wilber’s model of the spiritual path, a path he says invites us to 1) “wake up,” or move toward non-duality, 2) “grow up,” or move towards psychological maturity, and 3) “show up” as a transformed person in the world.

I’ve been reading and learning from Thomas Keating’s work since the late 1980’s.  I was very interested in contemplative prayer even back then, and remember being impressed by transcripts of some of his talks that I read. It must have been around the same time that I discovered the work of one of his longtime friends and collaborators, the American “integral” thinker Ken Wilber. I first learned of Wilber’s work while on my way to a five-day Korean Zen retreat in 1989.

So much time has passed since those days that both integral theory and Centering Prayer now feel like old friends. In many ways, I feel that the map of human consciousness that Wilber has created is one of the most helpful guides I’ve had along my journey. And so, I consider Ken Wilber one of my truly great teachers. By “great,” I mean that he’s had a profound influence, and one that’s stood the test of time. So I’m particularly excited to be teaching Wilber-inspired “integral spirituality” workshops these days.

I was graced to attend a 10-day Centering Prayer retreat in May of 2000, and my companion at the dinner table the first night of that retreat was Fr. Thomas Keating, another of my great teachers. I remember noticing, as we sat down to eat, that he’d taken two chicken thighs for dinner (I was scrutinizing everything that this Trappist monk did, trying to learn what made him tick), but mostly I remember our conversation about Wilber’s work and its connection to monastic life. Even back then, I was very interested in the idea of making spiritual practice so integral to life that all of one’s life might be practice, lived in communion with God. Talking with Fr. Thomas, I learned that he felt this was also the aim of monastic life.

So, I’m happy to be offering this workshop session, Integral Insights on the Path of Centering Prayer, which gives me a chance to share my perspective on the work of two of my great teachers.

I’ll be using Wilber’s integral map of consciousness to describe the path to Divine Union as it’s experienced in Centering Prayer. This is what Wilber calls the path of “Waking Up” to constant nondual awareness. I’ll also describe the interrelated path Wilber calls “Growing Up.” If Waking Up has to do with increasing your awareness, Growing Up is about developing a more complex, mature understanding of the world.  And while Waking Up is well described in the religious literature, the path of Growing Up, which was developed by 20th century psychologists, is still not widely known within religious circles. In Wilber’s view, we need to Wake Up and Grow Up so that we can fully “Show Up” in the world as transformative agents of grace.

If this sounds complicated, it can be, but I’ve developed a simple way of introducing these ideas and showing their relevance that I believe will make them interesting and helpful to you. I hope you’ll join us for this presentation. I am going to leave lots of time for discussion at the end as well as during the program, and I’d love your voice to be part of the discussion.

Read about all of the Fall Workshop sessions and see bios of the session-leaders here.

Plan Now For These Additional Contemplative Events

The Fall Workshop is coming right up next month, but you should also be aware of these other opportunities to deepen your spiritual awareness and enrich your Centering Prayer practice:

Introductory Enneagram Workshop November 5 at Healing Gardens in St. Charles


Many people find that the Enneagram is a powerful tool for personal insight and collective transformation. Acting as a “mirror of the soul,” the Enneagram presents nine ways of experiencing ourselves, others and the Divine.  Each of the nine Enneagram “types” has a different pattern of thinking, feeling and acting.

“Through the exploration of the Enneagram we discover who we believe we are, what is underneath those beliefs, and what moves us toward or away from Divine Essence,” says JoAnne McElroy, who will facilitate the workshop. “By identifying our primary type, we are able to appreciate our unique gifts while moving to overcome our inner barriers.”

For further information or to register, contact Deb Marqui at 630-377-1846 or visit the Healing Gardens website.  Attendance at this workshop is limited to 12 participants, so please act quickly if you are interested in learning about the Enneagram.

Centering Prayer Weekend Retreat November 18-20 in Rock Island, Illinois

A Contemplative Outreach silent retreat, with renewal of Centering Prayer and three hours of practice each day.  An established, ongoing daily Centering Prayer Practice is a prerequisite.  The retreat will take place at St. Mary Monastery/Benet House in Rock Island. Register online or contact Sr. Bobbi Bussan at or 309-283-2109.

Living Wisdom Program Begins in January 2017

Starting in early 2017, Contemplative Outreach Chicago will present a new series of full-day workshops, each dedicated to a theme of wisdom in the Christian contemplative tradition. The vision of this program is to deepen the contemplative wisdom in each participant. Based on the core practice of Centering Prayer, the program will increase awareness of and openness to the divine indwelling through additional practices which are founded in the Wisdom tradition.

The Living Wisdom program will include four full-day Saturday workshops, one per month, January-April.  If you would like to save the dates now, they are January 21, February 18, March 18, and April 8.  Look for more information and an opportunity to register at the Fall Workshop or in next month’s Spirit Journal.

Coming in February 2017: The Winter Weekend Retreat

Our annual Winter Weekend Retreat will once again be led by the Reverend Shawn Kafader, February 24-27, 2017 at the Portiuncula Center in Frankfurt Illinois.

The retreat theme is Personal Reflections on the Spiritual Journey, exploring the classic stages of the spiritual journey as reformed by Thomas Merton. Those present will be offered opportunities to reflect on the people, places and events that have served as personal invitations for spiritual transformation, fostering a grateful heart of thanks toward God.  Look for more information and an opportunity to register at the Fall Workshop or in future editions of Spirit Journal.

Coming in May 2017: The Cloud of Unknowing Retreat with Father William Menninger


Contemplative Outreach Chicago is very pleased to offer you an opportunity to learn directly from Father William Menninger, one of the originators of Centering Prayer.  Father Menninger will be basing his retreat on the 14th century spiritual classic The Cloud of Unknowing, which was one of the key sources for the development of the Centering Prayer method.  The retreat will take place May 5-7 at the Chicago Cenacle.  Watch for further information as plans are finalized.



Daily we begin again.

– St Benedict 

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

– Shunryu Suzuki

I had not, you see, arrived at any place of rest. Maybe I had not solved a single problem or come any nearer to the peace which passeth all understanding. But I was changed. I had entered, as I now clearly saw, upon the way of love … and it changed everything. It was not a way that I found for myself, but only a way that I found myself following.

– Wendell Berry

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us . . . It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely . . . I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.

– Thomas Merton

Your Turn

Please write in to comment on or add to any of the items in this month’s newsletter.  Let us know if you are aware of an upcoming event you think others should know about, or send us an inspirational quote you’d like to share, or information about a book, website, podcast, or video you recommend.  You are invited to contribute by emailing the newsletter editor at


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