Dear Fellow Mystics,
Greetings of love and peace from Two Thomases’ Hermitage, now day 744. May the rest we find from God in Centering Prayer reveal to us the Resurrection: how God's love is all around us, in us, and working through us.
In this issue, you’ll find:
- We hope you can join us for our our Big Sit on April 30th. Register here.
- Explore the question: What am I to do with my life?
- A reflection: Two Thomases Hermitage.
- Several inspiring events are coming up. Check out our Events page here.
We’d love to hear what you think, what you want to know more about, and how we can support your Centering Prayer practice. Email us here.
Would you like to help Contemplative Outreach Atlanta grow? We would welcome your volunteer support. Your involvement can be a one-time activity, such as helping plan or participate in a Big Sit. Or we welcome ongoing support for things like help managing Zoom, our website, our events, or posting on Facebook or Instagram. Please contact us here if interested or would like more information.
Please know that we deeply appreciate your donation in any amount to our non-profit chapter of international Contemplative Outreach. It helps us to continue providing resources and support for you. You can donate on our website here by clicking on the yellow “donate” button at the top.
Love draws us closer,
Question: What Am I To Do With My Life?
Question: I wonder a lot what am I supposed to be doing at this stage of my life. Is it enough to just visit my kids and friends, meditate, read, go to meetings and try to be a decent person? I have worked at a food bank on Fridays several times. Am I doing it out of ego, guilt that I have so much, boredom? I struggle with am I enough? Ego is something we folks in recovery spend years deflating. Richard Rohr and Bill Wilson are so on the same page! Truth is truth. Any suggestions?
Answer: Thanks for your questions. I hope my experiences are helpful. When the pandemic began, my extremely active life of going out to volunteer and do many things were quickly gone. In the sudden absence of pursuits outside my home, I found answers by increasing my Centering Prayer periods. My perspective really started to change and gave me more confidence in my connection with God because we were closer with more centering time. The gift of “right seeing” (as the Buddhists say) emerged where it was easier to discern what was important and what was not. I started noticing my motivations behind the things I do.
Here are some things I learned in the process: Ask yourself when these ideas come up: Why is this particular activity important? If the answer comes back to impress others or to do a role we think we're supposed to do, that is another temptation to act on false-self beliefs. Thomas Keating identified three false programs for happiness where we misguidedly think that what we do, what we have, or how we impress others will make us happy. If the answer is to grow closer to someone in more meaningful ways, that is truly important. When we look at the reasons behind our actions, we can see more clearly if they are temptations to be something we're not or to be who we are meant to be.
How can we find our true self? We cannot really understand our purpose in life by using logic. Centering Prayer enables us to access our deeper levels of consciousness below a rational surface where we learn and know intuitively God’s will in our true self. The more we practice Centering Prayer, the more connected with God we are. God is loving us unconditionally no matter what we do, what we have, or what others think of us. We are the beloved children of God with infinite possibilities. From that perspective, we more easily discern what is important to do and what is negligible. We learn that we can surrender to God our worries because God will take care of them and guide us. We each have our own unique role of fleshing out Christ’s presence in the world. Realizing we are in God's flow of love, worry takes a back seat because we are more aware of how our actions are participating with God. Everything seems to fall into place.
Our meetings strengthen our spiritual journeys with each other as we find close friends. In them we receive encouragement, kinship, wisdom, and meaning for our journey. Sharing our stories unites us with our common purpose. We are not alone. Our work is connected.
When something important for us to do surfaces, there is no questioning its authenticity because it flows from our connection with God within us. Usually it is not some big showy effort. Most often no one else knows about it. But it is definitely an opportunity for us to love.
Thomas Merton encourages me when he says, “I have no idea where I am going.” I feel the same way. We may not be sure about our direction, but we trust that God “will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.” (Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1956, 79)
Reflection: Two Thomases Hermitage
by Maggie Winfrey
(Note: Quotes have been changed to gender-neutral language in brackets. I use many
names for God, including Beloved and Source,
to name a few.)
Friends have asked me about my Two Thomases Hermitage, named after my trusty guides Merton and Keating. I’m still trying to figure that out. I hope this gives you a quick selfie.
As the pandemic plunged us into isolation and we looked out at the quietened world, I began to take an extended retreat, grateful it was possible for me, retired and single. As it lengthened, the tremendous gifts emerging clarified that this was how I wanted to live. Some would call it being a hermit. I don’t know what to call it. It’s very ordinary. Whatever it is, it has made all the difference for my spiritual journey.
Will going off the grid help us grow closer to God? Thomas Merton explains that the desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century CE regarded their society
“as a shipwreck from which each individual… had to swim for his [or her] life… that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.” 
They trusted that isolating and following stringent rules would get them closer to God. Their hard-earned wisdom guides us to reach transformation in our present age with contemplation. The best definition I know for that is silently connecting to God in our center in love. Centering Prayer is one method we use. Contemplation brings the treasure of happiness in God that is available to us right here, right now, without our having to run away. I don’t mean a glorified monastery existence, just a simple life where we link more deeply with our Beloved Source with fewer distractions. Thomas Merton describes his:
“This is not a hermitage—it is a house. What I wear is pants. What I do is live. How I pray is breathe… Up here in the woods is seen the New Testament: that is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it. Is it supposed to be clear? … That is none of my business.” 
Here in my little three bedroom condo, I wear clothes, live, and breathe. Nothing spectacular and very ordinary. In the stillness of a regular life comes a deep wisdom knowing that love is here. I don’t know how to describe it. I just know it deep in my bones.
How does it work? No sitting in a closet in the dark here! I rarely leave. Groceries and supplies are delivered. Centering Prayer starts my day before my morning shake. I write pieces like this, work by email, phone, and Zoom to manage Contemplative Outreach Atlanta and our Centering Prayer groups, and read valued sages. Every few hours I sit on my meditation chair for a Centering Prayer session. I walk and exercise to reinvigorate my day. I phone my dear ones, bake bread, dig in the garden, sew newborn blankets, and paint flowers. After dinner, I watch mysteries.
My focus is connecting on a deeper consciousness level within to our Beloved (one of my many names for God.) Everything flows from that and reveals sacred meaning. There is no need to seek outside stimulation, entertainment, or approval. These guidelines keep me on track:
Like the airlines tell us to put on our oxygen mask first, the most important thing for me to do first is to access our life-source as vital as oxygen: practicing Centering Prayer often throughout the day. Everything changes when we reach deeper consciousness and become aware of our unity with God.
Second, as I leave my centering chair, awareness of connection with God follows me into my activities. United in spirit, each task reveals sacredness in the present moment. Working for accomplishment loses its appeal to me. Attending completely to the work centers me.
Third, I edit inputs and outputs. We can remove harmful influences like the desert Fathers and Mothers did without going to the desert. I cut media sources that provoke and enflame viewers to increase their audiences. Blocked are advertising messages that tell us we are incomplete without buying things, making ourselves look younger, or demanding medicines from our doctors. Instead of news doom-scrolling, I hold and pray for the world’s suffering in my heart. Attending valuable sessions on Zoom like the South African Tutu Lenten Series fills, inspires, and guides me. The mystics are my go-tos.
Increased contemplative time is influencing my outputs to be more thoughtful before acting. Centering Prayer lovingly reveals my flawed attitudes long repressed since childhood, such as my reactionary biases or motivations to control. Without pressure, it becomes easier to pause and reflect before hitting the send button, and how to handle what’s essential. Thomas Keating says,
“Love alone can change people. This is the great confrontation that no one can resist. It offers others space in which to change no matter what they do…[God] simply keeps inviting us to let go of conduct that is self-destructive and to come back to [God’s] love.” 
Fourth, instead of being isolated, I am nearer than ever to my sons, family, and dear ones. We have grown closer in more meaningful ways. I’ve made more friends near and far than I ever would have imagined. There is no separation, as we connect so quickly by phone, email, and Zoom. Some of our new Zoom groups have never met in-person but are bonded on a very deep level. God’s presence flows among us. Instead of feeling lonely, I am feeling more linked than ever with my fellow humans around the world. Injustices like racism, poverty, and war become more obvious, and I am moved to speak against them.
Fifth, I hope to stay on the path. The Anonymous community’s mantra “It works when you work it” keeps me focused on my intentions. Consistent, measured, non-tangential steps lead to my destination.
We may go all over the world looking for treasure and return to find it has been in us the whole time. Every day gifts keep emerging. New possibilities open as the Holy Spirit pours in, teaching and guiding. Old lifeless ways of living aren’t interesting anymore. Grace reveals itself everywhere: watching hummingbirds hover in my garden, seeing my first-ever orchid bloom in my kitchen, and connecting heart-to-heart with friends in our Centering Prayer groups. Gratitude is my song.
Thomas Merton prays in solitude, “I have no idea where I am going.” Me too. He continues, “You will lead me by the right road though I know nothing about it...and will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  Not alone, together, we follow this path to life.
So, while things are opening up, people are unmasking, more are gathering in person, I plan to continue this presence-ing to Beloved’s call within. Not afraid of going out, I am embracing what I have found within: the pearl of great price. My eggs are going in this basket. I’m not going back. I’m going on ahead.
Many of us are pursuing a more secluded lifestyle. What are your experiences? We would love to hear from you who are hermiting too.
 Thomas Merton, Wisdom of the Desert, New York: New Directions, 1960, 3
 Thomas Merton, Day of a Stranger, Salt Lake City: Gibbs M. Smith, 1981, 41
 Thomas Keating, Awakenings, New York: Crossroad, 1996, 78
 Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1956, 79
Contemplative Outreach Atlanta Events
April 30th 10:00 - 12pm ET, We Gather Together We Are One Big Sit. Join us for an inspiring morning of Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Taize' chant and Reflections of our Unity with God. This event is free and is being held on Zoom. Donations are welcome. Register here.
In-Person April 1-2 Sarasota Conference on Spirituality, Community, and Social Change about Howard Thurman. Register here.
May 14th 11:00 - 2:30 pm ET, Notes of Rest - A Musical Textual Retreat. Chicagoan Julian Davis Reid is a young artist-theologian who uses words and music to invite us into the restful life we were created to experience. We will begin with a centering prayer period. Then Julian will lead a Notes of Rest experience for 90 minutes. During the workshop, short sacred texts are read, interpreted musically, and then reflected upon individually and in small groups. Creativity is a key part of the experience, with participants encouraged to journal, write reflections or song lyrics, dance, or otherwise go where the spirit leads them. Following a lunch break, Julian will offer an optional 45-minute lecture on music and Black contemplative life and their unique contributions to Christian mysticism.
June 18th 10:00 - 12:00 pm ET We Gather Together - Releasing the Enslaved Spirit Big Sit. Join us for a morning of Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Taize' Chant and Reflection inspired by Howard Thurman, Desmond Tutu and Michael Battle. Register here.
Notes of Rest is sponsored as a collaborative effort by the Contemplative Outreach chapters of Chicago, Atlanta, and Colorado. We are delighted to introduce you to this unique form of contemplative experience. Notes of Rest workshops have been well-received at Yale Divinity School, Duke Divinity School, the Center for Religion and Environment (University of the South), First United Methodist Church of Oak Park, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church (Atlanta, GA), and other locations. Click here for more information or to register.
In-Person and Online April 8-9 The Unfinished Search for Common Ground: A Conference on the Life and Work of Howard Thurman. Sponsored by the Candler School of Theology and the Howard Thurman Papers Project. Speakers include Barbara Brown Taylor. Additional information and registration here.
April 9th 12:30 pm ET Network presents Racism, White Supremacy, and US Christianity with Robert P. Jones and Fr. Bryan Massingale. Register here.
April 15th Noon – 3 pm ET, Contemplative Outreach of Tampa Bay hosts their Third Annual Good Friday Centering Prayer Vigil via Zoom. For information please email here.
April 21st 4-5:30 pm ET Center for Christogenesis presents Don Wayne Viney on Zoom “Journeys in Process: The Promise of Process Theologies,” Register here.
In-Person April 22-23 Tampa Bay Contemplative Outreach presents The Lectio Divina Retreat with Julie Saad at the Franciscan Center, Tampa, FL. Register here.
We are here to center with you. We support each other on our spiritual journey when we gather. Find a Centering Prayer group here. Contact the facilitator by email and prepare to be welcomed warmly. Most of our groups meet by Zoom, and some are hybrid in-person and Zoom. Members from all backgrounds are welcome.
Looking for a Centering Prayer group?
For Centering Prayer Groups/New Groups
Would you like an Introduction to Centering Prayer Workshop for your community? Contact us here.
Contemplative Outreach Ltd. International
With offerings for beginners and long-time practitioners alike, CO Ltd is a great resource at any stage of your spiritual journey. Find out more here.
Join their online Meditation Chapel here.
Center for Action and Contemplation
We invite you to explore these inspiring resources:
- Their free video series Wisdom in Times of Crisis, features all five of our core faculty.
- Their podcast series New Season of Learning How to See: features Brian McLaren, Jacqui Lewis and Richard Rohr.
- Their six-episode podcast series Learning How to See includes Brian McLaren, Barbara Holmes, Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley speaking here.
- James Finley and others present and inspiring podcast: “Turning to the Mystics: What is Lectio, Meditation, and Prayer?". You can hear it here as one of CAC’s programs.
- How can we embody more empathy and love in these “hot mess times?” Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis returns for the second season of our podcast, Love.Period. Access her podcast of a new vision of Christianity—one with love and justice at the core of its practice—right here.
Center for Christogenesis:
From Ilia Delio:
- Webinar “The Entangled Planet” access link here (Password: planet)
- Interview on "Buddha at the Gas Pump" here.
- Interviews millennials on how they redefine religion in terms of an evolutionary world - her video “Why have hope for the future” here.
Encountering Silence Podcast
Conversations with Carl McColman, Cassidy Hall and Kevin Johnson are available here.
They are open for socially-distanced retreats with many offerings. Information here.
Notable YouTube Channels
You'll find inspiration on these channels:
- Tuesdays with Merton here.
- Br. Elias Marechal OCSO here.
- Fr. William Meninger here.
- Discover the Welcoming Prayer here.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit Zoom Retreats
The Monastery has canceled in-person retreats indefinitely due to the present Covid wave. All retreats will be on Zoom, however there are no retreats scheduled for the near future. You may visit us here. Please call the retreat house office at 770-760-0959 Mon-Fri 8:00 – 1:00. Requested donation for retreat is $45.
Group Meetings and Coordinating Team Gatherings
Some groups have socially distanced in-person Centering Prayer meetings with the option of joining by Zoom. With colder weather, most of our meetings will be by Zoom. We recommend that participants receive the Covid-19 vaccination. Check with Centering Prayer group facilitators to find out their meeting access here.
Silence Solitude Solidarity Service
We embrace the process of transformation in Christ, both in ourselves and in others, through the practice of Centering Prayer. The Contemplative Outreach organization is a network of communities and individuals seeking the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit to contribute to the renewal of the Christian contemplative tradition through the practice of Centering Prayer.
- Vision Theological Principal 1
Be still and know that I am God.
- Ps 46:10
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