The School for Christian Practice
We have launched our first session of the School for Christian Practice!
Here is an introductory video:
The class is designed as an intentional conversation that fosters what Beverly Lanzetta calls “an alphabet and vocabulary of the Spirit.” We are making a theological claim that only through the cultivation of a contemplative posture (a practice of prayer that trusts in the indwelling presence of the Spirit of Christ) can we engage in the challenges we face today in our culture (a compassionate embodiment). We recognize the difficulty many have in understanding how our practice of faith intersects with the way we live in the world–leading to frustration and defensiveness. For too long the institutional church has neglected to focus on the necessary formative life–the life of prayer and spiritual development–within our communities of faith. How can we resist the ego-driven reaction the wider culture evokes in us when we do not have a basic proficiency of faith and practice? How can we bear fruit when our roots are not nourished? Clergy leadership and congregational development (inherently inter-twined as they are) are absolutely dependent on the cultivation of a posture of prayer, an attunement to the Spirit’s indwelling presence.
I feel convicted to focus my attention and my resources on the connection between a contemplative posture and a compassionate embodiment. This movement from prayer to embodiment is what we are calling the Trajectory of Transformation.
We will track the class with the following framework. Links are included to scanned documents for participants to explore as our conversation continues.
As you read through these class notes, you will see, at week ten (I think) we make a shift. I decided to go off track, pausing the rest of the class for now to instead focus more intently on the relationship between what I call practice and proficiency. I became very intrigued after a few weeks with the ambivalence some experienced in the class itself to share and engage or describe. It made me wonder all the more about the dynamic between practice itself and the call for a greater proficiency that truly helps nurture a spiritual community.
Section One: Our Primary Concern for Oneness
Week 1: Introduction to Language and Images
This week, we will begin our conversation, laying out the challenges the institutional/traditional congregation faces. We will also identify key markers of the Christian contemplative tradition as we begin to make our argument that a contemplative posture is the necessary grounding for the needed reformation within the church today.
Here is a wonderful introductory video by Fr. Thomas Keating, where he reflects on Christian non-duality, or transforming union.
Week 2: Basic Framework of a Non-dual Posture
Here are notes for our second week. Feel free to read these and see what thoughts/feelings they stir up in you as we continue to explore the Christian non-dual framework (or as Fr. Thomas Keating would describe, the perspective grounded in transforming love rather than in separation).
Click HERE to explore an important article by Br. David Steindl-Rast that we will continue to reference.
Here is a helpful video reflection where Fr. Thomas reflects on Christian Non-Duality.
Week 3: Glimpses of Contemplative Wisdom
While there are MANY resources to explore, when it comes to sages, teachers, and saints, here is a broad outline that at least gets us started with a language. Click HERE for Week Three’s notes. This week, we will continue becoming more proficient with the language and images within the Christian contemplative tradition.
(I know I keep drawing on Keating, but this is good. Here are two reflections on the tension within Christianity as a whole, the “Western Model” as opposed to the “Scriptural Model.”
Week 4: The Contemplative Posture within the Spiritual Community
This week, since it is Labor Day Weekend, we won’t dig into anything new; rather, we will use this time together to reflect back on the prior three week’s conversations. You can review Weeks 1 to 3, looking at handouts, etc. Also, here are two images of the Trinity that we discussed last Sunday, reflecting on the Trinitarian grounding for our understanding of a Christian non-duality, our essential unity with God and each other in Christ.
This figure is far more “scholastic” as we discussed.
(notice the relative size of the figures)
You may also find it interesting to “google” your own images of the Trinity and continue your own theological reflection.
Section Two: Openness of Heart: Practices of Prayer
Week 5: What is Prayer?
This week, we turn to the image and practice of prayer. (I have inverted sections two and three, because the conversation organically turned toward prayer). How does our understanding of a contemplative posture inform/shape the way we understand prayer?
Here is a very good video reflection with Richard Rohr describing the grounding of contemplative prayer. Pay special attention to the way we describes how a non-dual contemplative posture informs the way we understand our relationship to and within God.
I have to include this reflection by Howard Thurman, that great mystic and teacher: “What do you really want?” “One word: God. And the answer is the same….”
Week 6: Self-emptying and Putting on the Mind of Christ
This week, we will explore the image of “the mind,” both our own minds–and our tendency to seek to control and grasp–and the greater Mind of Christ, that image from Philippians. What does it mean when St. Paul says, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus?” How do we see the pattern of self-emptying as the essential type–can we even say the meta-practice–of Christian practice?
Here is a reflection by Howard Thurman, where he reflects on religious experience, the mind and its tendency to “put a bead on the religious experience,” and how religion is best understood as a contagion.
Also, we continue to draw on the marvelous reflection by Br. David Steindl-Rast and his image of “the Mystical Core of Organized Religion.” That link is HERE for easy reference.
As well, here is a brief interview with the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, where he reflects on prayer.
Week 7: The Experience of the Incarnation: Sacramental Understanding
Thank you to Cheryl Kelley, our Director of Christian Formation, for leading a session on Ignatian imaginative prayer!
Week 8: Praying Shapes Believing
This Sunday, we will turn toward this defining framework of our practice: The way we pray shapes the way we believe and live in the world. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, (Lex Vivendi). In this week’s class, we will pay close attention to the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer, with the rich images it offers us for imagining a fuller spectrum of prayer practices: Adoration, Thanksgiving, Intercession…. It is so important to spend time in our prayers.
To help guide us, we will spend time learning from our friend Lerita Coleman Brown, who reminds us of how the Civil Rights Movement, and Howard Thurman, demonstrated the need “to go in before you go out,” to pay attention to your inner life.
We also reflect on this remarkable prayer by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2015. Notice especially how his prayer imagines God and invites us into the deeper realization of awareness of God’s indwelling presence–within the sphere of economic and political development.
Section Three: What does it mean to “be a Christian?”
Scriptural Witness and Teachings of the Tradition
Week 9: The Ten Commandments and the Prophetic Tradition
I can think of no better teacher to explore than Walter Brueggemann when it comes to the Prophetic Tradition. This is a vital link in our ongoing study, seeing how this unitive understanding of God–our union with God and with one another–reorients the way we see our ethical embodiment in the world.
When we live out of this non-dual grounding or posture, when we cultivate a deeper awareness of our identity in and with God (through Christ as Christians), we see how our understanding of prayer changes. How do we pray? How do we understand our practice of faith? And, how do see the richness of the prophetic tradition as showing us this “alternative living” (as Brueggemann describes) in the world. I think it is extremely important to see how Brueggemann describes the icon of the golden calf as a way to shape God as a commodity, and the way God challenges this commodification.
I am particularly intrigued by what I see as the link between a contemplative posture and the prophetic tradition and the Gospel’s image of the Kin-dom of God.
Thinking back to how Fr. Thomas Keating described the way we fixate on the emotional programs for happiness, how can we see a connection with what Brueggemann describes as our idolatry with the penultimate aspects of our lives, i.e. the way our culture focuses so readily on a warped sense of nationalism and a militaristic and violent culture?
***Week 10: Special Note:
After class discussions, I am adding in discussion of a very important point that has been raised: how can we engage and reflect on our experiences with a lack of language or images that help us do so? For the past few weeks, I have noticed a reticence to share, a hesitation to talk about experiences of prayer.
This has led me to wonder about the connection between two vital aspects: Practice and Proficiency.
How can we nurture a space in which we experience a shared practice of contemplative prayer (keeping in mind that there are various embodiments of contemplative prayer, as demonstrated on the Tree of Contemplative Practices: (keep reading below the image)
I wonder about intentional spaces for practice and prayer, and I wonder about the need for a common language to help us engage with our experiences. Hence, Practice and Proficiency. How do we nurture a space in which we can practice our faith (i.e. cultivate silence and an awareness of God’s indwelling presence) and how can we use or explore language and images to share with one another and thus nurture a spiritual community (i.e. cultivate a certain proficiency of faith)?
So, I am asking myself “what words would I explore that might be helpful for such a cultivation of a spiritual community?”
Here is my list at this point: Desire, Awareness, Consent, Transformation, Emptiness, Union
Here is a video reflection of Cynthia Bourgeault reflecting on Centering Prayer that I think is very helpful. She introduces key words, images, or concepts, and then leads the group into practice itself. She gives just enough information or language so that they can then enter into the practice, with a desire for transformation.
I found this TEDx video that I think is very meaningful, with an MIT-trained astrophysicist using language to describe his experience of meaning and identity. I notice the language he uses, the way he relies on and employs certain images.
Week 11: The Language we have…
This week we will continue reflecting on the way we yearn to articulate but struggle to articulate our experience of and in this reality we call God, the Source of our existence who/that was embodied in the person of Jesus. As Margaret, one of the dear parishioners said after the service last Sunday “The way I see it is that we have the language we have, but the language we have is so limited.” There it is. How can we stand in that place of recognizing the limitations of our language while also listening to the call to share of our experience?
Here is a wonderful video by Fr. Thomas where he reflects on this reality we call “God.”
And, we return to this earlier video reflection where Fr. Thomas lays out the differences he sees in the Western spiritual tradition and the authentic Scriptural spiritual tradition, when it comes to our awareness of God’s indwelling presence.
There is also a helpful reflection by Alan Watts, a British-born Buddhist scholar who reflects on the limitation of language in describing God, the Absolute Reality.
“An idea of God is a finger pointing at God, but what most people in do is instead of following the finger, they suck it for comfort.”–Alan Watts.
The Buddha maintained what is called ‘the Noble Silence.’ Watts describes how “this silence, this metaphysical silence, is not a void. It is very powerful. The silence is the open window through which you can see, not concepts, not beliefs, but the very goods.”
You can also dig in a bit deeper into what Cynthia describes as the limitations of our “operating system” when we seek to articulate our contemplative practice. I think this video is very helpful in laying out the shift in awareness we are speaking of, with the image of having the mind in the heart.
Week Twelve: Exploring Faith, Belief, and Practice
I love Bro. David Steindl-Rast and the way he not only thinks about the practice of faith but also speaks from and through his heart. Here is a video of him reflecting on the dynamics of faith and belief, that the essence of faith is trust–ultimately trust in life, which is a reality that unites all human beings.
Merton said, a spiritual journey is opening your eyes… not a journey in the sense of traveling somewhere. The essence of pilgrimage is that every step opens your eyes, the eye of your heart, increasing your awareness.
These following modules are on hold for now, as we recognize the need we have to delve more deeply into a reflection on both practice and proficiency.
Week 10: Glimpses of Blessedness: The Beatitudes
Week 11: The Fruits of the Spirit
Week 12: Love: The Great Commandment
Section Four: Contemporary Challenges and Witness
Week 13: Prophetic and Wisdom Literature & Social Justice
I place this video here of the Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes, who speaks of the important horizon and development of theological education.
Week 14: Non-dual Identity and Racial Justice
Week 15: The Body of Christ and Environmental Ethics
Here is a breath-taking video about the scale of things, the perspective we have–and the potential for a widened perspective, a heightened consciousness.
Week 16: The Household of God and Economic Justice
Section Five: Personal Conversion and Embodiment
Week 17: Spiritual Gifts & Responsibility
Week 18: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust: Writing our own Obituary
Week 19: Give us a Word: It’s Your Turn to Preach
Week 20: Giving Your Personal Testimony: Stories of Reorientation
In this way, the entire 20-week class will follow this trajectory of how a contemplative posture nurtures a compassionate embodiment.
We are drawing on representatives from the fullness of our Christian tradition as we ground ourselves in both pedagogy (basic didactic learning) and mystagogy (shared experiences of prayer and practice).
- Contemplation and Community: A Gathering of Fresh Voices for a Living Tradition (Crossroad)–many aspects will be drawn from this upcoming volume (should be published in early August).
- New Revised Standard Bible or Common English Bible (translations)
- Book of Common Prayer
- Three-ring binder for handouts
- Journal for notes and personal writing
- Other articles and copies will be given out throughout the class, enabling each participant to delve more deeply into various aspects. We will build a library as we go!
Contact me with any questions you may have: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Jessica Voyles at Office@gracechurchgainesville.org
More coming soon!