Impasse, Imagination, and Contemplation: An Online Forum (Spring 2020)

Please Note:

This particular class was one that we shared during the first two months of physical distancing in the pandemic, roughly March and April.  I will keep these notes here for reference should anyone find them helpful.  The earliest classes from March are at the bottom; we did this so the newest was easier to access as we shared the class.

We enter Phase Two, if you will, in our conversations, paying close attention during this Easter Season to this fundamental question: “What does it mean to participate in the Divine Life?”  (Scroll down for prior videos)

In this day and time, how can we see the wisdom of the Christian contemplative tradition as a means of refreshment, reminder, and re-orientation?  Perhaps we are being invited to ground ourselves in the essentials of our practice of faith.

As well, the image of “social distancing” lends itself to deeper reflection, I think, when we remember how we are called to see ourselves through the primary lens of union: union with God and with one another.  We cannot be distanced from one another, because we cannot understand ourselves only through materialistic or physical terms (to put it one way).  These days call for an exploration of the richness of our tradition of prayer and practice.  These are days of the heart and soul, days of imagination and community.

To that end, I want to invite you to an online class through the Center for the Practice of Prayer.  Each weekday (for as long as we might need, I’d say), I will live stream a conversation beginning at 10 am.  You can log on and write in your questions.  We will make it as much as a conversation as possible, remaining nimble and open to the Spirit’s movement.  We will offer this with the grounding of the Center for the Practice of Prayer at Grace.  You can click HERE to learn more about this work.  Why not ground ourselves now in these days?

For now, let me end with this thought: we find ourselves with time and space, my friends.  We find ourselves suddenly reoriented, moved out of our typical routines and placed on a path that is calling for greater consciousness and resilience.  We have an extraordinary opportunity before us: to dig deep into the wisdom of our Christian contemplative tradition and root ourselves in an awareness of indwelling presence of God in our hearts–both personal and collective.

You can click on my Facebook page at 10 am on weekdays to join in the conversation, and you can find past videos collected below should you want to review anything.

You can also click here to go to a page that collects class notes and thoughts that we are sharing with one another. NOTES AND THOUGHTS FOR ONLINE CLASS.

(from this point on, I will put the most recent video first, to make this easier)

Week Seven: Beginning May 11

We will spend this week reflecting on a key question:

“In this particular moment, in your particular life, how is the Spirit opening your heart, so that you see yourself living in a transformed way?” 

I will gather any notes and reflections that people send, and we’ll use these as our next phase or step of conversation.  Blessings!

Week Six: Participating in the Divine Life, Continued

We continue digging into Fr. Thomas’s book, looking at these rich themes around the reality of our interconnectedness.

Session 26: Participating in the Divine Life #9

This Friday, we looked at the concluding chapter in Fr. Thomas’s book God is All in All.  We closed out this part of the discussion with a reflection on our call to rest in the indwelling presence of God, that such a posture of consenting to the Divine Presence will reorient the way we view life, transforming our perspective so that we live out of compassion.

Session 25: Participating in the Divine Life #8

This morning we explored Fr. Thomas’s chapter called “Participating in the Divine Life,” looking at his images around how we are lovable, created in the image of God.  As he says, “Authority comes from Being, not from position.”

Session 24: Participating in the Divine Life #7

This morning we focused more on the way Fr. Thomas describes redemption, and his perception that the main point or focus of Christ’s Passion was to enable us to realize our union with God and one another.  Redemption from sins, he says, is not the primary focus.  While challenging to many expressions or schools within the broader Christian community, I think the contemplative tradition offers a space to ground in a compassionate and expansive image of God and creation.

Session 23: Participating in the Divine Life #6

This morning we explored this coming Sunday’s Gospel from John 10: Good Shepherd.  We looked at the image of “gates” and laid this alongside Fr. Thomas’s reflection on God being curious about what it would look like to enter into the human condition.

Session 22: Participating in the Divine Life #5

I have no idea why this particular video wouldn’t embed.

But, we explored chapter four of Fr. Thomas’s book, looking at his reflection on our need for a new cosmology, drawing on the images of quantum science, etc. as a way to deepen our spiritual awareness of the interconnectedness of life and the indwelling of the Spirit.

Week Five: “What does it mean to participate in the Divine Life?”

We look intently at Fr. Thomas Keating’s monograph God is All in All: The Evolution of the Contemplative Christian Spiritual Journey

Session 21: Participating in the Diving Life #4

I have to say I really appreciate this particular session, prompted by a question Mike Short posed about Fr. Thomas’s statement that “we receive the sacraments to become the sacraments,” that we receive the Eucharist to become the Eucharist so that, at some point, we are the Eucharist… This session weaved together many important conversation partners over our past five weeks of conversations.

Session 20: Participating in the Divine Life #3

Session 19: Participating in the Divine Life #2

Session 18: Participating in the Divine Life #1

Week Four: Holy Week

In the first month of our discussions, we explored many topics that all seemed to orbit around this key question: how can this experience of impasse offer us an opportunity to delve more deeply into our contemplative practice, with our sense of spiritual imagination?  Our conversation partners looked like this:

But all such recipes and programmed strategies fall short of accounting for the full mystery of language where deep calls to deep. . . . Of first importance here are the deeper vocabulary and idiom of the Spirit, and all that is suggested by such terms as primordial language and dynamic symbol.

A creative theopoetic is called for, therefore, not only to vitalize traditional theology but also to relate our Christian experience to the new sensibility of our time. . . 

Amos Wilder, Theopoetic: Theology and Religious Imagination

We are also drawing on the rich teachings of Sr. Constance FitzGerald and her work around experiences of impasse and the opportunity for hope found in the poetic writings of St. John of the Cross as well as the prophetic and contemplative tradition.  As she states in her essay “Impasse and the Dark Night”:

By impasse, I mean that there is no way out of, no way around, no rational escape from, what imprisons one, no possibilities in the situation. In a true impasse, every normal manner of acting is brought to a standstill, and ironically, impasse is experienced not only in the problem itself but also in any solution rationally attempted. Every logical solution remains unsatisfying, at the very least. The whole life situation suffers a depletion, has the word limits written upon it. Dorothee Soelle describes it as “unavoidable suffering,” an apt symbol of which is physical imprisonment, with its experience of being squeezed into a confined space. Any movement out, any next step, is canceled, and the most dangerous temptation is to give up, to quit, to surrender to cynicism and despair, in the face of the disappointment, disenchantment, hopelessness, and loss of meaning that encompass one.

Looking more intently at the prayers and poetry of Holy Week…

Session 17: April 9: We looked very closely at the themes of the Triduum, and how we can understand ourselves participating in the liturgy through our own embodiment–when the external structures are removed from us.

Session 16, April 8 Today we learned that Gov. Kemp extended the stay-at-home until May 13.  So… This morning, we reflected on the intensity of Holy Week this year, with excerpts from Howard Thurman and a wonderful piece called “Sanctuary.” Here is the video from today’s session:

Session 15, April 7: Tuesday in Holy Week, stepping more fully into Holy Week, with this call to imagination and a deep contemplative awareness of God’s indwelling presence.

Session 14, April 6 Connecting the poetry of Holy Week with these circumstances we find ourselves in.  Also, the beautiful music of Caroline Herring that will weave into the conversations we have.


Week Three:

Exploring Bro. David Steindl-Rast’s work “The Mystical Core of Organized Religion” and how these days give us an opportunity to deepen our practice of prayer.

Session 13, April 3: Looking at Palm Sunday, and the opportunity we are given to contemplate the meaning of Holy Week in our hearts.

Session 12, April 2: We look at poetry, drawing on the image of what it feels like/looks like in this moment/experience of the heart purifying.  Looking at the process of transformation in the path of love and the path of suffering.

Session 11, April 1: We look more intently at the diagram offered in Br. David’s essay (on the NOTES page), and we begin to wonder more about the particular movement of “heart purifies” that he describes there–especially in light of our heading into Holy Week and needing to re-imagine our liturgies.

Session 10, March 31: We look more intently at Br. David’s image around experience, as well as our simultaneous yearning for immediacy and the “heat” of spiritual experience and the “cooling” we crave so that we can hold it.  Oh, complex humans:

Here is Session Nine, March 30

Here is Session Eight, March 27— looking at these experiences of impasse and connections with Brueggemann’s Prophetic Imagination, Howard Thurman’s prayer to “teach us the techniques”, and looking toward next week with Br. David Steidl-Rast’s “The Mystical Core o Organized Religion.”

Here is Session Seven, March 26- more reflection on longing and the way that impasse acts as a means of purification for our desires.

Here is Session Six, March 25: The Feast of the Annunciation- Looking at the image of love, seeing the way that the seed of Light has been implanted in each of our hearts.

Here is Session Five, March 24

Here is Session Four, March 23

Here is Session Three, March 20

Here is Session One

Session Two

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: