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The New Contemplatives Exchange gathers in Snowmass, Colorado

Aug 22, 2017

Last year, at the invitation of renowned Christian contemplative teacher Fr. Thomas Keating, four of the most prominent living western Christian mystics gathered in Snowmass at St. Benedict’s Monastery. In addition to Fr. Keating (founder of Contemplative Outreach (CO)), three others gathered in respectful friendship: Fr. Richard Rohr (founder of Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), Albuquerque, NM), Lawrence Freeman (founder of World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM), London, UK), and Tilden Edwards (Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Washington, DC). 

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.

So, August 14-18, 2017, I joined twenty other “younger” contemplatives at Snowmass, along with the four founders who invited us. We were organized in groups of five according to the founder we were representing.  The entire gathering was funded by a gracious grant from the Trust for the Meditation Process.  

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. 

And while it was obvious that we were not the only younger leaders on the contemplative landscape, it was apparent that our relationship with the founders was one of trust. We had been invited out of the inspiration that emerged among the founders 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 members who gathered:

  • Sabina Alkire, Oxford, United Kingdom
  • Sarah Bachelard, Canberra, Australia
  • Thomas Bushlack, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Adam Bucko, Nashotah, WI
  • Sicco Claus, Haag, Netherlands
  • Leonardo Correa, Porto Alecre, Brazil
  • Rafael Dickson Morales, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  • Phileena Heuertz, Omaha, NE
  • Stuart Higginbotham, Gainesville, GA
  • Erik Keeney, Snowmass, CO
  • Mark Kutolowski, Thetford, VT
  • Justin Lanier, Bennington, VT
  • Bo Karen Lee, Princeton, NJ
  • Mark Longhurst, Williamstown, MA
  • Rory McEntee, Madison, NJ
  • Kirsten Oates, Sausalito, CA
  • Karen Pedigo, Frankfort, IL
  • Jessica Smith, Washington DC
  • Gabrielle Stoner, Ada, MI
  • Vladimir Volrab, Decin, Czech Republic
  • Matthew Wright, West Park, NY

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 leaders of color to be able to do the collective healing our world needs. 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, CO and CAC in 1986, and WCCM in 1991, we have spanned over 44 years. These renowned Western mystics 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 all together. 

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.

Any who want to learn more are invited to The Circle gathering at Grace beginning Sunday evening, September 17, at 6:30 pm in the Chapel.  For those who cannot travel to Gainesville, Fr. Stuart is more than willing to explore a gathering in metro Atlanta soon to share conversation and dreams.

This article was originally written by Phileena Heuertz, a participant in the New Contemplatives Exchange, who, with her husband Chris, serve Gravity, a non-profit centered on contemplative activism.