Reflections on the September Conference

Greetings Contemplative Outreach Community,

There is a new and powerful movement of the Spirit in our community.  We are evolving toward a new level of consciousness ‚Äì not only as individual practitioners, but as a contemplative community.  Our challenge is to let go of a business model of governance and allow a new framework of attitudes and practices to blossom in its place.  For instance, broad consultation needs to be our ordinary way of introducing new programs and ideas and communication needs to be fostered. The ideas, wants and needs of the global community need to be heard. Our conference in September provided many opportunities to listen and learn from one another on these and many other topics.

The conference brought together about 140 practitioners, many who were attending their first Contemplative Outreach conference. It was a chance to put a face with a name, or a name with a state or country.  And then there were those with whom we have gathered over the years, delighting in renewing our friendships. Two icons of Contemplative Outreach were recognized during the conference with appreciation and standing ovations. These beloved legends are Sister Bernadette Teasdale, who started the Denver Center for Contemplative Living in 1987, and Fr. Carl Arico, who has been involved with heart and soul since the first retreat at the Lama Foundation in 1983. Our gratitude abounds to them for helping form and lead us on our respective spiritual paths.

Several hours of conference time and lots of energy were spent in groups of nine (our team was led by David and included Carol, Cathy, Christine, Barry, Donna, Patty, Kathleen and me), absorbing the Vision and Theological Principles and Guidelines for Service.  We listened to each other with open minds and open hearts, at a deeper level of awareness and bonding than I thought possible.  The groups were also asked for input on programs and needs for the future. The reports to the whole assembly ranged from the mundane-yet-important to the profound.  For example:

  • An attractive Forgiveness Prayer brochure is needed;
  • Can the Welcoming Prayer be made available online? (It is!  Click here. )
  • Can the components of Living Flame be made more affordable?  
  • Can we get chapter discounts on new as well as older books and DVDs?  
  • How can we be more open to the gifts of the maturation of our evolving communities?  

Both staff and board members also had an opportunity to say a few words on Saturday afternoon to the community attending the conference. It was important to the board to give equal time to our staff. The invitation to both staff and board was to share “what I do” for Contemplative Outreach and to share something about “who I am” (all in six minutes each!). The sharing from both groups was heartfelt and gave the gathering a better idea who some of the servant leaders are in the organism.

I chose to compare our evolving board to my teenage experience of playing the organ for a hymn at church: The choir director marks the beginning.  The organist sounds the introduction, maintains the tempo set by the choir director, helps singers stay on key, and provides texture and timber. The organist enhances the voices of the choir and congregation.  But it‚Äôs the choir director who leads.  The outcome is that together we sing God‚Äôs praises.

In a similar way, the Holy Spirit is our Contemplative Outreach choir director, the board acts as the accompanist, and the choir and congregation are all the Centering Prayer practitioners. The outcome is that together we sing God’s praises.

During the conference, Fr. Thomas Keating spoke to us from Snowmass as a surprise!  He challenged us to ‚Äúreturn to the basics‚Äù — to re-examine them from our evolving perspectives ‚Äì and in this light, the Spiritual Journey Series DVDs and Invitation to Love were highlighted as teachings to revisit.  My Monday night Centering Prayer support group in Cary, North Carolina, plans to experience them again soon.

I‚Äôve come home with a renewed enthusiasm for Centering Prayer, for the gathering of people we call Contemplative Outreach Unlimited (!), and for my colleagues on the board.  My hope is that we can all listen to the Spirit within and effectively share the Vision as we evolve.  I also hope that volunteer workers who feel called to contribute to this contemplative movement will come forward to share their gifts.


John Kelsey

A Centering Prayer practitioner for over 18 years, John is a founding member of Contemplative Outreach of Central and Eastern North Carolina and continues to serve in various volunteer capacities, including chapter coordinator, as a commissioned Centering Prayer presenter and Contemplative Outreach governing board member.