By Benedicte Vibe Christensen
In June 2018 Pat Johnston, the interim administrator of Contemplative Outreach, asked me to mentor Brother Columba, a young monk (then 26) in a monastery in the Netherlands in Centering Prayer (CP), who had just approached her for assistance. For Br. Columba the quick response of Pat Johnson was important for him, as it arrived at a critical time in his life. To me it was an honor to help a monk learn the old monastic practice. At the time, I was part of the Contemplative Outreach of Maryland and Washington’s service team.
We started right away. First, Br. Columba needed training material and books/DVDs. He warned me that packages sent to the Netherlands often got stuck in customs for weeks, but the training material arrived in three days, which Br. Columba took as a good omen: “the Temple was rebuilt in three days”, he said. I sent the box with the Training Course for Centering Prayer as well as Intimacy with God to start with (he already had the two other key books, Open Mind and Open Heart and Invitation to Love), which was followed by a string of other books/DVDs by Thomas Keating and by other mystical and contemplative writers. To my great relief, it was possible to Skype (and later ZOOM) with Br. Columba, which made the communication easy. Since we first connected, we have Skyped regularly discussing the CP practice and how to fit it into the daily schedule in a monastery with extensive prayer commitments and work tasks. Nevertheless, he always found time to do his practice and study.
The progress has been striking. At this point, Br. Columba has given his vows as a monk (December 2021) and become a commissioned CP presenter in May 2022. He intends to translate Thomas Keating’s books into Dutch. One is already finished in draft. He understands the importance of being a regular CP practitioner himself to be able to make a faithful translation into Dutch. In addition, he has applied to become a presenter in Welcoming Prayer. He is part of the translation working group in Contemplative Outreach Ltd. and a co-leader of the World Chapel Group on Sundays. And he participates regularly in various Centering Prayer groups online. He hopes to be able to facilitate a prayer group in his monastery shortly.
What were the keys to Brother Columba’s success? Despite being in a monastery, where none of the other monks practiced Centering Prayer, he was personally inspired and made the decision to learn it at a critical point in his life. The Abbott and the other monks encouraged his endeavor. He worked diligently with the practice and was able to get support from me when he needed material or had any questions about the practice. The internet access was undoubtedly a key facilitator. He has benefitted from easy access to other support groups in the CP community, such as a group in the Meditation Chapel, where he felt welcomed not just as an anonymous person but as family. He is now connected with other people in a region in the Netherlands, who are trying to establish a Contemplative Outreach chapter in the Netherlands, which would be a first.
For Br. Columba indicated that it was valuable to have a mentor to whom he could turn with any question and get an answer. As his mentor since 2018 I would add that the relationship between a mentor and mentee benefits equally the mentor. It is a blessing to be able to watch the fruits of such a relationship, and in mystical ways it helps segment your own practice. Brother Columba is an inspiration for others to follow. The mentoring relationship cannot make a person learn the Centering Prayer practice. This is the intimate work of the person with the Spirit. But it can facilitate it.
Benedicte with the Emmanuel icon, “written” by Br. Columba for Benedicte