Episode 3: Centering Prayer and The New Monasticism with Father Adam Bucko

“I began discovering that underneath (the pain and trauma)…is a presence we call God that is ready to enter the situation and begin to do the work of healing in us. We can begin picking up the broken pieces off the floor and transforming them into something that can become a gift we can offer the world.”
- Father Adam Bucko

On today’s episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, we are excited to have another friend of Contemplative Outreach, Father Adam Bucko. He has been a committed voice in the movement for the renewal of Christian Contemplative Spirituality and the growing New Monastic movement. He is the co-founder of Reciprocity Foundation, where he spent 15 years working with homeless youth by providing spiritual mentoring in a post-religious world. He is the current director of The Center for Spiritual Imagination at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, NY. Adam and his wife Kaira Jewel Lingo also lead The Buddhist Christian Community for Meditation and Action.

What’s in this episode:
  • Father Bucko reflects on the revolution of Centering Prayer and explains the relationship between consenting and receptivity.
  • How we can bear witness to the pain and trauma to find a place of consent to the impulsive god and turn it into a gift we can offer the world. 
  • Entering into silence can be overwhelming for people who have experienced trauma. Father Bucko shares how he pays attention to senses and feelings that are normally pushed under and engages people in a different way. 
  • Why being part of a community, psychotherapy, and service are important for our ongoing conversion of life and the New Monastic movement.
  • We can look at historical prophecies and study how systemic racism and moral narratives equal poverty and turn it into a direct relationship with someone who is suffering.

“The chief act of the will is not effort but consent. The secret of getting through the difficulties that arise in Centering Prayer is to accept them.”

- Father Thomas Keating

To connect further with Father Adam Bucko:

Visit these websites:
Father Adam Bucko: https://fatheradambucko.com
The Center for Spiritual Imagination at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation: https://www.spiritualimagination.org
The Buddhist-Christian Community for Meditation and Action: https://www.kairajewel.com/teaching/buddhist-christian-community-of-practice-and-action
Reciprocity Foundation: https://www.reciprocityfoundation.org
Father Adam Bucko is the author of Let Your Heartbreak be Your Guide: Lessons in Engaged Contemplation
And co-author of: Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generationand The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living
Opening Minds, Opening Hearts EP #3: Centering Prayer and The New Monasticism with Father Adam Bucko

[cheerful music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:00:00] Welcome to the first season of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts, a podcast about the transformative practice of Centering Prayer. In each episode, we will talk to friends of Contemplative Outreach about their personal practice. Listen in as our guests share insights about the teachings of Father Thomas Keating.

How the practice impacts their work in the world and their thoughts about how Centering Prayer connects to the living traditions of contemplation and meditation. We are your hosts, Colleen Thomas,

Mark Dannenfelser [00:00:36] And Mark Dannenfelser,

Colleen Thomas [00:00:37] Centering Prayer practitioners and contemplative life seekers who love to talk a little too much about how the practice of Contemplative Prayer transforms our inner and outer worlds. Our hope this season is to open the door for you to explore more deeply this powerful practice of Centering Prayer.

[cheerful music ends]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:00] Welcome to the Contemplative Outreach Podcast, Opening Minds, Opening Hearts. It's our first season that we're doing here and it seems to be just flying by. We're talking to so many interesting and inspiring guests.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:14] I know. It's gone quickly, but I feel like every conversation is still fresh and hopefully people are appreciating the wisdom. I know I certainly am. I'm learning so much from everyone.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:01:28] And it's great we're talking so much about different aspects depending on our guests about the practice itself, about how the practice relates to our lives and the work that we do, and so many different aspects to that and we have a wonderful guest today who's gonna help us explore this even more deeply.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:45] Yes, today we are talking with another friend of Contemplative Outreach. Welcome, Adam.

Adam Bucko [00:01:52] Thank you. Thanks for having me. It's a joy to be here.

Colleen Thomas [00:01:55] We're so excited to talk to you and we're starting off with all of our guests just asking how it is that you came to the practice of Centering Prayer, or how did the practice of Centering Prayer find you?

Adam Bucko [00:02:10] I initially learned about Centering Prayer when I was 19. I was at that time spending time at a Hindu monastery that was known for being a center for interspiritual and interfaith dialogue, and I had a roommate who every night read from Father Thomas's book, Open Mind, Open Heart.

To be quite honest with you, initially, I had difficulties understanding the subtleties of the practice. At that point, I was very much into the Hindu Christian Ashram movement with people like Father Bede Griffiths and others who advocated a form of Eastern Jesus Prayer, and so I couldn't quite understand how that is different from Centering Prayer.

Initially, I dismissed Centering Prayer as this kind of a western thing that some people practice.

And for about a decade or so, I practiced Jesus Prayer and had a beautiful experience with it, but at some point, I started feeling the constant repetition of the name made me feel like I was almost trying to catch God by doing and doing, and that's when I revisited the Centering Prayer method as a result of people recommending it to me, some of the monastics that I was mentored by recommending it to me, and I moved from this kind of concentrative practice into this receptive practice of just resting in silence in the state of consent, in the state of “yes”. And that really changed everything for me because literally within weeks, I think my relationship with the world changed. I felt like I was able to be in the world in this state of receptivity, allowing that's presence to just flow into me and be felt and perceived around me and I'm very grateful for that.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:04:17] In your new book, in your dedication, you mentioned Thomas Keating among other mentors and teachers and important people in your life, and you're talking about some of these guidelines and what kind of resonated with you.

I'm curious about your actual interactions with Thomas when you did start to become involved in this approach to prayer, and how did you come to actually meet him? Could you say a little bit about your relationship with him?

Adam Bucko [00:04:43] I met Father Thomas in the last decade of his life. I was very familiar with his teachings, but also initially I wasn't really, I mean, it might sound strange to say, kind of drawn to him as a teacher.

I appreciated his approach, but I didn't feel that I needed to meet him. And then at some point, some of my colleagues and I started articulating a vision for New Monasticism, figuring out how to live a contemplative life in the world, especially as young people, we’re not joining monasteries. And also we’re trying to find a spirituality that would allow them to make a similar commitment that monastics did, but still live in the world and make sure that their work, that all of their values are aligned to their practice, and that all of that flows out of their practice.

And so Father Thomas was very supportive of that vision. And one of my friends and colleagues, Rory McEntee, and I wrote this manifesto for New Monasticism and Father Thomas was very supportive of that.

In fact, that initial document was written for a meeting that took place, Snowmass, where Father Thomas spent some time with a bunch of us who were working on New Monasticism offering his guidance and sharing with us his experiences of developing the Centering Prayer movement, teaching it to lay people and what he's learned over the years.

And so I met Father Thomas for the first time on my birthday, actually. I went there to Snowmass for a retreat, and we had a meeting arranged by them.

We were both familiar with each other. And I remember I went there, I stayed at a Hermitage of St. Clair, and every day for three or four days, I remember three days in a row I would have a two-hour-long meeting with Father Thomas. I would always walk to the monastery and we would meet for two hours and talk about life.

And it was very interesting, meeting him for the first time because, in many ways based on his books and what I knew of him, and how people talked about him, I expected meeting this spiritual master who would give you a download, and my meeting of him was very different.
The experience was very different.

It was like meeting a spiritual grandfather who was very interested in my life, who was very interested about all the experiences that I had in my life, who was very interested in how my prayer was going, but not in any kind of technical way. It was more about him showing up as this kind of a spiritual grandfather who was very supportive, who also shared experiences that he had growing up and coming into his practice becoming a monastic and all the lessons that he's learned. And so that was really wonderful.

And I remember after the first meeting, we sat there and talked about my grandparents and his growing up and all of those experiences. And then I went back to my Hermitage and I was like, “This is interesting.”

And it’s afterwards, when I started writing in my journal what we talked about, it really did feel like a download. Like, things just started opening as to what just happened, and I think that this is the experience that a lot of people had with Father Thomas.

You go in, you talk about things, and then later on it's almost like, I dunno, the hidden meaning of the encounter begins to open up.

And I was very blessed that over that last decade of his life, I was able to spend some time with him. He was very supportive of the New Monastic movement. I remember there were times where he would make sure that all of us were working on the movement, that we would have our retreats at Snowmass and the monks would often allow us to stay in what is called the schoolhouse near the monastery, and we would just stay there, you know, cook our own meals. And then Father Thomas, sometimes, when he still had some energy, he would come in the morning and spend with us the whole day. And during the day, he would maybe take a nap in one of the rooms.

He was just this beautiful human being. On one hand, he could be very non-assuming and grandfatherly. And then sometimes in the evenings, we would ask him, ”Can you tell us what you think about this?” And he would be like, “I don't know if I have anything to say on the topic, but…,” and then it would be like a download. Like an hour and a half of just him giving us this vision of how to take what we were doing to the next level. And it was just very beautiful. And then at the end, it was like, “I don't know if any of this makes sense.” You know?

Colleen Thomas [00:09:43] Well, I'm listening to you and the way you were describing your experience initially, walking with him and talking with him, and it sounded to me a lot like that, Thomas was that there was a receptive exchange, and you mentioned that word receptivity and how that was a marked shift in your practice. And when I am facilitating Centering Prayer, I remind people, and myself, that we are consenting to the presence and action of God within. How would you describe this relationship between consenting and receptivity?

Adam Bucko [00:10:28] I think that this is the revolution of the Centering Prayer now and this is of course something that I didn't understand at the beginning when I started practicing this kind of receptive silence. something happened in me and in my life and especially in my ministry and work at that time. And so maybe I want to just describe a little bit what happened and then we can focus on this question of consent and receptivity and the relationship to it.

As I started practicing receptivity in my contemplative practice, as I mentioned before, my relationship with the world changed. And I think what happened was that at that time, I spent about 15 years working with homeless youth on the streets of New York City at the time when I shifted my practice, I realized that some of my work with homeless youth was not fully working because I was showing up as this kind of a person who had expertise who just knew how to approach certain social problems, maybe even fix people's lives. And I realized that kids were still going through our programs and still ending up on the streets. And it was a sort of a crisis.

And so in my prayer, what I discerned was that I needed to start showing up for young people in this state of receptivity and not knowing. Showing up in the same way that I'm showing up for my prayer.

And I remember I learned this from Bernie Glassman, who was also a friend of Father Thomas and who was a Zen master. He developed this whole thing about bearing witness to suffering, to social problems.

And so I began showing up for young people in the same way that I was showing up for prayer. They would come. Before that, I would practice Centering Prayer. And then I would just be there with them in this state of receptivity, listening and curious, not knowing. And what that meant is that I was showing up without any kind of buffers between us.

I was just there witnessing and bearing witness to their pain, to their suffering, to their trauma. Oftentimes accompanying them into the depths of their pain. And what happens when you do that, and without any kind of protective mechanisms, in the state of receptivity? You basically kind of, at least I had the experience of breaking with them as a result of all the pain.

And I began discovering that if I can be there in that way, if we can be open to what is, and underneath all of that, there is this presence that we call God that is ready to enter the situation and begin to do the work of healing on us. Picking up the broken pieces from the floor, so to speak, and transfiguring into something that could maybe even become a gift that we can offer the world.

And so to me, it became about this receptive, curious, not knowing, bearing witness to what is and consenting to that impulsive God that is longing to enter our lives. And our only job is to be open, to be receptive, and to say yes. So that impulse can take whatever we have in us and begin to do the work of healing on it, and then essentially live through us with all of that, turning our wounds into gifts.

When I say wounds into gifts, I don't mean to romanticize trauma or romanticize suffering, but something happens with all of our material. And so to me, that was a new level of understanding this process of Centering Prayer. And also how it works in the world where action is not only related to the contemplation, but where action can become contemplation.

Because action is, as someone once said to me, basically about our consent to God living through us as much as possible.

And so in that sense, receptivity and consent, that's how I understand it today, even in my personal practice. It's about being open and listening for that something that is there that wants to kind of, Father Thomas uses this framework of the Divine Therapist, and I think that's essentially what I'm talking about.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:15:00] I imagine that can be hard to do.

I’m on my own practice, but I'm curious, Adam, about that process. Particularly, as you mentioned, people have really been impacted by trauma, then come to a contemplative practice.

In the Centering Prayer guideline, there's even that suggestion about first, you just sit down, sit comfortably, close your eyes, settle briefly, be still, be silent.

And I just wonder about that when you have run into youth that you work with in New York City and before that and that home that in India that you worked in, where you rescued people from the streets and really in your own personal trauma, which you've talked about coming out of Poland in a very difficult time.

That's a lot of heartache and heartbreak and trauma, and I know that for some people, as a trauma therapist, it's an interest of mine to know that when people come to meditative and contemplative practices, closing my eyes feels threatening to me or just being still, I'm used to “keep it moving”.

So I'm just curious about that in part from the perspective of the guideline, which is a guideline, but how you have worked with that maybe for yourself, if you care to talk about that or how you've worked with that, with people who have experienced a lot of trauma.

Are there adaptations there or how do you work with that effectively where you're not retraumatizing, I guess?

Adam Bucko [00:16:22] What I described, that was my own kind of individual process. The people that I worked with in terms of the young people were not necessarily invited into a standard Centering Prayer practice. During that particular experience, it was more dialogical and et cetera.

And in general, in our center at the Reciprocity Foundation, which is still going strong after 18 years, we used a lot of holistic methodologies. For example, it mattered when young people entered our space — the colors on the walls, the smells of incense, the very healthy organic food that was served to them.

We used a lot of things like acupuncture in some cases when it was appropriate, things like massage therapy, and so a lot of the initial steps were actually focused on healing where talk therapy was combined with different things like somatic experiencing acupuncture because sometimes inviting people into silence too quickly can be very overwhelming, especially as people in Centering Prayer can begin to experience a lot of kind of unloading and all of that stuff.

In my practice today in our New Monastic community, the Community of the Incarnation, we developed what we call the Incarnation Method of Contemplative Prayer. It leads to Centering Prayer, but it starts with slightly different guidelines.

We introduce few steps before Centering Prayer, and the steps are quite simple, and in some ways, they really come both from more kind of somatic and neuroscience insights of contemporary discourse, but also from the Carmelite tradition where we don't want to introduce people to silence or take them into silence too quickly.

In the history of Christian Contemplative Prayer, a lot of prayer usually starts with Lectio and those first steps of engaging, imagining. What sometimes in the Christian conative tradition is called discursive prayer, and only after some steps when entering silence. I think when Centering Prayer was introduced to the public, a lot of the people who were taking those initial workshops, all they had was discursive, meditative ways of engaging with scripture and et cetera. So there was a need for balancing it and taking people further.

In this day and age, especially when we see that a lot of people who are entering this practice don't have any background. They're not familiar with frameworks and stories that can hold them, are not engaged in the tradition in any kind of deep way because many of them didn't grow up in the Christian tradition or identify as spiritual, but not religious. We introduced few steps and then those steps are also presented in a kind of a whole package that includes also praying in the liturgy of the hours and other things in a modified form, where this way we are offering something that engages the senses that engages the mind, but then also leads into receptive silence.

So in our practice of the Incarnation Method, we start just with breath and essentially entering our body, entering our mind, entering our heart. We become aware of what is present in us, paying attention to feelings, sensations, especially things that we normally push under. The invitation is to bring all of that, to gather all of the marginalized parts of our experience, our heart, and then we do something that sometimes is seen as maybe not a very advanced thing to do by Contemplatives. We engage people in this heartful conversation with God, where they gather everything, literally locate it in their bodies, bring it to their heart, hold it as if they were holding a little baby with tenderness and care and curiosity, and then, bring all of that to God in this kind of a cry of the heart, very visceral way of just talking to God in a way that sometimes leads to tears. Not talking to each other, but talking to God, crying with God until we feel completely, in a sense, emptied of that. Not that it disappears, but everything that needed to be named was named. And then with that, we rest in receptive silence, allowing God to come in and do the work of healing on us.

And what I found with this particular approach is that sometimes this prevents spiritual bypass. And I know spiritual bypass very well because I got into this contemplative stuff, I think — I don't know — when I was 16. I grew up in a pretty traumatic, utilitarian country, and a lot of the things that I identified as spiritual — my dreams of becoming a monastic and going to India and I dunno, living in a cave and all that stuff, pretty extreme stuff, looking at monasteries, the mosques, I remember fantasizing about Carthusians.

Some of that was just, yes, related to my calling, but some of that was also related to me not wanting to deal with the messiness of life, with how unpredictable life can be with difficult feelings that were stored in my body with all the trauma, so I was spiritualizing all of that.
And as a result, what happened was that, yes, I experienced peace that a lot of contemplative methods promise, but it was almost like a form of dissociation. I was like in some kind of a spiritualized coma or something like that.

My first step was to go to therapy and engage in a therapeutic process with someone who was an analyst, but also who was a Zen monk.

And then my second component was being introduced to and practicing Centering Prayer and allowing all of that to come out in a safe environment within, also, the presence of God.

I think that part of the Incarnation Method is that you really pour your heart out to God, giving God certain attributes of this kind of a motherly presence and then resting in that presence, using your imagination, that you're being held by this motherly presence.

And then what I've discovered is that even though you start with images, even though you start with imagination as you go deeper, all of that kind of, you're being taken exactly to where Centering Prayer takes you, but in a way that you don't skip things, and I'm not suggesting that doesn't happen in a classical Centering Prayer thing. It's just in our context, it was helpful — initially, in my context with homeless youth and then in the context of us teaching contemplative practice now — it was very helpful to introduce those initial steps.

And I remember, actually, having a conversation with Father Thomas and I was like, “I don't know if this can still—” It was before we fully verbalized what it is, but I remember saying, “I don't know if this can still be called Centering Prayer.” And he said, “Well, you know, Centering Prayer, we just have those guidelines, but that's just to get you started. After that, the Holy Spirit takes over and guides you into what your practice needs to be. It's supposed to change, you know?” So I was like, “Oh, okay.”

And again, I wasn't expecting that because when you read Father Thomas's books, he's very specific about what's what, and yet, I think there was a lot of kind of pastoral flexibility in a way.

[solemn music starts]

Mark Dannenfelser [00:24:27] In the Christian tradition, Contemplative Prayer is the opening of your mind and heart to God who is beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. Centering Prayer is a method designed to facilitate contemplation. The method suggests four guidelines.
One, choose a sacred word as the symbol of your intention to consent to God's presence and action within you.
Two, sit comfortably and relatively still close your eyes or leave them slightly open and silently introduce your sacred word.

Three, when you notice you have become engaged with a thought, simply return ever so gently to your sacred word.

And four, at the end of the 20-minute prayer period, let go of the sacred word and remain in silence for a couple of minutes. The additional time invites you to bring the atmosphere of silence into everyday life.

[solemn music ends]

Colleen Thomas [00:25:32 Yeah, Mark and I have talked about the guidelines as maybe foundational, like the way you learn how to drive. They tell you, “Put your hands on the steering wheel at 10 and 2.” But then as you become comfortable with driving — no one really drives like this. I mean, some people do — but your placement of your hands starts to shift a bit.

And I think the guidelines for the practice are like that to a degree, but I definitely resonate with this idea of — and it's probably just a part of the spiritual journey, right? That we come to God and a practice to in some ways escape the reality of life. But I have seen in my own practice that over time we're resting in God and we're entering into this state of union with God. And of course, we begin to see the world through a different lens. We become more awake. The practice is not meant to put us into an eternal state of rest like a long nap, but a wakening up to the realities of the world.

And I think Father Thomas was clear in the principles, in the theological principles for Contemplative Outreach, he says, “The practice of Centering Prayer deepens our awareness of the oneness of all creation and our compassion for the whole human family, and specifically that the practice inspires,” He says, “an ever-increasing regard for others, especially the poor and those abandoned or exploited in the various throwaway cultures of our time.”

And your work and your journey sounds like it speaks, definitely, to that. And I wanna talk to you more about New Monasticism and maybe some of your conversations with Father Thomas about it and this shift from monasticism as a place we withdraw from the world to a life that is lived in the world. Can you talk to us more about the New Monasticism and how that relates to Centering Prayer as deepening our awareness?

Adam Bucko [00:27:55] If it's okay with you, I would just like to maybe first mention something about trauma, because I think that, a lot of this new kind of stuff about trauma, it's fairly recent in terms of it entering our popular culture, the awareness of it, and different new studies and books. And I think especially in the Buddhist tradition, my wife, Kaira Jewel, is a Buddhist teacher. She was a nun in the community of Thich Nhat Hanh for 15 years. And so daily, I interact with the Buddhist tradition and I see how much work the Buddhist tradition is doing on connecting their practices with the new research on trauma.

And I think it's very important for the Centering Prayer movement to do the same and also for all of contemplative traditions. So I'm very grateful that you mentioned trauma, Mark, and I'm really looking forward to learning more in terms of what will be I trust coming out, out of the Contemplative Outreach in terms of making connections between Centering Prayer practice, the understanding of the spiritual journey, integrating it with some of the new materials that are being available now.

In terms of New Monasticism—. And thank you for that question, Colleen, and that beautiful quote that you read from Father Thomas. I just love that quote and what I love about it especially is this kind of an insight that this practice, I don't know, just puts us in direct contact with everything around us in a new way. There is that awakening to what is that takes place and that is very different than taking a nap, as you mentioned.

I think when we started articulating New Monasticism, we were very much inspired by this Spanish Indian theologian Raimundo Panikkar who in 1980s delivered a series of lectures on what he called the archetype of a new monk.

And initially, that was perceived by the professional monastics to be very controversial. What do you mean, some people you know who maybe have not committed to celibacy and have not made the kinds of sacrifices that we have made all of a sudden want to use this language that is so dear to us and maybe even claim that they are monks in the world? Like, for example, brother Wayne Tisdale used to do, who was a spiritual son of Father Thomas.

And I think the reason why we engaged with this language of New Monasticism and why we were in conversation with Father Thomas about it is that we saw that many of the people of our generation, they didn't like the options that were available to them.

And the options were that essentially you go on a retreat and that's your spirituality, and then the rest of life you have a regular job and then you practice daily, but the two things are slightly separated. They're not integrated.
And the other option was that become a monastic and entered the monastery, and we were seeing that what we saw in conversations, especially among younger Contemplatives, was that, as I mentioned before, they wanted to make a monastic-like commitment, but without leaving the world, and they wanted all of their studies, their relationships, their work, how they make living, how they serve in the world to flow out of their spiritual practice, trusting that this practice can give them this new kind of sensitivity to the world. So this way they may be in touch with the world, in a different world, in a different way, and also respond especially to the suffering in the world.

And so that's when we started articulating this New Monasticism in terms of how to take some of the practices that the monastic culture and tradition offers and translating them into something that could work for people who live in the world, who have families who essentially don't feel called to leave the world.

And what we realized is that there are a few necessities that are really needed for people.

Number one, people need to have a specific rhythm of life and in our community, the community of the incarnation will learn that from the Benedictine tradition, we have to have practices that allow us to stop, within different times of the day and reconnect with the divine. Ask God to help us see the world, see our lives through God's eyes, and that means the daily practice of Contemplative Prayer.

Also, we recommend the simplified Liturgy of the Hours that allow us to reconnect with the divine, and then that prayer becomes a conversation that goes on all throughout the day.

And then ending the day with an Ignatian examen where we reevaluate the day, looking at the day through God's eyes. Where have we met God? Where have we missed an opportunity to invite God into our presence?

The second thing that we realized that New Monasticism needed was this idea of what Benedictines called Ongoing Conversion of Life. What in our lives is not yet aligned with the will of life? What is our growth process like?

And here we learned that we need to be in community. We need to be in spiritual direction. In my view, we need to be in psychotherapy. And we need to have some kind of a process for conversion of life.

In our community, we very much learned from Father Thomas who recommended that New Monasticism is somehow connected to the 12 steps—

Colleen Thomas [00:34:12] interesting.

Adam Bucko [00:34:13] process. So in our community, every month, people go through a different step, not just reading about it, but actually working. And then people who struggle with addictions, in addition to that, go through a different process with a specific group. And that allows us as a community to learn how to be vulnerable with each other, to learn how to confess our shortcomings, to learn how to ask for forgiveness and how to receive forgiveness when we need forgiveness. And for us, that is the ongoing conversion of life.

And also, we need to have a framework for how spiritual life develops. And one of my favorite books is The Invitation to Love by Father Thomas, where he outlines the process imitating St. John of the Cross with psychology, with other things. And that is very important because what I've noticed, especially among their young people, they adopt a practice, initially, they're in a kind of romantic face. It's all hearts and flowers. It's amazing. They're falling in love with God. And then the period of dryness, then it's like, “What am I doing wrong?”

And I think understanding what Father Thomas describes beautifully in that book, which he borrows from St. John of the Cross, but also gives it a much more contemporary and universal understanding. We understand that actually experiencing a dry period might be a sign of progress. Maybe God is inviting us to go deeper. It's just that we haven't yet developed certain spiritual senses, so to speak, to experience how God is making God's self available to us at this particular moment in time. And so that's the second step.

And then the third step in New Monasticism is this idea of service and justice. And in my new book, Let Your Heartbreak Be Your Guide, I recommend, I think, it's five steps for service.

Number one, learn how to approach the world not through a lens of specific political ideology, but rather through Contemplative Prayer, which means that you are seeing what that beautiful quote described — the interconnectedness of all life in God and not seeing it through ideology prevents ordering, which is so prevalent in our world right now.I mean, we no longer even can be in conversations with each other. We live in different worlds depending on what news channel we watch and et cetera.

The second step, we need to look at ourselves and understand that this is not just some detached spiritual process. We need to look at the historical processes and see how our stories, how our family's stories, how our privilege, what it looks like when we examine it through the lens of what Reverend Barber beautifully named following Dr. King, the systemic and historical racism in our country. All the moral narratives that we have that tend to relate well to some people, but not so well to others. Income inequality and poverty, and a few other things we need to examine, like where are we on a map of social location? Privileges that we need to let go of. Are there new eyes that we need to develop? Maybe in some situations, we have no right to speak and comment on things, but we need to be learners who learn from others. Depending on where we're coming from. We need to examine our family's histories in relation to race, class, gender, and intersectionality.

Then after that, what I recommend is our hands need to be touching the hands of someone who is suffering. So direct service and in that we include Mother Earth because it's easy to have ideas about social change, but oftentimes they’re not accurate ideas unless we're in direct relationship. The humble, direct relationship with people who are suffering with realities, with lives that are suffering.

And the final thing that I say is that doing all of that is not enough.

Actually, there's one more thing where I say you can actually change your life in terms of how you spend your money. You know, Arundathi Roy says, “You don't like the system, you can starve it by not buying its things.” We have choices as to how we spend our money, where we buy our food and et cetera.

And then the final fifth point is that all of that is not enough. Direct service is not enough. Making conscious choices of spending is not enough. Understanding where we've been in terms of the history of this country, for example, is not enough. All of that is also happening within institutions and systems that have its own logic, and that oftentimes tend to determine how we make our choices, what kind of choices we can and we can't make. And that's why I also recommend direct engagement in a social movement.

These days a lot of people are getting involved in the Poor People's Campaign, or Black Lives Matter, or some of the ecological movements, and we recommend that because the truth is that there's a framework that hold us, there are institutions that hold us, and all of those institutions have their own logic that needs to change, and it'll only change if we engage with it.

And we all have different vocations, some of us engage with them by getting involved in the political process. Some of us get engaged in them by building alternatives, building alternative communities that can demonstrate how to do things differently. Some of us become activists and engage in the movements of mass protests.

So that's how all of it comes together in my view, for New Monasticism, where our personal change and our communal change becomes how Centering Prayer and Contemplative Prayer begins to live in our lives communally.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:39:34] It sounds too, Adam, like from what you're saying too, that there's a whole lot of discernment that's necessary for that too, and I remember this line that either you said, or it may have been Matthew Fox, who you co-authored the book, you know, Occupy Spirituality: Radical Vision for a New Generation. But there was some line, I'm paraphrasing it, but “Contemplation is our yes to life and social action,” or prophecy, I think you even used the term, “is our no to injustice.” So that we're saying yes and we're saying no, that's necessary and there's a discernment process about when to speak and when to be silent and when to speak out against and not be silent, against injustice.

Adam Bucko [00:40:56] Yes. Absolutely. We use that framework in our book, Occupy Spirituality, and that comes from Matthew [inderscernible 00:41:01]. But I think it directly relates to what Colleen said about receptivity and consent because in many ways there's this, I think, a well-known quote that is often attributed to St. Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no hands but your hands, no voice but your voice, no heart but your heart through which he can love the world.” I'm told by a Carmelite scholar that Theresa never said it. I do wish she had because it's a beautiful line.

And there's also another teaching from St. Augustine that within the most inner cabin of our hearts, there is a sleeping Christ and that sleeping Christ needs to be woken up so he can begin to live through us, love through us, maybe even protest through us.

And to me, all of that is connected to that distinction that Colleen made receptivity and consent because what we're doing is essentially we're receptive to God's presence and once it begins to move, we are consenting to it so it can begin to move us and the world through us, towards justice, towards wholeness. And I think that the way that it manifests in the world is that saying yes to God means saying no to everything that violates God’s love, God’s light in the world.And that's, I think, the dialectic of the yes and the no.

And in some ways, every one of us is called to do that in our own unique ways. For Father Thomas, he lived that from the monastery. For most of us, we are living it out in the world through our own individual vocations and how we engage with the world.

And I think it's only through Contemplative Prayer, through proper discernment, through doing it communally. That's why I think he was very clear that people need to be part of small Centering Prayer groups. We're literally, I think, given new eyes to see what we need to say yes to, what we need to say no to, what is of God, what is not of God, and what leads to the new creation, so to speak.

The beautiful quote from Paul, “If you're in Christ, you're a new creation.” That's our work. Be in Christ so signs of new creation can begin to be seen in our world.

Colleen Thomas [00:42:49] That can be a real challenge. I'm listening to you and I'm thinking about Contemplative Outreach as an organization that is going through a change.

On one hand, because our founder has passed, but also because something's happening in the world. Even if we're not seeing more as a result of this deepened awareness that comes from our practice, we're seeing more because of YouTube and global news, and we're just more aware. And I tend to notice that there can sometimes be within a contemplative circle, especially with the older generation — what I call a spiritual constipation —that you can get stuck on your mat and very fearful of what's happening in the world outside. And so the map becomes a place to get away from the trauma of the news. But I think really to get away from the discomfort of the question that arises, which is, “What must I do?”

And when we talk about and think about the future of Contemplative Outreach, we're having conversations around diversity and equity and inclusion. We talk about not being a social change organization, but when I talk with younger Contemplatives and in my new role with Contemplative Outreach, which is as the diversity outreach coordinator, I know that the contemplative life and social action, the contemplative of life and including others are inseparable, and I find that young people are less, if at all, drawn to spiritual spaces where there are not a diversity of people, ethnically, in terms of income.

And how do we move forward as Contemplative Outreach with a generation that grew up in a way with Father Thomas is now largely 60s, 70s, lovers and keepers of the tradition of the practice, not sure what their role is in the world, and where do we fit into this new interspiritual world, this world of social action. Like, did Father Thomas offer any insight that would be good for the Contemplative Outreach community to hear?

In your New Monasticism guidelines, what you read from Let Your Heartbreak really outlines it. Like it's one big yes to the New Monasticism movement. But I guess I'm just curious about where Centering Prayer as Contemplative Outreach understands it, fits into all of this going forward.

Adam Bucko [00:45:42] Yeah. Thank you for that beautiful reflection 'cause I think in your reflection, what I'm hearing more than a question, actually, an affirmation of where things need to go.
The truth is, Contemplative Outreach might not be a social change organization. The Gospel is definitely a social change document and I think that we need to remember that — that you can't really be a Contemplative and play it safe. We’re following a guy who was executed and died on the cross.

Yes, it's not a success story from a worldly point of view, but our path is about self-spending. Not so much about safety, not so much about being comfortable, even though some of our monastic cultures, and this is, I think, is the shadow side of monasticism, and that's why St. Francis rebelled against the Benedictines because they became too stable. They had too many properties. Then of course Franciscans did the same. I mean, that's the beauty of our tradition that we keep on reacting and reforming.

And I think that in this day and age, the young people, younger people who are involved in the Centering Prayer movement, in Contemplative Outreach, need to trust that the insights that they are getting, the insights that you beautifully summarized, I think, are the insights of God. And those insights need to be claimed. And organizations, not just Contemplative Outreach, but all organizations including the Church as a whole, need to be re-imagined with those insights being at the center.

Now, sometimes when we get into justice stuff, we replace prayer with activism and I think what New Monasticism, what I think the Centering Prayer method, offers is something different. It's an integration of prayer and action when action becomes part of prayer where actions determine that prayer is actually a real prayer and is a complete prayer.

And we see that beautifully in the life of Jesus. He goes into the desert before big events, and then he goes into towns to make some trouble — heal people that he shouldn't really be healing, talent, spiritual teachers, executive directors of organizations that we’re part of, Bishops and Popes, to use kind of where we're at. And he's doing that because he has authority and authority that comes from prayer, and I think that's what we need to do.

And I completely agree with you. Like, when I talk to young people, prayer that doesn't lead to action is just not that interesting to people. The world is falling apart. The world is on fire. Young Black kids are being shot by people who are supposed to be protecting them.

And now because of YouTube, we can actually see. What else do we need in order to realize that as Contemplatives, we need to be there? Our prayers need to have some legs.

Colleen Thomas [00:48:52] Yeah. And what is prayer that doesn't transform? Fear? Fear of taking action.

Adam Bucko [00:49:01] That is the question. You know, Matthew Fox says that the first sign of spirit is courage.

It's like, are we developing courage through our prayer lives, but also through communities? Are our communities formed in such ways that we can help each other to develop courage? I think that is a real question. Then there is of course also a question about interspirituality that you mentioned.

We are living largely in a kind of post-religious, interspiritual world where traditions don't have the same hold on people. How are we reimagining the gospel in this world where it's not about a compliance test, religious compliance test, in terms of how we engage with the world, but rather in this kind of ethic of self-spending love.

Also, Christian institutions have a lot of buildings, have a lot of resources. We need to be putting pressure on them. It's time to do what Jesus did, which is, was self-spending love.

Mark Dannenfelser [00:50:04] I like that you're pointing that out, Adam, because like you said, a community starts in a way and they're gonna be poor and not have a lot of physical wealth and property and then they start to amass property, and then they're challenged by that in some way, and there's this reforming that goes on, you mentioned, the reacting and reforming. And those words are ringing in my ear. They sound, just, related — “to reform” and “to transform”. And it's what you're doing so beautifully in the New Monastic movement.
It's a reformation kind of approach, I would say, to me, as I hear you talking about it more. But that's not that it's so bad that we have to just take it all out. It's just, no, we have to look at it again, come back to it and reform. Take another form.

Adam Bucko [00:50:52] Yeah, I think it's helpful to do it as a continuation of what we've been doing because even though sometimes we need to break with the tradition, there are examples, I think, when that is necessary, but I think doing it as a continuation of the tradition also helps us to be in relationship with the tradition. And if anything, it helps us to make the same mistakes again, because it's easy to break away and then reproduce just another version of what we rebelled against.

Colleen Thomas [00:52:09] Oh, yes, yes.

Adam Bucko [00:52:11] I mean, I've done it, I think. Yeah, pretty common.

Colleen Thomas [00:52:15] So, just to wrap us up, because I think we'll have to have you back. Hopefully, we make it through more than one podcast season [indiscernible [00:52:23].

Adam Bucko [00:52:25] I really hope so. ‘Cause you know, like I have a love for Contemplative Outreach and for Father Thomas, and I'm so grateful for this organization and for what you're doing and how you're continuing these teachings, and yet I'm also so happy that you're talking about transformation and change, and Colleen, that you're talking about inclusion and justice. That's where we all need to be going. That's where Jesus was going.

Colleen Thomas [00:52:54] Absolutely.

Adam Bucko [00:52:55] And people can find us at spiritualimagination.org, which is the Center for Spiritual Imagination that the community runs, and also, my personal website, if anyone would like to be in touch, is fatheradambucko.com. I'm happy to be in conversation with people, especially on these topics 'cause this is so exciting in terms if we work together, what could be possible? And the truth is that the future of the world, I believe, depends on it.

[solemn music starts]

Colleen Thomas [00:53:26] Thanks for joining us on this episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts.

Visit our website, contemplativeoutreach.org to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you listen to podcasts. You can also follow us on Instagram @contemplativeoutreachLtd. To learn more about our guests and their work, you can find info in the show notes for each episode.

If you enjoyed this episode, you might want to check out our YouTube channel: C-O-U-T-R-E-A-C-H. Coutreach.

Thanks for listening and see you next time.

This episode of Opening Minds, Opening Hearts is produced by Crys & Tiana.

[solemn music ends]