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The Mystics: Sacred Encounters

Desire to connect with God or the Divine Source is as close to us in our human experience as the perpetual need to satiate our hunger and thirst. Those whom we recognize as mystics are more than familiar with this desire, many of whom have taught and written about the sacred pursuit of God in everyday living.

Please join us as we sojourn with a diversity of mystics from both ancient and modern times. In each session, we will explore their individual biographies, spiritual influences, and the unique way each mystic approached embracing the Divine in everyday life. Focus on selected passages from their writings will foster dialogue on the virtues each mystic encourages, including maintaining a sense of hope, transformation through suffering, and compassion. Grounding our encounter with these mystics in our respective stories, we will respond to writing prompts to access our personal voices and deepen our living with intention. There will be opportunities for reflection through prayer, meditation and creative exercises. Please note that prior familiarity with these individuals or their works is not required.

Bring along an open heart and mind and a journal to capture your stirrings.

THE TWO THERESAS As the pulse of daily life unfolds, we have the opportunity to sojourn with two incredible women from the Carmelite tradition (Catholic religious life, spirituality), whose mystical approach to the human experience was sourced from contemplation as a spiritual discipline. Although alive in centuries past, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux have much to teach us about intentional living in the 21st century. Through their cultivated way of being present and humble, we will explore their spiritual legacies and apply their practical takeaways to our current journeys and struggles. Information about their respective biographies will be included. And, collaborative dialogue and writing prompts will be facilitated around how their individual mysticism and shared vision of God with/within humanity contributes to our actualization of living with authenticity and fruitful intention.

RABBI ABRAHAM HESCHEL During this sacred encounter with the Mystics, we will journey with Abraham Heschel, the 20th century Polish-American Rabbi, theologian, and philosopher. Centering our focus on his writings about mysticism and justice, we will consider his experience with the Divine and its impact on his vision of humanity. Consideration of his life, vision, and work will be translated tangibly into cultivating virtues and practices for our contemporary human experience during this transitional time in human history. While exploring his thoughts on prayer and other germane themes of holiness and the spiritual life, we will center ourselves in cultivated intention towards liberation from the racial, political, and religious divisions within our country and world. Prior familiarity with Heschel’s ideas or writings is not required or expected.

DIETRICH BONHOEFFER The dramatic and inspirational details of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s last days on Earth and example of martyrdom are indicative of the vibrant faith that embodied his life and pursuit of God in this world. However, gazing deeper into his theology and intentional resistance to the Nazi movement/regime, the necessary lens is provided through which his very mysticism can be witnessed and celebrated. As a Lutheran pastor, professor, and writer, Bonhoeffer has contributed dynamically to what countless Christians and myriad others recognize as the ultimate sacrifice for what one passionately believes – life itself. During our sacred encounter, we will be considering some of this Protestant mystic’s most revealing spiritual concepts, such as God in the world, religionless Christianity, and the cost of discipleship (also the title of his most sourced literary text). Prior familiarity with these ideas is not required or expected. Dialogue regarding Bonhoeffer’s courageous, outspoken resistance (to Nazism) and his founding of the Confessing Church will be affirmed for our ongoing journey in mysticism and its relevance to our lives and spiritual practices as we continue to emerge from the pandemic in 2021.

JULIAN OF NORWICH “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.” ~ Julian of Norwich ​ In contemplating these often-quoted words of faith-filled conviction from the 14th-century English mystic, Julian of Norwich, we cannot help but wonder about the exact cause of her certainty. Borne over many years as an anchoress in her cell (solitary dwelling space) and reflected in her recorded stirrings, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian came to understand definitively that God, a God of unending love, supplies all of Creation with a blessed assurance and unshakable peace, if accepted. Boldly, she asserts, “for there is a Force of Love moving through the universe that holds us fast and will never let us go.” Isn’t this an inspirational message and powerful compass by which we all can choose to take our next steps in this new era? Join us for our next sacred encounter with the mystics as we examine what it means to have such a deep faith in Divine reality and how mysticism for Julian (and possibly for us) directly informs and sustains this experience. By considering various excerpts from Julian’s writings, we will connect her distinct wisdom and passionate conviction with our own unique and collective stories and challenges as we emerge from the pandemic. Participants will be guided to mine their personal experiences through a meditative process, which includes storytelling, journaling, and other spiritual exercises. These efforts will be aimed at naming the freedom, fear, and value which embody living our lives as though all will be well, regardless of what transpires in our world and around it.

HOWARD THURMAN In recognizing the frenzied busyness of the Holiday Season, we are invited to celebrate Christmas and the New Year with a much-needed pause for grounding, refueling, and perhaps, a little mysticism. Join our gathering as we recall and explore the life, vocation, and spiritual reflections of Reverend Howard Washington Thurman. An American author, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader in the twentieth century, Thurman served as a prominent religious figure while playing a leading role in many social justice movements and organizations of his time. His theology of and commitment to radical non- violence had a significant influence upon later, prominent activists and leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. During our encounter with this prolific writer and mystic, we will unpack a few meditations from his book, The Mood of Christmas, including “I Will Light Candles This Christmas” and “The Work of Christmas.” Prior familiarity or reading of these texts is not required or expected. Attention to Thurman’s mystical ideas on creative intelligence, prayer, and spiritual mantras (“life is alive”) will round out our sacred opportunity with him. And, as we transition into a new year, we will apply his wisdom to our observance of the holidays amidst our ongoing struggle and transitions through opportunities of prayer/meditation, dialogue, and writing.

PIERRE TEILHARD de CHARDIN With April’s annual observance of Earth Day, we have an appointed opportunity to explore and reflect upon the rich stirrings of French Jesuit priest and scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (May 1st, 1881 – April 10th, 1955). As both a theologian and paleontologist, Chardin understood the activity of God in human life through an evolutionary lens. Moreover, he labored to enlighten the world on the cosmic dance he recognized as transpiring between the material and spiritual realms, with both realms coexisting within us and all around us. Excerpts from some of his seminal writings such as The Divine Milieu and The Phenomenon of Man will be mined for their relevance to our individual pursuit of mysticism and collective participation in the process of becoming. Prior familiarity or reading of these texts is not required or expected. Additionally, personal connections and takeaways will be examined and celebrated as we attempt to integrate Chardin’s reverence for Divinity ever accumulating in Nature.

MOTHER TERESA The post-modern world welcomed and still acclaims Mother Teresa of Calcutta as one of the most inspirational humans of all time for her indefatigable service to the poor, sick, and homeless of India. But, who was this Teresa? Born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in the Kosovo region of Albania in August 1910, Teresa entered religious life at nineteen, but had no idea the powerful impact her life, advocacy and writings would have upon humanity. While her unwavering commitment to the marginalized poor will be affirmed, our sacred encounter will concentrate moreso upon her underlying spiritual life and her endurance of fifty years of doubt that she perpetually confronted while sacrificing her life in compassionate service. During our gathering, we will be exploring the recently released compilation of her private writings entitled, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, to more deeply comprehend her mystical experience of God amidst personal darkness and the pervasive suffering of those in her care. Prior familiarity or reading of this text is not required or expected. “We cannot do great things, only small things with great love” and creating “something beautiful for God” are some of the chief touchstones of her spirituality that will be considered in our ever-becoming journey as mystics while integrating their significance within our current and personal circumstances.

MEISTER ECKHART In this program, we will sojourn to the Middle Ages to connect with the Dominican friar, Meister Eckhart, who has regained popularity in the last two centuries for his mystical emphasis on the abundance of God’s presence in all things, particularly the human soul, and the practice of spiritual detachment while living on the earthly plane. As a preacher and writer, Eckhart clashed on occasion with the hierarchical Catholic church of the 13th and 14th centuries, even to the point of being accused of heresy. However, his beliefs, teachings, and sermons have been paralleled in more contemporary times with cherished tenets of both Buddhism and creation spirituality. During our sacred encounter with this medieval philosopher and mystic, we will be unpacking some of his most illuminating notions, which are sourced from his circulated theological treatises. Prior familiarity or reading of these is not required or expected. Attention to his ideas of creativity through detachment and spiritual/psychological transformation will round out our opportunity with Eckhart while we apply his wisdom to our re-emergence from the pandemic and its accompanying social isolation.

DOROTHY DAY Resolute Pacifism. Absolute Solidarity with the Poor and Homeless. The power of the pen (or typewriter that is). These are all concepts that are easily associated with the twentieth-century journalist-turned- activist, Dorothy Day. The Catholic Worker newspaper, woman’s suffrage, and social justice. This second round of terms also could be readily applied to Day as well. There is often no mention of mysticism though when her legacy is considered. And yet, all that Day achieved in her vocational career and upon paths of radical service and activism can be grasped more fully through the lens of her indomitable faith in God. To that end, Day has been known to speak about God, love, and humanity in this way – “we cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.” Here, we can discern the undercurrents of Day’s mystical inclinations, and here we will draw our attention as we gather together. During our sacred encounter, we will reflect upon some of Dorothy Day’s most compelling written words from her 1952 autobiography, The Long Loneliness, and from the 2017 biography penned by her granddaughter, Kate Hennessy, entitled The World Will Be Saved By Beauty. Prior familiarity with these texts is not required or expected. Therein, we will discover anew the deep recesses of Day’s connection to God and how it translates explicitly into her reverent cherishing of the poor and all human beings as members of a global, interconnected community to which each person belongs.

MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. In celebration of Black History Month, we will remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his indelible legacy to the civil rights movement, and the prophetic spiritual message of his writings and speeches. For him, his mystical connection with God is what solidified and empowered him to heal, energize, and persevere in the face of rampant injustice and violence. Consideration of Dr. King’s life, vision, and work will be translated tangibly into cultivating virtues and practices for our contemporary human experience during this tumultuous era. In particular, we will consider some of this twentieth century mystic’s groundbreaking writing, namely, Strength to Love, during our collaborative time together. Prior familiarity with this text is not required or expected. Dialogue regarding Dr. King’s courageous, non-violent resistance to systemic racism will be affirmed for our ongoing journey in mysticism and its relevance to our personal lives and spiritual practices.

SOJOURNER TRUTH “Life is a hard battle anyway. If we laugh and sing a little as we fight the good fight of freedom, it makes it all go easier. I will not allow my life's light to be determined by the darkness around me.” ~ Sojourner Truth American abolitionist. Women’s rights activist. Convert to Christianity. These identity markers only begin to describe the incredible figure born into slavery as Isabella Baumfree circa 1797 in New York, who later renamed herself in 1843 as we have come to know her. After she became convinced that God had called her to leave the city and go into the countryside, bearing witness to the certain hope that was within her, her identity as Sojourner Truth was forged. Join us for our next scared encounter as we delve into the heroic biography and vibrant faith of this dynamic human being, who, alongside other pioneers, collaboratively advanced both the abolitionist and women’s rights movements. An obvious question that arises here is what compelled her to transcend the confining establishments of her day and risk her life (and her child’s) to obtain freedom. Through various reflections, exercises, and dialogue, we will examine the spiritual depth and fortitude that undergirded Sojourner Truth’s awareness and her bold, deliberate actions carved into history. We will also spend time in meditation regarding how we understand truth on a mystical level while integrating the authenticity of our experiences from our individual perspectives and collectively as humanity. Finally, takeaways from our encounter with Sojourner Truth will be named and shared (as desired) while cherishing the legacy she has bestowed upon the world through her inspirational speeches, writings, and lived example.

THOMAS MERTON “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise, we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” ~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is An Island, 1955 “Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.” ~ Thomas Merton, The Nonviolent Alternative, 1981 ​ Love and peace. Doesn’t it all boil down to that for us as a human community? We all desire love and peace and yet, at times, instead of concentrating on making them a universal reality within our world, we act in opposition toward this opportunity. In fact, instead of expanding in love and peace, we find ourselves prone to restriction, contraction, and even destruction. This conflict is as ancient as it is contemporary, yet there is perpetual hope for individuals and communities to choose love over hate and peace rather than war. Thomas Merton, one of the most celebrated spiritual figures and mystics of the twentieth century, contemplated this very struggle. Moreover, he dedicated much of his life and vocation to the vital work of bridge building across faith traditions and cultures. And, a significant portion of his experiences and writings reflect his desire to empower humanity to shift away from narrowness and move towards their divine potential as creations of a peaceable, loving God. Join us as we gather for a sacred encounter with Thomas Merton. Our time spent together will allow participants to explore the diverse contours and challenges of what love and peace look like in this new millennia and how we can manifest them more robustly as we embark upon upcoming thresholds. Grounding our experiences in the inspirational wisdom contained within Merton’s life and published work, we will engage in meditation, small and large group dialogue, and journaling. Additionally, other spiritual exercises will be facilitated that are conducive to deepening our awareness and commitment to cultivating love and peace within our thoughts, prayers, and actions.

HENRI NOUWEN As a new era begins to unfold, we are invited to journey with one of the twentieth century’s most prolific spiritual authors, Henri Nouwen. There are few others who have been able to articulate the simple, powerful ways that God abides in and accompanies humanity and all of Creation than this Dutch Catholic priest. Theologian, university professor, and altogether mystical prophet, Nouwen timelessly compels all seekers to become increasingly comfortable with the doubts, insecurities, and burning questions one inevitably has regarding God, the spiritual life, and the human condition. During our gathering, we will explore some of his most illuminating and transformative concepts, which are also titles of two of his groundbreaking works, The Wounded Healer and Life of the Beloved. Prior familiarity or reading of these texts is not required or expected. Individual and collaborative resonance with emerging themes will be shared and affirmed for our ongoing journey in mysticism and its unique application to our lives and spiritual practices.

BRIGID OF KILDARE "I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all." ~ St. Brigid of Kildare   The legendary lore of Brigid of Kildare has fascinated human beings and sojourners for centuries as it’s been handed down through the ages. What lies at the core of these mythic tales, however, is the Irish nun and abbess, who was to have dwelled upon the Earth from 451-525 C.E. along the landscape of the Emerald Isle. Much of what is known about her is encapsulated in various medieval hagiographies, or writings on the lives of saints, but what has come to be associated with her historically is the founding of several monastic convents, most notably in Kildare, Ireland, wherein she ruled as abbess over both female and male communities. What she has been celebrated for with longevity is moreso steeped in anecdotal tales and miracle stories. Specifically, although Brigid in Christian circles has been canonized as a saint alongside Ireland’s Patrick and Columba, she has been culturally connected with the Celtic goddess of pagan folklore, who bears the same name. Altogether, she is heralded as a patroness of several causes and activities, including poetry, learning, healing & protection, blacksmithing, and Winter’s gestations.             During our sacred encounter with Brigid, we will traverse through some of the popular legends that surround this mystic as we consider their timely application to our lives, in light of our personal struggles and transitions. And, as our gathering together unfolds, we will also consider what formed and sustained Brigid’s resiliency, formidable faith, and creative affiliations. Opportunities for prayerful reflection, meditation, and writing shall empower us to reflect more deeply upon these cherished attributes and how cultivating them can serve us well in our ongoing endeavors, particularly as to how they relate to mysticism and our pursuit of living in deeper relationship with the Divine.

ECKHART TOLLE “Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.” ~ Eckhart Tolle Who would have ever thought that a mystic would emerge after his literary stirrings were made popular in Oprah’s O magazine??!! While that isn’t the most frequent trajectory for a mystic, it did propel Eckhart Tolle auspiciously onto the main stage of contemporary spirituality, mindfulness, and personal empowerment. What places Tolle though in the category of mysticism?... Join us for an engaging sacred encounter to discover this and more! With the height of Spring and the renewing energies of Mother Earth in the foreground, we will explore the life-altering moment that this German author experienced at age 29, which catapulted him out of an overwhelming, pervasive depression and into what he describes as an ‘inner transformation.’ Excerpts from Tolle’s The Power of Now (1997) and A New Earth (2005) will be highlighted as participants engage in reflection, journaling, and group dialogue around core themes that Tolle embraces. While both texts highlight the metamorphic empowerment that can occur when one lives intentionally in the now, simultaneous consideration of how present-moment consciousness impacts the spirituality of human existence will also be woven into our conversation. Opportunities to deepen appreciation for this mystical perspective within the personal and communal dimensions of our lives will be encompassed creatively through meditation, spiritual exercise, and a closing ritual.

CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTES “Be wild; that is how to clear the river. The river does not flow in polluted, we manage that. The river does not dry up, we block it. If we want to allow it its freedom, we have to allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing. That is creative life. It is made up of divine paradox. To create, one must be willing to be stone stupid, to sit upon a throne on top of a jackass and spill rubies from one’s mouth. Then the river will flow, then we can stand in the stream of it raining down.” ~ Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype   Inspired Poet. Psychoanalyst. Trauma Healer. These titles create a window into the incredible woman with whom our next sacred encounter will unfold.  Clarissa Pinkola Estés, born in 1945, is a Mestiza Latina, whose humanitarian efforts have spanned numerous decades through the realms of journalism, the healing arts, and activism.  Still alive today, her contributions to mysticism are steeped in her fascination and exploration of the life of the soul. Having made significant strides on the American home front, her intentional work and ministry have concentrated on veterans of war, survivors of natural disaster, grieving families (who have lost loved ones to murder), and those who have undergone childbearing loss. These have been her primary audiences for the necessary and yet often neglected healing of traumatic experiences.             Applying our mystical lens of understanding, we will explore Estés’ biography while highlighting the core concepts which underline her perspective on the human soul and female archetypes. Integrating sections from her groundbreaking literary work, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, we will meditatively reflect upon this text’s timely relevance to our spiritual seeking and its embodied expression. Additionally, our collective dialogue and accompanying exercises will be aimed at cultivating several realities, especially personal creativity, reverence for the nascent wild within our souls, and the grace embedded in failure. In solidifying our encounter, participants will have an opportunity to individually apply this cultivation in a way that is meaningful within the current pandemic and the incumbent awakening to which this transitional time calls. Prior familiarity with Estés’ or with Women Who Run is welcomed, but not required.

RUMI “When the lightning of love for the Beloved Falls from heaven and strikes this heart – Know that love is also firing that heart, And when the love for Him brims over in your heart, Know that love for you is also brimming in His. Can the sound of clapping come only from one hand? When a thirsty man moans, "O water, O delicious water!" This thirst that is in all our souls Is the Water drawing us always to It. We belong to It, and It belongs to us.” - Jalal-ud-Din Rumi (Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi) ​ May provides us with a rich opportunity to journey with the 13th- century Sufi mystic, Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Rūmī while exploring his fascinating poetry and the poignant way that he captures the breadth of human experience within his robustly creative verses. Significantly influenced by the Persian language and Arabic culture within which he lived, Rumi traveled extensively throughout the geography of the Middle East. After his profound experience of loss from the death of his cherished friend, Shams, Rumi turned to listening to music and composing poetry to express the myriad emotions, questions, and lessons he began to discover on his journey. During our sacred encounter with Rumi, excerpts from his extensive canon of poetry will be mined for their relevance to our individual pursuit of mysticism and our collective, spiritual experience of being human during the pandemic and its aftermath. Additionally, personal connections and takeaways will be examined and celebrated through responsive writing and small group dialogue in an attempt to integrate Rumi’s reverence for the Beloved (God) and the divine truth that dwells in the seeming mysteries of life, love, death, and grief. Participants are welcome to bring along their favorite poem or quote from Rumi’s writings to highlight during the program.

JOHN PHILLIP NEWELL “It is spiritual practice that will again and again enable us to experience the Sacred at the heart of life in ways that will shape how we live and undergird how we work to heal the world.”​ ~ John Philip Newell ​ How do we participate in the Sacred in everyday life, particularly during personal crises and global ones such as the pandemic? Can we begin to heal the world from all of the traumatic events that have unfurled over time and the enormity of harmful actions committed by humanity? In turning to the Celtic spirituality and theology of John Phillip Newell, the answer is a resounding ‘yes.’  Join us for our next sacred encounter with this Canadian, Scottish mystic, whose desire it is to reawaken all Creation to the sacredness of the Earth and the interconnectedness of every human being. Born in 1953, this teacher and author founded the School of Earth and Soul several years ago and also leads pilgrimages to the Isle of Iona, Scotland for those seeking reflection, spiritual practice, and community life. During our gathering, we will explore the call of this self-described “wandering teacher” to realign ourselves with the truth that lives within the depths of our being and how this translates mystically to our relationships with God, the Earth, and one another. This way of knowing has dynamic potential, as Newell recognizes it, to transform the ways we choose to live, relate, and act. As we spend time with some of his writings from Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul and Listening For The Heartbeat of God, we will apply Newell’s cherishing of diverse aspects of the Sacred such as imagination, compassion, and the feminine to our personal stories and circumstances. And, in enhancing our times of prayer and meditation throughout our encounter, we will draw from his Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace. Journaling, large and small group dialogue, and other spiritual exercises will invite participants into deeper connection with the ancient wisdom shared so generously by this contemporary mystic.

Other Mystics & Mystical Explorations:

  • Kahlil Gibran ~ Mysticism of Relational Love & Separation

  • Josephine Bakhita ~ Mysticism Through Trauma, Death, & Transformation

  • Teresa of Avila ~ Mysticism of Encounter & Venue: Meeting God in Our Human Hearts

  • Ram Dass ~ Mysticism of Divine, Embodied Love

  • Bede Griffiths ~ Hindu Mysticism and Its Cosmic Dimensions

  • Hafez ~ Mysticism of Light, Beauty, & Unity

  • David Steindl-Rast ~Mysticism of Living Gratefully

  • Rabia Basri ~ Sufi Mysticism & Intimate Union with the Divine

  • Mysticism in Music ~ Mysticism of Silence, Sound, & Music

  • Thich Nhat Hanh ~ Mysticism of Mindfulness & the Present Moment

  • Ilia Delio ~ Mysticism of Cosmic Awe and Wonder

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