Last weekend a group of us Life Together staff and fellows went on a contemplative retreat to Emery House, enjoying the hospitality of our friends at the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE). In some ways, winter is the best time to go on retreat; like the trees shorn of their leaves, preparing for spring, a winter retreat compels you to go inward and notice that which is harder to perceive during other seasons. I could admire the diverse array of birds flocking to the bare birch trees outside my bedroom window. On a cold winter walk along the Merrimack River, I could clearly see the massive chunks of ice fleeing upriver rather than to the nearby sea. In the silence of the retreat center, lacking the distractions of social media, television, and even other people, I began to notice the undercurrents running through the feelings that accompany me every day. And our contemplative workshops, from prayer and chanting to embodied practice and more, equipped us with the tools to notice, face, and heal from that which keeps us from God and one another.
Life Together’s model of leadership development is built upon teaching tools for both inner and outer transformation, believing that the two are interdependent. The contemplative practices of our community-- centering prayer, chant, and more-- ground our justice work in the enduring presence of the divine. As we worshipped on Sunday with the brothers at SSJE, the lectionary text in particular stood out:
It is [God]… who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble. … He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. --portions of Isaiah 40:21-31
Rather than frantically reacting to the “rulers of the earth” until we burn out, the contemplative path helps us notice, face, and take action against injustice from the well of power and strength hidden within our deepest, most true selves.
Our retreat this weekend was just one step in awakening that kind of leadership among fellows and alumni. With the generous support of the Narthex Foundation, this spring Life Together is making a deep investment in the contemplative leadership of young adults. Several fellows and alumni recently attended the Mystic Soul conference to explore contemplative practice centering the perspectives of people of color. You can read more from one participant, alumna Yani Burgos, in this month’s alumni spotlight. And fellows, alumni and staff will also attend the week-long Mega Wisdom School with contemplative teacher Cynthia Bourgeault in March. They will bring what they’ve learned back to our broader Life Together community, building the contemplative leadership of future generations of fellows with new initiatives this fall. I’m excited for our community to go deeper into this work, which offers vital paths to transformation in our broken world.
In the midst of the stark beauty of winter, I hope you can notice that which has been rendered invisible by the society around us: both the vital justice work that fellow Emily Chun eloquently describes in this month’s fellow spotlight, and the deeper wellsprings of power that contemplative practice calls forth. May our lives make that inner and outer transformation visible in the darkest places.