Contemplative Trove: Spiritual Practice Opportunities in August and September

Photo credit: Sandy Reich

By Melanie P. Moore, et al.

Each month, we publish a listing of upcoming contemplative and spiritual opportunities recommended by folks here at The Abbey. Many of us have floundered around in the past looking for community and deep engagement with other pilgrims on the spiritual path. Here we share a curated list of what we are finding, hoping you might find some of it helpful on your journey. We’ve included “Comments” with each listing detailing what we, as participants, have liked. If you know of something coming up in September or October and would like to have it listed here, please email the information as shown below to by August 15 to be included in the post at the beginning of September. Please note that all times are listed in Central Time.

August 2023

Centering Prayer Retreat: The Mystical Path to a Joyful Life

Dates and Times: Friday, August 4, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, August 5, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: $49
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 7.5 hours over two days
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Led by Carl McColman, this retreat will weave together Centering Prayer with spirited exploration of how the heart contains all the wisdom, blessings and gifts we need to embrace a life of deep and lasting joy. The retreat is based on Carl’s book Eternal Heart, but you do not need to read the book in order to attend the retreat. McColman is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and internationally known speaker and teacher of mystical spirituality and contemplative living. He is the author of many books, including The New Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Eternal Heart: The Mystical Path to a Joyful Life, and Unteachable Lessons: Why Wisdom Can’t Be Taught and Why That’s Okay. He is one of the co-hosts of the “Encountering Silence” podcast, and blogs regularly at Patheos, Medium, and his own website,
Comments: We’ve heard him a few times and read his books, which we’ve enjoyed.

Contemplative Photographers Practice Group – Year 9

Dates and Times: August 6, 2023 – July 28, 2024
Registration: First enrollment period: July 25 – September 12, 2023; second enrollment period: Dec. 22, 2023 – February 3, 2024.
Cost: $52
Frequency: Weekly emails
Duration: 1 year
Format: Online
Recording Available: N/A
Description: For the past eight years, a community of people at all skill levels have been gathering at to explore contemplative photography together. Participants create photos in response to a weekly theme we provide. The atmosphere is one of acceptance, encouragement, and delight in the wonders that this artistic medium opens for us. Everyone is welcome, whether you’ve been in the group for years or are just discovering this opportunity today. This year will be our ninth group. We are going to revisit the themes from Year 3 and Year 6. In the Practice Group, you can post your own photos and offer supportive feedback to others. We also hope you will share your own process. How do you prepare for a contemplative photography session? What makes the experience contemplative for you? What tips can you offer each other? This will give anyone new to the group a chance to start at the foundation, and it gives everyone who has been faithfully participating a chance to observe how time and circumstances change how we see. Our weekly emails, beginning on August 6, will include a suggestion of what you might photograph and often a quote to inspire you. Occasionally, we will put out a call for photo submissions for projects on the Spirituality & Practice website. The Practice Group will be largely self-monitoring, with technical support available from S&P.
Comments: We’ve participated in a lot of the offerings from Spirituality and Practice, which have all been good. This looks like a wonderful opportunity for anyone who enjoys photography.

The Welcoming Prayer: Adding a Second Engine to Your Centering Prayer Practice

Dates and Times: Saturday, August 12, 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: $15
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 1.5 hours
Format: Zoom
Recording Available: Yes
Description: In this mini-retreat we’ll explore the ways the Welcoming Prayer can be used in daily life with a special emphasis on how it helps us let go of and dismantle the false self and its over-identification with the culture and social values that we grew up in. This prayer practice helps us let go of our egocentric desires for ever more symbols of security, affection – esteem, power – control. We’ll explore this in the context of the human condition and will include time for both Centering and Welcoming Prayer during our session.
Comments: We like that this is an opportunity to experience the Welcoming Prayer and is a do-able time commitment. In the past we have enjoyed programs from Closer than Breath, the group that is offering this.

The Enneagram & Your Unique Path to Joy

Dates and Times: Saturday, August 19, 9:30 a.m. – noon in person (PLUS: refresher on the Enneagram Thursday, August 17, 6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. on Zoom)
Registration: Open
Cost: $50
Location: St. Matthews Episcopal Church, Austin, TX
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 2.5 hours 
Format: In person
Recording Available: No
Description: If you’re seeking more joy in your life, the Enneagram personality model can help you cut through the hundreds of suggestions for finding joy to discover the approach uniquely suited to you and your personality type. Studied by thousands of people around the world and introduced to many by George Gurdjieff in 1915, many spiritual leaders, including Fr. Richard Rohr, value the Enneagram for its ability to help us accept ourselves as we are, and then move towards a healthier relationship with God, each other, and ourselves.
Comments: This is a wonderful local Austin opportunity to learn more about yourself through the Enneagram. The presenter is Nancy McCranie, a Presbyterian pastor and the Director of Volunteer and Bereavement Services at Hospice Austin, who is an experienced and popular group leader.

The Cloud of Unknowing and the Greening Power of Contemplation

Dates and Times: Saturday, August 26; 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: $50
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 3 hours
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Led by Carmen Acevedo Butcher. Contemplation, as taught in the classic Christian text The Cloud of Unknowing, is not time-consuming. It’s all about longing. One of the most practical, useful guides for exploring relationship with the Divine and our true, loving self, these letters by an anonymous, likely a Carthusian, monk are penned to a spiritual companion, likely a woman, and maybe even Julian of Norwich. Anonymous starts with the bread-and-butter practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading, and he teaches contemplation simply, calling it “a gentle, joyful, humble stirring of love.” His down-to-earth language reminds us to “be the tree, and let grace be the carpenter,” compares contemplative practice to a falconer’s training and a “leash of longing,” and imagines a game of hide-and-seek, to make this sometimes frustrating practice accessible. How can we make this joyful contemplative practice a part of our own lives? How do we fit contemplation into our busy days? Join us on August 26th. We will consider these questions through close readings, chanting, journaling from writing prompts, lectio divina, and Centering Prayer, exploring ways to bring the easy practice of contemplation into our ordinary days. 
Comments: Carmen Acevedo Butcher is well-known and prolific contemporary translator of the mystics. We think this would be an excellent chance to learn more about The Cloud of Unknowing from a trusted expert.

Love and Death: Opening the Great Gifts

Dates and Times: Friday, August 25 – Sunday, August 27; Opening session begins at 8:45 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25
Registration: Open
Cost: Donation requested
Frequency: Daily for the three-day weekend; the schedule is available here
Duration: Friday evening – Sunday
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: This online, donation-based program explores the powerful equation of love and death. This whole life is a place where we make real our dedication to awakening, in living and dying, in caring and being cared for, in loving and receiving love. Being completely and vividly present for the rich details of our lives and the lives of others is the means that we use to discover truth and come home to who we really are. Love and death then are experiences of discovery. This program, led by two pioneers in the end-of-life care field and long-time Buddhist practitioners, is an exploration of how we bring depth and dedication into our whole life and the life of the world. Through teachings, exchanges, and unique practices and processes, we explore the profound relationship between love and death, engaged practice and the role of love and compassion in how we serve others, different forms of love, how art reveals the connection between love and death, and practices that related to the power of impermanence and surrender. This program is open to all and is a special opportunity to work closely with Frank Ostaseski and Roshi Joan Halifax.
Comments: This is led by Frank Ostaseski, whose work we have read and whose online courses we’ve participated in–dealing with dying and grief. His teachings and his interactions with participants create a deep experience for everyone in the group. Ostaseski and Roshi Joan Halifax lead this together and their collaborations are always inspiring.

September 2023

A Vastness Beyond Self: Wisdom from the Desert

Dates and Times: Friday, September 22, 7 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and Saturday, September 23 9:30 a.m. – Noon
Registration: Open
Cost: $40
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 4 hours over two days
Format: Online and in-person at The Church of Conscious Harmony in Austin, Texas
Recording Available: No
Description: Led by Dr. Douglas E. Christie, the aim is to nourish our community with wisdom from the Christian tradition that supports the spiritual journey beyond the limitations of self and deepens intimacy with God through various aspects of Holy Remembering, such as articulated by the Monastic desert and mystical tradition(s) conveyed by language and experiences of oneness, emptiness, darkness, intimacy, and loss/death of self.
Comments: Dr. Christie is a wisdom teacher and the author of The Insurmountable Darkness of Love. We have found offerings from The Church of Conscious Harmony to be good and this one looks like another high-quality program from a well-known wisdom teacher.

Turning Towards Fall Day Retreat

Dates and Times: Saturday, September 23
Registration: 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Cost: $85 (includes gourmet boxed lunch and all materials); $70 (bring your own lunch)
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 6.5 hours
Format: In-person at Still Waters Retreat Center, 9409 Granada Hills Drive, Austin, TX 78737
Recording Available: N/A
Description: The Autumnal Equinox invites all that is living to trust the life flow of earth’s energies, what the Irish call “neart”, the endless cycle of possibilities bringing life, death, and rebirth.  The Celtic mind grasped this cycle of land and sea; it knew how to hope. Join us for a day of rest, renewal, and preparing to welcome the gifts of the fall season. Using poetry, ritual, conversation, and time on your own, we’ll invite greater confidence in this “neart” dimension of life and welcome in the fall.
Comments: We regularly attend Eremos offerings and this one, in-person, is at a lovely retreat center in Austin that we like a lot. The leaders of this retreat, Dr. Melvin Dowdy and Dianna Amorde, we also like.

Contemplative Prayer Summit

Dates and Times: Saturday and Sunday, September 23 – 24
Registration: Early Bird registration Open
Cost: $99
Frequency: One-time Event
Duration: 2 days
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Learn from contemplative teachers and practice with a global community. Hosted by Keith Kristich and Jana Rentzel, with a keynote, “Nonduality and the Heart of Prayer,” by Rupert Spira. Other speakers include James Woods, Ruben Habito, Cassidy Hall, Matthew Wright, Margaret Benefiel, Heather Ruce, and Kaira Jewel Lingo.
Comments: This is a strong lineup of contemplative teachers. Several of us have especially liked previous experiences with Heather Ruce and Matthew Wright.

Resilience:  Practicing Compassion in a World of Conflict

Dates and Times: Friday – Saturday, September 29 – September 30
Registration: Registration ends August 10
Cost: Early Registration $99
Frequency: One-time
Duration: 1.5 days
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description:  The Upper Room and Africa Upper Room Ministries are excited to offer a virtual event designed to equip us to live compassionately amid conflict. Change, confrontation, and division are all around us, making it easy to feel ungrounded and alone. The challenge of finding places to be heard and accepted is real. In times like these, how are we to live fully and faithfully as followers of Jesus Christ? When our communities are in conflict, how do we find the support of sustaining relationships? Our virtual event will include storytelling, time for personal reflection and conversation, guided spiritual practice, and worship. This gathering offers time for centering, interaction, and spiritual practices to help you cultivate relationships that endure even in the face of profound disagreement and division.
Here are some examples different practices offered during two Fri. workshop segments:

  • Prayer in a Resilient Spirituality
  • Writing as Compassionate Practice
  • Practicing Compassion at Borders
  • Practicing Compassion in Breath and Music
  • Compassion and Our Physical Bodies

Speakers and workshop leaders include Bishop Purity Malinga, Nadiyka Gerbish, Ray Buckley, Christopher Carter, Rubén Ortiz, Jane Herring, Jerry Haas, Alma Cota de Yánez, Juliet Windvogel, and Piula Ala’ilima with worship led by Rev. Lydia Muñoz.
Comments: This is a unique event for learning about and participating in a variety of spiritual practices with a focus on compassion and resilience. We’ve found the  Upper Room offerings to be well done with a good mix of content presentation and opportunities for interaction–at whatever level you are comfortable engaging.

Soul Tending: An Exploration of Practices for Nourishment and Growth

Dates and Times:  Monday, September 11 – Friday, October 13
Registration: Open through August 28
Cost: $210
Frequency: Weekly (This is an asynchronous course with a weekly Zoom session with the instructor.  Zoom meeting time to be determined.)
Duration: 5 weeks
Format: Online
Recording Available: No
Description: Every living thing needs nourishment to support its health and growth, and our souls are no different. The challenges of life are often depleting and distracting to our spiritual health. Good soul tending requires experimentation with a variety of time-tested and newly discovered practices in order to discover those disciplines which feed the spirit and recall us to our true self in God. In this highly experiential course, participants will come to understand their own unique recipe for spiritual practices which sustain them. The course includes an exploration of the difference between belief and practice and a wide variety of spiritual disciplines from a broad spectrum of traditions will be explored. This course is open to everyone and may be taken for credit towards the Certificate in Spiritual Formation.  Rev. Liz Forney is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and teacher in the art of Contemplative Creativity. Liz earned her BA from Franklin and Marshall and her M. Div from Princeton Theological Seminary. She has numerous certificates in spiritual direction, including from Columbia Theological Seminary (CTS), where she served as Associate Director of the Spiritual Formation program, and from the Shalem Institute, where she currently serves as part of the leadership team. She is the co-author of What Is Your Pratice: Lifelong Growth in the Spirit with Norvene Vest, and facilitates courses for the Certificate in Spiritual Direction at CTS.
Comments: We like this leader and know of wonderful programs from Columbia Theological Seminary. In addition to the opportunity to learn, those who qualify can also earn CEU credits. We like that this is an asynchronous opportunity which provides more flexibility for participants.


Contemplative Chant

Dates and Times: Wednesdays at 4 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: Free
Frequency: Ongoing
Duration: 30 minutes
Format: Online
Recording Available: No
Description: 30 minutes of contemplative chant from Wisdom Waypoints, with chants led by Susan Latimer and Elizabeth Combs. Chanting is a wonderful practice for bringing both the Moving Center (body, breath, tone) and the Emotional Center (open heart) online. It is a spiritual practice that opens our hearts, nourishes our nervous systems, prepares us for prayer and meditation as a bridge into stillness, and connects us to our innate joy, courage, steadfastness, peace, beauty, truth and goodness. In times of great uncertainty and change, we find chant to be one of the things that most grounds us. These sessions draw chants from Wisdom Schools, various spiritual and religious traditions, sacred texts, old hymns and poetry. Because of the limitations of synching sound on Zoom, all participants are muted except for the one leading. This allows everyone to chant along in their own space. (Great if you are shy about sharing your voice! Fun if you like to try harmonies!)
Comments: Some of us join this contemplative chant weekly and enjoy it very much. We find it a wonderful contemplative practice. Wisdom Waypoints is the wisdom community started by Cynthia Bourgeault, one of our favorite wisdom teachers. Note that this is a small and warm group of regular participants. Therefore, it can be more difficult to participate anonymously.

The Abbey Tuesday Morning Meditation and Book Discussion: Learning to Walk in the Dark

Dates and Times: Tuesdays at 8 a.m. (Meditation at 8 a.m., optional book discussion at 8:30 a.m.)
Registration: Open
Cost: Free
Frequency: Weekly
Duration: Ongoing
Format: Zoom
Recording Available: No
Description: A 20-minute sit, followed by discussion of Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark.
Comments: Of course we love this meditation group! It’s The Abbey, our own contemplative community.

The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seekers of the Sacred

Dates and Times: Virtual, on your own time/Self-study
Registration: Open, sign up here
Cost: $160
Frequency: Daily – six days each week participants receive an email with a link to the day’s content.
Duration: 12 weeks
Format: Online
Recording Available: N/A; participants will have access to all program materials for the lifetime of the website.
Description: Christine Valters Paintner uses reflections, stories, guided activities, prayer experiences, and a variety of creative arts to help you patiently and attentively listen to God’s invitation. This 12-week self-study retreat is a companion to Christine’s book The Soul’s Slow Ripening: 12 Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred. Journey together inviting you to explore the gifts of Celtic Christian spirituality, practices unique to this ancient tradition, inspiring stories of Irish saints, scripture reflections, plus creative invitations into writing and photography. Each chapter begins with a story of a particular Irish saint—some well-known like Patrick or Brigid, others less so, such as Ita and Ciaran—and then introduces a helpful practice for discernment that the saint’s life illustrates. Also included are 12 vibrant songs commissioned for each saint and practice along with gesture prayers taught by liturgical dancer and movement therapist Betsey Beckman, MM to bring the whole body into our prayer in an open and accessible way.
Comments: The meditation group at The Abbey is currently reading this book and several of us have read it before. It is a wonderful book and this opportunity to work at your own pace with resources from the author could be great, particularly if your schedule requires flexibility.

Word of the Week

Dates and Times: Emails sent on Sundays, meets each Tuesday at 8 a.m. and Wednesday at 5 p.m.
Registration: Sign up for weekly emails here.
Cost: Free annual subscription (with recommended donation of $95/yr)
Frequency: Weekly, per above
Duration: One hour
Format: Zoom – link is sent weekly in the email on Sunday
Recording Available: No
Description: A beautiful email is sent on Sundays with the reading of Lectio Divina that will be done. There is a sit and then the Lectio Divina.
Comments:  We like this because it’s a chance to revisit the reading for the week—and they always include beautiful artwork (it’s Lectio and Visio Divina!). We like the sense of community. It’s a pretty stable group and there’s a chance to share. We also like the balance of it—they are very mindful of the time, it’s just an hour. There’s a rhythm of it that we like. We read the emails each week and appreciate having the email in advance to sit with it a little before the group reading. There are also opportunities to interact online with the group during the week. We will note that it can be difficult to find the link for the Zoom in the weekly email; it is also spelled out here—the third bullet has link to the zoom with poorly brown highlighted “Click on this link,” but it also provides the zoom code and passcode in the email.

Wisdom Waypoints Daily Centering Prayer/Meditation

Dates and Times: Monday – Friday 9:30 a.m.; Monday/Wednesday/Sunday 6 p.m.; Saturday 10:30 a.m.
Registration: No registration required, join via website
Cost: Free
Frequency: Daily, per above
Duration: 30 minutes
Format: Zoom
Recording Available: No
Description: A collective wisdom pause for “Silence and Stillness.” Wisdom members lead each sit with a brief reading, chant, and meditation/stillness.
Comments:  We like this because it is a way to maintain our personal practice alongside others with the degree of anonymity (or not) with which we are each comfortable. Wisdom Waypoints is a part of Cynthia Bourgeault’s network of teaching and practice resources.

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