Contemplative Trove: Spiritual Practice Opportunities in December and January

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 a Comments section with each listing detailing what we as participants have liked. If you know of something coming up in January or February and would like to have it listed here, please email the information as shown below to by December 20 to be included in the post at the beginning of January. Please note that all times are listed in Central Time.


God 2.0: Pantheism and Quantum Reality

Dates and Times: Friday, Dec. 1 – Sunday, Dec. 3; All day
Registration: Early-bird registration open until Nov. 3
Cost: $150
Frequency: One-time (annual event)
Duration: One Weekend
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Can God be updated? Classic theism would say, absolutely not! But God is an
incomprehensible mystery and our approach to the mystery is shaped by ways of knowing the
real, a type of knowledge that cannot be fixed or located in any one age. We will explore how
science, culture and scripture can help us appreciate a wider, more expansive understanding of
God in ways that empowers us to creatively contribute to the wholeness we seek.
Comments: This is the annual conference of the Center for Christogenesis. The speaker is Ilia
Delio, a Franciscan nun, whose most recent book is The Not-Yet God: Carl Jung, Teilhard de
Chardin, and the Relational Whole. The Center for Christogenesis is a nucleus of creative
scholarship, building on the work of Teilhard, emphasizing evolution and process theology.
Delio is on the cutting edge of clarifying a vision of God compatible with evolutionary theory,
quantum physics, and our current cosmology concepts. We really like her concepts, and we find
her work intellectually rigorous. For this event, we look forward to hearing her speak because in
her talks, the concepts are sometimes more accessible to us than in her writing. Other speakers
include Rami Shapiro, Catherine Keller and Bruce Epperly.

Illuminated: An Online Journey into the Heart of Christmas with Jan Richardson

Dates and Times: Dec. 3 – Dec. 27; weekly email
Registration: Open
Cost: $90
Frequency: Emails sent 3 times a week
Duration: 4 weeks
Format: Online/email
Recording Available: N/A
Description: In a chaotic time, the Illuminated retreat will offer a space of elegant simplicity. Intertwining reflection, art, music, and community, this four-week online retreat provides a distinctive opportunity to journey through Advent and Christmas in contemplation and conversation with others along the way. This online retreat is not about adding one more thing to your holiday schedule. It is about helping you find spaces for reflection that draw you deep into a season that shimmers with mystery and possibility. 

  • You will receive three emails each week (Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday), plus emails for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. These emails will feature written reflections, questions, and blessings by Jan, along with artwork she has created for your Advent journey. 
  • Music from Garrison Doles will weave through the retreat, drawing you deep into the gifts of this season with his original songs and reflective instrumental pieces. 
  • An optional discussion forum will be available for you to participate in as much or as little as you’d like, as it fits for you. The forum is a space where you can offer responses and engage others during the retreat. Jan will host the forum and the conversation that will take place there.

Comments: Many of us at The Abbey have been drawn to the writings and art of Jan Richardson that we have explored together. We think this Advent series with her would be an enriching way to experience the season. We especially like the mix of art, music, reflection, and the option to participate in a discussion forum for those who choose that as well.

Writing into Winter with Christine Valters Paintner

Dates and Times: Saturday, Dec. 2; 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: $60
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 3 hours
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Join us just before Advent as the northern hemisphere slowly descends into holy darkness. We will explore the gifts of winter in this Zoom mini-retreat session where we will explore writing in alignment with the turning of the seasons. The equinoxes, solstices, and Celtic cross-quarter days are all threshold moments and portals to a new season of life. We are invited to listen to the new invitations being offered by the earth’s turning. Christine will guide you through different intuitive exercises to help you access writing as a process of discovery and honoring of your inner wisdom. In this way we can approach our writing practice in an organic way, not “forcing or holding back” as the poet Rilke once wrote but allowing what wants to emerge in the moment. We will engage in both free writing and poetry writing, and all are welcome regardless of level of experience or preferred genre. This is a generative workshop, we are not here to edit our work, but to show up for the Creative Source when we slow down and listen to what is erupting in the silence. In addition to the writing exercises Christine will guide us in the contemplative practice of lectio divina, silence, reading of poems, song, gentle movement invitations to shift your energy and focus.
Comments: We have enjoyed previous programs from Christine Valters Paintner, an “online abbess” based in Ireland. We like that this is presented as a generative workshop and is focused on “honoring your inner wisdom.” This would be a good entry for anyone who has been thinking about writing but hasn’t yet set aside intentional time to do it. Experienced writers will also find this a chance to slow down apart from existing projects and return to the inner spark that first captured their imaginations. The timeframe for this is manageable for writers of all levels to experiment with creativity in this form.

Light From Afar – Upper Room Advent Series

Dates and Times: Tuesday evenings, November 28, December 5, 12, and 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: $19.99
Frequency: Weekly
Duration: 4 weeks
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Light from Afar is a daily Advent devotional that illuminates the season through the unforgettable stories and reflections of four writers from around the world. Authors Nadiyka Gerbish (Ukraine), Joel Bengbeng (Philippines), Cláudio Carvalhaes (Brazil), and Sidwell Mokgothu (South Africa) share cultural and religious traditions of the Advent season in their daily reflections. Each day’s meditation includes a scripture reading, a prayer, an opportunity for reflection, and a link to a song from the author’s home country.  Our Light from Afar online experience invites participants to read, reflect on, and discuss the daily readings from this Advent devotional. Our online experience includes:

  • all of the readings from the daily guide,
  • recorded interviews with the authors, and
  • a weekly live session with The Upper Room staff—Tuesday evenings, November 28, December 5, 12, and 19 at 6:30 Central Time.*

Light from Afar is available in paperback or eBook from The Upper Room store if you would like a copy of the book to accompany you through the online experience.
Comments: We like that this approaches Advent with an openness to the ways that other cultures celebrate the season. With daily readings as well as weekly live sessions, this allows both contemplative and interactive opportunities. With the global reach of this program, it reminded us a little of Contemplative Outreach’s United in Prayer Day (held in the Spring) where people from all continents are engaged together, which was a powerful experience for several of us.

A Simple Immediacy: Desert Wisdom for Advent

Dates and Times: Sunday, Dec. 3 – Saturday, Dec. 30
Registration: Open
Cost: $79.95
Frequency: Daily emails
Duration: 4 weeks
Format: Online / Email
Recording Available: Yes
Description: The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the fourth and fifth centuries are arguably the first Wisdom School in Christian history. At first in trickles and then in waves, they fled into the deserts of Egypt and Syria to escape the increasing imperialization of the Christian Church and to live in a simple immediacy with the Risen Christ. In the process, they generated an extraordinary body of practical teachings on the spiritual practices underlying this life of deeper awareness and mystical union. Contemporary mystic Cynthia Bourgeault believes that this body of wisdom is perfect for the Advent season. You will receive daily emails, each containing a saying from the Desert Fathers and Mothers, a commentary by Cynthia, and a practice suggestion for deepening your understanding. You will also be invited to go to the online Practice Circle to share your own responses to the wisdom and your experience with the practice suggestions.
NOTE: Cynthia Bourgeault will not be participating in the Practice Circle during this run of this popular e-course. But as an addition to the e-course, she will be doing a one-hour talk summarizing what the Desert Fathers and Mothers have to tell us during Advent and Christmas. All who register for the e-course will have access to this Zoom talk, which will take place on December 22 at 1:00 pm PST. (Find the time in your area here.) The talk will be recorded if the time and date are not convenient for you.
Comments: This is offered through Spirituality and Practice and features Cynthia Bourgeault in a live Zoom talk in addition to the recorded teachings. We are really grateful for these offerings which allow access to the recordings for life because we like to revisit after we’ve completed a class.

Reading Rilke Today: A Conversation:  Marie Howe, Mark S. Burrows, Padraig O Tuama

Date and Time: Dec. 3, 3:30 – 4:30 p.m.
Registration: Open
Cost: Free
Frequency: One-time event 
Duration: 1 hour
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Rilke’s poems and writing remind us of what it means to “bear witness” to life in those “dark hours” we face when we experience things “falling asunder.” He also invites us to “dance the orange,” celebrating the exuberant beauty that shines, even in the darkness. Award-winning Rilke translator and poet, Mark S. Burrows, will explore the writings of poet Rainer Maria Rilke and why Rilke’s words challenge and inspire us, offering “words that still ripen in the silences.” Mark will be joined by poets Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marie Howe to share selected Rilke poems and enter a conversation about the significance of these words, calling us to embrace “a second life, timeless and wide.”
Comments: We admire these contemporary poets as well as Rilke. We think this will be an engaging and thought-provoking discussion.

The Miracle of Breath

Dates and Times: Monday, Dec. 4 – Friday, Dec. 29
Registration: Open
Cost: $59.95
Frequency: Email messages 3 times a week
Duration: 4 weeks
Format: Online
Recording Available: Yes
Description: Every day we take some 23,000 breaths, most of which pass unnoticed. Yet doctors tell us that proper breathing is the key to healing and preventing many diseases. Psychologists say the breath can help us calm agitated thoughts and emotions. Spiritual teachers, both Eastern and Western, tell us that attending to, and working with, the breath can be the catalyst for spiritual transformation. It helps us to return to the here and now, develop one-pointed attention, and deepen our prayer and meditation. In this e-course we touch on all these subjects and more. We will learn five guidelines for “proper breathing.” We will explore breath as central within Eastern traditions (qi in China and the Hindu prana.) We will learn breath-meditations that help with relaxation, focus, and compassion. We will seek the meaning behind expressions like, “it took my breath away,” or “I need to catch my breath,” and how breath surfaces in poetry. We will also look at the politics of breath. Finally, we will look at our relationship with God or Spirit. The Latin word “spiritus” comes from the word for breath. 
Comments: The self-paced, online course allows participation at whatever level you are comfortable with and that your schedule allows. Again, we like that these courses are available effectively forever so that we can revisit the content any time.

Poetry of the Season with Bill Jeffers

Date and Time: Tuesday, December 12, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Registration: Open (Limited to 16 participants)
Cost: $25
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 2 hours
Format: Online 
Recording Available: No
Description: Poetry in community gives us the opportunity to reconnect with our authentic selves, to be witnessed by others, and to bear witness for others. This Quarterly Gathering calls on the wisdom of poetry to help us connect more fully to each season and the concerns of the time. Drop below the surface of the season to listen for personal meaning and feeling. The evening will include experiencing poetry, time for personal reflection, and an invitation to write and share. No prior experience reading or writing poetry is necessary. Sharing your thoughts and writing is always by invitation. Bill Jeffers is the Founder (and former Executive Director) of Art From the Streets, a sculptor, and poet. You can find out more about him at
Comments: Offered through Eremos, an organization we admire, this looks like a good opportunity to pause and reflect, with the optional chance to share your thoughts and writing with a small group.

Winter Solstice – The Longest Night with Dianna Amorde

Date and Time: Wednesday, December 21, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. 
Registration: Open
Cost: Free
Frequency: One-time event
Duration: 1 hour
Format: Online
Recording Available: No
Description:  As Dag Hammarskjöld said, “Night is drawing nigh. For all that has been—Thanks! For all that shall be—Yes!” We invite you to step away from holiday stresses and any concerns for the future to connect with the ancient tradition of honoring nature’s rhythms on the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere—the Winter Solstice. As we let the darkness envelop us, may we pause to express gratitude for all that has been, prepare in silence for the return of the light, and make way for new blessings.
Comments: We like the flexibility of an online observance of the Winter Solstice, which allows participation pretty much regardless of how bad holiday traffic is! This opportunity to tune in from wherever you are for a quiet observance of this ancient tradition.

A Tuba Christmas

Not a typical Contemplative Trove item, but we love Tuba Christmas, a festive all-tuba concert of Christmas music on the South steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin.

Date and Time: Friday, Dec. 22, at Noon

Blue Christmas Services

For those who find holidays challenging, here is a list of “Blue Christmas” services, all online and free:


St. Mark’s Episcopal Church School of Wisdom

Dates and Times: Starting in January, dates and times vary (see individual course descriptions)
Registration: Open
Cost: Donations accepted
Frequency: Weekly
Duration: 3 months
Format: Monday and Wednesday courses are in person, the Tuesday course is online
Recording Available: N/A
Description: There are three courses available:

  • Monday Evenings Full Semester, on St. Mark’s campus, January 22 – April 15, 6-7:30
    • Book Study: New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, on St. Mark’s campus and via Zoom, Susan Hanson
    • Cultural Literacy for Religion (part 2), on St. Mark’s campus, Fr. Gary Gooch
  • Tuesday Evenings Full Semester, via Zoom, January 23 – April 16, 6-7:30
    • Book Study: Wild Wisdom: Zen Masters, Mountain Monks, and Rebellious Eccentrics Reflect on the Healing Power of Nature by Neil Douglas-Klotz, via Zoom, Jerry and Jim Kimmel
  • Wisdom on Wednesdays Full Semester, January 24 – April 17, 1-2:30
    • Pauli Murray (1910-1985): Episcopal Priest and Activist, On St. Mark’s campus,  Brandon Beck

Comments: This is a local opportunity (San Marcos, TX) to participate in person as a student of Wisdom traditions. We have heard good things about the offerings and the leaders of this school.


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: Leaving Church

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.

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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