On Contemplative Presence: Notes from Phase II Resident Lay Community Conversation

What is contemplative presence?

How do you practice contemplative presence in your life?

We’ve been meeting every other Sunday since January. In our convening for Phase II* of the Resident Lay Community conversations, lead by Sr. Mary Margaret McKenzie (and the Holy Spirit), there is a richness — a provocative nature to the questions posed, the stories shared. On any given Sunday, as our room of 8-12 lay women and men meanders into the Sisters’ formal invitation to unpack their Essentials of Community Living, there is an a informal integration at work of these Salesian principles of monastic living into our own lives.

The following are notes from a recent meeting for Phase II of the Resident Lay Community Conversations. Perhaps they will speak to you?

CONTEMPLATIVE PRESENCE and SALESIAN STABILITY

-compiled by Brenda Lisenby, Monastic Immersion Experience resident

The meeting began with an introduction of the essential “contemplative presence” and Salesian stability by Sr. Mary Margaret:

“Be where you are, and be there well.”

– an adaptation of St. Francis de Sales “Be Who you are and be that well.”

Contemplative presence is the stability of the present moment…to be at home, to be at rest, to give yourself wholeheartedly, to enter into relationship believing God is there, here, today, at this moment, to enter into our alive Center.

Question: How do you practice or realize stability/contemplative presence in your life?

Responses:

  • Trying to be very aware of God’s presence throughout the day—when I do this, I have a sense of stability, a continual little nod to that Presence
  • Practicing contemplative presence with bread baking, a contemplative activity
  • Have  a sense of stability by having a change in bread making method—changed from machine to hand’s on, and I feel more alive, feel more ownership, feel more stable
  • Contemplative presence is the awareness of the present moment, whatever the activity (chopping carrots, ironing, etc.)
  • For me it is an image: the process of centering the clay; nothing happens until it is centered; in the same way, nothing happens until I am centered, then can be in the moment with others
  • Being, not doing—to be with people, to be part of community
  • Contemplative presence is the slow work of God; an image that comes to mind is gardening—slow work; presence is also loving the place where you are, a place to give and receive love
  • Contemplative presence is a spaciousness; it is the economy of grace (vs the economy of meritocracy)
  • Contemplative presence is to receive all that comes in the moment as coming from the hand of God…from the beginning of time, God has held this moment for us and so we receive it as a grace gift and TREASURE it
  • To live in the world as a contemplative is to be present, to have a receiving stance of all things, all things received through the senses (smelling, seeing, touching, hearing)…the 20 minutes of centering prayer each morning allows me to develop the muscles to be in this open heart space, to be present…this is contemplative presence, and it allows us to live into transformation of self and world
  • “touching the now”, being open to what is happening immediately
  • “being at home”, making where I am home for me and others
  • There is a sense of “rightness” when I am present in a contemplative way
  • Singing…being fully present to the moment—the words, my voice, the music, is a time when I am fully present, and open to inner transformation by the Spirit
  • Bro Lawrence, “Practicing the presence”, a way of being present in the world through all the ordinary daily activities (washing dishes, cooking, etc.)—being present to the moment, which puts one in the presence of God, and is a stance of continual prayer
  • Contemplative presence is being open to receiving the moment, the gift of presence given by others
  • Contemplative presence is also related to identity as well, because we bring our “other places” with us to where we are—other “places” of gender, age, race, culture, etc.
  • A reminder that “all is done through love, nothing through force.”
  • A comment: Phase II has been an experience of contemplative presence, an organic unfolding.

 

*A brief articulation of the phases:

  • Phase I: a time of listening to constituents response to the Sister’s proposal
  • Phase II: a time of exploring and/or addressing practicalities through the essentials
  • Phase III: a time when individuals who feel called and are free to respond to the call move forward in discernment and commitment.

Read more about the Resident Visitation Lay Community.

 

 

On Silence: More from VIP Anna D (Or: What do Gandalf, Dumbledore and St. Francis de Sales have in common?)

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

Anna Dourgarian, 2012 -2013 VIP

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part two* of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

My two favorite role models have shown me the fruits of silence. These role models are—drum roll, please—Gandalf from Lord of the Rings and Dumbledore from Harry Potter. They are two serene and wise men who are so in tune with their surroundings that their every word and action is powerfully beneficial. How do they do it? How do they always know what’s going on, and how do they always know how to make it right? They don’t do it by chattering their heads off. They are intensely attentive. They choose their words carefully. They know when their world needs them to talk, but otherwise they settle back and let the world do its thing.

We have another role model who demonstrates the same art: St. Francis de Sales. We know how much he achieved, and he did it with silence. When he was serving as bishop of Annecy, after his long and hectic days, he would retreat to his room and—when you or I would probably fall straight to sleep—sat up for hours and meditated by candlelight. This fulfillment of his need for silence let him accomplish his loving acts with people during the day.

If you’ve ever tried to be quiet, though, it immediately becomes apparent that not talking isn’t the whole story. It’s a big part, but you could not talk and still not be attentive. It’s like there are two voices: one in your mouth, and one in your head. You have to stop talking to listen, but you have to stop thinking to hear.

I don’t know about you, but I have this voice in my head that loves to talk. It is always going on about something: what’s for dinner, what are you doing, what were you thinking, what did you forget, wasn’t that so frustrating? It’s a little voice that just talksandtalksandtalksandtalks. It’s really distracting. Mine is especially problematic during prayer. A whole Bible passage will be read, and I’ll be sitting there—not listening.

Even Jesus told us that learning to control our thoughts is extremely important. He told us on His Sermon on the Mount that yes, it’s important not to kill, but it’s also important not to get angry at our brother. Anger is a thought. If we can’t control our thoughts, then we are very vulnerable to sin.

Since I have started practicing silence, there are times when I’m aware that my brain has ceased to think. There are no thoughts, opinions, or emotions in my head. I am just living in the present moment, enjoying life.

When my mind is silent, it is free to focus on the world around me. It is open to details like how my friends are feeling, what’s going on in their lives, what they need from me. I can be truly attentive. To have a silent mind is to be cleansed, to leave a free ground for God to interpret any new information for me. When I’m not thinking, I’m not quick to judge.

*Click here to read Part One.

On Silence: Thoughts from VIP Anna D. on one of the seven Essentials of Monastic Life

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

Anna Dourgarian, VIP 2012-2013

by Guest blogger Anna Dourgarian, Visitation Intern Volunteer

The 2012-2013 Salesian Monday Night series focuses on the 7 Essentials of Monastic Life that the Vis Sisters have outlined for their community. The following post is part one of VIP Anna Dourgarian’s co-presentation with Sr. Karen on Silence.

I am really new to the concept of silence, but in the short time that I have known about it, I have fallen in love with it. As a Vis Intern volunteering on North Side, one of my main goals has been to serve my community, and silence has helped me do it.

“Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs.”

I was first introduced to silence last February, at a winter campout hosted by REI. There, I met a man named Donnie who was very knowledgeable about the outdoors: he knew about medicinal herbs, tracking, and respecting nature. I wanted to know about the outdoors, so I asked if he could take me for a hike. Hikes for me were about getting outside and ambling about and getting away from electronics—exercising and chatting. But within minutes of hitting the trail, Donnie said, “Anna, you’re walking too fast, and you need to stop talking.” In other words, “Slow down and shut up.” Hikes for Donnie were about being attentive to the wilderness. On that slow, silent hike, we saw two red-winged black birds get into a territorial fight, we heard a robin get surprised by a hawk, and we spied two chickadees building a secret nest.

Over the summer I learned that the most productive hike is one where I sat still, for a whole hour, watching my surroundings. It was PAINFUL. I got restless, I got weird looks from hikers who walked by me, and I could never focus—my brain was always thinking really hard about something else. But the effect was wondrous. I got to know the birds in my area: white-breasted nuthatches in this tree, and these are the songs of a cardinal and a catbird. I noticed that the ground was just crawling with bugs. One time a coyote walked right past me. A few minutes later, a few talkative hikers walked past too and had no idea what they had just missed.

At the end of the summer, I became a VIP and stopped doing my silent sitting hikes. The skills I learned from them were not applicable to my normal life. No one wanted me to slow down; I was supposed to speed up, show enthusiasm, and make a difference in the world! Until Sr. Suzanne asked me one day, “Anna, could you please be quiet?” And I said, “Oh, is someone sleeping?” And she said, “No, you’re LOUD!”

Apparently the skills for spotting a coyote in the woods are still relevant in a monastery.

Silence is not a goal in and of itself; it is a process, a stepping stone—but for what? For me, it’s about being more useful in this world. It forces me to be attentive. I want to serve my community according to its needs, so I need to be attentive to and aware of its needs. In the case of hiking with Donnie, I wanted to serve the environment, so first I had to observe the environment.