St. Benedict’s Trappist Monastery in Snowmass

Posted on Sep 28, 2017

Last Summer Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. invited Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M. Fr. Laurence Freeman, O.S.B. and Fr. Tilden Edward to St. Benedict’s Trappist Monastery in Snowmass, CO. Each of these great teachers are recognized leaders at the forefront of the “contemplative reformation” in motion in the Church at this time. Through their shared commitment to sharing the contemplative heart of Christianity and their concern for the healing of the world, they discerned together a need to gather a group of young contemplative leaders, to dialogue, pray, and connect. Each “founder” invited four or five young contemplative leaders to Snowmass in the Spirit of an exchange of mind and heart and being. Fr. Thomas sent me the message last fall asking if I’d be interested and in a flash, I was packing my bags… it was admittedly early by about nine months, but I was excited so some exuberant response was only natural.
The entire gathering was funded by the Trust for the Meditation Process, which made it possible for almost all of us to afford the trip, the stay and the delicious vegetarian food. The cook staff was even kind enough to prepare me a special dish when things looked like they might get a bit “onion-ish”. Most of the young contemplatives stayed in the retreat center hermitages, or the retreat house proper. I agreed to stay down in the monastery since we were out of space at the retreat house.

I enjoyed being back in a cell, and getting up early to pray vigils with my old brothers. It is interesting that the group included only two of us that had
monastic formations; Br. Erik Keeney currently a monk of the Abbey. The “contemplative reformation” is very clearly not a monastic movement, though contemplation and monasticism have had a long history together since the third century AD. It’s not a clerical movement either, only five of us were Anglican priests, one Hussite priest, and one Congregationalist pastor. We were parents, lawyers, scientists, students, spouses, celibates, country folks and city people. The reform is coming from so many corners but at its heart is a sense of community of contemplative practice, transformation, and compassion.

When we began to dialogue two very distinct issues came up for the group. There was a great deal of interest in spreading wider and wider the various wisdom teachings all of us had inherited, and the need also for deeper formation so that these teachings can unfold in us more deeply. We split up to focus on these two movements of the Spirit. I was engaged in the deep formation group and we talked about three distinct methodologies: the immersion training, the infusion practice, and the catch as catch can. Immersion training being akin to a forty to ninety day retreat type of formation to set the mind and heart in solid contemplative baseline so that someone would be able to integrate their life experiences with their receptive and surrendering mind, heart, and being more skillfully.

Infusion practice is integrating different contemplative methodologies into the life we presently are living. Infusion practice has short periods of immersion like a week long retreat but the bulk of learning is amidst a life that might include a typical job, family, etc. The catch as catch can, was the important insight of those who are pastors in their communities. The catch approach capitalizes on those moments when people come to see you, or their life falls apart because of a death, birth, divorce, crisis, conversion, transition and the likes. The catch method delivers simple but over time and practice effective approaches to contemplation. Folks who minister among the working poor in our own North American culture and among people in developing countries noticed the wonderful spiritual life of those who are often living in material poverty but with such great devotion and insight through very simple but profound ways of prayer.

To be honest all of this is still whirling around in me. I had a few long meetings with Fr. Thomas that were truly profound for me. These too are still unpacking. The comradery among these other young Christian leaders who have devoted their lives to becoming a living breathing sacrifice to God through losing themselves, taking up the cross and following Christ in such expedient ways is really just amazing. There is a great renewal of Christianity afoot among these young(ish) women and men for prayer and action. The founders themselves said they felt at peace that this lineage of prayer and wisdom would flourish among the leaders present. All of the people at the gathering, founders and exchangers, we committed to “awakening a larger embrace and expansion of Christian contemplative understanding and practice as the vital grounding of Christian life, with openness to collaboration with all streams of contemplative wisdom, in response to the urgent social and spiritual needs of our time.” As more unfolds I hope to share more and more.

peace, fr. justin