Robbin Brent shares her experience at Wisdom School – Originally published by Cathedral Connection, The Cathedral of All Souls, Asheville, NC – November 2012
The Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault was an experience I will be integrating for the rest of my life. While I can’t begin to articulate the full scope of the spiritual terrain traversed during the week spent with her and others from around the country, I do want to share the framework for the week that proved so valuable. We learned about and began to practice how to meaningfully cycle through the four quadrants of a daily Benedictine rhythm of prayer (alone and together) and work (alone and together). According to Cynthia, this balanced approach to living offers us a Wisdom template, a filter through which to look at our lives. (The simple diagram shows the quadrants. If you’d like to learn more about the St. Benedict Rule of life, Cynthia recommends the book, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English.)
We responded immediately and deeply to the practice and rhythm of a modified Benedictine day. We prayed, alone and together. We spent a few hours each day as hungry students, devouring every word Cynthia offered. We read scripture out loud, held silence, and then reflected on what we heard. We chanted several times each day, such as: “Remain in the company of God this day.” “Listen, listen, wait in silence listening; for the One from whom all mercy flows.” We sat in Centering Prayer three times a day and observed silence from the end of the evening session through breakfast the next morning. We celebrated the Eucharist our last evening together.
We worked, alone and together. We picked corn while focusing on the feel of our feet on the ground. We painted a barn or stacked wood while focusing on the sound of our tools, switching from our dominant to non-dominant hand for a different perspective. We pulled weeds while practicing only using the parts of our body needed to complete the task, remembering to return to a neutral (balanced) position often for rest. The goal wasn’t to complete any job, but to do the outward work with the inward spiritual practice for an hour, and then stop. For many of us, it was the first time we engaged in work with no identification with an outcome.
What amazed me about our work together was how easily we moved into gracious, harmonious flow.
For example, there were about 30 of us picking and shucking corn that was then placed in a huge bin. We quickly fell into a rhythm of picking, shucking, and filling the bin. Some began to carry the buckets from the field to the bin; others began to pick corn for others to shuck; while others picked, shucked, and carried their corn to the bin. While the point of the work wasn’t to complete a job, within an hour, we had filled this huge bin without anyone setting that as a goal, or assigning job responsibilities. (It didn’t hurt that the weather and the surroundings were gorgeous.)
Each evening we reflected on what the work period was like. While picking corn, I noticed that I was leaning slightly forward, reaching in front of me, a little off balance. I kept telling myself that I’d balance after I shucked, or after I picked the next ear of corn. I also noticed that it was physically uncomfortable to try to balance first, then pick. It was a deeply illuminating moment when I realized that my body was teaching me something valuable about how I live my life, always moving a bit ahead of myself, slightly off balance, all the while telling myself I’ll balance as soon as I finish what I’m doing. What I learned and will continue to practice: balance first, then move.
One of the many gifts gleaned from the week and the balanced Benedictine model is a lingering sense of harmony, balance, devotion, practice, surrender, patience, and love. Cynthia reminded us that it is this daily rhythm that allows us to remember where we are; who we are; and where we are going.
Robbin Brent has been dreaming, convening, and facilitating contemplative gatherings, both large and small, since 2010. Her vocational life centers around inviting others to gather because she believes that while each of us are on our own unique spiritual journeys, all transformation happens through relationships: with ourselves, with others, and with God. She served as the Executive Director of the Center for Spiritual Resources in the Episcopal Diocese of Western NC for five years, convening Circles of Trust discernment groups, facilitating clergy and lay-leader spiritual deepening programs and retreats, hosting and filming Wisdom Schools with Cynthia Bourgeault, and facilitating virtual small-group gatherings of wisdom leaders from around the globe. In 2016 she founded Wisdom Way of Knowing, Inc., a non-profit organization committed to providing teachings and resources to deepen understanding and practice of the Christian Wisdom tradition as taught by Cynthia Bourgeault and other Wisdom teachers. In service to a growing hunger for contemplative community and resources, Robbin created a website that provides a dynamic platform for people worldwide to connect with each other and to find and share resources, and she continues to host and film Wisdom Schools with Cynthia. She serves Living Compass, a spirituality and wellness initiative, as Director of Publications and Resource Development. Recently Robbin has been deepening her contemplative leadership through Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program.
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