Beyond the Basics, Our Hearts in Advent: A Southeast Arising Wisdom School With Jeanine Siler-Jones, Laura Copeland and Rebecca Parker.
God is in full solidarity with the created world,
form poses no impediment to divinity.
Surrender is connected to generativity, the Sacrament of Incarnation.
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
In February of 2019 Jeanine Siler Jones, Laura Copeland, Rebecca Parker and I had a conversation about the Advent Wisdom School that the three post holders designed and led in Sewanee, Tennessee in December of 2018. They were pleased to share their experience and encourage others to step out collaboratively as well, mutually supporting and inspiring one another.
The retreat began on a Thursday evening and ended at 11:00 in the morning on the First Sunday in Advent. Rain, wind and cold drove the group of twenty-two indoors, and the participants readily embraced the safe and warm container that had been created there. Laura, Rebecca and Jeanine each have experience leading Wisdom groups; and have studied intensively with Cynthia Bourgeault. Most significantly, each woman has integrated the Wisdom work into their lives and being; each has connected in her own way and brings a unique quality of being and a particular interest to the post. In this collaboration they all took another step, individually and together, into the possibilities of a Wisdom retreat.
Talking with them was fun because, although it was several months after the event and they each had had time to process their work and sit with it, they also brought a fresh measure of enthusiasm to our conversation. The excitement about what had happened was palpable and they all concurred that there was a dynamism and energetic download that had happened over that weekend that was still present today. They experienced their collaborative leadership a trinity, and a participant agreed, saying, “Your work (together) was like an icon of the Trinity, the divine dance, that three people could hold and model contemplative leadership sharing. It was moving to me.” It was subtle and potent, so much so that she relayed that she had difficulty putting into words what she saw being modelled, and yet knew was significant.
As your Being increases, your receptivity to higher meaning increases.
As your Being decreases, the old meanings return.
~ Maurice Nicoll
Rebecca, Jeanine and Laura had the opportunity to be creative together, and to bring their very different ways of preparing and presenting forward for the group. The retreat followed a Wisdom template, with Prayer, Teaching and Conscious Work in the morning, and Prayer and Afternoon Practices in Small Groups after lunch. The evening session they called, “Gathering the Graces of the Day, Questions and Comments.” The first night the Benedictine template of Ora et Labora was introduced, along with Three Centered Knowing and the focus on the heart, with Wisdom chanting as a transition to the Great Silence. Jeanine opened the evening in a way that is indicative of the creative strength and beauty of collaboration; inspiring a group commitment to one another and the work of the Advent weekend with these words as guiding thoughts:
We belong to this relational Field which has already begun to form. Let us consciously join it, strengthen it and sense it as we deepen into ‘knowing with more of ourselves’. As we name the importance, power and sacredness of a group gathering, may we each offer our work during this time together in service to the planet as we engage deeply our own inner being. We notice how each of the practices we do here together (chanting, movements, meditation, Lectio) are gateways into another way of perceiving. Over time we are able to come from that knowing in our everyday lives.
~Wisdom School retreat notes
One of the things Rebecca mentioned about their collaboration was that together they became a container “for all three intelligences to come on line; that we were holding what was coming in and being given by Spirit,” as well as, Laura added, “We were being held ourselves.” The three of them felt that dynamic very strongly. Woven into that vessel was the trust engendered for between them, as Rebecca says, “We trusted one another, and knew we were trusted.” Planning began well ahead of time, as they gathered resources and compiled handouts, fleshed out a schedule. They checked in regularly about space, creativity and timing.
Dividing up the group and holding it in intentional prayer before the retreat invoked both the greater Wisdom community and the Conscious Circle of Humanity for the whole. Simultaneously there was a flexibility inherent in their preparations and the faith in the integrity of one another, each woman knew that all three were grounded in their individual preparations. In the end there was room for all their differences, as Jeanine says: “Every one, in her particularity, holding a name of God.”
The group that the trio was serving included a wide range of experience, with newcomers as well as seasoned practitioners. Laura says, “People felt affirmed, moving in to a new way of embodying a teaching, and putting it into words which is challenging.” The first teaching morning session was led by Rebecca, who began with what it is to hold a post. She introduced conscious work, offering emphasis on the post-holding aspect of it, with its practice of self-observation, mindfulness and presence. ‘Post-holding’ feels like a brilliant initial container to introduce the collaborative nature of the three leaders to the group, and, just as noteworthy, as an inspiration for the post-holding role and responsibility of the participants, which was so beautifully brought into a larger context the evening before. Rebecca continued to bring forth the gift of Advent, what can be received in Advent, and how Wisdom perceives Advent. She touched on the longing of the Holy to be in form, the energy of becoming, with Jesus as accompanying midwife for our becoming, as we bring the mind into the Heart. The group looked into the relationship between the root system of the Wisdom tradition and the liturgical year, augmented by Cynthia’s stunning reflection that Jesus is an icon of just how much divine heart-fire can be borne in human flesh.
There is a Sufi story Cynthia tells about the visiting stranger who being invited to be post-holder, enjoyed his evening, and, thinking he had a new role carved out for him returned to the group the following night to take the post again. Only to find that someone else was now the post-holder. In a moment of creative vision, Jeanine, Laura and Rebecca decided to welcome an addition to the room, the post-holder seat. This was very organic, according to Jeanine, who said that, “Rotating the post-holder in the post-holding place felt very shared, as an energetic passing of the baton.” Rebecca added, “In this way it wasn’t one or the other of us; we all became the post, a ‘fourth person.’ ” Perhaps it also opened up what was later reflected back by participants, that the leaders, “held their posts fully present and engaged,” and while “sharing their stories and their wisdom with the group…were wonderful complements to each other… creating support, warmth and safety” for the group. “Your collaborative leadership and teaching really showed through.”
As attachment ceases to be your motivation, your actions become reflections of pure love.
~ Gerald May
The energy of the afternoon was met with a session from Jeanine on engaging our embodiment. Setting the stage with Thomas Keating’s programs for happiness, which we know as security and survival; affection and esteem and power and control, she taught how that teaching interfaces with the three centers of intelligence. She introduced the Welcome Practice as a way to address the way that “energy gets stuck and we narrow the field or squeeze the aperture as a way to feel secure because the unfamiliar is distressing.” As “we ‘purify,’ strengthen and rewire our nervous system we can participate in the floods of grace always present, and learn to ‘bear the beams of Love’. As the group practiced in dyads, and shared in small groups, Jeanine noted that “we are making another way of being familiar, practicing the next stage of evolution.” Diving into Quaker Wisdom practice as well, the group explored the question of “leadings” in triads using a current call to practice discernment, faithfulness and their own deeper knowing. The following day the small group practices continued, and each afternoon closed with one form or another of the Sufi gesture of receiving and bestowing in turning and chanting.
The streams of my Father’s love run daily through me,
from the holy fountain of life to the seed throughout the whole creation.
~ William Robinson, early Quaker, and lyric to Paulette Meier chant
This retreat was born out of the times in many ways. Each of the three post-holders had been feeling the acceleration of the past year in our Wisdom community. It may have had its beginning at Kanuga, with a desire to offer the Southeast a retreat that was led by Wisdom staff post-holders who were being encouraged to step out and lead groups in their communities. Rebecca remembers wanting a Wisdom School in the southeast that was truly a Wisdom party, a collaborative teaching, a smaller group that people could drive to, that wouldn’t take all week or cost a fortune. Laura felt the impetus grow stronger again when the three were at Garrison together, marked by a call to step into what was being called forth as Father Joseph and Thomas Keating were passing into the Conscious Circle of Humanity. Jeanine remembers brainstorming together and the commonality felt in one another’s presence.
And it worked. Having two full days together over a long weekend served the group, and gave them the time to seriously dive into a Wisdom rhythm that included teaching, practice, work and rest. It had the dynamism of a participatory retreat with large and small group work, and was in tone and structure deeply inclusive rather than hierarchical, with multiple readings, the central altar and a variety of experiential work where the personal, the silly, the vulnerable, and all manner of expression could be embodied.
“Each of us comes with a perfect heart, the problem is we are not in touch with our heart, a “veil” has grown up around it (grasping jams the signals). We learn practices of softening, cut ties of attaching, snip tendrils of identification”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
Saturday morning Jeanine stepped into the post again, this time to address the Heart as our organ of spiritual perception. Weaving in our lives in these times, with attention of the Heart, she spoke to how holding our post in the world these days is “a radical journey into messiness” that requires a “willingness to get into the game.” We can join the dance, with life in both the horizontal and in the vertical, “adding to and increasing the flow of mercy.” With Jesus at the center, the bridge at the heart of creation, the group practiced prayer gestures, the embodiment that “always leads to a more profound and direct sensation of prayer as an energetic exchange.” Jeanine brings this Wisdom out of her years of work with the body, singing “Lord as you will, Lord as you know” to outstretched arms, and bringing them into the center and crossing at the heart, “Have mercy.” Experiencing the difference between a spoken prayer and a prayer with gesture, the group went further into the heart in triads, asking themselves and sharing, “What is your journey to the eye of the heart? What divides your heart?
“Perhaps the problem is not that our vision has grown too small,
but that we are using too little of ourselves to see.”
~ Cynthia Bourgeault, Wisdom Way of Knowing
Laura, Rebecca and Jeanine had a lot to share about their collaboration, and hope that others will trust the potential of the collaborative model. Jeanine says, “I am drawn to the practical: for instance, with welcoming practice, how do we incarnate this? The body prayers, music, dance, conscious work, all come more naturally for me. I am interested in how to articulate it if it gets too cognitive; translating the ideas even as they are really informing the practical for me.”
For Laura it was a perfect stepping stone from the small group practice circle work she is familiar with as post-holder to collaborative teaching; and she welcomed the chance to be on the bandwidth of sharing group leadership with others in an active energetic field where her practice was to stay present and tuned in to the flow of the retreat and the needs of the group, as well as work with the prayer times, small groups and conscious work. The feedback she received stressed the nature of their individual roles, and how much participants valued each person’s contribution, encouraging further work together.
Rebecca says, “Everything about me wants to talk about Wisdom, read it, name out loud the Wisdom journey. That question that I have heard others asking, but how does this Wisdom work differently than if I go to the Living School? What is the lineage here? I have been working with that for about nine months, and it is downloading, and crystallizing for me. The clarity I am getting, from Stonington, through teaching it to two groups, had a place where I could say: Look what’s here! What is the body of work we have been given? What we are giving? This is what we came here to do.”
That spirit of collaboration came to its fruition in the writing of the liturgy together for their last session, the Sunday morning Eucharist. Rebecca says after they put it together, it wrote itself in the night, and she was so grateful to receive it. The work of the weekend led to a fully embodied Eucharist, one that will stand out as one of the most incredible experiences of her life. Knowing that she “was holding the post in a Wisdom setting, in the liturgy that is at the heart of what I always wanted to do in my role as priest; so delighted to do it.” Grateful for the energy beyond herself that had been given, and knowing that everyone present was doing it, the retreat closed with a ritual that Laura and Jeanine said the “beauty just shone through.”
Where suffering exists and is consciously accepted,
there divine love shines forth brightly.
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
At the close of our conversation, the three women shared their mutual sense of opening and willingness about what might want to be born out of their experience that each felt following the experience of leadership together. Being conduits together for the three intelligences, Laura spoke of appreciating how the “framework was broad enough for spontaneous downloads.” They had a sense of gratitude afterwards, towards the trees, the space itself, spirit, and particularly how the retreat, as Jeanine says, “fed, empowered and nourished” them. Rebecca was grateful for the amazing collaboration, and was encouraged by her felt sense that the work was for the sake of the collective. “The amount of growth that is happening the hunger for learning and understanding around this Wisdom work, the number of little seedlings out there that want to grow,” she is convinced is moving us toward “more groundedness and growth to really hold this planet, knowing there is something deeper and stronger that can sustain us, in community, that we will be able to hold this planet and continue its trajectory.” This was “a big take away” for Rebecca.
Pay attention to that you are, not what or who you are.
~ Cynthia Bourgeault
Jeanine spoke about the take away for her: “the movement and dynamism of the collaboration, the passing of the baton, and for me personally, the deeper embracing of my own incarnation. I could feel I am called to bring forth what is within me, and as I do that it becomes a part of the whole. Felt sense of that for me. It becomes part of the whole. For Rebecca it was the opportunity to articulate why this wisdom work is important in the world right now. To have the words and practices, to name it, to have a growing clarity, that people could claim it.” She feels more than ever “that we can do this work together, take the time to say it out loud and step into the teaching post.” She mentioned how grateful she was “for the work of Northeast Wisdom and the community, how important it is to articulate the lineage. Seeds of this work comes out of that articulation. Northeast Wisdom is holding that regularly on behalf of the whole.” Laura’s closing remarks spoke to the courage that it takes to step into the post, and how we can do this together, we are not alone. “I had never taught a Latin chant before, but this group made it so welcoming.” Do it, she says, experiment; “phenomenal work takes place when we open to what is happening energetically around us.” She continues, “William Butler Yeats said it so beautifully…”
“Think where one’s glory most begins and ends, and say my glory was I had such friends.”
posted May 28, 2019 by Laura Ruth
I interviewed Rebecca Parker, Laura Copeland and Jeanine Siler-Jones back in February of 2019, after they had a couple of months to sit with their experience of their Advent Wisdom School. Their mutual enthusiasm for the work that took place there was alive and well, as was their gratitude for one another, the group and the Wisdom community at large, and the Conscious Circle of Humanity. They felt themselves as part of the reciprocal exchange–in the dance–and invite others to take courage and have heart, holding the post in Wisdom work in your local communities. All photos courtesy of Harmony Brooke Hefer; appreciations to Laura Copeland for the collection.
Jeanine Siler Jones (Asheville) works as a Spiritually integrated Psycho- therapist and Spiritual Director in Asheville, NC. She has studied with Cynthia Bourgeault for 10 years and helps facilitate Wisdom Schools in the southeast. Find out more about her at silerjonescounseling.com.
Laura Copeland (Nashville) co-facilitates a Wisdom Practice circle that she founded in 2016, participates in healing prayer ministry, and is a Centering Prayer group facilitator. She has studied with Cynthia at several Wisdom Schools over 3 years. Her past experience includes project management, sales management, freelance business column writing, and substitute teaching.
Rebecca Parker (Atlanta) is the Executive Director of Mary & Martha’s Place in Atlanta, GA, a center for women’s spiritual formation and transformation. Rebecca has studied with Cynthia Bourgeault over seven years and helps facilitate Wisdom Schools in the southeast, and leads two Wisdom Way groups in Atlanta. She is ordained in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.