Endings and New Beginnings: A Tribute to the Wisdom School Trio of Bill, Lois and Deborah

Lois Barton

In the fall of this year, October 2o18, Bill Redfield, Lois Barton and Deborah Jane Welsh shared the post at their last Wisdom School together, the close of a six-year partnership leading residential retreats. Lois writes,

“Last evening we sat, a group of 12 seekers, to begin what is the last in a series of events that have taken place over the last six years in different places in the Northeast United States. We call them “Wisdom Schools.” Drawn first by the work of our teacher Cynthia Bourgeault to delve into the Wisdom Tradition of Christianity, we have joined an ever-growing network of people who choose spiritual practice as a discipline for deepening our living. Explaining how that happens, we admit, is something difficult to do and generally only seen in retrospect. We will spend the next three days “swimming in that sea” and hope to go home ready to meet the challenges of our everyday lives with more determination and willingness because of having been together.”

I met Bill and Lois at the beginning of that phase of their work together, through our participation together in a 6-month Wisdom School that Cynthia offered a group of her most seasoned students. I soon learned that this group of Wisdom students had most recently tackled Raimon Panikkar’s Christophany, and been Cynthia’s sounding board and study ground for her soon to be published The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three. Bill and Lois were clearly a team, well versed in travelling together from Central New York State for Cynthia events since 2006. Rev. Bill had his laptop open from start to finish at each monthly gathering, putting the teaching to word and liturgy, and the group was honored to be present for a breathtaking worship with Sister Lois’s sharing from the heart at the final Eucharist.

Lois and Bill had both taken the work back home to their communities, and shared together, with Deborah, in bringing Wisdom to Central New York. They did their work through Wisdom House, dedicated and established by Bill at his parish, and through The Sophia Center for Spirituality, founded by Lois’ community. When the last meeting of the six-month school was over, several of us from the group took a detour home, arriving at Trinity Episcopal Church, home of the Rev Bill, in Fayetteville, New York in the early evening of Palm Sunday. Just in time for Bill, Lois and Deborah’s first Holy Week Retreat, set to begin the following day. It was early spring 2013. Bill says,

Bill Redfield“Perhaps the truest manifestation of a fruitful collaboration is the reality that we become much more than the sum of our parts. Surely this would mark the treasure of my work together with Lois and Deborah. We stepped out to do Wisdom teaching at a point at which we were undoubtedly less than fully prepared and certainly unripened, but with the chemistry of our collaboration/friendship, something of substance was born. I am grateful beyond words for the love and support of these two beautiful women in my life. Although our work will find new forms and venues, the love and respect we have for one another will certainly not diminish.”

Holy Week was an annual event for three years, and the already flourishing Wisdom House, with its interfaith dialogues, and centering prayer, Gospel of Thomas and Wisdom of the Body study groups, was the ground for the development of residential retreats. These Introductory Wisdom Schools, sanctioned by Cynthia, were offered in two parts: Heart Centered Living and Visionary Seeing. The embodied and creative work that was born out of their collaborative postholding was an inspiration, and seeded the Wisdom work of many participants, both in New York State and at Hallelujah Farm. Mary Magdalene and Conscious Love became an annual event as well, and Bill continues to develop its content, offering it in late July, around the time of the Feast of Mary Magdalene.

Bill, Lois and Deborah’s work never lost the creative edge, bringing new insight and energy to each session. Bill spoke about their “deep and abiding friendship,” which included the willingness to wrestle together and do the collaborative work that needed to be done. Deborah says,

“I could never have imagined myself working in such spiritual depth with a priest and a nun! Yet, the opportunity arose with Bill and Lois, fulfilling my longtime and continuing quest to explore and share in dancing the sacred. I found a true and loving home in Wisdom’s work by way of Bill’s invitation to create ‘Wisdom of the Body,’ a Wisdom House Program at Trinity Church in Central New York, out of which arose ‘The Moving Gestures Prayer,’ I am thrilled to know is being shared by many. I am indeed blessed as this dive into deep waters of inter-spiritual Wisdom has revitalized my Christian heritage and heart.”

This is our moment to mark, what Deborah names, as a “poignant – truly important and beautiful time.” As Bill writes, “Now, as we move toward the end of our sixth year, our working arrangement is loosening, but our friendship is not.  Indeed, like so many bands of our time, maybe there’s a reunion tour in our future!  For now, however, it is time for us to step back from this work together and, at least more than before, dance to our separate drummers.”

Bill will “continue to lead periodic Wisdom Schools and retreats, but an increasing amount of my time will be dedicated to doing ‘Wisdom Mentoring.‘ More than spiritual direction and more than counseling or life coaching, this work aims at nothing short of profound transformation—from the inside out. This transformation rests on a foundation of spiritual practice and requires the ongoing work of integration. Scheduled one-hour meetings can take place either in person in Newmarket, NH, or on the internet via Zoom.” You may find out more about his offerings on his website at William Redfield Wisdom’s Work.

Deborah writes, “As I move forward from our collaboration, I will continue to offer occasional retreats, such as ‘Awakening Wisdom: The Dance of Movement and Stillness,’ I led last month at Hallelujah Farm, and various workshops connecting the somatic experience to sacred practice. I will also keep dancing with The Sacred Dance Collective of Central New York, which I founded as a practice circle of kindred dancing spirits. My contact information is  djwelsh404@gmail.com and  www.deborahjwelsh.com.”

On October 8, 2018, the last day leading Wisdom School together, Lois wrote in her blog on The Sophia Center for Spirituality website, “Today is a moment when memories and expectations abound and I will need to remain fully conscious of the present. At noon we will close what has been a six-year series of ‘Wisdom Schools’ and this evening I will leave for a meeting in St. Paul, Minnesota that is preliminary to decision-making about our (Sisters of St. Joseph) future.

“It is as if I am in a room with two doors leading in different directions, knowing that it isn’t time yet to open either one. Behind the first door is an immense quantity of gratitude for the work we (my colleagues Bill and Deborah and myself) have been privileged to do, tinged with a bit of sadness for the ending, although the timing is surely correct. Behind the other door is the unknown future of our dynamic, yet aging, community of women who sit in a moment of ‘not yet’ and try to envision a worthy future for us and those who will be called to join us.

“It isn’t always easy to let go of outcome and just live in the moment we are experiencing. Today that will be my most important task and it begins right now. I trust that these years of training and practice in the ‘Wisdom way’ will serve to allow both doors to open in their own time and that life will go on as it should. Amen. (So be it.)”

courtesy of Will, Leon Spilliaert, Three Trees, 1944 (watercolor, indian ink)

The work that Bill, Lois and Deborah did was a gift to many, including myself. So many are grateful, not only for what they brought to us in content, presentation and experience, but also in the encouragement they gave to each and every participant to explore and find their own center of Wisdom and the courage to embody Wisdom in their daily lives, their work and in their relationships. Darryl and Jana have participated in a number of Holy Week, Mary Magdalene and Conscious Love retreats and Wisdom Schools. Darryl went on to the Kanuga Wisdom School in North Carolina this past year, and Jana has joined us at Hallelujah Farm. The two of them offered their appreciation with these words:

“Lois, Deborah, and Bill allowed us to explore with our whole being the wellspring of love that gives rise to all spiritual paths, however named, and to grasp the profundity of Jesus’ and Mary Magdalene’s teachings in a way we had never done before. With insight, humor, and grace, they taught as much through example as through words, letting the life of spirit flow into the hearts of all who were there. We are so grateful for their work, and know that its blessing will continue to reverberate out into the world as a regenerating and transforming force.”

posted December 22, 2018 by Laura Ruth 

Comments (1)

  1. I’m so grateful I was able to experience a Wisdom School with Bill, Lois, and Deborah working together as co-leaders. It was a beautiful and very moving experience that will continue to bear fruit.

    Thank you!

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