Beth O’Brien

Walking from a gentled heart,
Beauty is seen.
Gratitude naturally arises once the ubiquitous flow of Abundance is touched.

Beth is a Benedictine oblate and long time Centering Prayer practitioner. After attending Wisdom Schools for many years with Cynthia, Beth founded Contemplative Presence, a ministry of spiritual transformation and evolutionary promise grounded in the Christian Wisdom tradition. Her work includes serving as a Spiritual Director and Wisdom Mentor, the teaching of contemplative practices, and leading Wisdom Schools. More recently, Beth is finding that Wisdom expresses itself through her in the writing of poetry. In the Seedling post below, Beth looks deeply within to share—through Six Musings and poetic elucidation—her journey, encounters, learnings, work, and hope for the future of Wisdom.

I

It was in 2010 that I penned in my journal:

My inner heart is yearning desperately for something
I cannot name, a space for falling in love . . . I simply
know that the God of my heart is calling me deeper and
deeper into the silence and solitude. My Beloved is yearning
for me . . . and so I sit and listen. As St. Benedict names it,
I listen “with the ear of my heart.” . . . I know I have to go.

Then, in 2011, everything opened and I found myself sitting across from Cynthia as an intentional student of Wisdom, learning alongside her at assorted Wisdom Schools across the country. Later, my journal pages would hold out the following notation:

The snap and pellet of the winter wind blows the now latent vinca vines hanging from my second story window box into a momentary dance of entanglement. One vine is swept out and around in a northerly direction—navigating a grace-filled arc until it eventually comes to rest tenderly on the second vine’s bronzed tendrils. Softly spiraled around each other, the two vines now sway and comfort in a gentled rhythm of slower tempo and grateful nostalgia. Serving as a visual allegory, the two vines drawn together into a single cord are a reminder of how I, too, was brought into accordance and harmony with the Wisdom Way of Knowing . . .

Did I catch Wisdom or has Wisdom caught me?

 

II

Centering Prayer. The foundational touchstone of my spiritual journey. Resting in the presence and action of God. I have grown to love the phrase in The Cloud of Unknowing,a naked intent direct to God’. . . it sums up the spiritual journey for me and grounds me every time I recall it.

 

The Other Side of the Coin

Heads: Kenosis

Tails:    Love

              is

                  completely

              taking

              me.

 ~ Beth O’Brien

 

III

Fall, 2019. After spending a week on a silent retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage where I have made my Benedictine oblation, I am touched by how deeply the rhythmic flow of ora et labora now courses through me. As I move through this template for spiritual transformation, I sense a connectivity to others on the path of Wisdom who, like me, ‘yearn for life and desire to see good days’. (Prologue, The Rule of St. Benedict).

 

The Immediacy of Love: Living the Rule of St. Benedict

Prologue:

Travel the two-lane road—
windy and arduous though it may be—
until it becomes a single, solitary lane
hushed by the fragrance of white roses
and the reassuring encouragement of crows.
Thin as the taste of mussels, yes.

Navigate wisely as the ordered and gradual footpath of heart
becomes a radiant boulevard of intimacy,
unfolding through your very embodiment.
Towering redwood trees,
waiting, waiting,
across the 60 years of journey to be deeply known.

Magnetized
by the many crevices
within the tree’s
ancient, fibered bark,
proceed forward.
Dare to touch it.

The strength of a personal Rule,
lived,
wends its way
throughout the living quadrants
as the eyes of the heart
open to the Universal Donor.

Ora et Labora:
5:30 am Vigils
Under brightness of nebulas and lustrous constellations,
be walked—
from hermitage to candlelit oratory.
Cosmic beauty lures all to communal prayer.
The psalmody of monks offers Baraka for the shelter of the journey.
Receive.

7:00 am Lauds
Relax against the rustling of wakening quail,
settling into
the joy of the heart
and
what is
already enthroned.

Prayer rises like incense,
moving through the living stream of water—
exquisitely converging
in the vibration of chant
amongst the turning of the pages.
Ground it in the moving center.

Labora
The day’s work: bedclothes gently laid back upon the pillow,
the fan set out upon the desk, compost delivered,
chair turned just so in order to accept
the arriving gift of perfumed mist.
Inner task: Gather your attention. Explore the question,
Where does sensation reside?

12:10 pm Midday Prayer  
Warm flush petals and feathers of abundance
line the sunlit walkway.
Follow the psalmists’ line
through the tone, all the way down:
But Magdalene heard his voice in / the garden
and ran with good news: “I have seen / the Lord!”

Labora
With gratitude, catch the scent of desert larkspur against the whirr
of the hummingbird’s wings while washing out the pots and pans.
Sweep the porch alongside the jay’s high point watch;
sleek jacket of silky cobalt meets the edge of grey born bush
at the place of wonder.
Inner task: Document your heart’s openness through it all.

5:30 – 7:00 pm Vespers, Eucharist, and Centering Prayer
Love holds on the wall of my heart as prayer begins.
The silence of communion, my Beloved awaits,
Yeshua draws me in.
Stilled by the penetration of love,
I am tethered
to the heart of Christ.

A house that is refined melts in weakness
after only one touch.
Fishbones of transformation
in Eucharistic proportions,
on this,
the day of your birth.

8:00 pm through breakfast, The Great Silence
Retiring,
the sound of no sound, the hum of the Universe.
Under the moonlit firmament, the lyre begins to play.
Yeshua, most tenderly,
takes me . . .
across.

~ Beth O’Brien

 

IV

Wisdom Work–and I’m doing my best these days to pay attention to the ‘quickening of desire’ within the hearts of those I encounter. I meet face-to-face with people in the area for Spiritual Direction and Wisdom Mentoring. Across the country and internationally, I connect with others over the phone. We’re all longing for the depth of heart-encounters, the music that keeps our souls singing.

Each month, for area contemplatives, a Gospel of Thomas logion is paired with mystical poetry, sacred chant, and meditation–Praxis Circle: Hearts on Fire circles are gathered. I wonder: Will they carry the silent spaciousness home with them? Will the group’s vibration sustain them into the coming month?

There are other offerings I set forth: Centering Prayer classes, Contemplative Movie Nights, Contemplative Dialogue Groups (based on the Thomas Merton Society’s 8 Principles), and 4-day Wisdom Schools. I am reminded of Cynthia’s words, “You don’t change things through programs; things are changed through the quality of your being.” I sit by the fire with a cup of Lemon Ginger tea and ponder how best to hold these two together. Meanwhile, the hopeful question continues to flow forth from my lips:

Dear Hearts,
Are you, too, seeing the superfluous, gratuitous, astonishing, Abundance?

 

Abundance

Yesterday, two feathers given.
Right there, laying in the thin side grass,
two feet north of the arborvitae hedge.

And, as if that weren’t enough, 
last night the deer set a dainty ‘nosegay of fur’ 
—a sweet ‘tussie-mussie of love’—
under the yew bush out back. 
Such a precious bequest to receive this morning!

My mind says, 
“God, dear, please stop distracting me
with all your kind gifts and constant chattering; 
I have work to do!”

My heart silently whispers, 
“Beloved, my eyes are your periscope 
searching for love notes to yourself, 
the ear of my heart stilled by your many songs.”

~ Beth O’Brien

 

V

I have been making discoveries doing this Wisdom Work. Years ago I was on the Kitchen Team during the Conscious Work Period at a Wisdom School out east and our inner task was to “work from stillness”. As I was attempting to flip some very messy tortillas (that were falling apart as I was doing so), all of the moment a question arose in my heart-space, a question was given to me. What is the velocity of Stillness?

Almost 7 years later and I’m still working with that question and other queries that have flowed out of that original inquiry. So, Wisdom Work doesn’t stop at the end of Wisdom School if I stay open and grounded in my practice. In this way, Wisdom Work is evolutionary in nature. Like a precious jewel tucked away in the pocket of my heart, Wisdom Work is forever embedded within me and continuously beckons me forward. The invitation of Wisdom Work stands: Surrender into Presence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Iris Knows

The iris knows the way;
bending back—surrendering—
delicately into Source.

Slain in the Spirit,
she opens her heart and,
with an impeccable beauty,
with an impeccable beauty,
with an impeccable beauty,
lays down her arms,
submits.

Ants to peonies,
birdsong to ear;
rocks, irrevocably attracted
back, to the center of the earth.

All is acquiescing . . .
drawn by the irresistible, intoxicating allure
of Love.

~ Beth O’Brien

 

VI

What is the essence and meaning of Wisdom? Two phrases settle into my heart-space:

Walking from a gentled heart, Beauty is seen. . .
Gratitude naturally arises once the ubiquitous flow of Abundance is touched.

May I remember what I have been given in doing this work and, in a generative way, pass it along. May my experience be offered in service to others . . . 

 

May Your Heart Lead You

for Clarence

The season is now—soybean fields holding out golden foliage
tinged with crimson hue against an iridescent backdrop;
piebald kittens emerging from the aspen grove,
pink tongues licking at the marrow of life, crunching cool air.

Now is the only season in which the relation can be seen:
intimate and organic,
the hallowed fruit
dangles before you.

Angled left, let your chin slowly rise,
eyelids dropping, fluttering slightly,
catch the scent of it all;
this is the attendant direction, the map at hand.

Speak the only words necessary,
be they, “Yes”,
“Take me”,
or “Wow”.

Step gently (feet flexed for quest),
and float calmly like the windswept spider web,
into the infinite design of unknowing.

A trillion points of light stretch out across the
majestic circumstances of life into life;
diminutive lanterns of joy eternally hung
 for your return.

The task at hand is to dance, gracefully,
amongst the lanterns
as phosphorescence;
you already know the tune.

Once seen, never lose sight of The Glistening Ball . . .
it will draw you to the depths of beauty,
it will show you from whence love comes,
it will carry you home.

 ~ Beth O’Brien

More About Beth O’Brien

Growing up in an ecumenical household, Beth was raised in her father’s faith tradition of Roman Catholicism while maintaining an openness to other religious beliefs and understandings. Throughout her high school and college years, her spirituality expanded to include an interfaith perspective as she worked for both Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish rabbis.

Living on the outskirts of Madison, WI, Beth appreciates silence, solitude, and an intimate connection to the natural world. She holds Master’s degrees in both Education and Religious Studies (emphasis on the mystical tradition) and is married and the mother of two adult daughters.

Beth contributed to the Northeast Wisdom Home Page blog post: “A Benedictine Wisdom Lived: Wisdom Practitioners Share an Exercise in Immediacy” with her poem, “The Immediacy of Love: Living the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Beth would love to connect with others and dialogue around Wisdom Work. You may reach her by email at Beth@ContemplativePresence.org or through her website at: www.ContemplativePresence.org.