"The Waypoints are expanding…all the way to the Yukon!! Jennifer England is a marvelous, smart, wonderful young person." This message came from Cynthia Bourgeault, and it included Jennifer's flyer introducing "a monthly gathering of practice for those interested in the heart and practice inspired by the mystical Christian tradition." Soon after Cynthia sent a photo: "The fledgling Yukon group at their maiden gathering! God love ‘em!" Happy to provide us with a Seedlings, Jennifer graciously shares the heart of Wisdom in her life:
Surrender is the most powerful teaching of Wisdom for me. The dynamic unfolding of receptivity helps me to cultivate my curiosity, love, and compassion for all aspects of my messy human life. It dissolves the pushing, striving, and comparing aspect of my small Egoic self (in all its complexity) and embraces both my missteps and gifts as I parent teenage kids, coach, lead and collaborate across difference.
I was lucky to grow up with parents who came of age in Boulder, Colorado. Both scientists, they read, studied, and practiced at the cross-section of evolution, Christian mysticism, and were profoundly ‘worked’ by long periods of silence in the Canadian High Arctic. Lining their wooden bookshelves, were Teilhard, Merton, St. Augustine, Hermann Hesse paperbacks alongside Zen.
As I fumbled into early adulthood, I awakened a feminist and social justice consciousness onto this backdrop of the world’s Wisdom traditions. I listened to Ani DiFranco, worked front-line in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and experienced the developmental disillusionment with structures and rituals that maintained exclusive power and hierarchy across society and in my faith tradition.
Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain, my introduction to feminist spirituality at University, and an open-minded group of spiritual feminist activists (they called themselves ‘post-Catholics’) who had me over for pea soup and home liturgies kept me rooted to a deeper current of Wisdom as I felt all the layers of anger and confusion with the oppressive aspects of my Catholic faith tradition.
My father helped keep me tethered to Wisdom, by gently nudging me to distinguish between religious tradition and structure and spirituality. Encounters with a growing frequency with silence and wildness, alongside a community of activists, became an anchor of trust in a Being ‘Presence’ that transcended the fractals of identity (and its unending performance).
In my 30s, I experienced the liberation of a new way of holding mass, being in community, and ritual through my dear friend Father Claude Gosselin. Claude rested in a profound and simple trust that Christ was not something to describe, but an experience of ‘receiving’ of what Is, in relationship with Silence. Through Wisdom Sophia, my growing comfort in Silence, and commitment to social justice drew me to the work of Maurice Zundel, Thomas Keating, Bede Griffiths, the Cloud of Unknowing, Richard Rohr, and Cynthia Bourgeault.
Excited by the work of Victoria’s Contemplative Society and Contemplative Outreach, I jumped on opportunities to be in Cynthia’s company—completely at home with her wild Maine sensibility and dedication to the practice of Centering Prayer and Wisdom teaching.
Woven within my devotion to the mystical Christian tradition, is my love of Zen Buddhism, Integral Theory, and adult development unfolding with another exquisite teacher, Roshi Diane Musho Hamilton of Two Arrows Zen in Salt Lake.
I’ve long lived the question on how to bridge inner work and practice with outer social change and transformation. This is the invitation that Merton’s book continues to ask of me: how will you live both contemplation and action? How am I called to hone my awareness, perception, and integrated centers of the heart, body, and mind to shift and create the systems change we long to see? How can I cultivate the capacity to return again and again to the Centre of my Being to transmit a quality of compassion and love that cuts through all separateness.
Lately I have been appreciating the invitation to be both the Light and a journey to the Light, and the call to experience Christ in each unfolding moment—the surrender and receiving of what Is. I know the silence within as a well, a source of unimaginable love and giving. I want to share that the relational field of God is a personhood, a relationship that listens and gives, and nourishes and tends. That Wisdom is the whole-bodied, full-hearted experience of Knowing that the Heart of God is both the journey of becoming and who you truly are.
I have recently formed the Wisdom North Collective in Whitehorse, Yukon—a monthly practice circle that is inspired by the Wisdom tradition and the mystical heart of Christianity. We’ve been meeting as a group outside—incorporating chant, centering prayer, lectio divina with the Gospel of Thomas, and exchanges of the heart. Currently I am intrigued with integrating these practices of contemplative prayer, silence and being in wilderness with self-inquiry (Big Mind Process)—both alone and in community.
What has worked for me as a Wisdom postholder is the weaving together of both a call and the gifts given. To come humbly to the space and offer what is whole, in the space, heart open, soft, and slow. Currently, I am interested to find the freedom in structure. I am exploring coming to the structure and container of discipline as a devotional space, rather than a ‘have to’ space.
My growing edge is to create community, rather than being a passive recipient. My deep hope is that through my Wisdom work others are encouraged to tend and express their own aliveness. And together, that we feel the collective heart-beat of our Aliveness and creatively make the world anew.
More About Jennifer England
Jennifer England is a mother, writer, contemplative and systems change advocate based on the traditional territories of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwatchan Council (Whitehorse, Yukon). She works with social and environmental change makers to cultivate their courage, influence and leadership to create a better world. To learn more about her work as an Integral Master Coach™ and leadership development mentor check out Spark Coaching + Consulting (www.sparkcoaching.ca and www.bravesparkleadership.com).
You may find her Wisdom North Collective Practice Circle in the Yukon here on the Practice Circles page.