In November of 2006 I was invited to attend a six-day Centering Prayer retreat. I had been a Sister of St. Joseph in religious life for 40 years by then, dutifully participating in an annual retreat each year and finding value in each experience. This time, however, I was introduced to the person of the inimitable Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault and, as a result, my life was set on the deeper, wider path called Wisdom.
From a “regular” prayer regimen during all my years of convent life I found myself moving into the simple (but not easy) practice of 20-minute sessions of centering prayer, where letting go was the goal and there was no judgment but rather movement ever deeper into the heart of God. Thus I had come home to a more integrated, motivated existence and a sense of community where the prayer practice has now been strengthened by 15 years of retreats, books, workshops and relationships that continue to evolve and broaden me.
So what has happened since that winter of 2006? The privilege of almost annual connection with Cynthia in all manner of Wisdom Schools and “Ingathering” times in Maine to reconnect with fellow travelers. As I look back, I am awed by the opportunities I have had each year to participate in these and other similar events.
In tandem to my “schooling” was the joy of working with Bill Redfield, my companion on the above-mentioned jaunts. We eventually began to share what we had learned by offering our own version of wisdom schools at locations around New York State, including at The Spiritual Center in Windsor, New York, where I live, and in Syracuse, NY where Bill was ministering. Because Bill came to see the need for a component of bodywork in our events, we were joined and blessed by Deborah Welsh, an amazing dancer, therapist and movement specialist as a third to our team. And what a blessing Deborah became to us and to the work!
One of the important aspects of wisdom work (or any work really) is being alert to shifts and timing. Although our time together was fulfilling and meaningful, it became apparent in 2017-2018 that each of us was seeing a need for a change. What a blessing that it came to all of us at almost the same time! Some would call that “being in the flow.” I call it “the gift of grace” and see both as beneficial.
I am working more locally now both with practice circles and retreat work at the Center where I live. There is so much silence and peace here in Windsor—perfect for reflection and prayer! I’m blessed to live with three amazingly creative people, all with different gifts. Sister Paula Matthew is a gifted sculptor of large wood pieces. I am happy to be able to offer retreats based on the sculptures while using the wisdom practices in the presentations as well. It is very meaningful work. Everything is virtual now during the Covid pandemic but we have found that a blessing in some ways, especially as it allows “Zoom” participants from near and far.
I find myself most interested now in offering gatherings for deep conversation through which we learn what is in our own hearts and the hearts of others. Our groups access the depths of Scripture, the Gospel of Thomas, other books and the meanings we find in art—all wrapped in silence and nourished by our communal spirit. The possibilities seem endless and I am constantly amazed by life—for me a life always unfolding in gratitude for the beauty and richness of the Wisdom Way.
More About Lois Barton
Lois Barton, CSJ, lives with three other Sisters of St. Joseph at The Spiritual Center in Windsor, New York, a small retreat facility nestled in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains on 11 acres of land on the banks of the Susquehanna River. The Center welcomes seekers of all spiritual traditions who come to rest and renew themselves in the quiet and beauty. Lois is a certified Spiritual Director and facilitator of retreats at the Center.
Lois is also the program director at The Sophia Center for Spirituality in nearby Binghamton, New York. The Sophia Center website says they have “spent the last year operating at a slower pace but with a steady and increasing willingness to come back strong. We have continued to post Sister Lois’s daily blog and have moved to “Zoom-land” for our book studies…and Lunch with the Psalms (which is) lectio divina style contemplation of a Psalm. Come to just one or to all, you are always welcome to drop in.”
Sister Lois has extensive experience in religious education and spiritual formation and is currently working full time in spiritual direction and retreat ministry. She holds a Master’s Certificate in Pastoral Ministry from Loyola University in New Orleans and a certificate in spiritual direction from the Spiritual Renewal Center in Syracuse.
Read more from Lois at her Northeast Wisdom blog posts: Ordinary Time and Conversation and Flow: A Spiritual Practice; and about her work in: Wisdom Group Leadership Training Part I, Creativity in Community, and Endings and New Beginnings: A Tribute to the Wisdom Trio of Bill, Lois and Deborah.