After a long and winding life journey with roots in an atheist family childhood, through a spiritual conversion experience and a subsequent life-commitment to the contemplative path, Susan now contributes to the leadership of a thriving church in Calgary, Canada., creating a weekly contemplative worship space, and conducting seminars and workshops. Susan is also a gifted spiritual director and writer, anchoring both in the practice of presence and exploring the sacred wilderness - both inner and outer.
Even as a child, Susan was possessed of a rich inner life full of religious inclinations and love of Spirit. This inner connection deepened, buoying and carrying her through a turbulent and confused youth, and beyond. In early adulthood, as a single mother, Susan went to university in Victoria, British Columbia, where her already voracious appetite for both poetic exploration and spiritual reading was fed by contact with texts, mentors, and widening experience. Among the texts that opened her heart and mind was Man’s Search for Meaning in which she read Viktor Frankl’s account of a young woman about to die in a concentration camp:
This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her, she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. “I am grateful that fate has hit me so hard,” she told me. “In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.” Pointing through a window of the hut she said, “This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.” Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. “I often talk to this tree,” she said to me. I was startled and didn’t quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. “Yes.” What did it say to her? She answered, “It said to me, ‘I am here— I am here— I am life, eternal life.’’’
For Susan, this passage, encountered during her college years and rediscovered years later, even today continues to “both consciously and unconsciously compel my seeking, my work and my love. It is the standard by which I gauge all philosophies, spiritualties, poetics, sciences. What fails to answer to the many levels and layers of this woman’s reality, simply, for me, fails to measure.”
In her early 30s, Susan had a conversion experience that left her grappling with an understanding of the inner reality and a lack of context and shape for that understanding. Soon after the experience, she discovered the autobiography of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, whose work Seven Storey Mountain she says she read “like it was a thriller.” She says with this book came the first time in her adult life that she felt her “deepest self truly mirrored.” Soon after, she was given Thomas Keating’s Intimacy with God, and took immediately to the practice of centring prayer. In 2003, she encountered the work of Cynthia Bourgeault; but it was only after attending a Wisdom School in Seattle that she was able to intentionally engage “the intimate, creative, evolutionary presence” that she now seeks to let inform all her work. In 2007, she began quietly to offer contemplative exploration “gatherings” at Hillhurst United, her home church; soon after, she created with soul-friend Betsy Young a contemplative ministry called Fire & Grace, offering weekly contemplative worship, practice and study. Much fruit was born of these efforts and experiences, F&G lasting until Betsy retired from ministry and relocated to the Canadian west coast. Betsy and Susan continue to seek ways to collaborate and deepen their soul-mate relationship, and share their ongoing love and exploration of the contemplative path.
Today Susan is the Contemplative Ministry Lead at Hillhurst United Church in Calgary, a church which has grown substantially in the past eleven years. She holds the post in a weekly meditation/reflection gathering called DAYBREAK, offers spiritual direction to both individuals and small groups, and advocates for contemplative spirituality: at a recent congregational meeting, contemplative spirituality was named as part of the community’s vision and mandate. In 2015, Susan also co-wrote Fishing Tips: How Curiosity Transformed a Community of Faith with Hillhurst’s lead minister, John Pentland. A second joint writing project exploring ‘spiritual and religious’ is in the exploration and discovery phase.
Susan is most drawn to the practice of presence, which she experiences and understands as “prayer unceasing.’’ She is committed to the manifestation of a “new monasticism” in the world which speaks to Archbishop Rowan Williams’ statement about the contemplative life being a “deeply revolutionary matter,” offering tremendous hope in this, she says. For Susan, the heart of the matter is a transformed perception that frees the heart of fear and opens the heart and mind to the spiritual presences of Silence, Love and an authentic creative impulse that manifests through us and into the world in all manners and ways.
We thank Susan heartily for her gracious sharing of how the Wisdom work and teaching is being so generatively expressed and helping to transform many lives in both the Calgary area and world beyond.