Susan Jean Latimer
Music is my first language; though really it is silence first, then music. The natural world has always been a great source of comfort and joy, animals, all of life. It is an essential part of me, deeply felt from as long as I can remember. This connection to creation, and to music and singing—to hear others come alive through the music— brings me great joy.
I had been searching for an embodied Christianity for years when I was ordained as a priest in 1992 and began centering prayer in 1996. In 2006 I had a sabbatical and did a lot of exploration of wholeness and the body. My journey into the Celtic Christian tradition led me to prayers and a theology that was embodied, but the practices were still missing. My work with Linda Kohanov, an equine facilitated psychotherapist who does experiential work with horses, was pivotal. Through this incredible work, I had an experience of embodiment, entering into a kind of spiritual direction with the horse as vehicle and messenger of the spirit, which helped me get more in touch with my wholeness.
I found Cynthia’s work through her books, reading them as they were published, leading book studies before being able to work with her in person. I immersed myself in her Spirituality & Practice course called Gurdjieff for Christians and the recordings of the Claymont Wisdom Schools, which nourished me before I finally attended Wisdom School in 2015. Practices of the body, attention, self-observation and self-remembering were new concepts that really spoke to me and called me to do more. That this Wisdom lineage takes the body seriously, emphasizes that we can’t grow spiritually without our bodies, was like music to me. It is so different from what we hear in the rest of Christianity.
Christ shines at the common heart of things
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
In June of 2019 I moved to California, my original home. I had been in Tampa, Florida where I had a Wisdom Practice Circle through my parish, but in my new home many opportunities opened up for me. With the pandemic so much on zoom became available. I now participate in what other Wisdom leaders are doing, as well as expanding my own offerings. I work in colleagueship with others, through Wisdom Waypoints leading online Wisdom Practice Circles, and serve as a Teacher’s Assistant for Cynthia’s Introductory Wisdom School through the Center for Contemplation and Action. A team of us is working with a new anti-racism course, supporting a pilot project now available to the larger Wisdom community led by fellow post holders Heather Ruce and Jeanine Siler Jones.
I am excited to begin new Wisdom Practice Circles with people on the west coast. Many people are brand new to Wisdom, a few have done an online course, others more steeped. I love offering it out further. The response of newcomers—we see it in the Introductory Wisdom School courses—are so heartening: people no longer feel alone, this discovery is what they need for their life, like food and drink and manna from heaven. To watch that unfold, to hear from them, even in writing, is a blessing. It is an honor to hold that post and I feel called to share this tradition.
My questions as a postholder at this time circle most around the intersection between the Wisdom Tradition and my work as a parish priest. I am discerning how to open and translate Wisdom. Some people are ready to work with the practices and some not. Without push or force, how to bring my desire to infuse Wisdom into my work to my parish? This is a growing edge for me right now.
Christ is the Heart of the Heart of the World
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I also feel the call through the chanting. I’ve written Wisdom chants since 2016 and many have resonated through the community. I felt a strong call during the pandemic to offer a way for people to chant, and asked Elizabeth Combs to join me in leading weekly chanting circles. We had participated together on the music team for the Divine Exchange Wisdom School in Kanuga in 2018. Working with the constrictions about what chants we could not use in that group generated a great, creative outpouring and a higher collective body. It will always be one of the most joyful experiences that I have had.
As chanting is my love, so too, the Gurdjieff work and the Imaginal are really where I have the most energy coming forward around this work. It is also the hardest part to offer to the mainline church. The Benedictine stream of the Wisdom work fits right in. It is easy to offer that; and so I often start there. I am being called more and more into the practices out of the Gurdjieff work: self-remembering, self-observation, and looking at closely at identification and the attention exercises.
Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart
~ Abba Poemen
My treatment for breast cancer in 2017 revealed to me what is most important in my personal practice—though I used everything. Chanting was, and is, the center of my practice. The Law of Three group, and training myself to look at life through the lens of the Law of Three with others in community is so valuable. Awareness around non-identification, spotting identification and working with the energy leaks that result, as well as doing the exercises—these help to strengthen me so that I can hold what is required to be held in these times.
I hope to lead others to these nourishing and strengthening practices so that they too are able to hold all that we are being asked to hold in these times. The practices help mediate the energies from the Imaginal that are needed here, and help me catch myself when I am triggered—or out of balance—to find my center again. This is constant practice these days for me. I am able to find my center whenever I am in one of the Wisdom groups, either as a leader or a participant, whether it is sits, chants, or Gurdjieff exercises. Being in community—even through zoom—and doing the practices is really grounding for me.
When Heather and I led The Wisdom Way of Knowing book study on Wisdom Waypoints, we intentionally grounded it in practice. We were astounded at the power of the web that was created in that group. We experienced the power of intention, gathering together in practice on zoom for our first two meetings; then the pandemic struck and life changed for everyone. Now many of us have experienced that power in circles together.
Only the Divine matters and because the Divine matters Everything matters
~ Thomas Keating
The intention of the circle was so deeply in me that when my son was having brain surgery I knew I needed to gather a Wisdom group. I knew that my anxiety was so large that I couldn’t do it by myself. I needed community, chanting and prayers. Many people came on zoom, from my past and from the Wisdom community. We created a powerful web together—and I have no doubt that it was efficacious. One of us felt the need to hold the operating room staff and we all did that, as well as a virtual laying on of hands for my son. Holding the space, together. Holding with the Imaginal for possibilities of healing. It brings me to tears even now.
It is interesting that in 2017, when I spent nine months in treatment for breast cancer, I was basically a hermit—in retrospect, it was bootcamp for this time. As during this year of pandemic, I didn’t have the eucharist, didn’t see my friends, did Holy Week on zoom with a friend using Cynthia’s liturgies, experiencing them without leading them myself. In 2021, the second Holy Week during the pandemic, we offered those liturgies online. It is as if I have been in training to find the door to what is being asked for and to trust what comes from the center within in the moment.
More About Susan Jean Latimer
A priest in the Episcopal church for thirty years, Susan’s new parish is in southern California, where she takes care of her aging mother and new dog, and eagerly awaits her husband and son’s permanent arrival. She can be contacted through her parish in Hemet, CA at Rector@goodshepherdhemet.org or at 304 -926-4554.Susan spends her time between Menifee and Vista, CA and welcomes anyone interested in Wisdom work.
Susan continues to offer Wisdom Chant and has periodically led Meditation sessions weekly online through Wisdom Waypoints. She leads two ongoing Wisdom Practice Circles on zoom: please see her listing in Vista, California on the Practice Circle page here, or contact her at the email address above.
Susan has studied in the Contemplative Musicianship Program with Theresa Schroeder-Sheker, a teacher Susan describes as a well of compassion and brilliance. She has a BA in Music from Yale, a Master of Music in Piano Accompanying, USC, CA., and a Master of Divinity, Magna Cum Laude, Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Susan is a professed member of The Order of the Ascension.
Susan has contributed to the Wisdom Waypoints homepage blog with Heather Ruce in The Seeing Heart and the Tools of Wisdom: Chapters VII, VIII & Epilogue of The Wisdom Way of Knowing; and with a collective of Wisdom friends in: A Benedictine Wisdom Lived: Wisdom Practitioners Share an Exercise in Immediacy.