Center for Sacred Space Blog

February 20, 2024

Art of Holy Listening: Fourth Gathering

by Roger Short

The Art of Holy Listening III gathered again, during February 6-9, 2024, at Blue Lake Camp, near Andalusia, Alabama. The theme of the gathering was "Sacred Listening and the Journey of the Soul." The life and writings of Saint Teresa of Avila helped to guide participants in reflecting on their own experiences, biblical themes, Saint Teresa's wisdom, and learning sessions conducted by Dr. Heidi Miller. Teresa's four "waters" of prayer provided a framework for the six worship services in this gathering. Participants also reflected on their experiences of Holy Listening in their listening circle groups. 

The weather was mild. The Spirit ran strongly. Three participants were unable to attend this gathering, but will rely on their respective listening circle group members to "fill them in" on what happened. Good times!


Awakenings in Holy Listening

by Cheryl McCray

We are nearing the halfway point in our three-year program of The Art of Holy Listening. Our current training cohort (of which I am a part) just finished with retreat number four of nine. A great deal of personal and community transformation has occurred, with many of the group finding deep connection with one another, their listening circle, and with the Divine in ever-deepening ways. 

Just as the setting of a story can sometimes be a character within the story itself, so too the setting of Blue Lake Methodist Camp has been an influential aspect of the training, going far beyond just playing the role of “backdrop.” Many of us talk of how driving through the archway is a crossing of the threshold from the busyness of life to the solitude of deep listening in our training retreats. The peaceful trails and the lake sights and sounds draw attendees into the active stillness of nature and to an awareness of our place in it. 

The methods of study have included personal listening, collective listening, community connection, and the use of the arts in devotion. We also practice embodied listening with yoga, our drum circle, dance, walks in nature, and silent movement. Shared meals and times of worship alike are steeped in intention. Our community formation sessions, taught by Dr. Heidi Miller, are enlightening and challenging, and Dr. Miller’s careful sense of the move of the Spirit allows for pauses as we awaken to the signposts on each of our own journeys. 


I would like to share an awakening I had during one of Dr. Miller’s lectures. (Please also check out the “Call for Awakenings” shared further down in the newsletter to submit your own.) 


During the Thursday Community Formation session of our last retreat, Dr. Miller was teaching us of awakenings, showing us through her movement (for this part she walked into the center of the circle of our tables) how when we are headed toward an awakening it starts to feel uncomfortable. For this point, she paused on her journey into the center. She reminded us that any time we are journeying into new territory, our mind’s conditioning feels this as discomfort, often registering that discomfort unconsciously in our physical bodies. At this point in the journey, she said, we will often stop the forward movement and start to numb or distract ourselves from the discomfort. We might circle back (for this point she walked back to her starting point) to an old coping strategy. As I listened I thought about how we do these things: how we bury ourselves in work, go on a side quest to “fix ourselves,” or project that discomfort off on others around us, blaming them for the uncomfortable feelings we are registering in our bodies. 


Dr. Miller encouraged us instead, when we are able and aware enough to do it, to lean in, moving into the discomfort for the sake of the joy of awakening on the other side of it. She did not gloss over this idea of discomfort. She acknowledged that it can be very painful, often feeling like anguish. 


Then, something beautiful happened. As she was teaching us about this, the Holy Spirit seemed to really be moving. Sitting at my desk, I was soaking in her revelatory words and hearing the audible sounds around me of those for whom pieces were falling into place for their own journeys. I saw some of my fellow listeners tear up. I heard and felt a sudden intake of breath from those around me. God had walked in.


Dr. Miller -- ever sensitive to the Holy Spirit -- said in a hushed tone, “We’re going to stop there. We are on Holy Ground.” It brings tears again to my eyes as I write this. She had us turn to one another in clusters to share what was coming up for us in that moment. Many of us had deep revelations, and they were all different. Tailor-made to each of us as only the Divine can do.  


My own revelation came with a few words she spoke about how an awakening can be so painful it feels like a betrayal. She reminded us that in many Christian services the words “On the night he was betrayed” begins the communion ceremony. For myself, the struggles of my own journey and awakening have been very painful of late, so I really connected strongly to the pain of betrayal. Dr. Miller’s words ignited in me a fire of understanding that when it feels like a betrayal, it’s nothing more than an indicator light that some conditioning in my mind is being dismantled. A dismantling is an uncovering, like the uncovering of Sight when the scales fell from Paul’s eyes. When it feels like a betrayal -- when it is full on anguish -- the cover is being ripped off to reveal the awakening that is being birthed. 


I was reminded that this is what we are about when we are Holy Listening. We are Midwives of the Soul. We are there to be present to the birth of a soul’s light through the anguish of labor. And for me, the revelation in our training session was insight into my own awakening, so that I can first be the midwife of my own soul, in order to hopefully serve others in that same way. 


In our formation so far as companions of the soul in this program, we have been reminded of our belovedness, studied our place in an interdependent natural environment, discovered our membership in beloved community, and have begun to study different stages of a soul’s awakening. We are now in a season of studying the mystics with St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, tending the garden of the soul and listening deeply in times of great difficulty. I am so grateful for this training and for the people on the journey with me. 

November 3, 2023

THIRD GATHERING COMPLETED

During October 23-26, 2023, the third gathering of the Center for Sacred Space's Art of Holy Listening III was conducted at Blue Lake Camp near Andalusia, Alabama. The gathering was begun with a campfire and s'mores. Check it out... 

Community formation teaching centered on awakening--awakening to God, to self, and to beloved community. Worship reinforced that theme and built on others, including the biblical story of "blind" Bartimaeus, who, as Dr. Miller underscored, "saw" better than Jesus' apostles did at the time. 

In listening circle groups participants contemplated each other's listening logs, sharing thoughts, images, insights, and SILENCE. 

Here are a few of the participants' comments:

"The gathering was the best so far, because it was so relatable. Loved breaking into groups with questions we had to discuss and then sharing at community witness."


"I love the way everything is woven together with Heidi, worship and listening circles. I really get the arch of the teaching, It is really so good."


"I think I can do this, be a spiritual director."


"This training has saved my life."


"How can we do this in our churches?"


"I loved hearing others talk about how they were experiencing the material."


"The labyrinth walk was helpful."


NEXT GATHERING: FEBRUARY 6-9, 2024!


September 6, 2023

VIRTUAL GATHERING

The Art of Holy Listening III community met online on September 5, 2023, for support, encouragement, and teaching by Dr. Heidi Miller. Participants "checked in" with one or two words on how they were arriving, then they viewed a short video, as they "crossed the threshold." In her teaching Dr. Miller unpacked "layers" of love, as described in Howard Thurman's book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Participants took advantage of multiple opportunities to share personally in a chat box and in virtual breakout rooms. Executive Director, Kaye Westmark, hosted the meeting. All seemed eager to gather in person agaiin, which is the program plan for October 23-26, 2023. 

The Spirit is on the Move

Summer News 2023

Class of 2025 First Retreats 

As witnesses and co-laborers to the miracle of recruiting participants, the Center for Sacred Space (CFSS) was able to begin the Art of Holy Listening Spiritual Direction training on February 16-19 with 27 participants and 8 staff members. Our second retreat was held April 27-30. In each retreat, we experienced the Holy Spirit's presence throughout the gathering, with many of the participants expressing this palpable awareness. 


The flow of Dr. Heidi Miller's instruction, together with the worship and listening circles, created a beautiful dance into which the participants were swept. The depth of sharing and the vulnerability modeled by Dr. Miller empowered others to open their hearts and experience the transformational healing of community. With deep gratitude and openness to the Spirit through all the hard work, the staff was left speechless. It was truly a beautiful way to begin our journey together!

Prison Ministry Program

Thanks to Spiritual Directors Esther Williams, Laurie Moore and Pam Townsend, the prison ministry Houses of Healing is another place the Spirit is on the move. This program is also being offered to the residents at Bright Bridge Ministries in Pensacola, Florida, with David Boyd, Richard Colbert, Kaye Westmark, and Donell Seager facilitating.

Monthly Retreat Opportunity: Living in an Icon

Following the move of the Spirit, the CFSS is also offering the Living in an Icon program, which draws on the Christian Tradition of seeing nature as a book that reveals God’s presence to us. It is a program of spiritual growth and of developing a spiritual life in the contemplative tradition. 


This program was developed by Jerry Cappel and Robert Gottfried. If you would be interested in offering this program in your community, let us know.


Living in an Icon: Contemplation in Nature
Half-Day Retreats: First Tuesday of each month 

10a-2p Naval Live Oaks Pavilion

More Information

New Workshops from Chris Ross, Faculty

In Chris Ross’s life the Spirit is moving him to offer ways of going deeper in one’s relationship with God and prayer life. The CFSS will host Chris as he facilitates an online workshop on August 30th from 9:00am to noon (CST). The workshop, entitled Getting Beyond the Foyer: 7 Strategies to Being More Hospitable to Inner Silence, includes body-based practices that can help practitioners quiet the mind and body and become more hospitable to the inner silence they so deeply desire. Drawing from neuroscience and body-based therapy approaches, participants will experience and walk away with more than a handful of practical strategies that can increase a person’s ability to experience inner silence.


Later in the year, on December 8, 2023, the CFSS will host Chris as he facilitates a day retreat called Engaging Advent. This retreat will draw from Barbara Brown Taylor's book, Home by Another Way: a Christmas Story, and will invite participants into an experience of welcoming Jesus into the world.


Getting Beyond the Foyer: Seven Strategies to Being More 

Hospitable to Inner Silence
Online Workshop: August 30, 2023 9:00am-12:00pm (central)

More Information

May 8, 2023

SECOND GATHERING COMPLETED

The second gathering of the Art of Holy Listening III is "in the books," as participants, faculty, and staff worshiped, learned, celebrated, and built community together, during April 27-30, 2023. Blue Lake Camp and Retreat Center near Andalusia, Alabama, provided the comfy, quiet, secluded, natural environment for everyone to "slow down" and "go deep" into the theme of Discovering 'Belovedness': Awakening to the Spirit

Participants took time to tell their Life Tree stories and to listen deeply to one another. During community formation, Dr. Miller led the group in revisiting and reframing the biblical narrative of Genesis 3. Participants worked at locating their particular stories in the great story of the scriptures. 

Listening Circle Group Supervisor, Betty Johnson, was welcomed in this gathering, as were two participants who had been prevented from attending the first gathering in February. All are eager for an online gathering in September and the next in-person gathering October 23-26, 2023. 

Prayers for this ministry are invited and welcomed.

Here are a few photos from the gathering...

March 6, 2023

FIRST GATHERING COMPLETED

The first gathering of the Center for Sacred Space's Art of Holy Listening III, spiritual direction training, unfolded during February 16-19, 2023, at Blue Lake Camp near Andalusia, Alabama. Twenty-seven persons enrolled for the training.  

Dr. Heidi Miller inspired participants with wisdom and spiritually formative exercises. Miller touched on biblical themes of creation, beloved community, and others. An overarching symbol of the Tree of Life became deeply meaningful for all involved. 

Times of silence alternated with group discussions, worship, community meals, Eucharist, reflection, and rest. Sending Worship on Sunday propelled participants into their home based engagement with spiritual disciplines, spiritual direction, relevant reading, and a creative project. 

February 11, 2023

ANTICIPATION

The Art of Holy Listening III, a spiritual direction training program offered by the Center For Sacred Space, Inc., is set to begin February 16, 2023. Participants and staff are eager to begin a spiritual journey/adventure together. Watch here for updates on the progress of this ministry.