Broken, Breathing, and Healing on the Contemplative Path

Ruth A. Reinl Benedictine Bridge, Retreats Leave a Comment

James Finley at Holy Wisdom Monastery

James Finley at Holy Wisdom Monastery

Love breathes us into being moment by moment, breath by breath, no matter how broken we are. This is one of the most important messages that I’ve received from Jim Finley during the half dozen retreats I’ve attended with him over the past 11 years.

The first silent retreat I attended with Finley was entitled “The Four Noble Truths for Christians.” It was the beginning of the new millennium and I was in my year of formation as an oblate at what is now known as Holy Wisdom Monastery. The topic of Finley’s retreat intrigued me because I had become deeply connected with Buddhism as a spiritual path during the many years of my estrangement from my Catholic roots. Ultimately, practicing Buddhist meditation and reading Buddhist texts helped me reconnect with those roots. But I was still struggling with how to integrate where I had been and what I had learned with Christian practice and terminology—terminology that still held very negative connotations for me.

Of course, I don’t remember all of the details from that first retreat but I do remember being held by the silence and feeling very at home with the daily meditation practices led by Finley. I came away from that retreat with a profound sense of being loved by God—especially in my brokenness and confusion.  Finley’s child-like demeanor, sense of humor, and profound ability to hold Buddhist and Christian truths side by side while communicating the Divine’s love for us all, permeated the retreat. Towards the end of our three days together Finley shared his personal journey through childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse and his subsequent healing. I remember being amazed that this simple man who had previously been sharing such profound spiritual truths had also been broken in the deepest sense possible as a human being.   Now I felt even more at home!

Regardless of the name of the retreats I’ve attended with Jim Finley, they all embody practical ways to engage in a daily contemplative practice. His latest retreats at Holy Wisdom Monastery on “Compassionate Health Care: Transforming Trauma,” explore the use of contemplative practice for healing the suffering caused by traumatic wounding. Finley outlines a seven-step approach which integrates “the spirit of the wisdom traditions with sound clinical practice” to create “a new paradigm” for helping to heal self and others from “the long term, internalized effects of childhood trauma” (Finley, 2011). Participants are asked to commit to grounding themselves in a “contemplative, mindful way of life” between retreats. This includes incorporating the “four directives of the wisdom traditions as pathways of healing” as outlined by Finley (2011):

  1. Find your practice and practice it.
  2. Find your teaching and follow it.
  3. Find your community and enter it.
  4. Find the suffering within yourself and others and heal it.

Rooting myself in daily contemplative prayer, the Rule of Benedict, Holy Wisdom Monastery’s oblate community, Sunday Assembly, and a women’s group devoted to healing trauma has been my way of following these four directives. On the contemplative path to healing I am learning ever deeper ways to listen, practice hospitality to self and others, and obey that still quiet voice of the Divine within and all around me. The stability provided by a daily spiritual practice and a supportive community has enabled me to continue on the contemplative path to healing one painful and joyful step at a time. Hopefully, this deep transformative work will help me better serve others in need of healing.

Mark your calendar! James Finley will be delivering the homily at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on Sunday, October 16, 2011.

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