Monday, November 17, 2014

Who is the “School for Living?”

Taize 2Over the past couple of months, the School for Living has been meeting each Thursday evening with the intention of clarifying what sort of meeting structure works best for us. This coming Thursday is the last in that series. Here is what I think we have discovered.

What we are doing works for us. We are going to continue. Because of the calendar, Thursdays are challenging for the remainder of the year—Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day—though New Year’s is in January and we might actually meet as a good way to start 2015.

Language is important and a problem. We are clear that we want to be able to talk about our spirituality and that we can only talk about the transpersonal with the use of metaphor, but the words we have used are freighted with meanings from our various pasts which result in confusion and even resistance. Words like “church” are just descriptive for some but convey a rigid and oppressive structure to others. Words like “divine” are universals for some but smell like a pompous piety to others. We struggle to find words with which to speak of our experience that are both inclusive and specific.

We are drawn to our individual transformation in the support of a diverse community. We find that one of the words that works for us is “maturity.” We are all attracted to a context that supports our efforts to become more spiritually mature. We can appreciate that we are all at different places and we are able to see this condition as both inevitable and valuable.

We talk about what matters to us. While we are encouraged to name the places in our lives where we feel stuck, we are not a therapy group. While we hope to support each other’s healing, and thus may be seen as therapeutic, we are not only focused on naming and addressing problems. We are gathered to share and celebrate whatever is important to those who gather. And one does not need to name issues in one’s own life to be fully a participant in the School for Living. Being present to each other is the only requirement.

There are some challenging aspects of the community we are creating together. When we find ourselves in a bind we can use the tools of JustConflict to help us through. To that end, everyone is encouraged to learn about those tools. The easiest way is to take the Sunday evening classes. The most in depth way will be to participate in the Retreat: The Practice of Presence in February.

These tools include Maps for the Journey: an exploration of the nature of development and the benefit of transformational maps so we can find our way. The definitive map is the Orders of Self.
The central practical Tool for Transformation is the use of JustConflict to address the Persistent Patterns of Conflict that arise in our most Significant Relationships.

A Summary of these tools is available on the site.

This leaves us with at least one central question. “Who do we say we are?” We are not a church. We are not a therapy group. I have a sense of what we are but the only words I can think of to describe us are ones we can’t use because of what they have meant in the past. Hope you can come Thursday, November 20 from 6:30-8:30 when we try to solve this conundrum.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


In a retreat setting in which we are two dozen people living together for four days we will
  • Consider what it means to transcend ourselves and what it might mean to grow into a complete human--into our fullest Selves.
  • Learn and practice a set of disciplines which have been shown to support "awakening," including silence, intentional dialogue, sitting meditation, structured movement, journaling, and chant.
  • Identify our own personal "best practices" to support our individual and social well being.
  • Construct communal activities which align our physical being in relationship to each other with our inner spiritual experience.

This retreat is a four-day immersion into an experience of Presence with each other, with one's Self, and with the Divine.  We will share in a variety of contemplative practices [chant, silence, meditation] and private and small group exercises [journaling, Creative Conversations, and conflict resolution].  See the sections below for more detail about the retreat.

The two options are February 15-19, 2015 and June 28-July 2, 2015.  The event will start on Sunday afternoon and conclude on Thursday afternoon.

People from any or no religious tradition.  Each retreat can accommodate from 24-30 persons.

All of the activities will be at the Pallottine Renewal Center in northern St. Louis County just outside St. Louis, MO.

The pace of modern life is accelerating with the consequence that we have less sense of connection to ourselves, to those we love, and to the spiritual practices that helped our forebears know the Presence of God.  This retreat will give us an opportunity to be with others in a context that is small enough to connect with each other, private enough to not be distracted from each other, and safe enough to really encounter ourselves with each other.

How Much:
The full cost without transportation is $690 per person single occupancy. Double occupancy is $650. This covers housing, meals, and snacks and drinks for social hours. We will be able to offer some partial scholarships.
Transportation from the airport will be available for $20 each way. It is about a 20 minute ride.

By Whom:
The School for Living is a project of Sacred Soup of Pilgrim UCC and the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution. The Center is the fiscal agent for this event. The retreat is led by Rev. Dr. Mark Lee Robinson. Mark is the Minister of Reconciliation and Evangelism of Pilgrim United Church of Christ and the Executive Director of the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution. 

He is the creator of a set of principles and practices that are collectively called JustConflict.  This retreat will be an opportunity to learn about and to practice these disciplines for mastering the complexity of everyday life.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Spiritual Maturity

We had a most remarkable conversation at the Sacred Soup: School for Living last night {10/16/2014}.  We have been talking about the process and purpose of our gatherings and we had affirmed that we are all in it to support a growing spiritual maturity in ourselves and in each other, when one member asked, “So, what do we each mean by spiritual maturity?”

It was a great question.  We had just noted that when we listen we need to be able to map onto our own understanding the words and meaning of the other so that we get them.  So even though we were in agreement about desiring greater spiritual maturity, there was no assurance that we each meant the same thing by those words.

So we took turns saying just what we each mean.  Even before we had gone all the way around it was clear that a profound thing was happening: actually, several profound things.

For one thing, everyone chose to define spiritual maturity, not in abstract terms, but in terms of their immediate life experience.  Each person had a different life experience that they named as the context in which they were seeking greater spiritual maturity but everyone easily saw the context that another raised as being completely valid; that is, even though everyone had a different “definition,” there was no question that the answers each gave were what we all mean by “spiritual maturity.”

No one used theological language.  No one invoked the name of God, or Jesus, or Ganesh.  Everyone answered in terms of their everyday experience.  I may have gotten as close to theological language as anyone by using the word “love.” Instead everyone spoke of a real and nearly daily challenge in their life about how they take care of themselves in their relationships with others, or in how they treat themselves.

We found this to be so helpful that we agreed to repeat this as an exercise in the group from time to time.  It was helpful both in terms of knowing where others are in their spiritual journey but also in identifying for ourselves where we are.  This is a good way to introduce ourselves to others when new people join the group and we expect that our answers will change over time. 

We invite you to join us.   No one is there every week so please don’t feel like you are making a huge commitment.  We really are looking to welcome others.  We are meeting every Thursday until Thanksgiving and then we will evaluate what we are going to do over the holidays.

Friday, September 12, 2014


As is often true, the discussion last night at the School for Living and Richard Rohr's Meditation this morning have a remarkable resonance.  You can find his meditation here if you don't already subscribe to it.

The School for Living will meet every Thursday evening [with the possible exception of Sept 25; we'll decide that this coming Thursday] until Thanksgiving.  Our goal is to tweak the format so that it leads to a deeply contemplative shared experience that is safe emotionally and easy for newcomers to feel included in.  

On September 20, [Saturday morning from 10 - noon at Pilgrim] the School for Contemplative Practices will gather to hear from Mark about his recent experiences in Albuquerque at the Conspire Conference and the Symposium of the Living School, both presented by the Center for Action and Contemplation.  We will engage in conversation about Richard Rohr's talk about Hell, Rob Bell on the nature of Jesus as distinct from the Christ, Ilia Delio on the relationship between theology and cosmology, and Robert Sardello on silent prayer.

Hope you can join us.

Monday, August 18, 2014


I have announced that we would meet Thursday evening for contemplative worship, but the events of the past week and a half invite us to do together something a bit more urgent and challenging.  We are going to have a conversation.

The question we will address is a simple one.  “How has the death of Michael Brown and the events in Ferguson affected you?”

We will couch the conversation in meditative silence and will structure it in such a way as to make it as safe and deep as possible.  I hope you will join us.

Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6:30 until 8:30 at 6454 Alamo Ave., 63105

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Fall Program

In the evolution of Sacred Soup we seem to be coming full circle.  Our program for the fall will be very similar in structure to the one we started with three and a half years ago.

Next meeting: Thursday, August 21, 2014 at 6454 Alamo Ave, 63105, corner of Alamo and Seminary, second floor on the east side, 6:30 – 8:30 PM.

Having spent a couple of years looking at various contemplative practices and having stuck our metaphorical toes in the water of a deeper source of Life, we are ready to go swimming.  We started with gatherings that included chants, reflection on sacred texts, and silent and corporate prayer/meditation.  We are going to dedicate the period between now the “holidays” to building familiarity with those practices that most deeply speak to us and move us into a deeper experience of the divine.

We will meet this once in August, twice in September (11 & 18), and then each Thursday evening until Thanksgiving.  We certainly understand that there will be scheduling issues.  But put the dates on your calendar now and we hope to see you often.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Contemplative Worship

Our Sacred Soup event in July was a conversation about the nature of worship…both what it is broadly as a cultural phenomenon and personally as something we choose in our lives.  But as it happened, all of those who were there (you know how variable the turnout can be) were people who are themselves a regular member of a worshipping congregation.  I would estimate that fully half of those who are commonly in attendance at our events are not.

So the conversation was a bit skewed. 

When Sacred Soup first started now four years ago there was a regular practice of guided meditation, silent prayer, chant, lectio divina, as well as group discussion and corporate prayer.  It was something we suspended when we went to the current format.  What I would like to do in August is to reprise that ritual.  We will open with a summary of what we discussed in July but mostly our time together will be an experience of contemplative practice, not a conversation about it.  Hope you can make it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014 from 10 to noon at Pilgrim Congregational Church UCC, 826 Union Blvd, 63108.  The parking lot is east of the building off Kensington.  Come in the door off the parking lot closest to the alley.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Next Meeting July 12

Our next School for Contemplative Practices event will be on July 12, 10-Noon at Pilgrim.  Our topic will be Worship.

Every human culture we know of has had rituals that brought the community together, communicated an understanding of the relationship between the people and the cosmos, and imparted meaning and identity to the lives of the persons in the community.  Nevertheless, contemporary culture has fewer and fewer such rituals outside of the sports arena.  We in Sacred Soup are mostly folks who find the Sunday morning rituals to be less than fully satisfying.

What  is worship?  What does it do for those who attend?  What would such an event be like if it spoke to you?  Come on the 12th to join in this conversation.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sufism: a guide for the Sacred Soup

School for Contemplative Practices: June 21, 2014: 10-noon

I confess that in my studies of the religions of the world I have been slow to approach Islam.  This is a lack I have lately been trying to remedy and I am interested in having you join me in this exploration.

I trust that most of you are as ignorant as I have been and so I can share what little knowledge I have gained without fear of boring you.  But when we meet on June 21 I don't so much want to lecture as to have a conversation about what we each can discover for ourselves about some of the central tenets of Islam as articulated in that more mystical form known as Sufism.

We know about Muslims that they pray five times a day, fast during Ramadan, go on pilgrimage to Mecca, and some engage in jihad.  What is the core truth that these practices reveal to us?  How can we bring these truths to play in our own lives?

Friday, May 9, 2014

3D God with Paul Smith

imageI was pleased to attend Friday evening the opening session of a workshop by Paul Smith, emeritus pastor of Broadway Church in Kansas City and author most recently of Integral Christianity: The Spirit’s Call to Evolve.  His topic was about having a three dimensional image of God.  This is not just a reworking of the trinity but of the integral notion of the 1,2,3 of God… of God as first person, second person, and third person… as Infinite God, Intimate God, and Inner God.
As fascinating as was his talk, I was equally excited to discover the Next Generation Fellowship, an evolution of the Christian Science church in Brentwood.  What a warm and wonderful group of fellow seekers.  We will have to find a ways to meet with them from time to time.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Resurrection Conversation

Our attendance was small but our conversation went deep when we met on the Saturday before Easter to talk about resurrection.  Not just The Resurrection, but renewal and transformation in general.

The conversation had two themes actually.  The first had to do with how we interpret scripture.  Especially, how do we deal with something that is so central to what Christianity is about (the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus) when what is asserted (the bodily resurrection) is something that is described so differently in the various accounts in the Bible, and is something that is so foreign to our personal experience?

The second theme was about our personal experience of dramatic transformation in our own lives; how we rarely see it coming, don’t like it when it happens, and are so grateful for it after the fact.  The miracle of resurrection is ultimately not so much about what happened in the past to someone else or what may happen in the ultimate future to all of us but what can happen to me today.

Friday, March 21, 2014

April Events

 The Reconciliation Workshop will be presented next on April 11-12 at the office on Alamo.  This is the best way to get a full appreciation for the scope of Creative Conflict Resolution and is the gateway to the new School for Living.  If you have questions about it, contact Mark or the the CCCR site.

The next Contemplative Practices event will be on Holy Saturday, April 19, the day before Easter.  We will consider the nature of resurrection as a central aspect of Christian theology but also how it is reflected in the teachings of other religions and how it shows up in our own lives.  10-11 at Pilgrim.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Coming Events for Sacred Soup

Starting Wednesday we will be keeping the Christian season of Lent by gathering for a contemplative worship experience in the style of Taize’ in the Danforth Chapel at Pilgrim.  The service is from 6:00 – 6:45 each week.  Before the worship there is a potluck supper at Union Ave Christian across the street. 

Saturday we will gather for this month’s edition of the School for Contemplative Practices.  We will meet from 10:00 – noon in the Conference Room at Pilgrim.  Our topic will be Barriers to Change.  While we know that change is possible theoretically, and we have even experienced our own transformation, we all harbor unconscious resistance to change and even at times the belief that we cannot change.

See details in the Calendar section.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Contemplative worship in the style of Taize’ at Pilgrim during Lent

Pilgrim UCC is pleased to invite all to a simple contemplative service on Wednesdays through the period of Lent 2014. Each week from March 12 through April 9 we will gather from 6:00 – 6:45 in the Danforth Chapel at 826 Union Blvd. Please use the door in the rear on the alley. [If you have accessibility needs please let us know and we can open the door at the front but to keep the space warm we want to minimize opening that door.]

The service will invite a contemplative experience through four kinds of practices—directed prayer, meditative prayer, lectio divina, and chant. Each of these will be explained as a part of the service. We anticipate that much of this experience will be new to many of the worshipers.

We will not meet on Wednesday of Holy Week but will gather instead on Friday for a Good Friday service in a similar style. We hope you will join us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Immunity to Change

Our next gathering of the School for Contemplative Practices will be Saturday, March 15, 2014, 10-12 at Pilgrim. [see the calendar for details]

Our most evident reason to engage in contemplative practices is in order to deepen our awareness of the Divine Presence in our lives.  We think that would be a good thing.  It would be a refreshing and inspiring change.  The trouble is, such a change is fundamentally a change in ourselves.

Earlier this week I was confronted by the insistence of a client of mine that she was not able to change. I found this surprising on a good many levels.  The most immediate was the surprise born of my personal investment in the transformation of myself and the world.  I just assume that is possible.

Just under that awareness was my surprise that she would have chosen to be in therapy and yet would be so certain that this investment of time and money would be of no benefit to her.  At least no lasting benefit.  Why would she come if she wasn't going to experience durable change?

A bit deeper I found my surprise at my surprise.  Of course she was deeply skeptical.  We don’t live in a society that much believes that such change is possible.  Certainly not after “we are grown.”  She was discovering that she has a part of her that doesn't believe in her own power to be transformed.  Seen from this light, this was actually a very healthy and healing insight.

Do you believe you can change?  Do you have a sense of what you want to have be different? Do you know what is in your way?

On Saturday morning, March 15, we will gather for a conversation about change and transformation.  How does it happen?  Do we want it? And what might we do to not only get out of our own way, but to use our resistance to change to help fuel the transformation?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Living richer, fuller, deeper

Just what is a richer, fuller, deeper life?  I have used this trio of qualities in writing about the purpose of the School for Living [S4L] but I haven't spelled out just what those adjectives mean for the purposes of our work together. 

Richer normally means having more money.  We certainly want to have enough to meet our physical needs and our fiscal responsibilities. Fundamental to the philosophy of the School for Living is that we know what we need and are able to act with skill to meet those needs in such a way that everyone gets what they need.  But we need more than money.  We need competence, friends, integrity, perspectives, compassion…

Fuller tends to mean larger.  We certainly want to have as large a life as possible.  From the perspective of the S4L a large life is one in which all of the qualities are present to a significant degree.  Some have money and no friends.  Some have friends and no money.  Some have money and friends but little compassion.  We need it all.  We will especially focus on those qualities that are missing and create the skillful means to generate them.

Deeper means to move into instead of away from.  Life with depth is not superficial.  It moves past the surface of things and appreciates the complexity and subtlety of our experiences.  A teenager’s tantrum is not just a manipulation, it is also a way to tell us what they are feeling.  A cup of coffee is not just a caffeine delivery system, it is a complex of warmth, aroma, and taste in a ritual for companionship.

If you are interested in learning more about the School for Living, join us Sunday evening for a free introduction.  Details in the Calendar tab.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Non-violence as Contemplative Practice

Saturday morning, January 18, 2014 at Pilgrim UCC from 10:00 until Noon.

In these weeks since the passing of Nelson Mandela and in the midst of publicity about a movie based on his autobiography, we remember his life and the amazing and salvific personal and social transformation that turned him from terrorist into the father of a nation. We remember as well the life of M. L. King, celebrated as a champion of civil rights but castigated by many for his stand for human rights, whom we honor on the third weekend of January with gatherings for education and service.

We tend to think of non-violence as a way for large groups of people to create political change. But for Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, and Jesus of Nazareth—pioneers of the spiritual philosophy we have come to know of as non-violence—the practice was first of all a personal one that was more a way of being than a way of doing.

In this event we will consider the lives of these leaders and explore how their example can be a source of inspiration in our own lives and in our own circumstances.