In tumultuous times—a pandemic, political upheaval, racial injustice and strife—how can you make your heart a refuge? When the world is falling apart, what are the steps that lead to an internal anchor of stability and serenity? How can nature, art, music, poetry and silence become doorways to the Divine? During a six-week Lenten series, Kayleen Abso will lead participants through an exploration of three towering figures of Christian mysticism who lived through three of the most tumultuous ages in human history. Dr. Asbo has led several seminars and workshops for St. Stephen’s, both in person pre-pandemic, and online during the time that we’ve been physically separate. Her weekend retreat focusing on Dante’s Divine Comedy just before Holy Week 2019 was enthusiastically received, and we’ve asked her to return on several occasions, personally and virtually. As the latest expression of the “New Abbey” we strive to be, we are thrilled to offer this latest webinar in which you can learn from the perennial wisdom these three mystics discovered, wisdom that can illuminate a pathway to resilience, tranquility and transformation to “flower in our fullness” despite outer obstacles. St. John Cassian fled the political turmoil of Egypt during the fall of Rome, carrying with him 10 years of research on the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Taking refuge in the cave of Mary Magdalene in Provence in the year 415 AD, he wrote two foundational guides to finding our way to a balanced life and spirit of equanimity. Six centuries later, these same writings on virtue and vice had an enormous impact on Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). Enclosed in a strict monastery at age eight as the companion to an austere anchorite (a hermit), Hildegard was shaped by the rhythms of Benedictine life. After a mid-life awakening and release from her stone cell, Hildegard became a composer, artist, theologian, botanist, authority on natural medicine, revered spiritual director, abbess, and counselor to political and religious figures alike. In the 14th century, Julian of Norwich lived a full life as a wife and mother in England before her family was destroyed in the Black Plague. Surviving her own near-death experience, Julian elected to become a voluntary anchorite, and remained enclosed inside two tiny rooms attached to a local church where she “prayed without ceasing” for the welfare of the world for the rest of her life. Despite her bleak background and enduring confinement, Julian went one to become the first women to write in the English language. Her Revelations of Divine Love is a magnificent and joyous guide to finding serenity and peace in the midst of darkness and suffering. It ends, astonishingly, with the utter conviction that All shall be well.
In this six-week creative seminar, guided by the lives and words of John Cassian, Hildegard and Julian, participants will find a rhythm where we connect more deeply to our hearts through contemplative practices rooted in ancient monasticism. In addition to the Thursday evening webinars, the Rev. Cate Anthony will host a Zoom meeting on Sunday mornings for participants to share their own creative work. Each presentation will begin and end with 10 to 15 minutes of prayer practice, and participants are invited to create a sacred space in their homes for these sessions, if they wish. Sessions are listed below. (To download a print-friendly schedule, follow this link.)
FEBRUARY 18 The Anchorite Tradition, Philokalia and the Via Media John Cassian, St. Benedict; the pathway of inner awakening in dark times; the tension of the contraries; the “recollection of thanksgiving” and creating a sanctuary of memory and gratitude for your heart
FEBRUARY 25 The Heart’s Flowering and Abundance Identifying the pathways of consolation and desolation, Veriditas and Ariditas, where we are green and juicy and where we become bitter, dry and hard of heart; the Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers; nature as healer and teacher
MARCH 4 The Song of the Heart Practices of music and chant with particular emphasis on the Ordo Virtutem of Hildegard of Bingen
MARCH 11 Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart An introduction to icons, art meditation and Visio Divina using images of Hildegard
MARCH 18 Listening with the Ear of the Heart Lectio Divina, Poetry and Holy Reading with Julian or Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love
MARCH 25 The Rhythm of the Heart Finding a daily and seasonal pattern that nourishes your soul and keeps you balanced The importance of both grief and gratitude