Yesterday was the final session of my class on Julian of Norwich offered at the Central United Church of Christ in Atlanta. After class, I joined Cliff and Marjorie, two of the participants in the class, for lunch at a nearby burrito joint. Our conversation kept coming back to the question of how to foster more resources for aspiring contemplatives and students of Christian mysticism in the Atlanta area.
“I’m frustrated this class only lasted three weeks,” said Marjorie, “and I’m sure there are plenty of other people like me, who are interested in learning more about the experiential side of Christianity.” We discussed the various challenges that the contemplative community face: how contemplatives (and would-be contemplatives) are such a small part of the general population; how most individual churches are really only interested in developing programming for their own congregation and within the confines of their own denominational tradition, so that a truly effective program of classes and workshops and retreats for contemplatives must of necessity be ecumenical in nature — but then, who will drive it? to whom will it be accountable? etc. We talked about Contemplative Outreach and Shalem, two effective ecumenical contemplative organizations (one of which has a presence in Atlanta). But those programs tend to be highly experiential and place relatively little emphasis on educational programming, such as reading the great mystics of the tradition or exploring the contemplative dimensions of theology. On the other hand, resources like SPAFER and the Atlanta-based Emergent Spirit tend to be more educational and less experiential in their focus. Is there, I wondered aloud, a need for a resource in Atlanta that would integrate educational and experiential offerings for those interested in fostering an informed, intentional Christian spiritual practice?
Both of my companions seemed to think so. Our conversation went on to explore to challenges in getting something like this going: bringing together persons with an interest in seeing an ecumenical, contemplative-focused, educational/experiential program of Christian spirituality here in Atlanta; to develop a mission statement, a set of objectives, determine what resources (both in terms of time and money, as well as venues for events) are available, and then begin the long, slow process of building a mailing list/community of persons interested in participating in such programming.
Wow. It was an energizing conversation, and left me with more of a sense of possibility for something like this happening than I’ve had for a long time. For those who are reading this who are based in the Atlanta area, if this sounds like something you’d like to be involved in (at whatever level), let me know. Email me privately or post a comment here. Are there enough folks interested in getting something like this going? I’d love to find out. I can always just keep on doing what I’m doing — which is to teach classes through Evening at Emory, or lead retreats at the Monastery, or get invited to do short-term programs at various local churches. All of that is fun and rewarding enough. But the idea of actually having some sort of unified program where an ecumenical team could work together to nurture a network of contemplatives and an ongoing catalog of events and resources (classes, workshops, retreats, quiet days, individual spiritual direction) to support contemplatives and would-be contemplatives, both within and beyond the institutional church in its various denominational guises — that, for me, would be a dream come true.
Want to join the dream? Let me know.