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Karen Downs

Reflections on Teresa of Avila Half Day Retreat January 26, 2019

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By Paul Russo, member of Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community Centering Prayer Group
When it was announced that our Centering Prayer Group would be hosting a half day retreat with COSD I knew that I’d be attending. It’s always a special experience when one is able to support one’s community events; but, when the central theme was to be Teresa of Avila I was definitely in.
We were very fortunate to have Oliva Espin, Phd., professor emerita of Women’s Studies at SDSU and a member of our home community of Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community (MMACC), who is well versed in Teresa’s life and works. Coupled with her down to earth delivery and sense of humor, she allowed us to get a better sense of the human experience of this saint, mystic, first woman Doctor of the Church and early feminist.
For me this day’s event was rich in history, spirituality and community. (There always seems to be much more energy in the room when “two or more gather” together in these types of events.)
The twenty minute sit along with some Taize singing based on words from Teresa’s works was sandwiched between two talks making for an environment of deep learning and prayer.
One of the things that struck me was the emphasis on Teresa’s humanity. She was born into a Jewish family and, like the rest of us, she was the product of her culture and time. One’s culture definitely can and will color one’s approach to how we articulate and interpret our own spiritual journey.
It is apparent that Teresa was very much aware of the struggles women were having finding their own identity and place in a society dominated by a patriarchal worldview.  Teresa founded seventeen convents to provide places where women could meet and prayerfully experience the Divine.
She  was aware that the language of religion, by its very nature, is symbolic and metaphoric. In her master piece work, Interior Castles, Teresa is able to draw from her own experiences and articulate them in symbolic and metaphoric ways. This challenges her readers/students to prayerfully ponder what she is saying, in order to grasp the reality that “prayer is a relationship”.
There was so much in these talks that could be touched upon. Let me just close by singling out a few of the rich morsels that spoke to me:
  • Dogma has no value if it doesn’t reveal God.
  • One’s posture at prayer must facilitate recollection.
  • Become aware that one’s very life is the vehicle of divine revelation. Another way I like to say this is “God comes to us disguised as our life.”
  • Our prayer life is a developmental process in which we can begin to know our true selves and consequently the Divine.
  • Contemplative prayer is the practice of “resting in God” where we are invited “not to think, but to love much”.
  • Like rain on a promising garden, God is doing the work within us.
  • Finally, Teresa’s encouraging words “Nada te turbe…”, Let nothing disturb you.
Thank you, Oliva Espin, and thank you Teresa of Avila.

March 2018 United in Prayer Day : Healing Violence

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Contributing Writer : Annika Mawn:  member of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church and Unity Church Centering Prayer groups.

True to its Emerald Isle heritage, St. Patrick’s Day dawned as a drizzling rain descended. The inclement weather did not deter close to eighty women and men–a number far exceeding the organizers’ expectations!–to join together as one at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Serra Mesa. From various parts of the County and different faith expressions, we celebrated, along with others worldwide, the 26th annual United in Prayer Day.

The two scheduled centering prayer periods were the heart and essence of our presence and participation. In addition, we were introduced to a compelling CD with Sister Meg Funk, a long time friend of Contemplative Outreach.

When I heard the CD’s title–“The Practice of Renouncing Violence“–I initially thought it referred to the violence that dominates our nightly news cycle. As Sister Meg continued to speak, I discovered her intent: violence is not only “out there”(external) but also “in here” (internal).

Sister Meg shared a revealing account of her own explosive/implosive reaction during her service as prioress of a large Benedictine community in Indiana. She viewed the chaplain assigned to the nuns as disagreeable and sought through various means (including an entreaty to the Archbishop!) to have him replaced. Upon surveying some of the nuns, Sister Meg discovered, to her surprise, that many of them interacted well with the chaplain. In one telling incident, Sister was at a communal penance service and opted to head straight to the chaplain’s confessional…not to humbly confess her offenses but to set him straight! “Right not contrite” was how she expressed it. Sister admitted that she literally had to physically pivot and move toward another priest.

Sister Meg learned to “own” her own anger and to renounce, refrain and root it out. She began by placing her anger at the foot of the Cross. Between impulse and response, she discovered that there is poise and a world of endless possibilities.

Toward that end, Sister Meg indicated that practice, practice, practice is required coupled with perseverance. Through pausing, praying and practicing, Sister Meg, over a year’s time, came to respond differently to the community’s chaplain. She “gentle down”. Her actions became infused with grace and gentleness.

Sister Meg spoke also of the importance and purpose of blessed water. It is a powerful antidote to evil, a force we have not the strength for. The use of holy water conveys trust in the power and presence of the Almighty and provides a peace that protects. Sister shared a simple blessing for use with holy water:

Father, Son and Spirit,

Calm, Heal, Hold,

Now and forever.


Toward the end of the day, all were invited to step forward and bless themselves with holy water from the font.

When I arrived at Saturday’s event, I had a heart heavy with many cares and concerns. No sooner had I exited my car than a loving woman slipped her arm through mine and we walked together into the meeting room. My spirits began to lift. Even the weather cooperated bringing a return of the sun’s brilliance. Its nourishing light coupled with the inspiring beauty of the United in Prayer day was reflected brightly in my own heart at day’s end and, I hope, in the hearts of others as well.

What does the practice of renouncing violence mean to me? Contributing writer  Irma Eichinger

That was the question that came to mind when I listened to Sr. Meg Funk’s talk on United in Prayer Day! It turned out not to be about renouncing violence, but to be healing the harm which is more doable on an individual basis.

What was exciting to me was the fact that she let the Holy Spirit decide her actions. I always ask the Holy Spirit for guidance for me, my children, grandchildren and the leaders of our world. However to rely on the Holy Spirit for every minute of my day was unfamiliar territory to me – when to have a cup of coffee, when to sleep, and when to eat were never on my list. So now I will make the Holy Spirit a priority in deciding the everyday decisions of life! I am sure my day will be blessed. So far the Holy Spirit has directed my writing, so let’s see what else comes out of this pen. I just decided to have 2 chocolate chip cookies. Was that the Holy Spirt or my False Self? Either way, they were delicious and much appreciated.

Sr. Meg Funk goes on to say, “When violence is tamed, we find peace of heart”. Inner peace comes when we do God’s will by not reacting to violence, but to acknowledge it in a calm state of mind. She suggests leaving it to the Holy Spirit.

The following are my thoughts on this subject. I feel that reaction, retaliation, recompense and rage are all False Self activities. So, once we recognize that and ask God to guide us toward our True Self, a calmness will take over. Anger is a human condition reaction. “We know that there is no wrath in God and no anger in Jesus” states Meg Funk. So why do we get angry? It goes back to the False Self condition.

So the more we do Centering Prayer, the more these layers of selfishness, greed and envy get pared away. When we hold on to anger against someone, it is said that we are holding on to burning coals that we cannot wait to throw at our adversary. However, in the meantime these burning stones are hurting us, not our adversary.

When you look at the whole spectrum, loving God by sitting in silence with Him is by far the best remedy for healing violence.

Sr. Meg Funk goes on to say even in the midst of violence, we can experience a calmness, peace and the gentleness of God. This is so true as I experienced chaos after my husband of 59 l/2 years passed away from pancreatic cancer. By offering my sadness to God through Centering Prayer, He gave me the inner peace and calmness I so cherish!



Surprise Surprise by Anne Clark

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balsam-farms-gallery-fields-Lavender[1]Contributing writer Anne Clark is a member of Contemplative Outreach and a Facilitator of a Centering Prayer Group in East County SD.

Imagine my surprise when the emergency room doctor said, “It’s your appendix.” It is unusual for someone who had just celebrated her 81st birthday to require an appendectomy. An appendicitis attack most often happens during teenage. As a matter of fact, both my daughter’s had their appendixes removed when they were about 16. I had been ill for a couple of days with abdominal pain but thought it was the “flu”, or “something I ate”, or …? But when the third day dawned and it was not getting better, I headed for the ER.

I was taken into the operating room and the surgeon removed my appendix. In the recovery room, later in the afternoon when the staff were preparing me for discharge, I suddenly went into atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase one’s risk of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. My sensation was of a rapid fluttering and pounding in the upper chest, just below my throat. I knew when the staff went into emergency mode. More people came into the room and IV medications were started. I have no idea how long they worked, but later that evening I was admitted to the hospital.

What I experienced during this initial A-fib event was the second big surprise of the day. I am a retired Registered Nurse and I realized that the activity going on around me was serious. But imagine my amazement when I also realized that everything was “okay”. I was relaxed in body and mind. Whatever happened was in God’s hands. As Julian of Norwich famously said, “…and all manner of thing shall be well.” I remained in the hospital for 5 days. The certainty was replaced by times of distress and concern on my part. A few tears were shed. But finally I was able to have the IV meds discontinued, and was sent home on oral medications.

During the seven months that have elapsed, I have had time to reflect on the experience I lived through. I have come to realize that one of the fruits of my practice of Centering Prayer is my certainty that I was in the presence of God at that time, in that situation. That I could surrender my life to God and be in absolute safety. That God’s love for me is unlimited and all powerful.

I continue to be a work in progress. I struggle with distractions during the “sit”. I find myself being judgmental, and functioning in the false self, too much of the time. The experience I had of the closeness and presence of God, I recall. The awareness was more powerful than at any time during my prayers of silence over the years. I know that God is always that close and present. Because the noise and confusion in my mind, and in my surroundings, get in the way, I am unable to live in that certainty in the “normal” course of my life. But I now see how far I have come in awareness. I intend to continue Centering Prayer so that I may be surprised again, at some future time, as I continue the journey.


Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

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By Ardy Woodmansee January 1, 2018

In late summer 2017, I went to Germany to care for my little grandson while his Kinder Care took the usual two-week break from the kinder. For my husband Jeff and I it was a busy, fun filled time keeping up with this 3-year-old ball of energy. We were exhausted in a good way, as we climbed on to our non-stop flight to San Diego. I watched the changing landscapes below, as I settled into my seat and the 11- hour flight back home. I thought of all that waited for me at home; the volunteer work, family commitments, ministries and this old habit of over committing myself. “Ugh!” I said as I rested my head against the pillow. Closing my eyes, I began my 30 minutes of Centering Prayer. When I finished, a word came to me… Discernment! I thought about it for a moment and let it go. Several times over the course of a few days the word discernment gently nudged my being.   Checking my emails, I opened Contemplative Outreach ltd.’s e- blast news. Lo and behold, I saw a new course being given by Sr. Meg Funk, Discernment Matters: Listening with the Ear of the Heart. Thus, began my study of the spiritual discipline of discernment, listening and reading the signs of my daily life through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I began with this course of Sr. Meg’s and went on to read Fr. Henri Nouwen’s book on discernment which is the title of this blog, Discernment: Reading the signs of daily life; as well as The Way of Discernment by Elizabeth Liebert. I found myself in that spiral of the Spiritual Journey, Fr. Keating often talks about. This movement of the Spirit that leads you back over events and former times in your life so that you can take a fresh look at it again, through the eyes of the Beloved.

From Sr. Meg Funk, I learned there are 5 steps of discerning a decision or event in your life. The discerning moment can be as small as purchasing a new flute…Really! First, call on the Holy Spirit which includes asking the right question. Second, over a period of days or weeks sort out your thoughts. Which one comes from God, which one from me, which one from others, which one comes from evil. ” Discern, discriminate, determine I want to go God’s way.” Third, ask the Holy Spirt for a confirming sign and these are its characteristics: It’s outside, it’s big, it comes from God and gives you the grace to carry out the decision. It pertains to the question and gives you confidence. Fourth, ritualize this confirmation. Lastly, guard the heart and never ever go back. Watch your thoughts. Sr. Meg says the Holy Spirit wants to be ask into the minutia of our decisions, minute by minute, cell by cell.” Discernment is being in the details of life. Wanting to know the Holy Spirit face to face, ear to ear, cheek to cheek.” We find discernment not through our thinking but through our contemplative mind. What’s most helpful is to have a contemplative discipline of prayer.

From Henry Nouwen, I learned we find discerning guidance in books, nature, people and life events. He goes on to say,” Like the people of Israel, who repeatedly reflected on their history and discovered God’s guiding hand in the many painful events that led them to Jerusalem, so we pause to discern God’s presence in the events that have made or unmade us.”

I am still reading, pondering and working on discerning the events of my life through the insights of these two great wisdom teachers. It has been a slow process for me. Careful discernment they say, is a lifelong task.

What spiritual practice has shaped your life with God? Do you have a discernment process you do with the events of your daily life?

Reflections on the 2017 Contemplative Outreach Conference

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Timeless Centering Prayer; New Vison – New Energy

By Kathy DiFede

The last Contemplative Outreach Conference was in 2014 so it was very exciting to have another conference this year. This conference was different from previous conferences because the focus was on listening to the local Contemplative Outreach communities, the “grass roots,” through contact people and coordinators. It was also a time for hearing about the Service Teams of Contemplative Outreach which have been formed to assist local areas throughout Contemplative Outreach with the various programs and training offered by Contemplative Outreach.

138 people attended the conference. 15 round tables were set up for the sharing, discussion and listening time. Everyone was asked to sit at a table with people they did not know. (For some this wasn’t easy)! Each table had one of the service team leaders facilitating the process.

Thursday afternoon I was standing in the lobby to greet people as they arrived. It was such fun to watch! There was lots of excitement and energy. Everyone was greeting someone they had not seen for a while or introducing themselves to someone new.

On Friday at our tables the focus was on Fr. Keating’s updated Contemplative Outreach’s Vision, Principles and Guidelines for Contemplative Service. This was a very “heart centered” day. The principles were read in a Lectio Divina manner, with reflection time and then sharing what that principle meant to us. It was a wonderful time to speak from the heart and listen from the heart. All the table groups experienced a bonding that continued throughout our time together. All of this was carried into Saturday as we looked at the programs offered by Contemplative Outreach. Many shared how the Centering Prayer workshop had touched them and they wanted to share that with others. The Welcoming Prayer and Living Flame had also had an impact on the spiritual journey.

What I felt throughout the conference was a bonding of the community in trust and love. That we were one, united with the Spirit in the deepening of Centering Prayer, was very evident. Everyone’s voice was not only heard, but deeply spoken and listened to with the heart. As someone commented, “I have great hope for the future of Contemplative Outreach.”

Blessings & Peace,


A contemplative’s prayer

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Prayer is the art of the now

We can only meet Good now  

it is now  that God meets us

God does not come to us in some future heaven —

God loves us  now

wants us now

meets us now

This we call prayer —

believing in God’s love

receiving God’s love

Resting in God’s presence    now

This silent moment


From Sounding the Silence, by John Skinner


Reflections on an Extended 7 Day Retreat

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Contributors: Henri Guyader, Meg Rosenblum, Trish Rice,  Ardy Woodmansee, Kathy Difede  


The last week in April 2017, COSD offered a 7 day silent retreat at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, California. We have been doing this every two years at the Abbey, under the direction of Fr. Carl Arico, and leaders trained by Contemplative Outreach. Even when I have committed myself to doing an extended retreat; I find myself musing the sensibleness of my decision. I love the prayer practice, and have been doing it twice a day for many years; still I have a busy life, how can I give up a whole week to Centering Prayer and 7 days of silence, and Grand Silence at that?! Grand Silence is practiced at the retreat as a silence of the body, speech and mind. Any form of communication with others, including eye contact, gestures, sign language, written notes etc. takes us away from our intent.

This is my fifth retreat and I still have these troubling thoughts around my decision. But, once I step out of my parked car, on to the grounds of this peaceful oasis; I find myself rooted in my consent to God’s presence and action. God’s grace takes over and the daily round of prayer, silence, and solitude begins. Sharing this prayer with 25 other people, in such a setting is a testament to God’s love at the heart of all of life. I always walk away deeply grateful for the experience and with no regrets. The world went on just fine without me; while I was forever transformed by God; tenderly, lovingly, and with great kindness into my Truer Self.


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I was blessed to attend a 7 day post intensive retreat at Prince of Peace Abbey in April. This was a true gift. I was once again remined, that when I listen to the urgings of the Holy Spirit “yes” is rewarded hundred-fold! I have attended previous centering prayer retreats and have been blessed each time. However, this time of silence was even more special. What made it so? I believe it was the careful preparation of the team and their supportive presence throughout the week. We were advised not to do much reading during the week and I found that was such wise advice! For once I could just be present with my Lord! The evening liturgies were the perfect entry into my evening prayer and assured a more restful sleep. Other special memories were the Lectio Divina, Fr. Carl’s wonderful homilies, soul-friending time, meditative prayer walks and praying with my sisters and brothers in silence. I may not have read much but my heart and my journal are full.



I have attended many weekend retreats that touched on contemplative prayer over the years. I finally quit going to them since I wasn’t going to do the practice. Two years ago, I decided to attend a centering prayer workshop that ran through Lent and tried practicing it once a day. It was pretty much still a hit or miss in faithfully doing it. Then I heard about the week- long retreat and figured it was an opportunity to immerse myself in the spirit of Centering Prayer and get on track with the practice twice a day. It was a good decision on my part as it was an opportunity to distance myself from the distractions of daily living.

It was a silent retreat so no conversation about ourselves and any common interests to distract me from the focus of the retreat. I also found doing Centering Prayer in a group environment to be easier than alone at home. The week provide plenty of opportunity to practice. It was interesting to observe in myself that as the week went by each prayer sit was easier than the last. I developed a rhythm for it. I have taken that rhythm home with me and now do two prayer sits most days. I have to admit the first prayer sit upon returning home was not anywhere as easy as on the retreat. A flood of thoughts came sweeping through that evidently had been ignored during the week, but just like a dam bursting with time the flood became the normal trickle.

For me the retreat was a very positive experience and yes on the last day we got to talk at meals and for me a socializer silence was hard.



In the Silence

Silence is a divine gift.

Creative learning and freedom takes place in the silence.

Nature is more vibrant, and calls out loudly; in the silence.

Steps become slower, and thoughts more profound. Everything is richer, in the silence.

There is a noticeable, heavenly order in the silence.

Stillness is possible, releasing makes sense, comfort is given, hearts are open, thoughts are arranged, kingdom alignments take place; in the silence.

Whispers are heard, God’s life in us is known, heavenly perceptions glimpsed, in the silence.

Shutters flung open wide, doors closed; wisdom nuggets fall, fresh visions seen…in the silence.



Redemptive life

Still spirit

In the silence.


100_0060BlowingTreenearHarberton-M[1]                                                          MEG

I wanted to thank you all for a blessed and fruitful retreat. I also thank Father Arico and Marie. I was duly aware of the years of experience of Centering Prayer gathered at the retreat. When I piped up with 6-8 months of practice compared to 18 years, 15 years, 20 years, ten years etc. from other participants I had to chuckle to myself. Although I am not the kind of person that thinks “what have I gotten myself into.”

I knew God wanted me there and I was ready to dive in deep and listen to your wisdom and God’s. I had never been on a silent retreat in a group. I had been to Prince of Peace by myself twice for two nights each, and both times I had mostly observed silence, but this obviously was much different. I relished the silence and was very taken with the “grand silence.” The eye aversion really has you go deep into yourself and what God has for you. It is such a blessed and intimate time. A time of deep listening and grace poured in.

The rhythms of the day at the retreat were perfect. The times of prayer, videos, quiet time, food all blended together in to a rich time of fellowship with God and others. I sensed the spiritual kindness and love of all other participants in a truly remarkable way in that grand silence. When we came out of it, there was such a sense of knowing one another deeply although to me, most were strangers. All barriers were stripped away and the essence of the goodness in each person, their Imago Dei was paramount.

The other amazing surprise was the no reading quality. I must say, I read the blurb about bringing only one book and disregarded it thoroughly. (LOL). I am a voracious reader and I thought 7 days alone— I better take about 7 books. Yet, I was struck by Father Arico’s words about taking a book on a date and would you rather experience God or read about him. So, I put down all books I brought and possibly only read 40 pages or so of Open Mind Open Heart while there. A truly unique experience for me and again a way to really “dial down” into God and listening well and gleaning what He has for me in this season. I am working on my TELL and clearing the junk…I am treasuring what is good and thanking God for it.




The Intensive Retreat provides an opportunity to deepen the practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of profound silence and community support. There are six 30-minute Centering Prayer periods daily. The prayer is supported with viewing of a selection of Fr. Thomas Keating’s Spiritual Journey video series.

An Intensive Retreat can be 5 days, 7 days, up to 10 days. The practice of Centering Prayer in an atmosphere of silence and community over this period of time opens one up to a deeper experience of God. Signing up to go on a retreat is already a huge YES to God’s action. With the opportunity to watch and listen to Fr. Keating’s Spiritual Journey series, there can be a great awareness and understanding of where change is needed. Spending more time in Centering Prayer, more time in silence helps to bring a deeper knowing of God’s love. There is a greater capacity to listen in-between the prayer times as well.

Yes, it may be difficult to “get away” for 5 days or more, but in that time and sacred space, God will show the way to BE in daily life. People who have been on an Intensive Retreat say it is transforming. There is recognition of what needs to be reflected on or changed. Being present with no expectations, settling into the prayer and silence brings peace, as well as surprises!

 Has this post changed your thinking on extended retreats? Let us know by commenting. 

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God is Love: the Heart of the World

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   The new series by Fr. Thomas Keating, God is Love the Heart of All the World began Wednesday January 25, 2017 at All Hallows Catholic Church in La Jolla, California. Over a period of 4 days of filming in 2013, Fr. Thomas and Fr. Carl Arico, in conversation focused on the idea that when God chose to create the Universe it wasn’t a one-time event. According to Fr. Thomas, evolution and the cosmos are ongoing and expanding.

It was a pleasure to sit and listen to our longtime wisdom teacher, and (though I have only met him twice in person) soul friend. This is our second session with this newly made series, that is part of a larger project begun over 30 years ago, entitled the Spiritual Journey Series. God is love is considered the eighth part of that body of work by Fr. Thomas.  It  has been made with much prayer and thoughtfulness on the subject of  evolution and the cosmos which can be daunting in their depth and complexity .  Fr. Keating guides us through it all with grace and humor; the Big Bang, supernovas, quarks and black holes.  Science can  inform religion, says Keating,  in a new and dynamic way; and, that God’s love is at the source of evolution and the mystery of the cosmos. He quotes from the Acts of the Apostles,

“The God who made the world and all that is in it, …made from one the whole human race to dwell on the entire surface of the earth, and he fixed the ordered seasons and the boundaries of their regions so that people might seek God, and perhaps grope for him and find him though indeed he is not far from any one of us. For in him we move and have our being.”

The new series comes as a set of 2 DVD’s as well as a beautiful  booklet. The American contemporary artist William Congdon’s sacred art fills the pages in a very prayerful way; along with, thought provoking quotes from the likes of Albert Einstein  and  Teilhard de Chardin. There are reflections and questions and scripture quotes, as well as recommended reading.

A lively crowd met in the music room at All Hallows Church where we did 20 minutes of Centering Prayer followed by a viewing of the first DVD. At the end of the video there was an opportunity to do Visio Divina with one of Congdon’s works. It was a very prayerful time in which the group sat gazing, reflecting, responding and resting  in the beautiful image; letting God speak at the level of the heart. After and enthusiastic time of sharing the hour and a half ended with Musica Divina by Hildegard of Bingen.

If this has peaked your interest, COSD invites you to attend the Spiritual Journey Series every Fourth Wednesday of the month, with its focus on the eighth section of the Journey called God Is Love the Heart of all Creation. Our next meeting will be at All Hallows, February 22, 2017 from 10:00 am to 11:30 pm in the Music Room.

On Saturday, March 18, 2017:  the first showing of God Is Love the Heart of all Creation will be shown at the United in Prayer Day at Contemplative Outreach North County,  St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church 16275 Pomerado Road, Poway California, 92064 The sessions are entitle, “Silence and Centering Prayer” and “Blessings.”