Stonington 2017 Part IV: Singing Praises on the Journey

Nick Weiland, architect builder of St Brendan’s boat! photo by Molly Weiland

Parts I and II of Stonington 2017, “Mornings With Teilhard” and “Celebrating Rhythm and Community” can be found in Growing! on the Breaking Ground page of this website. The reflections of participants speak to the morning teachings, the rhythm of the days and the building of a new organism in community in the little town of Stonington, Maine, in June, 2017. In Part III “The Voyage Begins”, the gathering reconvenes for the conclusion of the Wisdom Ingathering with Cynthia’s play “The Voyage of Saint Brendan” occupying center stage.  Here, in Part IV, Cynthia addresses the question, “Is There a Conscious Circle of Humanity?” and the group celebrates with music and dance during Kirtan, the Voyage of Saint Brendan concludes and closing reflections are shared.

Original artwork by James Fissel. Judy Skeels brought his beautiful book of paintings based on the Voyage of Saint Brendan to the Ingathering for everyone to enjoy, and shared the story of their creation during the retreat.

The community experience of the Voyage of Saint Brendan was inoculated after the first day of practice and performance with a public talk entitled, “Is There a Conscious Circle of Humanity?” This was the first time I had heard Cynthia devote a public talk in its entirety to the Conscious Circle of Humanity, speaking about it from both the most personal and universal perspectives. Calling attention to the generation and activity of the interpenetrating realms of the imaginal and the ordinary, she talked about what is being received, in our midst, supporting our work in more ways than we know. Cynthia spoke with great reverence and gratitude. It was an invitation to look towards the relationships between realms becoming more conscious, to prepare for death as a continuing gift to life, to remember and notice how those who have the capacity to form second bodies remain in communication and connection with the world beyond death for the greater good.

Original artwork by James Fissel, from his book of paintings The Voyage of Saint Brendan, courtesy of Judy Skeels.

“For me, the Ingathering is fun–great to share my little hometown this way. But it is always primarily and principally a place of conscious work, a gathering in solidarity with “The Conscious Circle of Humanity.” Another high point for me and I confess, a complete surprise was to see how well my talk on the Conscious Circle actually played to our crowd and a few additional townsfolk that gathered for it…! We are supported in our intentions here, and the support showed in the quality of work that was done and understandings reached. Deep gratitude…” (Cynthia B)


The talk, its call to deeper practice and the assurance of assistance from the Imaginal for the world today, in the life of individuals and the collective earth, laid the groundwork for the second day of work with the Brendan play. The second day of practice and performance brought the gathering to the midpoint, into the depths of the spiral journey where we meet our culpabilities and are laid bare. Where we may hear, in that darkness, the “still, small voice of God”.

Kneaded like bread by the day’s experience with the Brendan play, after supper the community had a chance to ‘do as the monks do’, following in the footsteps of the beautiful chorus from “the Paradise of the Birds.” Darlene led the gathering in chant, prayer and dance For Our One World.

“Immensely lifted by Darlene Franz’s extraordinary Kirtan! On fire with the oneness of the is-ness, the convergence of our whole group, connected in harmonious song, Cynthia’s dancing…wow. Love + Truth, unmistakable.” (Sioux M)

photo by Molly Weiland

Evening light crept into the darkened Town Hall. Darlene’s face soft, her voice and her instrument inviting the sound of all present to rise, as one by one people moved to join the dance. The children, too, caught the spirit, whirling and circling in the deeps.

“Oh my…I weep just remembering it. Truly, I have no words…just enormous gratitude. It seemed we did a lot more chanting every day, really entering into the chants…or facilitating their entering into us more fully… Can you tell? All this ‘vibration/vibrating’ was glory-ious…” (Barbara R)


From the Taize Jam, to the marriage of the Celtic and Gregorian sounds echoing in the Brendan play, the ground had been prepared, and the seeds surely grew in the freely celebrated joy of prayer in the Kirtan.

“The Kirtan. Speak Through the Earthquake the Wind and The Fire. This chant rises out of me now. I am beginning to understand it. The moan of recognition that I found so raw and embarrassing at first – it comforts me now, not as distraction from but attraction to that which can only be named by sounds older and more universal than any we have in our English language. As we contemplate the pain of the world, the fears of our hearts, the losses of every day, we need practices and rituals to hold it all. And to remember. Still small voice of God.” (Karla O)


The Kirtan was the eve of Brendan’s voyage coming to an end. It had a dreamlike quality. A palpable sense of integrating and settling in was happening in the gathering. “I feel the winds of God today” had been the monk’s chorus from the start. Kirtan echoed the sacred, calming and generative nature of that hymn, deepening the call. It led the way into the last full day of retreat.

“Kirtan: You Can Become All Flame. The rhythm of days and nights, accompanied by intention and attention stoked the fire. I felt by the end of the week quietly aglow – not what I had imagined when I first learned this chant four years ago. Then I dreamed of urgent flames, all-consuming and uncontrollable. The flame that I experienced at Stonington has patience, is generative, and is more felt than seen. And it is definitely not “mine” – it flickers among and between us as we move and sing and hold the gaze of another. And while my sensation of it is stronger when we are in physical community, that felt sense is with me still, a deeper knowing that just beneath the surface is the fire of union.” (Karla O)

The last day of the Teilhardian morning teaching followed, with a call to the transformative, resonant heart; and the group traveled with Brendan through to the end and his final rest. Brendan struggles to understand that “how you get there is where you will arrive” and is asked to give up what is most dear. The final shedding, an intimate sacrifice. The play concludes as Saint Brendan, home again, leaves us, his fellow sojourners, with a last call to “Voyage boldly”. The retreat was moving towards its conclusion.

“After the final scenes from the Voyage of Saint Brendan concluded late Saturday afternoon, my mind and heart were full with lines like, ‘You yourself are the veil that hides the very thing you seek.’ I didn’t want it to end but soon I was aware that some were striking the set while many people were saying goodbye. There was a sense of both fullness and loss as this transition was happening. It was a time to celebrate what had been planted during the week and to let go so that the relationships and lessons could germinate.” (Judy S)


The last community meal was an informal “Gaudeamus” with catered goodies as well as delicious leftovers from the week. It served as the social closing to the Ingathering Saturday night. The play’s end that afternoon had been the closing for some participants. Others would remain one more night and gather once more for morning Eucharist.

“I remember Cynthia preparing for our Sunday morning gathering. It was a seminal moment watching her gather the week’s artifacts together and re-purposing them. The essence of her work, I think.” (Julia Demaree)


Early Sunday morning the remaining participants quietly entered the Town Hall for the Eucharist. There was a fullness in the room. A bit of awe at what had taken place over the course of the week, and present to the reality of being here, now. A sense of the ongoing nature of how experiences such as these spill into life. Carry forward. Gratitude.

“When I returned to the meeting hall Sunday morning I expected a handful of remaining people in a relatively empty room. I marveled at what greeted me. Instead of disappearing, the Brendan set had been transformed into an altar! This experience was a simple example of an ending preceding a transformation.” (Judy S)


photo by Debbie Brewin-Wilson

Teilhard’s words had been calling upon our openness and willingness to grow into our illumined hearts as resonant with the One Heart. The contemplative Eucharist spoke immediately to his potent words from The Divine Milieu: “In our hands, in the hands of all of us, the world and life (our world, our life) are placed like a Host, ready to be charged with the divine influence, that is to say with a real presence of the incarnate Word…” In the words of one participant:

“The experience this year took me into deeper waters… which, at least in part, reflects where I am in my life/journey. I felt like I received communion for the first time, it was all holy ground, and the healing has continued.”

Original artwork by James Fissel, from his book of paintings The Voyage of Saint Brendan, courtesy of Judy Skeels.


A certain mysterious fullness exists when the weaving of the inner and outer life begins to consciously create, bringing to life a unique experience in the world and with the world. Teilhard speaks to the personal in the unitive; many returned home from Stonington feeling subtle, and not so subtle, shifts in their being, whether they were old hat Wisdom school students or new to the Ingathering.

“I don’t really have words to explain my time in Stonington. It was nothing short of a miracle. The sense of peace and homecoming I experienced in the morning classes and afternoon activities shifted my heart on some level. The last time I experienced such a profound shift was in 1994 when I attended Bangor Theological School for a year. My focus then, as now (was) is on finding the underlying patterns and ideas behind spirituality. I went to Stonington not really knowing what to expect and found warm, welcoming people who were eager to share their spiritual journey.” (Donna M)


“I am so aware of the people who were there and the community we have woven together. The parable in Matthew about the seed that gets sown is the one that keeps coming up. I want to grow a root system so that I take in and get nourished by what’s there, and come home, and use it… Something about Stonington calls on me to work in a deeper way, to live in this energy more of the time, because it has come inside of me and is not so external.” (Rebecca P)


Original artwork by James Fissel, from his book of paintings The Voyage of Saint Brendan, courtesy of Judy Skeels.

Cynthia’s teaching, the community itself, the part each played in such an organic creation; all contributed to a remarkable week. Thrown into the pot together, a path from chaos to coherence emerged, a new body was formed and its resonant energy continues to operate.

“What I have mused on quite a bit was the sense of connection I experienced there with everyone: during our centering times, during our evening music-themed gatherings, and the final communion service at the end.” (Debbie B.W.)


“It is difficult to find words to express how profoundly impacting I found our time in Maine.” (Heather V)


“Gratitude. My being grew in your presence and in response to you all. Thank you for the chance to dance with you then and now.” (Karla O)

Original artwork by James Fissel, from his book of paintings The Voyage of Saint Brendan, courtesy of Judy Skeels.

In The Divine Milieu Teilhard de Chardin says that with “the transformative action of ‘operative faith’ … “the universe is capable, without outwardly changing its characteristics, of becoming more subtle, more fully animate-” (pg 110-111). The personal and the unitive, all of us, becoming more subtle, more fully animate. Bringing that strength and fortitude, grace and flexibility into dynamic relationship with a troubled world. Singing praises. The Stonington 2017 Wisdom Ingathering offered inspiration, practice, and sustenance for that voyage.  


photo by Tracey Hair
photo by Leslie Smith
Cynthia leads the way to her home on Eagle Island, photo by Heather Vesey

Laura Ruth was a happy camper at the 2017 Wisdom Ingathering in Stonington, and really enjoyed gathering reflections from participants and re-membering the retreat in an attempt (humbled by the process) to share something of the experience. Many thanks to all who participated in the Ingathering, both in person and in spirit, and for the words and photos that contributed to this four-part portrait.

You are welcome to comment below. Breaking Ground is a community forum, a gathering of diverse voices in Wisdom. We welcome contributions from the community about Wisdom experiences, insights, personal reflections, creations and group work. For more information, you may be in touch with Laura through this website.

posted November 14, 2017 by Laura Ruth

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