God’s Arms Wrapped Around Me: On Retreat With Thomas Keating’s Poems

Presence.  Sadness.

As I was gathering my belongings to make the trip back home at the end of the retreat “Reclaiming the Mystical Heart of Christianity: How Centering Prayer Can Deepen Your Experience of God,” I felt a deep sadness. I have been attending Wisdom Schools for 10 years. I have not felt sadness in the past. This sadness surprised and confused me. I brought this up with a spiritual friend whom I met in the Wisdom schools. She wisely asked, “Could this be Thomas Keating’s poems?”  

During this silent retreat, we unpacked poems that Thomas Keating wrote as he moved from this dimension to the timeless dimension. These poems have a cosmic orientation and his anguish is visceral. 

This year, my mom died at age 94 and my brother died after a long battle with brain cancer. While at the Holy Family Passionate Retreat Center, I felt God’s arms wrapped around me. It was in the safety and security of this environment that Thomas Keating’s poems settled deeply within. The sadness that came up was from my Being… the sadness that is a part of the collective human pain-body shared in community.

My mind wanted to analyze this sadness, but my Being knew I just needed to welcome it… simply allow it to be. The sadness was able to flow through me and compassion for myself and others arose in its place. I am grateful for our Northeast Wisdom Community.


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you

Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,

And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,

Must ask permission to know it and be known.

The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,

I have made this place around you.

If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.

No two trees are the same to Raven.

No two branches are the same to Wren.

If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,

You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows

Where you are. You must let it find you.

~ David Wagoner

posted by Sharon Kowatch, November 22, 2019

Sharon has been walking the Wisdom path with Cynthia Bourgeault since 2009. She was introduced to this path by a fellow seeker who many of you know, Mary Ann Blome.

Sharon is a confirmed Episcopalian who is also an attendee at a Quaker Meetinghouse. She brings a Holistic perspective to her care of patients as a Certified Nurse Practitioner for 35 years.

The photos in this post were taken by Sharon at the Holy Family Passionist Retreat Center during the “Reclaiming the Mystical Heart of Christianity” retreat, November 2019; The Secret Embrace by Thomas Keating available at, and cover image courtesy of, Contemplative Outreach.

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