In the last week of October, right before the Winter set in, the first Nordic Benedictine Wisdom
School was led by Cynthia Bourgeault at Lia Gård in Norway, and in cooperation with the organization Areopagos. The retreat center is located about 230 kilometers north of Oslo. It is built on a farm that has been there since before the black plague, and for hundreds of years it has been a resting place for pilgrims on their way to Trondheim. The couple Ingeborg and Sigmund Bø turned the farm into a retreat center in the seventies, and today the operation of the place is increasingly being taken over by their son, Ingar, and his wife, Mareike.
What makes Lia Gård the perfect place to do a Benedictine Wisdom School is not only its location, far into the woods, on a hillside, overlooking a big lake. Nor is it only the beautiful buildings, a farm, a cloister building with living rooftops and an orthodox chapel. It is just as much about how life there is structured around the Daily Office, 3 times a day, all year around. In other words, the Benedictine tradition already runs deep at Lia Gård. The witness of the people who delivered this beautiful place allowed us to clarify our own work, and it supported the teaching and practice in a wonderful way.
The work and writings of Cynthia are becoming increasingly known in the Nordic countries. The
Wisdom School was fully booked as soon as it was put out a year ago. A group of 50 people
participated. 7 participants were from Finland and 2 were US citizens, including Cynthia. The rest
of the group were Norwegians. Only a few had participated in an on the ground Wisdom School
before. Most of them had read Cynthia´s books or participated in the online Wisdom Schools
offered by CAC and Wisdom Waypoints.
During the week Cynthia invited us to see the Benedictine rhythm as an ancient pattern, grounded in an archetypal pattern in the human soul. It is a dress pattern for ordering human life in the sight of God, for helping you in your own life once you’ve decided that you want to seek the Divine more deeply. To create a different kind of container in your life in which those great spiritual questions in your soul have more chance to come alive and live and you can wrestle with them.
The other main element she focused her teaching on was G.I. Gurdjieff´s three-centered awareness, or mindfulness. Mindfulness of being present to what you’re doing and being aware of the greater collectivity. At Lia Gård the land and the buildings offer many opportunities for conscious work. The Wisdom School format gives us a great framework for practicing the hard skill of moving consciously from silence to work and back into silence again. Even though we were gathered for only 5 days, I think we experienced that there was some deep work going on, both individually and collectively, and we got a real taste of how powerful these tools are for both personal and collective transformation.
We also addressed another pressing topic. Cynthia had been reminded of it the week before when she was leading a retreat at Lögumkloster Refugium in Denmark. During a conversation with their new principal Louise Højlund, Louise said she had a vision of turning the refugium into a “people’s
monastery,” a place that people can come and commit themselves to for a shorter or longer period
of time. Modern people are not willing to commit their whole life to live in a monastery, but they
still want to drink from the wells of the contemplative tradition.
To quote Cynthia from the last dayat Lia Gård: “There’s a deep interest in creating a climate, a set of life circumstances that are more conducive and agreeable to the cultivation of the soul. The model of a ‘people’s monastery.’ This idea has something fresh. We’re not just going to copy the old model in a half effective way. We´re going to penetrate to the inside, to the spirit of it, and then recreate the spirit in a form that really reflects people of the world.”
Many seeds have been sown in the hearts of the people who participated in this Wisdom School. We will look deeply into how they can be nourished and how we can continue to build a wisdom
network here in the Nordic countries. A heartfelt thank you to Cynthia for her teaching and her
~ Tor Magne Handeland