Contemplative Places of Prayer
Kathy is a wife, the mother of three boys, and a full-time nurse. She and her husband lead a full life. Much of their time is filled with evening practices and weekend games related to the boys’ sports activities. The couple dreams of taking a family vacation. Like many people, although driven by the demands of the next thing they have to do, they relish the idea of a slower pace and the perfect place. At night, after the kids have gone to bed, they often talk about where they want to retire when the boys are grown.
Tim is long retired and living precariously on Social Security and savings. He believes the country is headed in the wrong direction. Tim is full of stories about growing up during the Depression; he firmly believes that even though life was hard back then, it is worse today. His daughter checks on him regularly but continues to find it difficult to talk with her dad.
Like countless others, Kathy and Tim have their lives fixed on the future or locked in the past. Sadly, both outlooks distract from the surprising gifts God shares with us every day—the present moment, the here and now. One spring morning when I was a graduate student, I walked to class filled with anxiety over an impending test. When I retraced my steps afterward on my way to lunch, I was surprised to see beautiful azalea bushes along the way, each full of colorful blooms. I thought these flowers had bloomed while I was in class. Later I realized they’d been there in their full splendor as I walked to class that morning, but I hadn’t seen them. That’s the way it is with God’s gifts—they’re always present, but often we simply overlook them.
If I were to stop right now and take in the present moment, I would begin to see simple signs of God’s love for me. However, this kind of awareness does not come naturally. It’s the result of a gentle transformation that takes place in quiet prayer, without words. This type of prayer is called “centering prayer.” Although it may seem quite foreign compared to our usual way of praying, it is recognized as one of several forms of contemplative prayer.
You might be thinking, I’m not a contemplative person—I have a job, a family, and a busy life. Yet today there is a growing movement of women and men just like you who find time for quiet prayer in the midst of their active lives. One can find solace in a contemplative center of prayer—a quiet, inspiring place where people can go for a few days, a week, or even longer to nourish their spirit. Many such places can be found throughout the United States. In the following pages, I will introduce you to three.
Osage Forest of Peace
The Osage Forest of Peace, located in Sand Springs, OK (near Tulsa), was founded by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in 1979. From its inception, the place had a strong tie to the work of another Benedictine, Fr. Bede Griffiths, who saw a connection between Hindu prayer centers and the Christian monastic experience.
Today, Osage Forest of Peace is “an interspiritual retreat center with a resident contemplative community,” according to Sr. Jane Comerford, CSJ, the current director. “It is based on the belief that people from varying spiritual traditions can still come together and be contemplative together and meditate together.” Even the name, Osage Forest of Peace, reflects its deep spiritual roots.
“The Osage,” Sr. Jane says, “are a Native American tribe in Oklahoma who originally owned this land. The land and forest afford sacredness to this place.” The prayer center has individual cabins located in view of each other but with plenty of space for privacy; a main lodge provides a common area for meals. Accommodations, while simple, provide for a guest’s basic needs.
The resident community maintains silence at various times during the day and gathers in a beautiful interfaith chapel three times a day for meditation. Guests are invited to join them in prayer. The center has two trained spiritual directors on site and a massage therapist on call. The spiritual directors can provide individual guidance in various forms of prayer, including centering prayer.
Whether sitting on the porch, hiking a trail through the forest, or engaging in private prayer at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, visitors to Osage Forest of Peace find countless opportunities for meditation and prayer. As a donation-based community, there is no set fee for guests, though the suggested rate is $55 per day.
forestofpeace.org | 918-245-2734
Ruah Spirituality Center In the mid 1980s, the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word decided to convert an unused section of their motherhouse into a place of welcome, silence, and prayer to refresh and restore the human spirit. As a result, Ruah House opened in Houston, TX, under the direction of Sr. Mary Adeline O’Donoghue. Even the name Ruah, a Hebrew word used in the opening verses of Genesis, evokes a sense of peace—the wind blowing across creation as well as the breath of life.
The decision to create a place of silence within the noisy sprawl of the fourth-largest city in the country received positive response. Catholics and people of other Christian denominations and faith traditions come to Ruah Center. Sr. Mary Adeline explains, “Many people do not know that the hunger that leads them to seek a place of quiet is itself a gift. When they taste and relish what we provide, we simply encourage them to develop trust in the deepest longings of their hearts.”
Ruah Center provides a peaceful environment that invites people to pray, reflect, and heal. “Many who have been offended or disillusioned by the Church in which they grew up,” says Sr. Adeline, “can begin to heal there.” The hospitality of the resident community and the spiritual direction guests receive are essential elements of the Ruah Center experience. “Guests gradually notice that the concerns of their everyday lives fall into perspective as they move into the experience of solitude and silence.”
The center’s regular Centering Prayer Weekends begin each Friday evening and end Saturday evening. However, the center’s primary purpose is to provide an environment of simple beauty and solitude—one that makes it possible to discover the gift of God’s presence now. Sr. Adeline did not hesitate to describe what makes Ruah Center unique: “Silence is presented as a nonnegotiable that is offered as gift and guarded as a treasure for those who seek. Here people are led to rest in God’s presence.”
There is no set fee for guests; instead, they are encouraged to reflect on 2 Corinthians 9:7 (“Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”) and then give what they can. ruahcenter.org
The Desert House of Prayer
The Desert House of Prayer is located in the Sonoran Desert outside Tucson, AZ, at the eastern edge of the Saguaro National Park. It was founded in 1974 by Redemptorist Fr. John Kane, Sr. Peg Williams, CPPS, and Sr. Dorothy Lesher, CSJ. “It was in the desert that Israel encountered God and became his people,” said Fr. Kane; this was the inspiration behind the location. Today, the facility continues its mission under the direction of Fr. Thomas Picton, CSsR.
The aesthetics of its location make Desert House of Prayer unique—it’s the desert, but not within the sandy wastelands that usually come to mind. A vast expanse of green saguaro, prickly pear, barrel, and other kinds of cactus, brittlebush, and—most surprising of all—springtime flowers make up the landscape.
In this “green” desert, guests join a resident community committed to a life of solitude, silence, and prayer. Each day, Mass is held in the morning, and two periods of centering prayer are scheduled throughout the day. Each month, an intensive three-day retreat in total silence includes four periods of centering prayer each day. Several spiritual directors and a massage therapist are among the resident community.
Fr. Picton recommends the Desert House of Prayer to anyone “who is looking for silence and solitude and wants to pray out of a Christian tradition,” but he is also quick to point out that people of all faith traditions are welcome. They can join the community during times of prayer or follow their own schedule. When asked about the challenges for people who are new to this experience, he said, “The hardest thing for new guests is to let go of the need to fill up their time each day. Those who come for a week, however, gradually learn to let go and just be present to each moment, and they begin to find God in the emptiness.”
The Desert House has many trails for those who want to hike as well as mountain peaks for the more adventurous. The serenity and breathtaking views on the trails afford the opportunity to experience a deep communion with God. Guests often find the surroundings so inviting that they make reservations for the following year before they leave. The suggested donation is $55 per day for a single room and $85 for a hermitage. Reduced rates are available during May, June, August, and September.
deserthouseofprayer.org | 520-744-3825
Richard Rohr, OFM, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation, suggests in his book Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer that we miss the “now” because it seems so empty. The future is more exciting or the past is more comfortable, but the present moment, now, is richer than we might realize. God, who is here in the present moment, loves us with an intense, patient, attentive, accepting love, and never tires of showing us this love. Often, we just don’t see it because we keep looking elsewhere.