Si­lence is golden for group at lo­cal church

Calgary Herald - - YOU - CHRIS NEL­SON

A Cal­gary church is try­ing to break the fear of si­lence.

Each Wed­nes­day morn­ing, a group of be­tween 25 and 40 peo­ple gather at Hill­hurst United to ex­pe­ri­ence an un­usual type of ser­vice, one that at­tempts to bind peo­ple to­gether with­out ut­ter­ing a sin­gle word.

Ev­ery­one is wel­come at th­ese morn­ing ses­sions, whether they are Chris­tian or from an­other faith or have no re­li­gious be­lief at all. The gath­er­ing be­gins at 7 a.m. and runs for an hour — the first 20 min­utes in to­tal si­lence — be­fore par­tic­i­pants are given the chance to meet and min­gle with fel­low wor­ship­pers.

Susan Cooper leads this day­break con­tem­pla­tive min­istry at Hill­hurst. It is a labour of love and one that re­quired a per­sonal jour­ney of her own, stretch­ing back many years.

For Cooper, such si­lence now comes nat­u­rally, but she un­der­stands that for many peo­ple there is an ini­tial fear of be­ing alone with their thoughts.

“Of­ten, at first there is quite a bit of trep­i­da­tion or re­sis­tance. Peo­ple act as though they are step­ping off a cliff.”

“There are many rea­sons peo­ple are afraid of it. You can’t be in the ex­pe­ri­ence of your own life be­cause you are so busy all the time in leap­ing off to­ward some­thing, and hav­ing some­thing stim­u­lat­ing you and tak­ing you away from that ex­act mo­ment you are in. Choos­ing to ex­pe­ri­ence the mo­ment ex­actly as it is — when you get a taste of that, it re­ally is quite ex­quis­ite,” she said.

When she first ar­rived at the Kens­ing­ton-area church 12 years ago, the idea of lead­ing oth­ers in a con­tem­pla­tive weekly ser­vice was the fur­thest thing from her mind. Back then, she thought she was sim­ply tak­ing a break from a me­dia ca­reer, as she was hired part time to pub­lish the reg­u­lar church bul­letin.

Years later, she helped lead min­is­ter John Pent­land with a book he was writ­ing as she grad­u­ally be­came more en­grossed in the af­fairs of this in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar and vi­tal church. She re­al­ized she’s be­come part of the Hill­hurst com­mu­nity.

“I could not have imag­ined where I am now. Back then I was barely Chris­tian. I knew lit­tle about church or min­is­ters but then I got a front-row seat to watch this com­mu­nity evolve. It was amaz­ing,” said Cooper.

She had been in­flu­enced by Bud­dhism ear­lier in her life and, with Pent­land’s en­cour­age­ment, she tapped into some of that re­li­gion’s con­tem­pla­tive tra­di­tions to be­gin the weekly, early morn­ing med­i­ta­tive ses­sion.

Her im­pe­tus to get di­rectly in­volved was a de­sire to do some­thing per­sonal to im­prove the world by mak­ing it a lit­tle safer — both her son and brother are gay, and Cooper wor­ries about them.

“I ac­tu­ally had first gone into pol­i­tics be­cause I thought that’s where think­ing hap­pens and that’s where you can change things, but it was not the case.

“Then I thought the church might be the head­wa­ters and Hill­hurst was a place of dy­namism. I wanted to change the world so it would be safer for my kid and my brother, and then this pre­sented,” she said.

The peo­ple she now sees sit­ting around her in silent re­flec­tion each Wed­nes­day morn­ing are a var­ied group.

“We have a com­mu­nity that can in­clude any­body; dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions, peo­ple who are athe­ists, peo­ple who are just seeking and don’t know where they might land — it can ac­com­mo­date all of that and all of them.”

“Yet it is a pow­er­ful lit­tle group. The teach­ing we fol­low is not about get­ting quiet as much as it is com­ing into con­tact with some­thing deeper within our­selves. Once we get a taste of that, then our lives re­ally be­gin to shift and change, and I be­lieve that is the be­gin­ning of the spir­i­tual life.”

“Peo­ple do feel dif­fer­ent af­ter­wards and over the long-term deeper trans­for­ma­tions take place. There is lots of deep sto­ry­telling and shar­ing af­ter­wards. It doesn’t come be­cause they think they should. It just arises,” Cooper added.

Of­ten, at first there is quite a bit of trep­i­da­tion or re­sis­tance. Peo­ple act as though they are step­ping off a cliff.

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