Seeking solace? New Sunday gathering open to all

WESTFIELD-For individuals who are seeking a unique way to connect with others – in a contemplative setting away from the pushing and pulling of every day life – consider a new program at the Genesis Spiritual Life Center that begins next month.

A weekly contemplative practice gathering, open to all on Sunday afternoons on Mill Street, begins Sept. 8, according to Liz Walz, ASP, executive director.

Liz Walz, ASP, executive director at Genesis Spiritual Life Center, welcomes area residents to participate in a new weekly contemplative practice program. (Submitted photo)

Walz explained that the collaborative idea for the Sunday gatherings emerged from Genesis’ School for Contemplative Living.

“Sister Jane Comerford, CSJ, and myself were the two people who moved the idea forward,” said Walz. “We had both been yearning for a communal contemplative prayer spot in the weekly cycle here at Genesis and with the momentum of the School, it all came together.”

Walz noted that Sister Elizabeth Oleksak, SP, and Jo Ann Bourquard were “happy” to play a part in the new program, and Fr. Norman Comtois, OMI, brings a “wealth of experience and many gifts to the team.”

“We wanted to highlight meditation and contemplation practices from the Christian contemplative tradition, and Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina are core to that tradition,” said Walz.

Jo Ann Bourquard will lead the first Sunday of the month contemplative program at Genesis. (Submitted photo)

Bourquard will feature the practice of Lectio Divina, a Divine Reading of Sacred Scripture, on the first Sunday of every month at 3:30 p.m. 

“Jo Ann chose Lectio Divina I think in part due to her own history as a librarian, and knowing that whatever spiritual path a seeker is on, rooting ones-self in sacred scripture acts as a balance to the individual ego which can easily go astray,” said Walz. “There are such rich experiences in Lectio style ‘reading,’ that our western, scholastic style of reading don’t begin to touch.”

Oleksak will lead the second Sunday program, also at 3:30 p.m., featuring a Centering Prayer.

“Sister Elizabeth has a long history with Centering Prayer, and one of her teachers was Fr. Thomas Keating, who was instrumental in the contemporary revival of the practice,” said Walz.

Sister Elizabeth Oleksak, SP, will lead the second Sunday of the month contemplative program at Genesis. (Submitted photo)

Comerford’s program on the third Sunday, beginning at 4 p.m., will feature a time of silent practice with a special focus.

“Sister Jane will facilitate contemplative practice, introduced with either chant, a brief reading, or invocation inspired by her experience with Christian spirituality, and leading pilgrimages to Ireland and India for many years,” said Walz. 

On the fourth Sunday, also at 4 p.m., Comtois will lead a Creation-Centered Contemplative Eucharist.

“Fr. Norm has a long-standing affinity for the environment and a cosmic perspective on our faith tradition,” said Walz, adding, “weaving all this in a contemplative style of Eucharistic celebration is a natural fit, and a lovely opportunity for folks to experiment with.”

Sister Jane Comerford, CSJ, will lead the third Sunday of the month contemplative practice program at Genesis. (Submitted photo)

While most of the sessions will take place in the chapel, during the months with a fifth Sunday, Walz will explore practices including candle gazing, walking in the labyrinth, and breath-work as doorways in to contemplation, as well as reading excerpts from the mystics. When weather conditions are ideal, Walz also anticipates leading contemplative practice experiences including meditation outdoors and a walking meditation in the labyrinth. Her gatherings will begin at 4 p.m.

Each session will run approximately 90 minutes and the Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina sessions will begin with an introduction and explanation before the actual practice.

“There will be optional sharing at the end of each practice,” said Walz. 

Walz encourages area residents who are seeking a way to gain inner peace – in a reflective and compassionate environment – to consider attending one of the Sunday programs.

“It is precisely because of the pushes and pulls of our daily life, and the suffering we are exposed to through social, national and global events, that establishing and nurturing our relationship with the ‘ground of all being,’ ‘the benevolent Universe,’ or ‘the Love of God,’ is a stabilizing influence,” said Walz.

Fr. Norman Comtois, OMI, will lead the fourth Sunday of the month program on contemplative practice at Genesis. (Submitted photo)

Walz noted that when individuals develop a habit of seeking refuge within, it has a residual impact when a person re-enters the world of “doing.”

“We become less reactive, more compassionate, able to hold paradox, and connect with the deeper meaning of all our experiences,” she said.

A freewill offering will be collected at the close of each program. 

Persons interested in attending a Sunday program are asked to register by calling (413) 562-3627.

“Genesis’ mission is to offer an atmosphere of hope and healing to all who come, and to reveal God’s love for all Creation,” said Walz. “My hope is that this weekly gathering will be yet one more way we fulfill our mission.”

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