Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)


February 26, 2014

Five-session spiritual retreat upcoming

ASHLAND — Two local women will offer an interfaith prayer retreat based on the book “The Cup of Our Life.”

The five-week series will meet on Tuesdays beginning March 11 from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Ashland.

Cindy Neely, a registered nurse, retired hospital administrator and certified spiritual director, and Christina St. Clair, former chemist and author, minister and certified spiritual director, will present the program.

What is spiritual


Neely: Spiritual direction is an in-depth conversation, over time, between a trained and certified spiritual director  (sometimes called counselor, adviser or companion) and another person who seeks to grow in their life of faith (prayer), hope (difficulties, trials and sufferings) and love (the person’s life in relationship to other individuals and their community). Spiritual director is the formal title of one who is trained and certified as defined by Spiritual Directors International’s guidelines for training programs. 

...Contemporary spiritual direction is something very different. It involves mutuality between the director and directee, recognizing great spiritual diversity but honoring that we are all spiritual beings seeking to fill the hole within that can only be filled by God. Spiritual direction is about holy listening, presence and attentiveness to the faith journey of another who desires to find and experience more of God. ...

Seekers come to spiritual direction for many reasons. Some come to deepen their prayer by learning new ways of praying. Others come because they suffer deeply and have nowhere to tell of their suffering. Others, because they are experiencing a crisis of faith and believe they have lost their connection to God when this experience of doubt is a natural and eventual happening for all serious and honest seekers of God. Spiritual directors are trained to bring to birth the experience of divine union promised to us when Christ told us that the Kingdom of Heaven is here.

St.Clair: I have always been interested in spirituality and helped start a meditation group, Holy Ground, with my pastor, Bob Bradley at First Christian Church here in Ashland.  I felt woefully inadequate leading such a group.  Elaine Bradley gave me an article about spiritual direction.  I’d never heard of it, but after research, learned spiritual direction is a timeless Christian practice.

Many Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther, certainly used meditation such as Lectio Divina,which is a contemplation on Christian Scripture.  I enrolled in a spiritual direction program at West Virginia Institute for Spirituality.  It was equivalent to a master’s degree.  I learned so much about prayer and how to lead groups and companion others in one-on-one spiritual direction. 

One of the tenets of Christian contemplation is that it is not navel-gazing, but leads to action, to works, in the world.  This has certainly been true for me.  ...

How did you get involved with “The Cup of Our Life?”

St. Clair: Cindy and I are both graduates from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality.  She graduated the year before me and we did not know one another.  We met during a retreat I facilitated, the Spirituality of Story, and realized we both lived in Ashland. We began to meet to see how we might serve God in our community.  “The Cup of Our Life” is a book introduced to me by Cindy who has used it in the past.  I was familiar with the author, Joyce Rupp, who is an international leader in spirituality. ...

Are most churches

accepting of this?

St. Clair: The book is nondenominational. Christian Scriptures are used for the prayers and meditations. Cindy and I have met with the Ministerial Association of Ashland to present our programs, which have been well received. We did a Lenten one last year at Calvary called God Speaks. People from different Christian denominations attended.  In fact, the five-week program was so successful, it led to us continuing a monthly contemplation prayer group which alternates between Ashland and Huntington.

(The program) is certainly not something outside of Christian mainstream.  It is, in fact, an interior movement where through prayer and Scriptural contemplation, one seeks to understand God’s presence in one’s life, a movement that leads to works in our daily lives very much in keeping with biblical mandates such as that found in James 2:14: 14: “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?”

How does the program work?

St. Clair: This is a time of quiet reflection. Cindy and I begin by giving a brief teaching about contemplative prayer, perhaps quoting from experts such as Richard Rohr, Thomas Merton or Joan Chittister. We will focus on five of the chapters in the book which use the cup as a symbol of our souls in various stages of growth: The Cup of Life, The Open Cup, The Broken Cup, The Cup of Compassion and the Blessing Cup.

Rupp says in the preface to the Cup of Our Life:  “A cup can evoke a compelling connection with one’s self. I learned this in the 20 years since ‘The Cup of Our Life’ was first published. While I enjoyed creating this book, I had considerable mistrust and apprehension about its ability to speak to those who used it. I wasn’t sure others would find the potential for spiritual growth that I did in the cup’s symbolism. As it turned out, this concern of mine was wasted energy.

“During the years after ‘The Cup of Our Life’ emerged, I received countless messages from readers telling me how profoundly their encounter with the cup imagery changed their lives. These messages have never stopped coming. Hearing these stories renews my strong belief in the power of symbol to connect our worldly selves to our deeper soul-selves. It is in this connection that we can find meaning and inspiration to live more fully.”

After the teaching, we read a selected Scripture using a timeless Christian contemplative prayer practice which we will teach.  There is a time of silence for 20 minutes. Many feel uncomfortable to be silent for such a seemingly long time and worry they cannot still their chattering brains, but in actuality, we become aware of the chatter, and focus our minds on the deep teaching of the Scripture, seeking for God to inform us.

After the silence, there is a time for faith sharing. We adhere to Guidelines of Trust, adapted from Parker Palmer’s work. He is a leader of spirituality and community formation: couragerenewal.org/parker.  Participants agree to confidentiality, and to listen deeply without interrupting or advising or judging while others speak.  We close the session with contemplative music.

True union with God through Christ is a deepening and transformational process. We are all beginners in prayer and God is always surprising us with love and fresh awareness.

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