About

“Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’”

  • The Sayings of the Desert Fathers

How Did I Catch This Flame?

Even as a pre-teenager I was reading Scriptures, philosophy, and theology – both Christian and Buddhist – and doing yoga poses in my room.  You know, normal stuff!  However, my passion for contemplation was ignited by the Benedictine monks and sisters at St. John’s Abbey and St. Benedict’s Monastery in northern Minnesota.  Their simple life of prayer and work (ora et labora) gradually infused into my bones, and drew me away from a pre-medicine career into a lucrative life of study as a theologian.

At St. John’s Abbey recently with my beautiful family
My last visit with Fr. Mark shortly before his death after a battle with stomach cancer in April 2017

 

In the classroom Sr. Mary Reuter, OSB, introduced us to lectio divina and Centering Prayer – both of which remain the bedrock and foundation of my daily practice.  Meanwhile, Fr. Mark Thamert, OSB, introduced me to spiritual direction, the Enneagram, the mystical poetry of Rumi, Hafiz, and Rainer Maria Rilke, Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful little book, The Miracle of Mindfulness, cooking with enough garlic to kill a village of vampires, and the finer details of tasting Scotch whiskey.  An eclectic mix of essential life skills!

Contemplation immediately spoke to an intense desire for union with God, but also communion with others – both of which require vulnerability, trust, and openness to being surprised.  One of my favorite verbal prayers is “God, surprise me!”  Although committed to a contemplative life, my life is quite active and busy.  Contemplative prayer and meditation have been a stabilizing force that has kept me (relatively) sane through struggles with anxiety, addiction and recovery, and my vocational commitments to marriage, family, career, and community activism.

My approach to contemplative practices is “interspiritual” – that is, my spiritual home remains the Christian tradition (more specifically, the Roman Catholic tradition) in which I was raised, even as my practice, teaching, and research are all informed by both texts and persons from the great wisdom traditions of the world.  I am convinced that being Christian does not have to entail parochialism and rejection of other traditions.  One can be in love with the person of Jesus while opening up to love and embrace all persons.  Or as I once heard Fr. Laurence Freeman, OSB, state it, “it turns out there’s more to being a Christian than going to church and condemning people!”  Those who have taught me the contemplative path have provided me with a concrete witnesses to this kind of radical openness without diluting one’s commitment to following the person of Jesus Christ.

During my junior year of college I was presented with the opportunity to study theology and art in Rome, taking classes at the Dominican school of the Angelicum and living in the Benedictine Monastery and College of Sant’ Anselmo.  Here I learned to love the rhythm of daily prayer, work, and study, and to deepen my practice of lectio divina and Centering Prayer.  Immediately after college I spent a year with the Catholic Charities Volunteer Corps in St. Paul, MN, living in intentional community (with 18 other women!) and engaged in direct service at St. Joseph’s Home for Children and social justice work.  This year exposed me more deeply to the practice and lived commitment of Catholic Social Thought.  After spending some time exploring a monastic vocation (and receiving a very clear message that this was not to be my vocational path), I immediately applied to graduate studies in theology and ethics.

Sant’ Anselmo, Rome, Italy
Myra Rucker, one funky yogi!
Dr. Stephen Parker

Although I continued my contemplative practice during graduate school, it was not until a couple of years into my first academic position (at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN) that I began to integrate my contemplative life with my academic life of teaching and research.  Along with a wonderful group of other dedicated practitioners, administrators, and scholars, we began the Project for Mindfulness & Contemplation at St. Thomas, and I began to bring contemplative practices directly into the classroom, utilizing simple practices as part of my pedagogy.  The students loved it, and continually asked for more.  In that same period I also met Myra Rucker (at the YMCA) and Stephen (Stoma) Parker (at the Meditation Center, in the lineage of Swami Rama), both of whom brought me into the beautiful world of yoga philosophy and practice.  The more intentional integration of my body into my contemplative practice has added an indispensable dimension to my understanding of seeking communion with God.  (As an academic, I need all the help I can get to move out of my “head” and into the body and heart-space.)

It was out of all these early experiences that my desire to bring together my own eclectic background in contemplative prayer and meditation, theology, and ethics in order to share the fruits of contemplation with others began to take root and grow.

In this growth and outreach I have found myself engaged in a great dialogue among Christians and others about the future of contemplative Christianity.  This renewal began in the mid-twentieth century and is now being passed on to a new generation of leaders.  Many of us – like myself – are taking up the mantle of witness to this tradition as lay persons and/or those living outside of monastic or religious communities.  We are engaged in efforts to “raise the profile of contemplative Christianity” amid our culture’s fascination with mindfulness and meditation, and deeply committed to presenting this living tradition in a way that is culturally diverse, ecologically embedded, committed to a seamless integration between contemplative practices and compassionate social action in pursuit of justice and the common good.  This grounding in contemplative stillness combined with commitment to compassionate social action – especially drawing on Catholic Social Thought – is a distinguishing mark of my work within this tradition.  A tall order, but one that many of us feel the Spirit guiding us to undertake with both humility and boldness.

Group photo from the new contemplative exchange in Snowmass, CO (August 2017)

As a small part of that renewal of tradition, I began to share my passions on a blog several years ago, which has now grown into the mix of resources available on this site – blog posts, guided meditations, videos, online courses (at Contemplative U), and the “Contemplate This!” podcast.  Most of these resources are offered freely, and my goal is distribute them as widely as possible to anyone who is open to these teachings.  There are some items for sale.  Sales help me to offset the many costs associated with creating and hosting these media resources online, and hopefully to be able to pay for my kids to go to college someday!  I also ask for free-will donations to help offset these costs.  If you enjoy these resources and you find they add value to your life, I ask you to contribute as you are able on the Donate Page (kinda like an NPR member-drive).

Professional, Credential-ly Stuff:

In my current day job, I am associate professor of Theology and Christian Ethics at the Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, MO, where I am also assistant director of the Ashley-O’Rourke Center for Health Ministry Leadership.  I’m also a Trustee of the Trust for the Meditation Process, an Oblate of St. John’s Abbey (Collegeville, MN), and a commissioned presenter of Centering Prayer through Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. As a scholar, teacher, and author I enjoy offering workshops, retreats, and consultations with a variety of groups and organizations. If you are interested in contacting me about any of these services, please fill out the contact form below.

If you really want to see the academic stuff, you can see my full C.V. here.

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“Be who you were meant to be, and you will set the world on fire.”

– St. Catherine of Siena

 

My most important gurus and teachers!

15 Comments

  1. suzanne homeyer November 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I love your website, etc…..sr. Suzanne mpls

  2. Karen Larson January 25, 2017 at 8:42 am

    You are one of my favorite contributors to Insight Timer! Thank you so much for modifying the Prayer into Sleep, would you please consider a Prayer for Morning/Awakening? I sincerely appreciate your emphasis on a loving, supportive, strengthening God. Abundant peace to you and thank you again for offering your positive energy and vision to our world! You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers today.

    1. tjbushlack January 25, 2017 at 10:06 am

      Great to hear from you, and thank you for the feedback! I have been thinking about some new meditations for Insight Timer, and this is a great idea. I’ll definitely look into it – though it may take a bit before I get it fully created and uploaded to IT.

  3. Karen Larson January 25, 2017 at 8:45 am

    EEEK….I just realized I responded to Suzanne instead of Thomas, sorry Suzanne!

  4. Rachel Garrett June 1, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    My Bible studies are on hiatus until Fall. I’ve been looking for a focus that keeps me connected to God. It is necessary, for me, to make a conscientious effort to keep God in the forefront of my life on a daily basis. I discovered your sleep meditation on Insight Timer and enjoyed what I experienced. I’m looking forward to more of your podcasts, blogs and other contributions. I’ll be sharing this with my Bible study group from Bel Air Prsbyterian Church, Bel Air, Ca, as well. Thank you for your insightful spirit. God bless you.

    1. tjbushlack June 1, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Thank you for your kind words, and I am glad you are enjoying these meditations/teachings and sharing them with others! I am currently creating an online course on “Contemplative Christianity for Busy People.” Check back into the website in a month or so and it should be available.
      Gratefully,
      Tom

  5. Lindsey Rawert June 29, 2017 at 6:52 am

    Your vision , your voice and your words are making this world a better place! Thank you Thomas!

    1. tjbushlack June 29, 2017 at 11:56 am

      I take in your kind words with much gratitude – amplifying that vision and voice:)

  6. JJay August 13, 2017 at 9:17 pm

    Do you still offer mindfulness meditation workshops? How can I find information about them if you do? I now live near St. Louis and would consider attending.

    I have listened and practiced with all the podcasts from The Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation. I continue to listen to those podcasts again. I think they are great and have made a significant impact on my prayer. I was disappointed they came to an end.

    1. tjbushlack August 22, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      Thanks for your message. I’m now posting meditations on Insight Timer, a free meditation app. I’ll try to keep posting info about workshops on my blog as well.

    2. tjbushlack August 23, 2017 at 11:32 am

      OK, one more. You might enjoy the online course I just created at http://www.contemplative-u.com. In a recent blog post I included a coupon code for a discount.
      Thanks again!

  7. JJay August 13, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    I miss having your podcasts on The Project for Mindfulness and Contemplation. They have had a significant positive impact on my prayer.
    Thank you.
    JJay

  8. Kelly January 9, 2018 at 12:45 am

    Hello from Aotearoa NZ!

    In your insight timer podcast with Richard Rohr you mention a book about collective estatic experiences leading to contemplation with reference to black theology. What was the name of the book? I couldn’t catch it and you can’t rewind on insight timer!!

    1. Tom Bushlack January 10, 2018 at 9:12 pm

      Hi Kelly,
      The book is “Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church” by Barbara Holmes. It’s been a very important book for me to understand contemplative practices from outside of the European, monastic context where I first encountered them.

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