large acsisters orans logoWe, the Association of Contemplative Sisters, exist to foster and support the contemplative journey of our members.

ACS Mission Statement



 Reflection on the Experience of Visiting the Camaldolese Monastery, Big Sur 

 by Noelani Sheckler-Smith 

“What is impossible to express in words must be done in images:

What is most unique about the hermitage is that it seems to be a place or an experience where the Infinite Mystery of God

does not hold itself aloof from the frail business of my humanity.

There is a kind of fracturing of my human categories of living,

a breaking open, exposing mind-castles to self, a suspended moment of no-time; and the passionate magnetic Love that whirls in


holds me so closely to Its heart

that I recognize my kinship with every creature, rock, or color.

I am always becoming a person who desires more than anything else to become an ambassador of Love.”





Every Evening Mystery

Eggshell blue summer sky,

crack it open and what do you hear:

the robin’s evening song,

exquisitely noted,

a miniature lullaby,

wound up and repeated over and over;

lulling me inside,

pushing me under this swollen robin’s breast—

such a delicate mother,

until finally all gathered up,

and with no place else left to go,

I’m satisfied and full,

my soulself entranced—

effortlessly absorbed,

my being drawn out

and pulled softly into this every evening mystery.


Sister Judith Thackray



Report about the 2012 General Assembly Presentation by Ilia Delio

    Ilia Delio favored us with a brilliant talk on our theme, “Behold, I am doing something new, (Is.43:19) Awakening to What is Emerging”

    A true disciple of Pierre Teilhard deChardin, Ilia shared with us her interest and research into science and religion.  This included areas of evolutionary theory and divine action as they relate to spirituality. 

    Referring to a shift in consciousness, she described axial periods of history in which scholars believe: religions first evolved; and later technology led us to a more global interpretation of life.  She spoke of the early concepts of Plato reaching out from the earth and toward the heavens, Descartes’s Dualism, and Newton’s world of law and order.  All these preceded the current exploration of cosmology as an ‘expanding universe’ and our understanding of us as part of this evolving energy.  Ilia called ours a ‘pilgrim universe’ in which constant change is occurring.  She quoted Cardinal Newman, “To live is to change.  To be perfect is to change often.”  Hence our interaction with the universe and with each other is a significant factor within these energy fields and there is “energy between us”.

  She encouraged us with the idea that we’re not yet finished, but that we are in the process of being created; and that together we are fashioning something new.  Consequently, she stressed the need of letting go so that we might be caught up in the free current of this newness.  The message was change or you will die.  Ilia spoke of Energy as the Spirit between Love and Lover, symbolizing trinity.  She sees the Incarnation, the Cosmic Christ as an act of Cosmic Completion, and sin as living in the denial of interrelatedness.  She quoted the Divine Milieu: “There is nothing profane here for those who see with love.”  She stressed the unity of love energy referring to heaven as an embrace of love that transforms this present earthly life with its frailty and weakness into the divine presence of enduring love. 

     In conclusion, Ilia spoke of our call being: to create a new willingness to engage in emerging into love, and to find new ways to be creative and imaginative.  “Be whole-makers”, she challenged.  “Live with an evolutionary spirit.”  Clare of Assisi tells us to, “Go forward lightly, not weighed down.”  “Love makes whole, that which is divided.  Evolve by way of love.”

     Inspiration for applying Ilia’s words was spurred on by the memorial service of Neil Armstrong the day after our National Assembly.  Rt. Rev. Marianne Edgar Budde offered her final blessing of the day with, “Go forth into the world in peace.  Search the cosmos.  It is the Lord’s.  And may the God of all strength innerve you with the courage of the astronauts.”


• Jan Schaefer








The world is upsidedown in the water;

Sun rises fingerwidth by fingerwidth,

Signal the October trees--

Maples, birches--

And they burst into fireworks

Of adoration.


The water, so enamored of the show,

Claims the colors for her own

But in dervish motion


I do not need to speak of God;

The colors claim that right.

The waters dance,

The trees declaim,

Fall--all--sings lauds

•  Elaine Theisen




Reports on Barbara Fiand’s presentation at the 2010 General Assembly

From Ann Denham

Barbara Fiand

We were all immediately in sync with Barbara Fiand. Catholics, used-to-be-Catholics, non-Catholics and free thinkers were galvanized by her deconstruction of the world’s oldest bureaucracy and its strange priorities, like who can wash the communion cups and women’s ordination as equal to criminal acts against children. It was a good place to start. Something is dying and those in charge are fighting back. In religion, in government, in statecraft, violence and denial rise up on every side. It was a terrific release just to hear this voiced and be among others who see it too: we aren’t all mad.

Painting with broad strokes, Fiand spoke of levels of consciousness. For thousands of years we were at Level One: everything is one thing: government is tribe, religion, animism. Everything is animated by spirit and alive with the sacred. Then came agriculture. Humankind discovered that facts led to control of nature. Corn could be induced to grow near to home; surplus could be gathered against a drought or rainy day. The more the world was reduced to object and separated into opposites—good and bad, sacred and profane, matter and spirit—the more control could be exercised and centralized. This led to Level Two, Holy Truth, which can be used by science in producing technology or established in dogma and law: unchanging, permanent, closed to the new. But we live in an evolving cosmos, one which offers us constant novelty, and even science is finding at its heart a world that is stranger than they expected to find.   Even science is coming up against that place where the tools of Level Two cannot go. 

Now, says Fiand, we are rapidly entering into Level Three consciousness, the most dramatic change in 10,000 years. Especially in the West, where we have perfected Level Two tropes, we are astonished and fearful: what to do? But instead of letting be and letting go, into a time of releasement and waiting, we are holding on and fighting back.
Our culture suffers from exaggerated emphasis on the rational and logical explanations, which get in the way of the intuitive and mystical aspects of our quest. Christian faith, which began as following Jesus and practicing ones faith in the midst of life, has become a religion of content, sacred now and beyond change: answers to questions no one is asking, while we hunger for the Mystery of Life that asks of us not control but surrender.
There is no space to say more; I choose to lift out two of Fiand’s themes that spoke to me. Using the work of author, Paula D’Arcy, Fiand touches on our reluctance to change, even when the old is threadbare and beyond repair. We need a new set of eyes. “I resist my own awakening,” D’Arcy says. “I push against that for which I most deeply yearn.” I resonate with this. As a contemplative, I see the wisdom of Fiand’s thesis, but my investment in Western ways is deep and deceptive. I don’t know if I have the courage to let Presence and not my images and understandings, lead the way. I do know I can only do it supported by other seekers. I am reminded that those who responded to Jesus were those so far outside society as to have nothing to lose in accepting his invitation. There was no hope that they could be “saved” by the standards of their world. “If you are open,” Fiand says, “the universe will reveal itself to you on the third level.” Let it be so.
A second theme that keeps nagging at me is using the discoveries of science to help us build a new mythic story: The behavior of atoms, the majesty of the cosmos, strange and wondrous events, like rainbow bodies among Buddhist saints and 40,000 pages of non-locality in CIA research. I find these don’t lead me to “the divine as energy that can be a “Christification” of Jesus under my own skin.” So far, for me, these lead to contemplation of a starry sky, while noticing how cold and lonely those far flung elements seem. I don’t need an anthropomorphized God but I do want a Mystery that is personal, that somehow knows and loves me. Our primal stories: we were slaves in Egypt and God brought us home; the world did its worst and the tomb was empty; Christ is risen; let us be bread, broken and shared; let us be wine, poured for the world; deep within all people the life of God: these speak to me. I admire what science has discovered and I find my reintegration of symbols is happening nearer to home.   
• Ann Denham
From Jan Schaefer
With real eagerness and a sense of stimulation we heard Barbara Fiend at the November, 2010 General Assembly of ACS share her wisdom gems on spirituality with us. “Our eyes were opened,” hearing her describe the three levels of consciousness experienced by individuals as well as civilization.
Moving from the first level characterized by evidence of primitive magic and blind obedience, she developed the theory into the second level of ego emergence, independence and hierarchism. At this second level, one of the striking features is the understanding of mystery as a problem to be solved.   At the third level of consciousness, emphasis on mystery is seen not as something to be solved, but rather as a journey to be embraced and entered into. “The ecstasy is in the journey ever more deeply into the mystery which is God.”
Barbara described phases of maturation as one moves through these basic levels of consciousness. An initial feeling of well-being and accomplishment in reaching a new level is then followed by eventual existential boredom. Eventual experiences of feeling lost or the ‘the dark night of the soul’ then leads to a new vision, a gift or dawning which is followed by experimentation with the testing of the next level. Finally, a general reintegration of all the other levels occurs with the new level of awareness.
Among discoveries of the Post-Modern Era, she spoke of attitudes toward Truth: seeing truth as relational, open-ended, growing, and arrived at only through involvement. Besides in-depth discussion of other aspects of truth she again included respect for mystery. She referred to our relationship with God using Carol Houselander’s familiar symbol in The Flute of God; a hollow reed through which flows the breath of God.
Concluding her two days with us, Barbara spoke of the New World View. She mentioned the phenomenon of the explosion of knowledge gained from science within the last century and its relationship to areas of spirituality and religious thought. Concepts of this new era include viewing life as dynamic, ever-moving, always changing. Viewing thought as energy, and all concepts of time as ultimately reduced to the NOW gives new flavor to prayer. Our reach into affecting past and future results sends healing messages for all time.
Barbara left us with defining the primary energy within the universe as Agape or Love or God. One of my favorite quotes is her thought of God’s welcoming greeting at the pearly gates. With an image of God as the loving mystery of evolution in dynamic truth, the words that will thrill my being will hopefully be: “Honey, did you have a good time? Did you enjoy all the good things I did for you?”                 
• Jan Schaefer
Sr. Judith Thackray
Medicine Lake
At sundown,
when the great, green
pines have grown
their shadowy doubles
in the mirror lake;
and the black-winged
crows, flocking thickly
overhead, have called
all the lost birds
quickly home to roost—
my hesitant heart
creeps out, timid, like
a common house mouse,
to sip only very briefly
at the water’s edge:
then oh! plunges deeply in—
just behind the floating geese,
in whose shimmering wake, 
though like a wedge,
I am separate from nothing.
—Judith, Hermit of Sarada
Tsalagi (Eastern Cherokee)
Lisa McCann
Silence in Late Winter
On one of the narrow, winding roads I drive toget to the Redding Meditation Center where Ipractice, is a piece of property where the ownerwidened a brook into a small pond and plantedyoung willow trees on the slope between anold, gray barn and the brook. The land rollsback and up behind ancient farm stone walls.This winter the scene has been mostly stark, inwhite, black and grays, but about two weeksago the willow branches, pollarded so that theystand almost straight up, turned gold. It happened
all at once, the cluster of slim, orderly,gray trunks suddenly crowned with living gold;
and it does not fade away, but glows brighter.This scene brings to mind the story from earlyaccounts of the desert fathers, where Abba Lotcame to Abba Joseph and said, "Father, as I amable, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, myprayer, my meditation and silence, and as best Ican I strive to keep my heart pure of thought.But now, what more should I do?" Abba Josephstood up in reply, stretching out his handstoward heaven, and his fingers became like tenlamps of fire. He said, "Why not just become
Why not indeed? In our lectiodivina group lastwinter we read the lambent, spare lines fromExodus where Moses sees the burning bush. InDavid Rosenberg's translation (The Book of J),Moses guided his father-in-law's flock to theMountain of God. There Yahweh's angelappeared to him as fire in a thorn bush. Helooked closely: there a bush blazed with fire,yet the bush was not burnt away. "I must stop,come closer to this luminous thing," Mosesthought, "to see why the bush is not eatenaway." In the silence that followed this readingwe remembered arresting events in nature thatwe had witnessed, which now became part ofour lectio meditation But it was at another time
that I saw this life-altering event in a differentway, an even more interior way: the cool, clearfire in my mind, deep and until that momenthidden. Now that I could see it, I stopped, andthen approached with infinite care, the way Imight approach a sleeping fawn. The flameintensified, but I was not afraid: I knew that Iwas looking at my own mind, or more accurately,at the Silence which is in me and in everything.The mountain, the wind, the tinklingbells and bleating of the sheep, all of these areSilence. Not separate, not outside the Silence,but of it and in it.
Become fire. When Peter and the other disciplesfished the Lake of Tiberius all night, theycaught nothing. In the morning Jesus appearedon the shore, and fish suddenly weighed downtheir nets. When the men recognized Jesus,"Simon Peter hearing that it was the Lordtucked his coat up for he was naked and threwhimself into the sea." He was on fire with loveof God, and the sea could not quench it.
Persian poet known as
“The Tongue of the Invisible”
Find that flame, that existence,
that Wonderful One
who can burn beneath the water.
No other kind of light
will cook the food you need.