by Tom Benson,
Director, Center for Contemplative Living
Greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I would like to share with you my spiritual journey and the founding of the Center for Contemplative Living. The Center was officially granted a non-profit 501c3 status last March. So, it’s been a busy year establishing the Center and continuing in my ministry training.
You might wonder how I arrived at this juncture in my life and how God has led me along this journey. Well, in the first 20 years of my adult Christian life, I was active in almost every form of lay church service and ministry. From establishing a young adult group to playing in the praise band to being on the vestry to now offering Prayers of the People and being a Chalice Bearer at Church of the Redeemer. However, during the last 20 years, I began asking the question, is this all there is?
I started yearning and seeking a deeper, more sacred relationship with God. Church life was becoming like a social club to me. There were elements of intimacy with God in my first 20 years, but now I was being drawn to something more. At first, I thought I was to pursue ordained ministry as a Priest, which didn’t come to fruition. Instead, I learned about Spiritual Direction and had a few sessions. And then we moved out of state to take a new job. At our new church, I was again active in church life, but was still asking, “God, what are you leading me to do?” I would well up with emotion at times when playing praise music and others noticed something was happening. I spent time discussing this with my pastor and he pointed me to the Daily Office, but I found the Daily Office in the Book of Common Prayer too cumbersome for me, so I continued using “Our Daily Bread” for my daily devotional.
Eventually, we moved again, this time to Huntersville, North Carolina, my late wife’s home state. There we met Alan and Angela Kaye Hawkins and were excited to be part of the AMIA family (now ACNA). After Alan and AK moved to Greensboro, we eventually joined a UMC Congregation closer to where we lived and my late wife’s childhood faith community. God was still nudging me and although active in Church life again, I began asking my new pastor about something deeper, something beyond the intellectual knowledge of God, something sacred. He suggested I read ”Celebrations of Discipline” by Richard Foster, and then planned to follow up and discuss it. However, life-changing events happened that challenged me and disrupted my path or at least diverted my attention. In the Fall of 2011, my job was eliminated and a month later my wife passed away. Obviously, this was a difficult time for me and my sons. But with the support of the Church, my Community Group, family, and neighbors, God blessed us. He helped us survive the traumatic events and we began a new chapter of life. Life continues even in the darkest hours and it’s by love, faith, and charity graciously given, that we learned to adapt and embrace what would become our “new normal.”
In 2013, I remarried and moved to Guilford County, where my wife Leigh Ann has several adult children and grandchildren. During the early months of our marriage, I would return to Huntersville to visit my older son. On one occasion, I checked out my old bookshelves and found “Celebrations of Discipline” and began reading it again and this time it was like “Where has this book been? Why didn’t I read this 20 years ago?” God knew this was the moment when I was ready to embrace this book with vigor and excitement.
From here, things began to unfold. I learned of a spiritual director in Greensboro who was kind enough to see me. He, in time, told me about a two-year spiritual formation program, where I learned of contemplative practices and about the desert fathers and mothers (great Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross). I was immersed in a new life with God which satisfied my longing and yearnings for a deeper relationship with Him– all by learning how to be with God, not just doing for God. I learned of contemplative outreach and the methods of centering and welcoming prayer. Then I pursued becoming a commissioned presenter for Contemplative Outreach and established a new chapter here in Central North Carolina and In June of 2017, I began another two-year formation program in Spiritual Direction.
Two years ago, I retired from the Market Place (operations management) to begin another new chapter, “Soul Care Ministry.” Alan and I had many conversations prior to this transition and concluded that the Center for Contemplative Living would be a good fit for the Abbey at New Garden Park. During this past year, I’ve offered several Growth Series programs including “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” and “Mirror for the Soul – A Christian Guide to the Enneagram.” Last Fall, I presented my first Centering Prayer workshop at Church of the Redeemer. Upon completing my spiritual direction training in April, I hope to offer another Growth Series called “Pilgrimage of the Heart.” In the meantime, you can learn more about the Center by visiting our website or by contacting me via email.
This is what the Lord Says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. -Jeremiah 6:16 NIV