The School for Contemplative Living
Saturday, February 27, 2021
Listening in Stillness, Serving in Joy!
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10th Annual Contemplative Conference

Date: Friday, November 08, 2019 - Saturday, November 09, 2019
Time: 7:00 PM - 12:00 PM
Location: First Grace United Methodist Church

Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life
with Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes and Phileena Heuertz
Presenters at Richard Rohr's Conspire Conference
Friday, 11/8/19, 6:30-8:30 pm and Saturday, 11/9/19, 9 am - 12 noon
This program explores the possibility of real joy in a world that is often  unspeakably joyless.  What do we do when everyday brings news of violence, war, poverty and disaster?  It seems that each issue is so complicated and vast that our positive attempts to change things seem futile.  I contend that we need not abandon all hope.  Joy is experienced and expressed in many ways: as an emotion; as a state of being; and as a catalyst that ignites love of self and neighbor.   I am reminded of an old gospel hymn that the church mothers used to sing:  "This joy that I have, the world didn't give it and the world can't take it away."  Thanks be to God.    

Rev. Dr. Barbara Holmes is a spiritual teacher and writer focused on African American spirituality, mysticism, cosmology and culture. She is President Emerita of United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities (2012-2016). She also served as Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Memphis Theological Seminary (2005-2010). She holds the title of Professor Emerita of Ethics and African American Religious Studies at that seminary.


Dr. Holmes was called to ministry while working as a corporate lawyer for the J.C. Penney Corporation, and was ordained in the Latter Rain Apostolic Holiness Church in Dallas, Texas. Today, she has privilege of call in the United Church of Christ and recognition of ministerial standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Dr. Holmes grew up in New Haven, Connecticut, and was a member of Dixwell Avenue Congregational Church.

Dr. Holmes has earned the following degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in Theatre Arts from the University of Connecticut; a Master of Science in Education from Southern Connecticut University; a Master of Divinity degree from Columbia Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Philosophy in Religion (Ethics) from Vanderbilt. Also, she earned a law degree from Walter F. George School of Law, at Mercer University and practiced law in Miami, Atlanta, Macon and Dallas. She specialized in civil litigation, corporate, and appellate practice. She says, ”My life is committed to the struggle for justice, the healing of the human spirit, and the art of relevant and radical creativity.”

In addition, Dr. Holmes has worked with homeless missions; HIV/AIDS support groups and international ministries in Kenya (the Presbyterian Church of East Africa) and Japan. The author of five books and numerous articles, her most recent publications include: Dreaming, Liberation and the Cosmos: Conversations with the Elders, and Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. A second edition of Joy Unspeakable was published in 2017. Her poem and art on the theme are below. Dr. Holmes is married to George Ford and has two sons: Marcus, a film director, and Jason a professor of music.


Phileena’s first half of life was formed on the streets of more than 70 countries, building community among victims of human trafficking, survivors of HIV and AIDS, abandoned children and child soldiers and war brides.

Drawing on 20 years of experience fighting global poverty and injustice with Word Made Flesh, in 2012 she and her husband Chris co-founded Gravity to support the development of consciousness in an ongoing effort to respond to the challenging social justice perils of our time.

Phileena believes that contemplative spirituality is crucial to authentic, creative, liberating social change. Phileena is known for her provocative theological narrative, Pilgrimage of a Soul (IVP 2010) and Mindful Silence (IVP 2018).


Program: Rev. Dr. Holmes will focus on “Contemplation in the Black Church,” 7-8:30 pm including Q&A Friday evening, and Phileena will focus on her compelling story of compassion fatigue and the discovery of contemplative balance on Saturday morning 9-10:30 am including Q&A. Then they take turns leading us in contemplative practices 10:45-12 noon.

Cost: $60, Early Bird Rate until October 1, then $75
‚ÄčJoy Unspeakable

              is not silent,
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
It is a fractal of transcendent hope,
a hologram of God’s heart,
a black hole of unknowing.
For our free African ancestors,
joy unspeakable is drum talk
that invites the spirits
to dance with us,
and tell tall tales by the fire.
For the desert Mothers and Fathers,
joy unspeakable is respite
from the maddening crowds,
And freedom from
             “church” as usual.
For enslaved Africans during the
Middle Passage,
joy unspeakable is the surprise
of living one more day,
and the freeing embrace of death
            chosen and imposed.
For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
            “Don’t forget,
            I taught you how to fly
            on a wing and a prayer,
                        when you’re ready
                                    let’s go!”
Joy Unspeakable is humming
“how I got over”
after swimming safely
to the other shore of a swollen Ohio river
when you know that you can’t swim.
It is the blessed assurance
            that Canada is far,
            but not that far.
For Africana members of the
“invisible institution,” the
emerging black church,
joy unspeakable is
practicing freedom
while chains still chafe,
singing deliverance
            while Jim Crow stalks,
trusting God’s healing
            and home remedies,
            prayers, kerosene,
                        and cow patty tea.
For the tap dancing, boogie woogie,
            rap/rock/blues griots
            who also hear God,
joy unspeakable is
that space/time/joy continuum thing
            that dares us to play and pray
            in the interstices of life,
it is the belief that the phrase
            “the art of living”
            means exactly what it says.
             Joy Unspeakable
the unlikely merger of
            trance and high tech lives
            ecstatic songs and a jazz repertoire
                        Joy unspeakable is
                        a symphony of incongruities
                                    of faces aglow and hearts
                                    on fire
                                                and the wonder of surviving together. [1]

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