Institute Programs

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Martin Laird
Cynthia Bougeault / Paulette Meier
Belden Lane
Chris Pramuk
Fred Brancato
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As the teaching and training arm of the Guild, the Institute offers educational opportunities that range from introductory workshops to in-depth courses in spiritual life and practice. In the summer and fall, the institute sponsors several "special event" programs that bring noted teachers and scholars to the area to lead retreats and speak on topics of interest to our community. Presenters in recent years have included Thomas Keating, Cynthia Bourgeault, Rose Mary Dougherty, John Chryssavgis, Rami Shapiro, Christopher Pramuk, Martin Laird and Richard Rohr.  

Guild Institute Weekend Programs 2015

Seeds of Contemplation

In honor of Thomas Merton (1915-1968) on the centenary of his birth, our theme this year is Seeds of Contemplation. For Merton, each moment and each event of our lives offer "seeds" by which God invites us to awaken to a deeper, living dialogue in our hearts on the "ground" of freedom, spontaneity and love.

NEG 2015 Flyer ThumbnailThe programs below encourage us to slow down and listen to that dialogue, to the holy whispers at our deepest Center. They focus on five core practices that touch our deep prayer: befriending Silence (with Martin Laird), letting go (Cynthia Bourgeault and Paulette Meier), reading prayerfully the inner and outer landscapes of our spiritual journeys (Belden Lane), awakening to Wisdom’s Presence at the healing intersection of the world and our identity in God (Christopher Pramuk), and embracing the Grace that carries us through listening and learning from our experiences of diminishment (Rose Mary Dougherty).

The second century writer Irenaeus wrote, "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." For Merton, to be fully human is to accept the holy invitation to "forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds and join in the general dance" at the heart of the world. These programs are ways of saying "Yes" to that invitation.

Martin Laird:
Dialogues with Silence - May 11-15, 2015

A Guild-in-Residence-at-Alcyon Retreat

2015MartinLairdThis five-day retreat allows the space and time to sit in silent prayer in common in order to deepen our receptivity to the dawning of Silence, deep within awareness, that is already the ground of our being. Releasing ever more deeply into that Silence, this retreat offers an opportunity for participants' dialogue with that stillness.

Sitting together in silence, morning, afternoon, and evening is the beating heart of this retreat. Each day Martin will give a short talk.  Each afternoon will feature two hours of Sabbath time, with the opportunity to speak individually with Martin.

The Alcyon Center provides an intimate setting on a tidal cove, with walking trails through the woods and benches and chairs by the water. Meals (in silence Tuesday through Thursday) are freshly prepared of local ingredients. Accommodations are arranged through the center's co-directors. The Great Silence will be kept from 8 pm to 8 am each day. Limited to 16 participants.

Martin Laird, O.S.A, is Associate Professor of Theology at Villanova University. An Augustinian priest and a highly experienced retreat leader throughout the United States and Great Britain, he is the author of the classic guidebook to contemplative prayer, Into the Silent Land, and its companion volume, A Sunlit Absence.

Retreat Dates: This residential retreat was from Monday, May 11, at 9 am through Friday, May 15, at 1 pm.
Costs: Tuition (to the Northeast Guild) Before April 15 $300; after April 15 $325
Room & Board (to The Alcyon Center after registration): $320. Please contact Alcyon for more information at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 207.244.1060.


Cynthia Bourgeault & Paulette Meier:
Letting Go - June 5-7, 2015

2015CBPMA weekend devoted to contemplative self-emptying or kenosis, through the refreshing practices of centering prayer and sacred chant, into the distilling Silence for which Quaker tradition is renowned.

Centuries of monastic life have shown sacred chant to be a powerful complement and catalyst to sounding the depths of contemplative prayer. Both the Day of Teaching and Retreat will be devoted to the convergence of these two streams: opening our hearts and minds through the classical practice Cynthia calls the "core, sacred gesture" of prayerful self-emptying, while giving voice to Paulette's beautiful and evocative Quaker chants, leading to our divine Center.

(This weekend is very much in the spirit of a contemporary spiritual classic of constant prayer, A Testament of Devotion, by the Quaker writer Thomas Kelly. He emphasizes our relationship to our deepest Center through our Presence to a "continuously renewed immediacy." If you are not familiar with this little gem, we commend it highly!)

Cynthia Bourgeault is an Episcopal priest and an internationally esteemed retreat leader. The author of several books, the two most pertinent to our practice this weekend is Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening and The Wisdom Jesus.
Paulette Meier is a singer, musician and teacher. She is the composer and vocalist of Timeless Quaker Wisdom in Plainsong, a CD of chant-like songs based on aphorisms from classical Quaker writers such as George Fox, Margaret Fell and John Woolman.

Place: Pacific Hall, West Tremont, Maine

Day of Teaching Date: Friday, June 5, 10am -- 4pm
Tuition for Day of Teaching: Before May 15 $75; after May 15 $85
Optional meal package: Lunch on Friday $10

Retreat Dates: Friday, June 5, 7pm -- Sunday, June 7, 12pm
Tuition for Retreat: Before May 15 $150; after May 15 $170
Optional meal package: Lunch and Supper on Saturday $25


Belden Lane:
Wilderness Lectio: Contemplation & Nature - June 26-28, 2015

2015BeldenLaneA weekend focused on the practice of contemplative prayer, set within the context of Maine's wild coastal landscape. If lectio divina is the contemplative reading of a sacred text, how does this find new life when we combine it with reading the book of nature? St. Anthony of Egypt, one of the Desert Fathers, said, "My book is the nature of created things; whenever I want to read the word of God, it's right there before me." Using spiritual classics from several traditions, we'll explore the discipline of a contemplative life, attending to teachers in the inner terrain of our hearts as well as the outer landscape of our environment. The retreat includes time for wandering in nature, exercises in meditation, small group work, storytelling, and rituals drawn from the natural world.

Belden Lane, a newly retired Professor of Theology and Spirituality at St. Louis University, describes himself as a "scholar in recovery." The author of several books and articles, he is perhaps best known for The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, his journey through outer deserts (in Jordan, the Sinai, Egypt and the American Southwest) and inner ones (his mother's long process of dying). Our weekend this year is based on his new book, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice, with explorations of writings by Therese of Lisieux, Thich Nhat Hanh, John of the Cross, Jelaluddin Rumi, Teilhard de Chardin, Mohandas Gandhi and Thomas Merton, among others.

Place: The Alcyon Center, Seal Cove, Maine

Day of Teaching Date: Friday, June 26, 9am -- 3pm
Tuition for Day of Teaching: Before June 1 $65; after June 1 $75
Optional meal package: Lunch on Friday $10

Retreat Dates: Saturday, June 27, 9am -- Sunday, June 28, 12pm
Tuition for Retreat: Before June 1 $125; after June 1 $150
Optional meal package: Lunch and Supper on Saturday $25


Christopher Pramuk:
Awakening through Wisdom - September 11-13, 2015

2015ChrisPramukThis weekend is dedicated to awakening to "the unity of God's essential presence in all things and the oneness of all things in God" through Wisdom, the Divine Feminine. Thomas Merton wrote that our true identity is "hidden in the love and mercy of God," experienced in the sheer gratuitousness of life itself.

In the biblical tradition, Wisdom is the feminine face of God at play in creation and the guide to our deeper identity. Though "hidden," our union with Wisdom is neither abstract nor esoteric. Rather, Merton said, "It is simply opening yourself to receive. The presence of God is like walking out of a door into the fresh air. You don't concentrate on the fresh air; you breathe it. And you don't concentrate on the sunlight; you just enjoy it. It is all around."

Chris Pramuk's groundbreaking insight reveals how centrally transformative Wisdom was for Merton; in this retreat, we explore Wisdom's Presence in our life and prayer, as well. In addition to a group sacred reading of Merton's poetic hymn to Wisdom, "Hagia Sophia," Silence, contemplative prayer, music, nature and art offer spacious groundings for our wakefulness.

Christopher Pramuk lives with his wife, Lauri, a pediatrician, and their four children in Cincinnati, where he teaches theology and spirituality at Xavier University. He is a musician and the author of several books, including Sophia: The Hidden Christ of Thomas Merton, which was awarded the International Thomas Merton Society's 2011 "Thomas Merton Award," its highest honor. Of Chris' new book, At Play in Creation: Merton's Awakening to the Feminine Divine, Jonathan Montaldo writes, "Pramuk is now my go-to theologian/poet for a trustworthy rendition of Merton's legacy. I smell a 'classic' about to be born before my grateful eyes." Robert Ellsberg adds, "In the centenary of Merton's birth, this book is a great gift, a bell summoning us to prayer and praise."

Place: The Alcyon Center, Seal Cove, Maine

Day of Teaching: Friday, September 11, 9am -- 3pm
Tuition for Day of Teaching: Before August 15 $65; after August 15 $75
Optional meal package: Lunch on Friday $10

Retreat: Saturday, Sept. 12, 9am -- Sunday, Sept. 13, 12pm
Tuition for Retreat: Before August 15 $125; after August 15 $150
Optional meal package: Lunch and Supper on Saturday $25


Fred Brancato
Harvesting the Gifts of Our Diminishments - October 5-9, 2015

A Guild-in-Residence-at-Alcyon Retreat

2015FredBrancato(Due to Rose Mary Dougherty's ongoing concerns with Parkinson's Disease, Fred Brancato has graciously offered to lead this retreat with his approach to the topic -- Sep 2 2015.) This five-day retreat will provide an opportunity to reflect upon and embrace all the opportunities for spiritual growth afforded by our diminishment and vulnerability as we age. The older we get the more likely we are to experience loss of loved ones and our own progressive loss of physical and mental capacities. We will reflect in solitude and together about how these experiences - as painful as they may be - call us to greater awareness of our deepest identity and oneness with the Divine, however we may name it.

Toward this end, we will explore the inseparable connection between contemplation and death of all kinds, and look at how grief, sadness, fear and dread are necessary experiences on the way to witnessing the Radiance in all things, including ourselves and all whom we meet.  Our exploration will involve reflection on brief talks by the facilitator, selected readings from the world’s diverse spiritual traditions, answering key questions for ourselves, and dialogue together about our insights and experiences, with ample time for solitude.

Fred Brancato has a Ph.D from the department of Culture and Communication at New York University and an M.A. in religious education at Fordham University. He has been studying the world’s diverse spiritual traditions for more than 55 of his 77 years of life. He teaches courses on the world’s diverse spiritual traditions at the USM’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, facilitates retreats and workshops, teaches Tai Chi, and is the author of Ancient Wisdom and the Measure of Our Days: the Spiritual Dimensions of Retirement, Aging and Loss.

Retreat: This residential retreat begins Monday, Oct. 5, at 9 am through Friday, Oct. 9, at 1 pm.
Costs: Tuition (to the Northeast Guild): $300.
Room & Board (to The Alcyon Center after registration): $320. Please contact Alcyon for more information at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 207.244.1060.

2015 Subscriber Package

The Guild offers the three weekend programs (nine days) at a special Subscriber rate of $650 with meals or $550 without meals. (This is for tuition - with or without meals. Room and additional meals may be arranged through The Alcyon Center or, if it is full, at local B&Bs or campgrounds.) This is an extraordinary value for three weekends led by Cynthia Bourgeault-Paulette Meier, Belden Lane and Christopher Pramuk. Our purpose for doing this is simple: the Northeast Guild is primarily a spiritual community, and our experience is that community is strengthened when several of us participate in all three weekends.

Payments may be spread over three or four installments that work for each person. The Subscriber rate was available through May 15. (If you need lodging at The Alcyon Center, please contact them by May 1.) You may register in a single payment by clicking the link below, or for more information about paying in installments, please contact Eric Erickson at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Cost: Including lunch on three Fridays and lunch and supper on three Saturdays: $650
Not including the above meals; participants may bring their own meals: $550