Steps on the Contemplative Journey

I have been interested in the contemplative life for many years. While a student at the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary in Indiana, I relished all available opportunities for both the academic study, and practical experience of different forms of the ministry of Spiritual Direction.

In a nutshell, Spiritual Direction works from the premise that something larger than ourselves is interested in us, and seeks to guide our living. We often need help in paying attention to the hints, promptings, and nudges that come our way.

In 2008, a personal crisis led me to seek the help of both a psychotherapist, and a spiritual director. I also enrolled in the Ontario Jubilee Program, a two year exploration of personal spirituality, and faith, and ancient and modern approaches to Spiritual Direction.

I became “certified” as a Spiritual Director, and established a practice, which was encouraged and supported by the congregation I served at the time. I met with “directees” in regular one-on-one sessions, and also developed a program of group spiritual direction and mutual support for clergy colleagues, which was approved and underwritten by the local United Church presbytery.

For a few years I served on the core staff of Ontario Jubilee, and was involved in the nurture and encouragement of other spiritual pilgrims, many of whom have gone on to be caring and insightful Spiritual Directors. I also enjoyed many other opportunities to teach, and lead retreats, for congregations, and at the United Church’s Five Oaks Centre, near Brantford.

Five Oaks | Education and Retreat Centre

One of my persistent “wonderings” has been how to incorporate what I learn and experience about spirituality and the contemplative life into the life of congregations I serve as a pastor. This question was a primary focus of a 3 month sabbatical in 2016, during which I studied at Queens University in Kingston, and at Westminster College, affiliated with Cambridge University in England. I continue to experiment with this, and to sample how it is done by others.

Over the years, this journey of exploration has taken me to many places, including: Huron College in London, Ontario, the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Mt. Carmel Retreat House in Niagara Falls, the Naramata Centre in British Columbia, the Sisters of Bon Secours convent outside Washington, D.C., the denominational headquarters of the United Methodist Church in Nashville, to Mepkin Abbey, a Cistercian monastery at Monckville, South Carolina, to Pendle Hill, outside of Philadelphia, to gatherings of Spiritual Directors International in Boston, and Toronto, and more recently to the School for Contemplative Living, based in New Orleans.

The School for Contemplative Living Listening in Stillness, Serving in Joy! (

I have met, and studied and worked with some amazing people over the years, including wonderful mentors and guides such as Daniel Wolpert, Cynthia Bourgeault, Richard Rohr, William Thiele, and Rodger Kamenetz.

This “reflection” was prompted by a request from the web-master of the Jubilee website, to update my profile, and provide a recent photo. (Jubilee maintains a list of “certified” spiritual directors.)

Canadian Jubilee Programs

Here’s the photo! I think it looks like the kind of head shot authors have on the back of their books. I like it, but wonder where all the grey hair came from. I asked the photographer, my wife, who offered no explanation.

In the last few years I have moved away from more traditional modes of spiritual direction, and prefer intentional conversations with fellow spiritual seekers over being the designated “director” in the room.

Here is a link to my listing on the Jubilee site:

Darrow Woods — Canadian Jubilee Programs

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