courses and retreats

Way of Beauty Retreat in June in Rural Vermont

OQ I have been invited by the OQ Farm in beautiful farmland close to Woodstock, Vermont) to lead a weekend retreat centered around the traditional formation that would been given to the great Catholic artists of the past. This will certainly be of interest to artists of any creative discipline; but not just artists. It is open to anyone seeking a traditional formation in beauty and inculturation that engenders creativity and openness to inspiration. It takes place from the 3-5th June, 2016.

John Paul II said in his Letter to Artists, written in 1999, that every person has a personal vocation to contribute creatively and beautifully to the culture in some way as we go about our daily lives. In that sense we might become artists through supernatural means: by being united to Christ we are transformed and participate in the divine nature. St Athanasius was referring to this supernatural transformation in the 3rd century AD when he said that, 'God became man, so that we might become god'. Maximus the Confessor, in the 7th century AD, in reiterating this said that, 'One becomes all that God is, except an identity in being, when one is deified by grace.' Benedict XVI said that through this each of us can participate in the 'creative love of God'.

It is an extraordinary privilege, yet it is one that is offered through the Church to every single person. 

0224_pg16popeprayers_255This call to be raised up so that God works through us, and to contribute creatively and beautifully to society, is the essence of the New Evangelization. Through grace we lead a life of beauty and contribute creatively to a new culture. It is by this beauty and love in our lives that others see Christ and are drawn to the Faith. This result is described by Benedict in his paper on the New Evangelization, written in 2001; and in the same paper he gives us the method by which we can participate in this. The method of the 'New' evangelization is rooted in the one which worked so successfully for the early Church. It is a traditional pattern of prayer, which incorporates different sorts of prayer and contemplation, and has the worship of God in the sacred liturgy at its heart. This will be a journey in which together we will study this short document (under 10 pages) and try to put into practice what he describes. 

This is what formed the great evangelists of the past; and it also what enabled so many of the great painters of the past to create beauty for the greater glory of God. In many ways it is building on what was described in the book written by Leila Lawler and myself, the Little Oratory - A Beginner's Guide to Praying the Home. In this weekend we will go more deeply into the subject, learning more about how the beauty of the Catholic traditions of sacred art (as specified by Benedict XVI in his book the Spirit of the Liturgy), through form and content support the prayer life and the themes that he highlights in his paper on the New Evangelization. We will experience the methods he describes first hand the prayer that it describes, with additional insights.  


As such it is a mini Catholic inculturation that you can benefit from and take with you to your domestic church. In fact the hope of this weekend is that what you get will not stop when you leave. Prayer at home, as well as in our parish church, is a vital component to what Benedict describes. Benedict told a synod on the family in 2008 that, 'The new evangelization depends largely on the Domestic Church. The Christian Family to the extent it succeeds in living love as communion and service as a reciprocal gift open to all, as a journey of permanent conversion supported by the grace of God, reflects the splendor of Christ in the world and the beauty of the divine Trinity.’ The point should be made here that this does not only apply to families, it is true for and open to everyone, no matter what their state in life. We all have a home, and so we can all create a domestic church! It is how we turn a house into a home.


In the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of rural Vermont you will:

  • Learn to pray the Divine Office in English using traditional chant, so that you can do it at home or parish (no previous music training necessary)
  • Learn to engage with visual imagery in your prayer - in the liturgy and in devotional and contemplative prayer (conspectio divina).
  • Learn how to choose images, based upon traditional principle, for your own domestic church that will promote this supernatural transformation.
  • Understand why the great figurative traditions of the sacred art of the Church are formed so as to engender such a transformation, both through the content - what they portray; and style - how they portray it.

Weekend Retreat Package: $375 per person
Arrive on Friday, 6/3 by dinner, depart by noon on Sunday, 6/5
Includes semi-private lodging and all weekend meals. A limited number of private rooms are available for an additional cost. Please see Lodging,Travel and Meals (link) for more information.

Saturday Commuter Package: $125 per person
Arrive by 8am Saturday, joining for all daytime activities and shared lunch -- departing before dinner

To book, and for more information please contact the Director of Arts Initiatives, Keri Wiederspahn:; 802.230.7779 or got to


Below a beautiful icon of the transfiguration, painted by monks at Mt St Angel Abbey, Oregon. This is a painting of the event that anticipated Christ in glory in heaven. It is also a painting of the mystical body of Christ, the Church. When we are transformed, in Christ, in this life, we can be a pixel of light in his body, drawing people to the Faith.

The Transfiguration 001


Prayer of the Heart - How to Engage the Whole Person in Prayer. The Divine Office III

Engaging the Whole Person in Prayer  Opens us up Further to Inspiration and Creativity - The Divine Office III, part II here, part I here.

In the sight of angels I will sing praise to you (Ps 138:1). Let us rise in chanting that our hearts and voices harmonise.’ (Rule of St Benedict: Ch 19)

The heart is the human centre of gravity, our very core that incorporates both body and soul. It is the place that represents the whole person, the vector sum of all our actions and thoughts. If our hearts are to be in harmony with the prayers of the angels in heaven as St Benedict suggested, we need to consider not just our thoughts and voices, but our actions, our bodies and even how are senses are engaged in the action of prayer. The heart is also the place that is closest to God (considering both physical and spiritual human anatomy). It is closest in the sense of being that place that is most directly in contact with Him. So, if we seek the ideal stated, and harmonise our hearts with the prayer of the heavenly hosts, we will also be more sensitive to inspiration because the whole person is engaged. The Liturgy of the Hours is the means to continuous prayer, as discussed last week. If in the context of the Liturgy our continuous prayer simultaneously engages the whole person then can we are opening ourselves up to the greatest degree possible to God’s grace. To the degree that we cooperate with grace this will help us make all our life decisions and help us to move towards the fulfillment of our personal vocation in life. This will be perfectly ordered also to the model of charity, that is, love of God. To the degree that we match these standards there will be perfect harmony with the objective standard of God’s will. This is the supernatural path to inner peace, peace with our neighbour and a life in harmony with creation.

As I have said before, I don't claim to be an expert in these matters at all, but I can pass on the guidance that I was given when I asked about these things. Here are the things that were suggested to me a way of involving the whole person in prayer. I seek, as well as seeking to attune my thoughts to the prayer of the Liturgy, to engage all my senses and my physical being in the prayer too:

Chant: the use of voice (and hearing). Even if I do it on my own, I will sing the Office (quietly!). As an aside: ironically singing on my own regularly stopped me from being self conscious about singing in front of others. I was so used to hearing my own voice and not being unsettled by it, that in time the thought of others hearing it too didn’t worry me.

Posture: consider our posture at all times. In the Mass I try to follow the rubrics, and in the Liturgy of the Hours do my best to follow the traditional postures such as bowing, standing, sitting. Why is posture important? I see it like this: in the ideal every aspect of human nature is directed towards God, my actions and motives. At any time my motives for doing something are likely to be mixed and not perfectly pure. I have found that even if I don’t feel like praying or feel very peaceful, I can resolve to do it anyway and adopt a reverential posture. My body will tend to lead my heart in the right direction. And where my heart goes, my thoughts and feelings will follow suit. The following scheme was suggested to me and we try to follow this when we say the Office together at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts: we stand through opening words and hymn until the psalms are recited, when we sit, and we stand again for the gospel canticle until the close or if there is no gospel canticle we stand for the closing prayer ; we bow (and if sitting, say at the end of the psalm, we stand again) in honour of the Trinity for the last verse of each hymn and the glory be; we bow our heads at mention of the name Jesus.

Engaging our sense of sight: pray with visual imagery and use candles. I light candles to mark the time of prayer (it reminds me that Christ is the Light of the World) . If I pray to as named saint, for example, Our Lady, I turn and look at an image of her as I do so. At home I create and icon or image corner as a focus for prayer. This can be as simple as have a single icon, or become of more sophisticated combination of images changing according to season and day (see earlier article Praying with Visual Imagery). The ideal core imagery for and icon corner, in accordance with tradition, is to have a crucifixion in the centre, which portrays the suffering Christ; an image of Our Lady on the left; and an additional image of Our Lord glorified on the right. (See past article, How to Make an Icon Corner]

Incorporating the sense of smell –I was encouraged to use incense, for example when singing the gospel canticles. However, I was told, it should be used selectively in accordance with the hierarchy of the liturgy so everything together points to the Sunday Mass as it highpoint. So for example, in community incense can be used on Feast days and Solemnities at Vespers, Lauds and Compline (when gospel canticles are sung), but only if incense is also used at Sunday Mass.

v) Incorporating taste and touch-the Eucharist. We do not take communion during the Liturgy of the Hours, but we should not forget the wider picture.  I was reminded that the liturgy as a whole is seen as an unfolding of a single event that incorporates both the Hours and Mass, but has the Mass at its centre. The quotation given to me mentioned in an earlier article comes to mind again here: the Mass is a jewel in its setting, which is the Liturgy of the Hours; and the Liturgy of the Hours also has its setting, which is the cosmos.

Further articles;

The Four Pillars of the New Liturgical Movement

Those who want to learn to do the Divine Office, you might approach a priest or religious (ie monk or nun) and ask them to show you. Alternatively, the Way of Beauty summer retreats at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts will teach you how to pray the Liturgy of the Hours and how you can realistically incorporated it into a busy working or family life

The Painting is of St Francis is by the 17th century Spanish artist Zurbaran

and, below, the Adoration of the Trinity by Albrecht Durer

Learn to live the Way of Beauty at a weekend course

You’ve heard about The Way of Beauty, now learn how to walk the path This summer the Way of Beauty Atelier is running a long-weekend retreat: Traditional Paths to Inspiration and Creativity. Based upon the methods by which artists were trained to apprehend beauty and open themselves to inspiration, this has been adapted for everyone and has application in all activities. No special experience of ability is assumed. So artistic or not, creative or not, young or old alike, it doesn’t matter. Creativity and inspiration are great things whatever you do. It will be a weekend of prayer, traditional chant, talks, discussion and reflection. For more information and to sign up, go here and once there scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The painting shown, by the way, is Schedoni's Holy Family teaching Jesus to read. Schedoni lived in Italy in the late 16th and early 17th century. Here are some more images in a similar vein. From the top, Raphael; Annigoni's 20th century St Joseph teaching the boy Jesus carpentry; and de Grebber's Virgin teaching the infant Christ to read from about 1630