December 11, 2012
by Dr. Paul R. Ahr, President & CEO, Camillus House
One of the delightful design features of the new Camillus House campus is a 124-seat state-of-the-art auditorium, situated on the second floor of the John S. & James L. Knight Executive Office Building. This auditorium was designed as a venue to hold Camillus staff training and other employee briefings, as well as to host client, community and professional workshops and seminars, and special events such as Movie Night at Camillus. It also serves as a resource for the knowledge transfer mission of our Institute of Homelessness Studies.
I believe that in many ways, this auditorium will prove to be a wonderful representation of the sentiments of the Knight brothers themselves, as reflected in this remark made by John S. Knight: “...we seek to bestir the people into an awareness of their own condition, provide inspiration for their thoughts and rouse them to pursue their true interests.”
On November 20, 2012 Camillus House hosted our first visiting speaker, Father Laurence Freeman, OSB, Director of the Worldwide Community for Christian Meditation headquartered in England. In Miami for a planned speech at Barry University, Father Freeman graciously prefaced that engagement with a visit to Camillus House, where he addressed an auditorium filled with clients (including Day Center and Residential clients) and clinical staff.
Upon his arrival the room was packed, contributing to a good energy followed by calm as Fr. Laurence talked about the history of meditation and its practice in all traditions. As he went on, he talked about the importance and use of the Mantra (Mantras are words or phrases that are chanted out loud or internally as objects of meditation), the camaraderie that meditating in a group brings, and the physical and medical benefits of meditation. We all had a good laugh as he explained that “meditation will not help your hair grow back.”
Father Laurence Freeman, OSB, leads Camillus clients and staff in meditation.
Then came the prayer and the silence. The quiet in the room was amazing, especially considering there were a handful of guests that were meditating for the first time: it became a “thin place” where heaven and earth meet. This spontaneous event was the perfect way to christen (i.e., "to baptize" or "to make Christian") this beautiful facility, a gift from the people of Miami.
The response from clients and clinicians was overwhelmingly positive. Most of the clients were familiar with Father Laurence through observing several videos shown in their regular meditation groups led by Camillus' Chief Nurse Clinician Patricia Forde. To them, Father Laurence is a celebrity, and prior to his arrival, many expressed the hope that they be photographed with him.
Afterward, our participants were delighted with the experience. Pat has collected some of their comments:
• “I felt so at peace.” (Women's group participant)
• “He is very calming.” (Women's group participant)
• One gal from the women's group spoke for all and said, “We all felt so special that someone like him would actually take the time and come to see us and teach us.”
• A Phase 2 treatment client in the garage stated, “I could tell he was a well-educated man and here he was talking to us.” The client felt that on some level that this “well-educated man” was relating to him.
• “I wished we had a smaller group to meditate with him, a more intimate setting with more questions, answers, instructions and interaction. A setting where there could be more interaction with Fr. Laurence.” (Phase 2 treatment group participant)
• “I liked the Maranatha Mantra and the explanation about it being a word in another language, it was very helpful and a new sacred word to try using.” (Phase 2 treatment client)
• Following his visit Pat and one group of seven participants (Phase 2) all used the Maranatha Mantra during the meditation. The clients made sure to write it down on a piece of paper phonetically so they wouldn't forget it. The group practiced the pronunciation together. Then they asked for the meaning of it again and asked Pat to Google it on her phone.
• “He was so down to earth and approachable.” (Women's group participant)
• “I am going to watch more of his videos on YouTube.” (Phase 1 treatment client)
• “I liked how he told the history of meditation and how old it is.” (Phase 2 treatment client)
• “I wish I could thank him for teaching me to be still and pray many times a day instead of the rapid old ways I use to pray.” (Phase 2 treatment client)
• Brother Bill said, “I could've listened to him for another hour.”
• Two male clients from the day center that have never attended the meditation groups before separately asked if they could come to meditation.
• Several clients told how references to Scripture touched them, including “Do not let your hearts be troubled” and “I leave you the gift of peace.”
Latin in origin, the word auditorium means pertaining to hearing. Through his teaching and guidance, on that day in that place, Father Laurence empowered all present to regularly practice meditation so that each of us might become a human auditorium, where we can truly “hear” the message of God that is within us.
From left: Dr. Gene Bebeau, Brother Richard Moore, BGS, Father Laurence Freeman, OSB, Patricia Forde Ahr, Chief Nurse Clinician, Dr. Paul R. Ahr, Camillus President & CEO, Brother Bill Osmanksi, BGS, Kathy Garcia, Director of Programs/Deputy Clinical Director, and Fred Mims, Director of Direct Care Ministry.
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