T. S. Pennington

T. S. Pennington

In 2001, I experienced two major events. One of the two significantly changed my life. I had quintuple, heart bypass surgery in May of that year and I attended my first Circle of Trust retreat in August. The retreat was what set my life in a different direction.

T. S. Pennington
T. S. Pennington

 

Before my surgery, I was encouraged to write a statement that would envision my life ten years into the future. The idea was that a person’s recovery after heart bypass surgery is affected by how  much of a positive outlook for their future they had. My surgery when extremely well and have had no further heart problems.

In my statement, I imagined that I would have just recently retired from teaching computer science at a  local community college, that I would be continuing to teach part-time, that I would be writing computer programming textbooks and that I would still be living in the Kansas City, Missouri area. In other words, my life would continue pretty much as it was before the surgery. But my passion for teaching computer science was replaced by a desire to live a spiritual life after the retreat.

Circles of Trust retreat was developed by Dr. Parker Palmer. The Fetzer Institute asked him to find a way to bring spirituality into education with violating the separation of church and state. The Metropolitan Community Colleges of Kansas City brought Dr. Sally Hare to offer a sampler Circle of Trust retreat to about thirty of us, who were faculty, staff and administrators.

I was raised in a family where I attended both Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist church services. When I was a senior in high school, I felt I had a calling to the priesthood. During my freshman year at a Jesuit college I started reading the works of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French, Jesuit priest who was also an archeologist. When my  counselor discovered that I was reading de Chardin, he told me that I had to stop reading him and forget everything I had read. I refused to do that. My counselor stated that since I was unable to follow the vow of obedience that the priesthood was not going to be my future. In fact, he stated that he doubted that I would be Catholic or even Christian in a few years. I was shocked, I could not imagine myself not being Catholic. But by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had abandoned the Christian faith.

During my sophomore at a public institution, I attended a workshop on the Theosophical Society. Through their publishing house, Quest Books, I starting reading on many of the other religious traditions. I found great wisdom in Judaism, Hinduism and especially Buddhism. For me, Christianity became too mythical and limiting.

It was also during my sophomore year that I learned to meditate. The exploration of consciousness, intuition and insight through meditation became and has stayed my foundational spiritual practice.

I continued to read in various religious traditions and books on meditation through my twenties. As I moved into my thirties, although I continued to mediate and occasionally  read or watch a PBS program of a spiritual nature, I primarily focused on my career of teaching computer programming.

I was fifty-four years old, when I attended that first retreat with Sally. For the first time in decades, I felt I found a spiritual home. When they asked for volunteers to go through the training to become facilitators of Circles of Trust, I immediately raised my hand. I went through the two-year training program through the Center for Formation in Higher Education.

During this time, I took down from my bookshelves all my books on computer programming and other computer science topics. I opened boxes of books on the religious traditions and meditation that I had packed away some twenty-five years before. I started buying many more books on spirituality, poetry and meditation. I started attending other types of spiritual retreats besides Circles of Trust. Starting in September of 2006, I attended the two-year program at One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City to become an ordained interfaith minister. I have attended conferences and been a speaker at some of them that related to the idea of Interspirituality, which was proposed by Brother Wayne Teasdale in his book The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions.

Now I have found my own voice as a spiritual person, who can claim no religious tradition. This website where I put my voice out into the world.

I should also mention that I retired from full-time teaching in 2005 and part-time teaching in 2009. I attended a couple of retreats and classes in western North Carolina in 2003 to 2005. I fell in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains on my very first trip. I moved to just outside of Asheville in August 2009. So now, nothing that I wrote in the vision of my future prior to my heart surgery is now true.