Fr. Cyprian Consiglio helps others hear call to contemplation
- By Cathy Redfern


The message of Father Cyprian Consiglio is finding listeners in the diocese.

Consiglio's superiors at the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur have recently given him three more years to continue his work leading retreats and workshops and performing concerts on a theme he calls "Spirit, Soul and Body: The Universal Call to Contemplation."

The 48-year-old monk and music composer says his calling is in finding the similarities among different religious paths, and in helping people realize there is room in Catholocism for some of the practices which appeal to them from other traditions (he gives examples of yoga and Buddhist meditation practices). Also, he said, it is a joy to be able to find a common language to talk with people of other faiths, and to help Christians discover the beauty in other traditions.

His message has found an audience in the diocese and elsewhere for the past four years, and Consiglio is a popular workshop and retreat leader and musician. He divides most of his time these days, when not traveling, between Holy Cross Church and a cabin in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Consiglio says we are all called to a contemplative experience of God, and that calling is found in all religions. He speaks, eloquently, and often with a musician's vocabulary, of the value in finding "resonances" amongst religions. In essence, he said, there are commonalities at the most basic, and at the deepest level, of many spiritual paths.

"So many people have left Christianity and found something they seek in another tradition, and they can't find their way back," he said. "They are who I feel called to serve. They want to come home. They tell me they never thought could do this in Catholicism."

At a recent retreat at St. Clare's in the Santa Cruz Mountains, days began with yoga at 6:30 a.m., followed by meditation and prayer that included songs and prayers from Catholicism and other traditions.

Consiglio's current work began in 1992, when he met an English-born monk from India, Bede Griffiths. Griffiths, who died in 1993, spent many years at an ashram, immersing himself in Hinduism and Indian culture and becoming a significant contributor to the development of Indian Christian theology. The ashram, Shantivanam, in Tamil Nadu, became a center of contemplative life, inculturation and inter-religious dialogue.

Consiglio is now a member of the trust that oversees Griffiths' legacy, and this summer he traveled to England to help celebrate the centennial of his birth. He visits Shantivanam too, to help with the work there, and will go again in December. In Santa Cruz, at Holy Cross, he has started a "sangha," in honor of Griffiths. (Sangha is a word in Indian languages typically used to refer to Buddhist assemblies of those pursuing spiritual enlightenment).

Consiglio calls it all "bridge work," and says it goes both ways. Christians can benefit from the truth and beauty in other religions, he said, and from seeing Christianity through the eyes of others, or through new eyes. The analogy he uses is looking at your home from someone else's window.

 "It strikes me as right," he said, in a recent interview at a downtown Santa Cruz cafe. "There's truth to it, and in finding resonances in different traditions, especially in this day and age. People have found the same texts to disagree, to argue for war, or against war, so we had better find some words we can agree on pretty quick!"

Consiglio has become interested in Islam, he says, which he calls "a very proud and revered tradition." He finds it more challenging to understand than Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, which he has spent 15 years studying.

He recalled meeting a Muslim man in Washington D.C. and together they were able to speak of the "99 Beautiful Names of God," an Islamic practice in which references to God in the Koran are recited with the use of prayer beads.

"It just felt so good to connect," he said. "...The Buddha says something about 'convenient means.' In a sense, there is often a specific way in which people understand truth. Sometimes, when you can find another vocabulary, it can be such a delight to others that you understand them."

His Tuscany-based order believes in inter-religious dialogue, he said, yet he cautions that he is "a mere dilettante," in his study of other faiths and admits that differences in religious dogma and customs can be vast.

 "But if you go deep, there is quite a lot of resonance," he said. "And at the deepest level..." he trails off, holding out his a vibrating hand like a divining rod.

Consiglio grew up in the Phoenix area and supported himself as a musician throughout his 20s, singing and playing guitar in rock and reggae bands, at weddings, in choirs. When he decided to consider becoming a monk, he barely touched the guitar for some 10 years before picking it up again when a visitor to the monastery suggested he put sacred poems and other text to music (his latest CD available on iTunes, his 12th "Compassionate and Wise," is based on poems from various sacred traditions).

These days, most of what he does includes music. And no matter where he is, he sets aside time each morning for what he calls "inner work." This includes exercise, prayer and meditation, though he admits with a smile that "activity always seems better at first glance, especially if it's holy work."

But he is trying to to practice what he preaches, and to live the "sprit, soul and body" aspect of his beliefs. To Consiglio, the soul includes emotions and higher forms of thought and feeling, where the spirit is "beyond all: the source and the summit."

He believes the contemplative or mystical experience of God is not something to be grasped at, but something you wait and make yourself available for, and then receive as a gift.

C&W Cover

Compassionate and Wise / Cyprian Consiglio and John Pennington / Available on iTunes

Cyprian Consiglio and John Pennington have collaborated once again to soothe the soul, re-affirm the value of the creative spirit that lives within. Equilibrium is pleased to share their refreshing and joyous music with new listeners and those who have appreciated the duo’s other Equilibrium offering.

Cyprian's compassionate voice with sensitive guitar accompaniment weaves most elegantly with John's subtle and, when appropriate, vibrant world drumming and Western percussion playing on a variety of instruments from around the world. The duo is beautifully supported by bassist Bryan Kuban; vocalists, John Mareineke and Shannon Frediani; and violinist Mikylah Myers McTeer.

The texts, many of them carefully translated by Daniel Ladinsky, which inspired Cyprian and John include:

  • The Hafiz poem, "That Lamp That Needs No Oil":
    Shamseddin Muhammad Hafiz
  • The Pulse of God - St. Thomas Aquinas. From the book:
    Love Poems From God, Twelve Voices from the East and West
  • Compassionate and Wise
    Translated and adapted from the Chinese Buddhist Metta Sutta by Rev. Heng Sure;
  • The Day Sky and In a Handful of God - From the book:
    The Subject Tonight is Love, 60 Wild and Sweet Poems
  • Celestial Fire - Eleazar Ben Kaller From the book:
    Poetry for the Spirit, Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Edited by Alan Jacobs Translated by T. Carmi
  • Los Laberintos - Federico Garcia Lorca Y Después and El Silencio; from Selected Verse, A Bilingual Edition edited by Christopher Maurer.
  • The Journey Into Nothing - From the book:
    "The Gift: Poems by Hafiz the Great Sufi Master"
  • On a Bright Day Next Week - Poem from the book:
    Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
  • The Prabhu - Traditional Hindi Bhajan