Category Archives: News from Abwoon Network

End of Year Greetings and News for 2019

31 December 2018

Dear Friends of Abwoon,

Greetings and blessings of Hogmanay, our end-of-the year celebration here in Scotland. While we are experiencing an unusual run of warm-ish weather (10 C, near 50F to you Americans), the early-fading winter light still draws one inside to consider the year past as well as the one ahead.

Below, I have shared a video body prayer based on the first Beatitude in Aramaic. Clearing the heart at the end of the year is a wonderful practice whether one is in the northern hemisphere or, like our Australian friends, baking in the southern heat. Experts from the website found that Valium potentiates CNS depressant effect of such substances as antipsychotics (neuroleptics), ethyl alcohol, opioid analgesics, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and the drugs used for general anesthesia.

Publishing News: The first two “little books” extracted, edited and, in some cases, re-translated from the works of Kahlil Gibran were released in the USA last year to a very reception, with translations in several other countries. Re-approaching Gibran as an native Middle Eastern (or West Asian) person seems to have struck a chord with many. You can find links to the “Life” (i.e., nature-based) and “Love” (relationships) books at

The third volume (Kahlil Gibran’s Little Book of Secrets)will appear in April, featuring the author’s focus on life’s puzzles and riddles—those questions that cause us to stop and ask “why?” Good and evil, life and death, justice and innocence, success and failure, as well as the inner way that attempts to bridge paradox and unite opposites. Case in point:

Knocking on the Door

It would be fruitless for the visitor

to knock on the door of the house

if there were no one inside

to hear the knocks

and open the door. 

What is a human

but a being

standing between

the infinitude of his interior

and the infinitude

of his surroundings? 

Were it not for what we have inside,

we would have nothing outside.

We can see the influence of Gibran’s early life story on his fascination with such questions. He was uprooted from his native Lebanon at the age of twelve by his mother, who brought his siblings and him to the USA in 1895. Like many migrants and refugees today, she was escaping a hopeless situation: poverty, a failed marriage, and a husband in prison for embezzling from the government. Gibran experienced a radical dislocation from his relatives and friends in the move to late 19thcentury urban Boston, a very different culture from that of his childhood. We can imagine that from an early age Gibran began to see things from two points of view—that of the native of rural Lebanon and that of the American city dweller. Seeing from two points of view at the same time, a split awareness, could only be integrated by either taking a higher view, or going crazy.

Other publishing news: The fourth Gibran book (“Wisdom”) will be released in autumn 2019 and will focus on his writings on practical wisdom for daily life, both in community and in solitude. Following up on the success of The Little Book of Sufi Stories, I am also working on a new little book of ecological wisdom due to be published in 2020.

Travels and Seminars in 2019: I will be in the USA once next year, in April for consecutive weekends in Cincinnati, Ohio (5-7 April) and Boulder, Colorado (12-14 April ). These will share some of my recent work with the ancient nomadic roots of spiritual practice and are entitled “The Beautiful Names of Life.” Following these two I will again lead an Easter Aramaic Jesus retreat at Bishop’s Ranch in Sonoma County, California (18-21 April).

Weekend retreats in Europe will continue throughout the year. A number of them (Switzerland, Germany, Netherlands and England) will be in the form of Aramaic Jesus “sesshins”—alternating chant, movement and silence. As appropriate to the group, I will also be offering guidance on how people in chanting or contemplative prayer groups can add this element to their ongoing work. In Scotland(16-19 May), southern France(19-22 September) and southern Germany(17-20 October), I will be sharing versions of the “Beautiful Names of Life” retreat. Next summer, I will again be sharing the all-school class at the Ruhaniat European Summer School (29-June -6 July) in north Germany, focusing on the “beautiful names of life” as well as the Sufi and Zen flavors of the lineage I experienced with my teachers.

Looking forward to seeing many of you in the New Year…

You can find details of all these retreats at the website of the Abwoon Network, where you can also find links to books, audio downloads, podcasts and videos.

As our beginning of the year thank-you, Abwoon Resource Center offers you a 25% discount on all our own (i.e., self-produced)audio downloads until January 15if you use the following offer code: NEWYEAR19 (must be all CAPS).

Body Prayer: Here is the practice I promised, based on the first Beatitude in Aramaic (from the book of Matthew): Tubwayhunl’meskenaee b’rukh dilhounhie malkutha d’ashmaya.(“Tuned to the Source are those who live by breathing Unity, their ‘I can!’ is included in the universe’s own sound”).Counter-melody:Alaha Ruhau(Sacred Unity Breathes!)

I invite you to join me in my office and take a few minutes to chant and enter the silence, as we find our home in the one breath together, preparing for the new year. Even in dark times, we can breathe, find our center and then feel what is really ours to do in life.

Love and blessings to you all for a healthy and balanced New Year!


Announcing: The Little Book of Sufi Stories…pre-order now!


Dear Friends of the Abwoon Network,

I am happy to announce a new book published by Hampton Roads, due in June of 2018. The Little Book of Sufi Stories retells some of my favorite stories, and a few you haven’t heard before. I am just finishing proofreading the final galleys and find that the publisher has done a beautiful job. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Although the release is a little ways off, I would encourage you to pre-order it now using the links below. It will help create some early interest (that’s the way things work in our world) and you won’t find a better price later!

Yours in peace,



The Little Book of Sufi Stories

Hampton Roads Publishing Company

240 pages, 5 x 7 paperback

ISBN-10: 1571748296

ISBN-13: 978-1571748294

Due: 1 June 2018


From the Foreword:

“If you want to hear a good story but prefer to read it instead, then read Douglas-Klotz! He writes as if he’s sitting in your living room, invited over for afternoon tea to entertain you with some heart-pleasing, often humorous, yet soul-searching Sufi stories. His modernization of these old texts is gentle and mindful, yet unapologetic.”

–Maryam Mafi, author of Rumi Day by Day

The stories in this book are drawn from the dozens that Douglas-Klotz has enjoyed telling in his seminars over the past 20 years. Most of them appear in works of the classical Sufis, such as Rumi, Attar, or S’adi. To preserve some of the in-person feeling and bring the language up to date, he has given them his own improvised turns.

From the Introduction:

As the German novelist and storyteller Hermann Hesse once wrote, the great stories of humanity—like fairy tales, Hasidic stories, Celtic stories, Zen stories and Sufi stories—provide us with incomparable examples of the “genetic history of the soul.” We share this depth of soul with all human beings. So, hearing a story live and unrehearsed brings us closer together, creating and re-creating our all-too-fragile sense of human community.

I have drawn the stories in this book from the dozens that I have enjoyed telling in my teaching seminars over the past 30-plus years. Most of them first appear in works of classical Sufis like Rumi, Attar or Sa’adi. Others simply come to us without a name, passed down from person to person with variations for hundreds of years.

Telling an oral story in print is challenging. One can strip the story back to its bare bones, thereby losing much of its flavor and aroma. Or one can treat the story like a prehistoric insect caught in amber: one leaves all sorts of cultural detail in, but the story doesn’t breathe. I am a great fan of live storytellers, but some so-called professional storytellers err on the latter side, because they don’t understand the transmission of the story—its life as an inner experience that everyone can share. The “wow” factor may be there—the special effects—but not the wisdom.

Likewise, some authors overly embellish or interpret Sufi stories with an agenda in mind (often psychological or theological). They map out the whole story as an allegory that supports a principle they want to convey. In my view, this is (as one Zen master commented) like going to a restaurant and ordering a vitamin pill. Where is the art of life, the joy of discovery?

Hopefully, I have woven my way between the extremes. I have modernized the dialogue, and so there will be deliberately anachronistic references. Hint: this is one technique for using stories as spiritual teaching. Another technique: there will be plot elements that seem to end nowhere. A third: No ‘trigger warnings’ are given. Fourth: sometimes the good are not rewarded and the evil not punished (but that’s more like life anyway). I could go on, but why spoil the fun?

Without doubt, there is nothing like hearing a Sufi story live. To tell one of these stories, I need to first live in it for a while, much as one might walk into an unknown forest and gradually get to know the plants and animals there. Yet when telling the story live, I can still meet something unexpected at any moment.

As I mentioned in The Sufi Book of Life, I encourage readers to go beyond the book (or screen) to meet real Sufis. With a sincere heart, this is not so hard (which is not to say it’s simple, given that Sufis all over the world are under threat from Islamic fundamentalists).

I hope these stories convey an aliveness that awakens a spark in your soul. If they do, you may become—as I am—a story collector.

Hear and read more of them, retell them in your own way, and you may find yourself becoming a different, wilder, more completely human you.

–Neil Douglas-Klotz

Pre-order here:

Barnes and Noble




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Registration now open: “Light of Success” in Columbus, Ohio

The Light of Success:

Achievement in the World

and the Spiritual Life

How to attain our earthly goals and still be happy


A workshop with

Neil Douglas-Klotz and Natalia Lapteva

October 26-29, 2017


Place: Martin dePorres Center, Columbus, Ohio

Time: Thursday evening 7pm until Sunday 12 noon, Friday and Saturday evenings included.


When we embark on the spiritual journey, we often put aside our more ‘mundane’ and ‘common’ desires and purposes, or begin to consider them as being on a ‘lower plane’ altogether. However, it is important for us, as beings of flesh and emotion, to develop, tend and bring to fruition all facets of our lives.

On the path of the inner life, how can we find a way to live harmoniously in the ‘real world’?  If we over-focus on success, we risk being sucked into an endless round of activity—there is always more to achieve—and we can become trapped by what we have manifested. If we suppress our desire to create and achieve, the self usually reacts negatively. Down either path can lie depression and ill-health. How do we find the balance and the joy that can arise from it?

We will use as tools: Dances of Universal Peace, walking and sitting meditation, Sufi wasifa and zikr, practices from world spirituality and modern psychology. Inspired by the teachings of Murshid Samuel Lewis and Hazrat Inayat Khan on “Sadhana—the Path of Attaintment.”

“The love of power, wealth, status and influence are inherent in us. Our conditioned consciousness drives us towards acquiring these assets. As these ideas have no definable end, their quest will inevitably produce some discord, violence and brutality towards oneself and others. Conditioned consciousness and curbing the lower self or ego leads to potential resistance and even depression, unless it connects with the higher self and soul.” –Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri

Registration and Information here.

New Beatitudes Chant CD released from world music group ‘Sofia’

2 February 2017

A few years ago, Gospel singer Timothy Frantzich, whom I met at a Robert Bly conference, asked if he could arrange my Beatitude chant melodies for a small choral ensemble. That new creation is now here–a world music collaboration by the group ‘Sofia’ in Minnesota, USA: Timothy Frantzich, Carin Vagle and Dean Magraw.  Beautiful voices, splendid guitar, flutes, percussion and a rhythmic, meditative experience to carry you through the “Beatitude Way.”

Here is a short extract from the third Beatitude, “Tubwayhun l’makikhe d’hennon nertun ar’ah”–ripe are those finding their natural inheritance of strength and healing from nature–and their original nature. This is the one usually translated “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”

You can find out more about the recording as well as links to purchase it in either CD or iTunes format here:

Later today, I am doing a live interview with Janet Conner on Unity Radio on the Beatitude Way, applying it to life today as we find it. The Beatitudes are an eyes-open prayer, calling us to awaken to what is important in life right now–“what is really ours to do?”

You an listen live here:

The archive of the recording will be online here, probably by tomorrow (Friday 3 February):

Happy Candlemas and Imbolc to all!






Nancy: A Personal Goodbye to a Dances of Universal Peace Pioneer

By Sharon Abercrombie


Just days before her death from pancreatic cancer on June 23,  a very fragile Nancy Norris was determined to get to her regular Santa Cruz, California  dance meeting—somehow. And she did.  With the help of her  son Davie and daughter Carolyn Roberts.

She arrived  in a wheelchair –  a brave gesture to say the least, given her weakened condition.

Nancy was about important work that night. “She had spent the day building up the energy,” to make it happen, recalls Carolyn.

Nancy, 81,  wanted to let the circle know she was hanging up her dancing shoes after 30 years of  leading and mentoring. She wanted to let them know she was turning over her Garden Sanctuary meeting to “the younger 60- and 70-year-olds.” said Carolyn.  She wanted to certify her last mentee. Terry Karima Forman, an area kindergarten teacher. She accomplished all three.

nancyDuring the meeting, Karima lead her beloved teacher’s work-in-progress dance, a call and response chant “Infinite Waters that Flow Through It All.”

Jilani Esterly,  a member of the Santa Cruz dance team, described Nancy’s demeanor  that night as “as soft spoken, yet completely present, peaceful and good humored.”

Karima said she will remember her beloved friend and teacher as “the unconditionally loving mother, someone who greeted everyone as family.”

And this writer, a 1997 mentee certified in Oakland, CA, has similar memories. I recall the hugs Nancy gave to everyone who came to our Isis Oasis California Quarterly weekends—newcomers and veteran dancers alike.  From Friday night until Sunday noon,  she functioned as a quiet, non-stop energetic presence, leading dances, teaching open tuned guitar, participating in feedback sessions for new dancers, and meeting with her mentees. She was always giving to us. Saturday afternoon nap times were a rarity.

Andrew Joselson, a veteran dance musician, from Santa Cruz, views her as the archetypal nurturer., as well. “Nancy, he wrote, “conjures up the image of Johannes Vermeer’s painting, ‘The Milkmaid.’”  But Joselson’s take on the portrait shows a guitar strap supporting the huge milk jug.

Nancy Norris’ vicious illness first invaded her life in January 2016. She had spent the previous year in seemingly good health, immersed in dance and family activities. At one point, she and Carolyn had embarked upon a major road trip  to the Southwest, for the latter’s Masonic  work. The two made an overnight stop in Silver City, Mexico, to visit with long-time dance friend Darvesha MacDonald and her partner, Ishan. The couple lives  near the Southwest Sufi Community’s retreat land there.  “Nancy said it had always been her dream to visit us, and she did it,” noted Darvesha.

Up until two weeks before her death, “she was still picking up the guitar,” said Karima.  When the Hospice caregivers asked if she wanted any music, Nancy declined, replying “I have my own orchestra.”–the guitarists, drummers, keyboardists and harmonium players who accompanied  her dance meeting through the years.

There were two goodbye ceremonies held in Nancy’s honor. The first, a vigil, took place in the family home. Richard McMurtry, editor of the Desert Flowers email list serve, and one of Nancy’s mentees was there. He recalls the visit with heartbreaking poignancy.

“She was lying in her room draped in purple and turquoise –decked with rose petals. Her body had the look of someone who has passed and gone beyond.  On a bedside table sat her “Nancy Norris 2017 calendar” with photos of both her and her beloved family members. On a bedside table was the wall hanging version of the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic from the 1980s.”

Then on the afternoon of July 24, over 100 friends and family gathered at Henry Cowell State Park, in nearby Felton, California, to share memories and dance among the redwoods. The circle participated in some of her favorite Dances of Universal Peace including “Ubi Caritas,” “ Kuake, Leno Leno”  “May the Long time Sun shine upon you,” and “The Aramaic Lord’s Prayer.”

Before the celebration of life event, Nancy’s mentor and long time friend, Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz , sent a tribute from his home in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since the mid-1980s,  Nancy had been a supportive ground-floor presence for him, encouraging the founding co-director of the  Dances of Universal Peace Network, as he brought through the beginnings of his Aramaic Jesus work –The Lord’s Prayer and The Beatitudes. Said Neil: “Nancy was a loving soul with a huge heart and a beautiful musician and dance leader.  She worked with me as a mureed and was a mainstay a the early Lama Dance Camp, as well as the California Quarterly Retreats, which at one point, replaced the Saturday Advanced Class started by Murshid Samuel Lewis.”

After Neil left the Bay Area in 1993, Nancy, along with Darvesha McDonald of San Francisco continued the quarterlies, seeing them through the transition to their current less frequent gatherings. Violetta Reiser has remained the registrar, to this day.

For many years during the Christmas and Easter seasons,  Nancy opened her home to special “Aramaic Lord’s Prayer” celebrations and potlucks in her spacious living room. Violetta and I were privileged to guitar for many of these holiday events

In Vio’s words, “I am going to miss her terribly and cannot fathom never see her again.”Vio first met Nancy in June of 1984, when she was fresh off the boat from her native Croatia. Awarded a scholarship to the Mendocino Sufi Camp, Vio immersed herself in everything. After a 20-minute open-tuned guitar lesson with another musician, “I was hooked.” She became friends with Nancy at that camp, too  and recalls  the two of them sitting on the steps of the main hall, “me with her guitar,  trying to play notes while  she was patiently saying, zero two,four zero, five. She was teaching me the Kalama Dance.”

Nancy Norris did not discover the Dances of Universal Peace until she was in her late 40s, but she made up for lost time. Richard McMurtry writes that she had been taking a Course in Miracles when she was moved to ask “How can I deepen in the experience of what we’ve been talking about?”  Someone suggested Sufi dancing. This individual “also saw her clearly enough to suggest that she became a dance leader.  Nancy replied that she was too shy to imagine becoming a leader. But this friend believed in her in such a way as to teach her open tuning on the guitar.”  Four years later, she had become a Dance leader. Her confidence in playing guitar soared during those times.

During the past decade or so, Nancy’s confidence grew in other ways as well. On Saturday nights, at the quarterlies, she began what I can only describe as extemporaneous zikrs.  Confessing that she had no idea what would happen, she would simply begin with a note, then a melody she would pull from the ethers, accompanied by a sacred phrase. Within 30 minutes, our circle would be singing in four-part harmony and doing the zikr movements she taught us.


Dances of Universal Peace in the Kremlin 1989

On a final note: Supplying a bit of biographical information about her mom, Carolyn adds that Nancy loved the Peace Through the Arts Camp in the UK, the Lama Dance camp in New Mexico, The California Quarterly and the South Bay Sufi Camp, to mention a few.  A 1989 trip to the Soviet Union “was one of the most moving experiences of her life.”

Nancy Norris was born in San Francisco in 1935 and lived most of her early years in Sacramento and Oroville.  She loved swimming in the Feather River and was a regular at Gold Lake Y-camp during the summer. It was where she learned numerous campfire songs. As a teen she studied piano and was active in Job’s Daughters and was Honored Queen for Bethel 50. She studied music and French in  college. Midway through her studies  she married John Norris, and when he was drafted, the couple moved to Maryland.  While there, without a degree or credential, she was asked to teach fourth and fifth grade. After returning to California she completed her studies in education from Mills College in Oakland.

She is survived by sons Davie and Ben, daughter Carolyn, grandchildren Leila, Jasmine, Anisa, Christie and Eddie.



Stories from the Circle: The Aramaic Jesus in War-torn Bosnia

(This is the fourth in an ongoing series of stories featuring people worldwide who are sharing Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic Jesus and Desert Wisdom-related work. Our newest profile spotlights Murshida Sophia Gita Onnen, a long-time dance leader and founder of the German network for the Dances.  Editor’s note: If you are offering Neil’s work as part of your dance outreach, please contact Sharon at  We’d love to feature your story in this space.)


It was 1989 and Sophia Gita Onnen didn’t know what had just happened.  She had traveled to Switzerland to participate in a Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) retreat with Neil Douglas-Klotz and Kamas A Miller.   This was her first DUP experience.   Just a few short hours after arriving, Sophia found herself in a dance circle chanting the Aramaic words of Jesus for the first time in her life.

“And without knowing anything about any of this,” she recalls,   “I was touched to the Gita_09_Lanzarote_90 copydepths of my being by the sound, the vibration, breathing, the singing and the dancing.”

Sophia knew instinctively that she had come home to her soul – a common experience for individuals who dance and chant the words of Yeshua in his indigenous language for the first time. Without knowing the message behind the words, their vibration nevertheless tunes and refines the soul.

By the next year, 1990, Sophia had immersed herself in the Aramaic. Happily, like the countless other Aramaic newbies around te world, she also now had a visual “take-away,” from dance retreats she could go to at any time for spiritual nourishment.

Neil’s first book, Prayers of the Cosmos, the Aramaic renderings of The Lord’s Prayer and the Beatitudes, had just been published. It quickly became her constant companion.

pocorigsmallThe book’s cover – Robert Lentz’s “Christ of the Desert,” –worked as an excellent spiritual practice.  (Lentz’s icon appeared on the original cover of the book.)   When Sophia would icon-gaze — stare with soft eyes into the luminous eyes of this dark-skinned Middle Eastern Yeshua — she recalls,  “I felt that the Aramaic Jesus on the book was giving me the message, ‘you are blessed, just the way you are. ‘ From then onwards, no matter what her mood might be on any given day, “this was ‘home’ to me.”

For past 20 years, Sophia has been bringing that same  “blessed home” energy to a total of more than 500 traumatized refugee women –women arriving in small groups to become part of her dance circles twice a year in Tuzla, Bosnia.

The women are victims of the 1992-1995 Bosnia-Herzegovina conflict. Since 1996, Sophia has combined her Gestalt therapy training with the Aramaic and Sufi Soulwork to bring healing to these hurting individuals.  Many of them lived through a massacre in Srbrenica, a town where their husbands and sons were shot to death and buried in mass graves; it was a place of horror, where their daughters were confined to rape camps. Incredibly, during those short three years, an estimated 50,000-60,000 women were held in rape camps by Bosnian Serb forces.

According to, the Bosnian war is considered to be the worst act of genocide since the Nazi regime’s   destruction of more than six million Jews. The ethnic genocidal massacre claimed the lives of 100,000 people, 80 percent of them Muslim.

Sophia started working with survivors after learning of their plight from her Swiss dance mureed Maria Muller.  Maria had been asked to bring the dances to Bosnia by the Swiss charity AMICA CH.  “Maria invited me to join her because she felt that my background as a Gestalt therapist would be helpful in working with these women.”

When the two arrived, they discovered a group of women “traumatized and desperate.  They didn’t want to live,” said Sophia.  Ever so slowly and gently,  she and Maria offered up their dance-medicine, “breath by breath, step by step.”

“As they were Muslims, we mostly used Arabic songs and dances.”  Little by little, the healing began working its spiritual magic. The two women next introduced the Aramaic Prayer and the Beatitudes, again witnessing the healing power of Yeshua’s teachings.

Gita Sophia and friends from Bosnia and England

Gita Sophia and friends from Bosnia and England

In Sophia’s words, “The first Beatitude ‘Alaha Ruhau,’—God is Breath/Spirit and the second, ‘Healed are those in emotional turmoil, wandering…they shall be united inside in love — helped to offer them the encouragement to keep doing, to start all over again, breath by breath, step by step. It was this unconditional love and the compassion that they needed very much.”

Sophia adds that the women’s willingness to sing and dance in the original mother tongue of Jesus “was great for them.  To feel the oneness of body, heart and soul – to view Jesus as psychotherapist was a truly cosmic approach. It felt to them like coming home, to themselves, their bodies, to earth, to the here and now of their lives, joyful, in community.”

The third phase of the dance retreats have involved introducing Neil’s dances honoring the DivineMother/Father of the Cosmos. “Through them, the women’s  horizons opened and widened to the concepts of living on a Sacred Earth and being sacred themselves.”

As a result of these retreats,  there are now several dance meetings in Bosnia as well as trainings, lead by Sophia’s students there.

Sophia’s Bosnian work is just one part of her extensive involvement with the Aramaic dances. Since attending her first dance retreat in 1989, Sophia Gita Onnen has plunged into the Dances of Universal Peace wholeheartedly, even to the extent of abandoning her career.

“The dances got me deeply,” she said.  She left her therapy practice in 1990 and traveled to Lama Foundation to be a part of Neil’s retreats. Lama was the first of many she attended during the following year. She stayed with dance community members in New Mexico, California and Missouri. Between retreats and dance meetings, she began translating Prayers of the Cosmos into German (which was subsequently published by Knauer Verlag).

Back in Germany in 1991, Sophia resumed her therapy work only to give it up again. When the German edition of Neil’s book came out, invitations began coming for her to teach the Aramaic. The calls would take her all over Germany, as well as Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, and Russia. The rest is history.

She has never looked back.  And now, here is where her path has brought her: She has served as the director of the Ruhaniat European Summer School in Germany, as an initiator in the Dervish Healing Order, as a spiritual guide to many mureeds and as a danceSaadi&Gita909 copy mentor.

“I have so much gratitude to Saadi for being my friend and guide for the past 26 years.”

But there is a sense of déjà vu for Sophia, as she reads the daily news reporting on thousands of refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, the Balkans and African who are entering Europe seeking new homes. “They are like the Bosnian women and children, arriving with simply their breath and the hope to be welcomed and to receive help for beginning new lives.”

She reflects, “Life goes on and there is so much to do.”

Stories from the Circle: Experiencing ‘Saba Ana’–the Delight of the Universe

By Sharon Abercrombie

(This is the third of an ongoing series of stories featuring people worldwide who are sharing Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic Jesus and Desert Wisdom-related work.  Our current profile highlights Munira Elizabeth Reed, executive director of the Shalem Center in Worthington, Ohio, near Columbus. Since 1998, Munira has been turning this midwestern city into the American outreach headquarters for local, national and international Aramaic spirituality retreats).

It was 1997 and Elizabeth Reed assumed she was set for life. A United Methodist minister since the early 1980’s, she had served a brief pastorship before moving into administrative programming around women’s issues and Christian leadership training for the West Ohio Conference of the UMC. In 1992, with a Ph.D. counseling and spirituality degree from Union Institute in Cincinnati, Elizabeth began directing a counseling ministry for her conference at the Shalem Center located in the heart of central Ohio.

Munira_150Things were moving along right on track. That is, until a day in 1997 when a recent friend came to town for a visit and gave her hostess something new to think about. She happened to be an intuitive whose observations had always proved to be remarkably accurate, said Elizabeth.

During one particularly animated, lively discussion around religion, Elizabeth’s friend predicted that “something good was going to happen” to widen her spiritual path. Such as? Elizabeth countered. What more could there possibly be? She appreciated the progressiveness of the Methodist church. Its blessings had included imparting an  enduring/endearing model of Jesus as seen through the Social Gospel and it had given her valuable insights from studying the historical-critical method of Scriptural analysis.

It was strong on feminism. It cared about Nature and the environment — three issues Elizabeth Reed had championed since age 15, back in her hometown of West Point, Georgia, when she left the Southern Baptists for the United Methodists.

The Methodists gave her the opportunity to serve on youth councils as a young woman. When she later decided to go into the ministry, the Candler School of Theology welcomed her and the 59 other women into its seminary of 600 students.

But still, she was intrigued by her guest’s prediction. Curious enough, in fact, that Elizabeth vowed to remain totally open to the unexpected. She didn’t have to wait for long. The next year, 1998, Elizabeth went to Indianapolis to attend a conference sponsored by the Association of Humanistic Psychology.  Conferences such as these were annual events, since she was required to get CEU’s every year to maintain her counseling certification.

“This time, I decided to just go with an intuitive draw rather than responding to a known ‘guru on the circuit’  about workshops. One entitled “Middle Eastern Views of Personality” sounded good to her.  It certainly proved to be so.

“My life changed when I walked through that door.” Her head buzzed with new information. Her heart grew wings.

That momentous day, Neil Douglas-Klotz, the presenter, talked about psychology, theology, body somatics, and

Munira and Saadi

Elizabeth Reed and Neil Douglas-Klotz

directspiritual experience.  He combined his presentations with guitar playing and chanting. He taught his audience the Aramaic words for the Lord’s Prayer. He got them out of their seats into a dancing circle.

Elizabeth recalls having “a visceral  experience where everything came together for me. He was teaching us how to heal our cosmological split.” And of course, like many other people who experience the Aramaic way of looking at the Universe and spirituality, Elizabeth “bought up every brochure, book, tape on the table.” Back home in Ohio, she told her partner, MJ, “Wherever he’s teaching in North America, I’m going.” Swept along by Elizabeth’s enthusiasm, MJ said she wanted to go too.

A few months later, they traveled to hear him in Quebec.   When Neil announced that he was searching for a non-profit to lend support to his USA work, Elizabeth took the proposal to her Shalem board right away. The board said yes. Result: the last 16 years of her life have turned into a whirlwind juggling of her paid counseling work, with volunteer Abwoon Aramaic work.  “When I get involved, I get involved very quickly.”

A scant few months following Quebec, Elizabeth arranged for Neil to come to Columbus for the first in a series of annual public workshops, which still happen every October, and sometimes April. She learned to play guitar and drum. She plunged into the study of Ruhaniat Sufism.

In 2007, she wrote a book for other Aramaic students, entitled Abwoon Circles: Starting a Local Group, to help people who wanted to organize regular meetings around Aramaic Jesus practices, meditations and dances.

Always the idea person, Elizabeth, now Sufi Munira, approached Neil in 2006 about his starting a three-year ongoing

training program for individuals who wanted to lead their own Aramaic and Desert Wisdom gatherings. Dubbed the Aramaic Interspiritual Leadership Program, (AILP) groups grew in the USA, the UK and Germany . The last AILP concluded this past April.

A new program on healing will begin in early November in Columbus, the first of  a three-year ongoing series, with the sessions co-lead by Neil and his wife, Natalia Lapteva.  The program at Proctor Conference Center in London, Ohio will be preceded by a public weekend October 24-26, in Columbus, entitled “Thousands of Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground.

Rev. Elizabeth Reed sharing the Aramaic work in Guadalajara, Mexico, September 2014

Rev. Elizabeth Reed sharing the Aramaic work in Guadalajara, Mexico, September 2014

Munira’s own dance and retreat work is currently taking her far and wide, from Mexico, to North Carolina, and back to Ohio. As this blog goes to press, she recently returned from Guadalajara, Mexico, where she and Pennsylvania dance leader Yasmin Haut co-faciliated an Aramaic Lord’s Prayer Retreat.

She will catch up on work at the Shalem Center, then spend next weekend doing an outreach Dances appearance at a college student event in Delaware, Ohio, followed by a stint the next night at an Enneagram conference in Dayton. The next week she will focus her twice-monthly Aramaic Yeshua and Sufism group, a class which looks at the relationship of the Aramaic Yeshua and word meanings from Semitic languages, and Middle Eastern Spiritual practices.

“One interesting dynamic of this group has been when the discussion is responsive to, say one week predominantly Sufi focus and another time predominantly by liberal/progressive Roman Catholic and other Christian concerns and passions,” she said.

During our luncheon interview conducted shortly before Munira left for a Lama Dance Camp retreat in New Mexico, I asked her a question which probably every “convert” to Universal Sufism lives with:  Where does one’s ‘old’, former religion fit into the path their new spirituality has taken them?

She thought for a moment before responding: There is always some place where you will bump up against the limits of one religion, she said.  “One religious path is just not wide enough. The light of truth is in all paths. We need this universality, to put the whole picture into perspective. I guess you could say that I’m a post-Methodist. Methodism is who I am. It birthed me into the person I became back when I was 15, and for that I have a great gratitude.

What does she love most about teaching and Dance leading? “When I see people having the real experience of seeing the Divine in another person’s eyes, people experiencing ‘Saba Ana,’ the delight of the Universe, it’s like being a child. You see someone get what you’ve felt yourself.”

Stories from the Circle: Dancing in the Presence of the Divine

By Sharon Abercrombie

(This is the second in an ongoing series of stories featuring people worldwide who are sharing Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic Jesus and Desert Wisdom-related work. Our newest profile spotlights Br. Joe Kilikevice, a Dominican friar based in Oak Park, Illinois. If you have a related experience to share with us, please contact Sharon at


Dominican Brother Joe Kilikevice has been dancing in Sufi circles since the late 1960’s.

He credits a 1965 Roman Catholic document coming out of the Second Vatican Council for setting him on the path of his life’s work. Nostra Aetate, (“In Our Time,) is a groundbreaking paper that stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics and calls for the church to dialogue with other world religions.

By 1983, Br. Joe was bringing the Dances of Universal Peace, particularly the Aramaic words of Jesus, to the art-as-meditation class he was teaching in Oakland, California.

Since then he has been leading “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Beatitudes,” the “I Am” sayings of John and other dances created by Neil Douglas-Klotz . He has introduced them into his own Catholic tradition to Dominican high schools and colleges throughout the United States. He has brought them to interfaith groups, both in the Midwest and abroad.     “I wouldn’t be here but for that document,” said Br. Joe during a recent phone interview.

“Work” is probably too thin a word to describe Br. Joe’s ministry. For those of us who have danced with Joe Kilikevice at Plano, Illinois and in other retreat settings, “passionate dedication” is more like it.

Br. Joe discovered the dances during a retreat in San Jose, California more than 40 years ago. “Let’s go Sufi dancing,” Jshemsomeone suggested. A DUP North American Journal story from 2011 notes that Br. Joe hadn’t a clue as to what Sufi dancing might be, but he decided it would be a good idea to ‘get off the mountain’ for a few hours.”  He piled into a crowded station wagon with the rest of his friends.

The dance experience that evening touched him deeply.  For the first time, this life-long Catholic and Dominican brother realized that “you don’t have to give up your own faith tradition to be enriched by the traditions of other people.”
A couple of years later, back in Chicago, he located another dance meeting.  This one was fine, too, but he wished it had included more dancing and less talking.

His wish came true in 1983, when Br. Joe moved to Oakland California.  Matthew Fox, a Dominican colleague had recently moved his Creation Spirituality master’s program from Mundelein College in Chicago to Holy Names College. Fox invited his old friend to resume teaching the art-as-meditation class he had previously taught at Mundelein.   It didn’t take long for Br. Joe to discover the stunning smorgasbord of dance meetings throughout the Bay Area.

That’s how he met Neil-Douglas-Klotz. One Saturday morning, Joe Kilikevice found himself in San Francisco’s Precita Park with Neil and six other dancers, chanting and moving to “Abwoon d’bashmaya.” Precita Park is right across the street from Mentorgarten, the home of Murshid Samuel Lewis. Murshid brought the first Dances forward during the late 1960’s, so there has always been a lot of baraka living in that park.

Br. Joe doesn’t recall who the other dancers were that day. But Br. Joe does remember the power of the Lord’s Prayer, transliterated by Neil into Aramaic, the language Jesus/Yeshua spoke. “We were trying out the first four lines.  I was immediately struck by their sense of timelessness.”  Jesus/Yeshua was there in the midst of the circle, beyond the English or Latin words this Dominican had been praying all of his life.

Br. Joe immediately brought the dance back to his Holy Names classroom. In subsequent years, he would become a co-retreat leader with Neil and Kamae Miller, and would then branch out with his own interfaith retreat ministry. In  1993, he founded the Shem Center, an interfaith spirituality center located in Oak Park.

His work took another significant turn in 2000 when Dominican Sisters Pat Brady and Gina Fleming invited Br. Joe to lead dances at a high school retreat, to represent “the diversity of ways Dominicans preach.  They knew of my work and thought the students would both enjoy and benefit from a contemporary way a Dominican was claiming a centuries-long tradition of praying with the body. Dominicans have always brought the body into prayer with bowing, prostrating, and processing,” said Br. Joe. Two years later, when these student conferences were expanded into Dominican college venues, Br. Joe became a regular presenter there, also, in schools coast to coast.

In 2010, the Conference organizers awarded him the Sister Pat Brady award for “extraordinary service and contributions in furthering the traditions and charism of the Dominican Order.” Sr. Pat Brady praised Br. Joe for “encouraging each of us to realize the power of dance and music as a medium of peace and harmony. Brother Joe has taught us that world understanding begins with a willing, open and accepting heart. He has truly released the Spirit in each of us.”

This writer contacted both Sisters Mary Soher, and Gina Fleming, the current organizers for the student preaching conferences to gauge reactions to Br. Joe’s work. Except for occasional liturgical dance within many Catholic liturgies and prayer services, Catholics do not ordinarily dance. But Br. Joe gets them on their feet in short order.

After a day of dancing, “it ‘s not uncommon for a student to linger a bit after my session to thank me for what they experienced,’ recalls Br. Joe. “I can tell that they have been deeply moved and often can’t find the words to say so.”

Mary Soher contributed her take on the student experiences. “Something magical happens,” said Soher, an Adrian Dominican. “He teaches them to really be in the present moment, to be in the presence of the Divine with each other.  If they are carrying grief, sadness or stress, the dances provide a body-soul-mind break for them.”

Soher said she has witnessed the dances as a vehicle for helping to build bonds and strengthening community among the young people.

For Amityville Dominican Sr. Gina Fleming, Br. Joe’s dance leading has been “a deeply prayerful experience.  Asking us to look into each other’s eyes has touched me deeply.” His teachings have given her a better understanding of the Muslim religion, she said.

And as for the Aramaic, “it’s a part of me now,” said Fleming. “Studying the words of Jesus in His original language, “awakens you to a different way of thinking.”