Sister Pascaline Coff, OSB was inspired by the charge of the second Vatican Council to “go back to the sources”. When she read a magazine article about an English monk, Fr. Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine, living in India at an ashram called Shantivanam (shanti; peace, vanam; forest), something clicked inside. It was June of 1977. She wrote and received a welcome from Fr. Bede and so set off in June of 1976 with Sister Maurus Allen for southern India. They spent a year in India and returned to America with unimagined and deeply appreciated gifts from the Spirit. They were exposed to the ancient sacred teachings of Mother India and learned meditation. Fr. Bede’s teachings and his love for the East were gifts everyone carried away from Shantivanam. In 35 years his ashram became known as a center of Hindu-Christian dialogue.
On return to the West, Sister Pascaline nurtured the seeds that had been sewn in India. In June of l979 the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration purchased 40 wooded acres in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. Deep in the green country of eastern Oklahoma, in the diocese of Tulsa, the Sisters were led to create a sacred place of prayer, which they named Osage+Monastery – Forest of Peace. The ‘forest’ deed was signed only two days before the auspicious visit of Fr. Bede, who offered Eucharist on the forest floor prior to any building. The new monastic ashram was dedicated on the Feast of Corpus Christi in June of l980.
This new ‘ashram in the West’ reflected respect for the Osage Indians, among whom the Sisters now lived. OM, the initials of this monastery are also the Sanskrit word intoned for God; a primordial sound, literally AUM; each letter symbolizing an attribute of God; Sat, Chit, Ananda; truth, wisdom, bliss. To speak or chant this sound is to bring the Divine present in all creation into the world of form. One of the goals of the community was to bring a communion of East and West into all hearts. The letters were formed so as to embrace the cross of Christ as a sign of His centrality, O+M.
The design of the chapel considered various spiritual traditions. A sunken area in the center of the chapel reflects the Sundance Circle of American Indians. Above the pit, or Sundance Circle, was a large cosmic wheel, with the eight-fold Buddhist noble path in the supporting spokes: right view, right thought, right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. The mesquite altar was a gift from Tucson, AZ; wall hangings reflected other religious traditions. The five original Benedictine nuns agreed on four goals, which they reviewed annually;
Contemplative prayer and its atmosphere with a special focus on silence, stillness and inwardness.
The continuation of a small monastic ashram
Adoration of the Divine
Realistic pursuit of peace and justice
The Sister’s also instituted “Forest Day”, one day a week to be a day of solitude and quiet.
The Sisters were blessed with guests and visitors from many parts of the USA and other countries, religious traditions and cultures; Buddhist monks and nuns, Islamic teachers, Hindus, and Zen Buddhists found themselves in communion here. The Forest of Peace grew in name recognition and became well known in the monastic interfaith world.
In 2008, the Benedictines realized that they could no longer staff the monastic community at the Forest. A Benedictine layman, Robert Doenges, stepped forward and purchased the monastery from the Sisters in order to continue the mission and vision of Sister Pascaline and to save the land from development.
With sadness the Sisters left the ashram while trusting that their vision would be continued. Mr. Doenges created a nonprofit corporation for the Forest and led a spiritual community for two years in the Forest. In 2010, he gave the property to the Board of Directors and the Forest of Peace was re-founded. The Board hired a new staff and the Forest has continued to organically unfold since that time. The Forest of Peace has become an interfaith, interspiritual retreat center with a contemplative staff community that seeks to create an atmosphere of warmth and hospitality for individuals and groups.
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