Edward Strickler, Jr.
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Edward Strickler, Jr.
Born and raised in a community of small working family farms in the Shenandoah Valley Edward was intimate from earliest years with an ecology of earth and weather, plants and people, wild and domestic animals, bats, bugs, birds, and other creatures in the landscape. Human work was another part of the ecology: mornings and evenings he chopped wood for the stove that heated the house and cooked family meals, after school included milking the cow (for milk and butter for the family and to sell for Mother’s household income), clearing fields of thistles and other weeds (hoe in hand, no herbicides), etc. His parents were sometimes perplexed to find him missing from bed in the late night: he was walking around the farm speaking with the hills, trees, and rocks under the canopy of the galaxy. His grandmother often told him that she had heard him singing made-up psalms while he was working in the fields. That wouldn’t be a surprise to William Wordsworth who thought that children lived out a sort of natural mysticism. Contemplative Reading of religious texts (including mystical poetry), Centering, and making Sacred Spaces in the landscape were among his early untutored practices. Edward ( MA, MA, MPH, CHES) had the privilege of education at Swarthmore College, the University of Virginia, Chiang Mai (Thailand) University, and Mysore (India) University. At the University of Virginia he completed several graduate degrees for study in religious ethics, clinical ethics, and public health. He has worked with the School of Medicine since 1998. In Thailand he was able to study Buddhism at local temples and with university scholars that included monks and teachers influenced by Buddhadasa (a notable ascetic, philosopher, and social reformer). Applying contemplative practices to social reform are among Edward’s abiding commitments. He had the privilege and accepted the burden of being among those helping to start, build, and sustain services for persons with AIDS from the early years of the epidemic in rural western Virginia. Contemplative and spiritual practices were among the only supportive therapies in the early years of this work. He a founding member of a statewide planning group advising the Virginia Department of Health and other agencies for effective HIV prevention and responsive services for Virginians with HIV/AIDS; and, invited to leadership by the Bishop of the (Episcopal) Diocese of Virginia Edward helped to conceive, coordinate, and offer an annual ‘healing retreat’ for caregivers of persons of AIDS that included contemplative practices of Stillness, Lectio Divina, Listening, Story Telling, and Eucharist. Working for social reforms in many forums and through many collaborations - frequently contended - Edward has proposed Relational Contemplative practices that appreciate diversity of persons and views. He was invited to join a years-long Dialogue on Sexuality with bishops, priests, and laity of the Episcopal Church (which employed diverse other contemplative practices); trained as a co-facilitator with the local communitywide Dialogue on Race; and trained with the University’s Dialogue Across Grounds. Through encouragement of the Contemplative Sciences Center he recently conceived a project to make a variety of contemplative practices accessible to sexual and gender minority communities who have often experienced abandonment by usual resources for spiritual and emotional well being while also experiencing disproportionate levels of stress, stigma, and violence. In August 2014 a unique community partnership offered a Contemplative Retreat for LGBTQ and Allies incorporating yoga, insight meditation, and labyrinth work. Attendance exceeded expectations dramatically and formal feedback detailed high interest in opportunities to incorporate contemplative practices in community-based programs to address significant concerns of the community, including (in order of priority from feedback) stresses of everyday life and in the workplace, spirituality, emotional balance and relationships within LGBTQ communities, improving health and overcoming health challenges (particularly with aging and chronic illness, including HIV), healthy sexuality (including developing healthy sexual identities and gender identities).