Our Story


Our Founding

I was on staff at my church – a position I loved, working with people I loved, in a ministry I loved, when God first began to whisper to me about the possibility of a spiritual formation center.  At first, I resisted, but as I always do, I gave in. I went part-time in my church role to make some time to begin dreaming and planning. God placed three wonderful women alongside me who believed in the dream and helped me to bring it to be.

The name, Kavanna House, was born in the San Francisco International Airport. I was browsing through a site on Hebrew words and their meaning and came across “kavanna” which I thought was a lovely word. Then I saw the meaning: intentional, mindful, awakened and devoted to prayer. It was perfect.

But where? The first year, we held classes in a borrowed space – the living room of a friend. The feedback was great so we pushed ahead to find a permanent space. One thing I knew was that the environment was as important as the classes – the environment would be essential to the overall experience of Kavanna House.

Then, in the summer of 2012, we found our current location at 1516 East Market Street in York, Pennsylvania. Although close to the city and situated on a busy street, the house seemed perfect for what we wanted to do.


What We Do?

I am often asked about what Kavanna House does. That question can be very challenging to answer because unless you’ve been involved and have experienced Kavanna House, it is hard to explain.

I knew from our inception that we would offer courses and classes in contemplative spirituality – focusing on practices like silence and solitude, journaling, examen, practicing Sabbath and presence. I also knew that we would offer spiritual direction and provide space for retreats.

Another question I have been asked over the years is how we are different than the church…or I’ve even been asked if we are in competition with the church.

It took me awhile to figure out how to best respond to those questions.  The answer came through reading The Critical Journey, a book written by Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich.  The book puts forth a model of spiritual growth that helps give language to the work we do here at Kavanna (but – please know that the model embraces all spiritual growth – not just the particular growth I am talking about in this context….)


Briefly, here are the six stages of growth:

Stage OneDiscovering God– you acknowledge that there is a God.


Stage TwoLearning about God– you want to learn all about God and be in a community that can support this learning and also believes the same way you do.


Stage ThreeWorking for God – this is the stage where you actively do things for God and for the benefit of your “spiritual” community.


Stage FourRediscovering God– this is a stage of deconstruction where either your way of sensing or engaging God is changing or sometimes, thorough some huge upheaval in your life, you begin to question, doubt and/or have curiosity about things that were at one time rock solid for you.


            The WallYour Will Meets God’s Will– this is the place of ultimate surrender to

            the work that God is doing internally. It is an intense healing journey. The Wall is

            embedded within Stage Four.


 Stage FiveSurrendering to God– coming through the Wall brings us a place of greater love, compassion, capacity to forgive, etc.


 Stage SixReflecting God– we find that we have a very intimate relationship with God that informs who we are and everything we do.


Stages One through Three:

These are primarily outward stages meaning they express themselves in learning and doing.  These are the stages that are well supported in most churches.  In fact, these stages encompass the work of the church and defines it as well.


Stage Four and The Wall

Stage Four and The Wall are inward stages – deep interior work is being done (although The Wall technically isn’t a stage and is embedded in Stage Four, it is so important, it has its own section in the book).


Because Stage Four usually leads a person into a place of doubt and questioning that is not easily answered with Christianese or a few Scriptures, it is not always a welcomed (nor recognized) stage in the church.  Stages One through Three is based on knowing what you believe and having all the answers.  Stage Four is beginning of the realization that you don’t have all the answers, in fact you seem to have more questions than ever.  For this reason, people in Stage Four will sometimes find themselves no longer comfortable in the church and some will leave.


The Wall is a place of surrender. It is a where we recognize we have come to the end of all we know to do.  The old ways of doing things that use to bring relief no longer work. It is, ultimately as place of deep invitation to trust – to trust God on a level we have never experienced.  It is a letting go of the known and a journey into the unknown. But how do we recognize that we are even facing The Wall?  How do we move through it?  What does that look like?


These are the two stages that, at times, can be very challenging in the church…and it is when most people find their way to Kavanna   House.  We specialize in working with people in Stage Four and The Wall, offering them the space, the spiritual companionship and the framework to process their experience.


Stages Five and Six– In Stages Five and Six, we begin to live out of the truest part of ourselves.  We explore living a life of generativity – giving back to the world in a unique way that uses our gifts in specific ways. All this occurs in the context of a generous orthodoxy that offers love and compassion to ourselves and to others.


At Kavanna House we have formed a community that embraces helping each other live out the fullness of life that Stages Five and Six open to us.  We find that the “us and them” mentality fades away and we are able to accept and love others as they are.  We find that forgiveness is woven into the texture of our lives and that the restraints of legalism fall away.  It is a place where we can be honest about our struggles, fears and doubts and where we find ourselves loved for who we truly are.  It truly is a place of freedom.


Deb Turnow 

Founder, Kavanna House