A Challenge to Everyday Life

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

“The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure.”
~Huston Smith

 

The alarm went off, and my wife and I sleepily rolled out of bed, roused the children, brewed the coffee, and started the day. A few hastily-made lunches and bowls of cereal later, and the kids were ready to head out the door to school. A regular scene. A snapshot of hundreds of other similar days. OK, some days I hit snooze (or most days!).

We are all traveling somewhere, whether we regularly find ourselves at the airport, on a path through some untamed wilderness, or at the kitchen table. Life’s journey moves us from one place to another, and we are the unwitting (and sometimes unwilling) passengers.

For many of us, amid the routine of daily life, we might begin to imagine that a fabulous journey to a new locale is only a rare occurrence. Perhaps something that happens very infrequently in our lives, maybe only once or twice. Day after day—if we’re fortunate—we wake up in a familiar bed, wash up in a familiar bathroom, look in the same mirror, pour the same bowl of cornflakes.

Routine is a wonderful and comforting thing, like a special blanket or a favorite chair. Without it, we might find ourselves adrift, always trying to find our footing. Yet routine can sneak up on us. It can lull us to sleep about this very rare, precious thing that is our life. A little travel or change of scenery can sometimes snap us out of this sleepy reverie. Yet travel isn’t possible for all of us—whether for financial, physical, or health reasons. Phil Cousineau invites us, in his book, The Art of Pilgrimage, to extend our vision of pilgrimage to something beyond an actual journey to Jerusalem, Mecca, or Machu Picchu.

He invites us to think about unique times or stages in our lives that might hold a special difficulty. Perhaps extended time at the bedside of a loved one in hospice could be seen as a pilgrimage of sorts. Or walking with a child through a health crisis, or a learning challenge. Maybe a short-term job assignment, or an unwelcome task that comes our way could be reframed in this way. Perhaps even just a regular day on the calendar could be reimagined.

This is not to make light of break-out-the-map-and-the-hiking-boots pilgrimages. Those have their place as well. In fact, as I prepare to go on Shalem’s pilgrimage to Iona this coming June, part of my pilgrimage preparation is to cultivate the pilgrim’s mindset of “openness, attentiveness, and responsiveness.” One of the things that happens with travel, inevitably, is that something goes wrong—a flight is delayed and a connection is missed, or a hotel is booked that we were counting on, or we wander off the trailhead and find ourselves off the map. And so we are encouraged to “have a purchase on our surroundings by being centered in ourselves, not somewhere in the outer world.”

The invitation, then, in my daily life, is twofold: 1) Am I centered in myself, and indeed, in something greater than myself? And 2) Am I attentive to the small details that fall my way?

Am I intentional in making time to connect with the Spirit, amid schedule, meetings, and an overly full inbox? Do I see something mundane, such as making breakfast for my kids, as a sort of wonder? Do I notice their delight when I announce we’re having eggs and toast instead of (the usual) cereal? Do I allow that delight to fuel me toward an attentiveness, openness, and enthusiasm about the rest of my day? I tried it out this morning, just to see. I soaked in those smiles a bit longer. I was more patient with slow-dressing children. I paid more attention as I said, “Have a great day today.” And it really did filter into the rest of my day. I have to say, I like this whole idea of “throwing down a challenge to everyday life.”

Look out, Monday, my hiking boots are on, and I’m coming for you.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

Interested in hitting the path with a group of other pilgrims? Shalem has several upcoming pilgrimage opportunities: Pilgrimage to Assisi: April 17-25 to Assisi, Italy; Iona Pilgrimage: June 2-12 to Iona, Scotland; A Pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest: Sept 24-Oct 1, 2016 to the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State (more info coming soon).

Into Spring and Beyond

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

Pulling in to the monastery, the snow was piled high on the abbey grounds. The walkways were cleared, as the monks had fastidiously kept the paths open for themselves and any guests who would take advantage of their hospitality. I arrived on a chilly day that began less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit—one of several guests seeking a quiet retreat. It had been a long snowy season, and this cold morning was perhaps one last, serious squeeze from old man winter.

I checked into my dormitory-style room in the abbey guesthouse, a very spartan layout, with a simple bed, a desk, and a small rug on the wood floor. Looking out the window, I was greeted with a winter view of a large snow-covered field bordered by leafless branchy trees. A few large icicles hung from the roofline. There was a small walkout balcony accessible to my second-floor room, with an area to sit outside on warmer days.

Arriving on this cold day for a brief retreat at the Benedictine Abbey, I was struck by the ongoing rhythm of the monks who live there. They go about their regular patterns of prayer and work, regardless of the season. Whether summer, fall, winter or spring—they faithfully enter the chapel space for prayers, from early morning matins to evening compline. Joining them, and settling into the rhythm of prayer, work, silence, eating and reflection was a welcome change from my normal busy family life. Sitting in the presence of these monks as they chanted the Psalms, I could feel something inside me warming to it, as a cat stretches and curls up by the fire on a wintry day.

And, as nature would benevolently have it, that kindling of inner warmth was echoed by the March sun, which woke us beautifully the next morning. By mid-afternoon, temperatures soared above 40 degrees for perhaps the first time in 2015. By late afternoon, the large icicles that had slowly formed over the previous months came crashing down. It was even warm enough for me to pull my desk chair out onto the balcony and sit (soak!) in the sunshine. And as the snow on the roof began to melt, creating a chorus of regular drips, I was reminded that every season gives way to another, and that God is with us in each one, even if our perception, or circumstances, or heart stirrings might change.

Newly nourished by these warm moments of sunshine, I walked along the melting snow-lined path to the chapel for evening vespers. I sat down quietly in the space reserved for guests. The monks, wearing their black robes, walked in at the appointed time. I wondered briefly if they had had a chance to enjoy the first glimpse of spring as I had. Either way, they did not blink or change rhythm one bit. They chanted the same Psalms, echoed the same prayers that they had been praying all winter, and would continue well into spring and beyond.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

Above the Clouds

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef.

The red seatbelt sign combined with the sense of forward thrust told me we were about to take off. I briefly set down my Kindle—along with the drama of Russian intrigue, romance, and battle as depicted in Tolstoy’s War and Peace—to gaze out the window. A cold, clear day in Washington DC. I had just arrived only a week ago, and now I was taking off again.

A microcosm, perhaps of our recent experience of moving to DC from Michigan for twenty months, and then moving back much sooner than expected.

It was my first trip back to DC since we moved this past July. It was amazing how easy it was to get back into the rhythm of city life: taking the Metro, hitting favorite coffee shops and micro-brew serving establishments, going to work in the office at Shalem, and seeing old friends and neighbors. It was a delight to be back.

In between the fun there was certainly nostalgia as well. The saddest moment was walking in our old neighborhood, wandering into the quiet neighborhood park after dark, sitting on a cold bench, and envisioning all the fun our family had there—whether playing baseball with my oldest two boys, pushing my youngest two on the swings, or getting neighborhood kids involved in a game of wiffle ball.

This week was also a busy time at Shalem as we hosted the Contemplative Voices Award benefit on Sunday featuring Cynthia Bourgeault, had a board meeting on Monday, and a full day of training for our new website on Tuesday.

By the time I got on the plane I was pretty wiped out. My mind and heart were in various places all at once. I thought of all the work I had to do, the daily realities of life I was returning to. I reveled in the joy of reconnecting—gathering with friends at the pub to talk theology, celebrating a friend’s book release with an improvisational cooking session, enjoying an amazing house concert in my old neighborhood. This busyness and joy mixed with the bittersweet sensation of feeling so at home in a place where I no longer live, and once again feeling that I was leaving too soon.

The plane sped quickly down the runway, and we were flying. It was a full flight, and I wondered about what was happening with all the other individuals seated about me in the cabin. Were they coming, or going? Filled with hope about a new venture? Regretful about something that had already passed? We all sat strapped in, facing forward, regardless of our inner state.

After reading a few more pages of War and Peace, I again looked out the window: houses, roads, and cars had grown miniscule. A few wispy clouds soon turned to a peaceful and soft down blanket upon which we floated.

We passed several states in such fashion, and as we flew in that clear, tranquil space—the bright sun shining on us, the soft white canopy over the world below us—I felt a nudge to exhale. To trust. To rest in the ambiguity. To know that distance might shift relationships, but it does not need to end them. To know that there is a larger whole that I often forget. To remember there is One who invites me to trust that this floating sphere, with its ongoing drama, is loved.

In this liminal space we flew. And I was at peace.


Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

Image via WikiMediaCommons

Reclaiming Happiness

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey.

Happiness may be one of the most misunderstood and maligned virtues of our time.

Happiness is, on one hand, exalted as the supreme goal of existence. There is great pressure to be happy. If you are not happy, your life is not worth living and you must be doing something wrong. Shopping, traveling, and self-help are popular solutions to this problem. There are many paths to happiness and though every path is not right for every person there is certainly one for you and you should keep searching until you find it. If you find yourself still unhappy after about– oh, say, 50 years, or maybe just 50 minutes, you probably need professional help. Of course, sex, drugs, and rock and roll are always available to you. Whichever path you choose, your happiness depends on you, is fully within your control, and it is your responsibility to procure it.

On the other hand, our churches rarely have much to say about happiness because happiness completely misses the point. Life is about faithfulness, maturity, service, and perhaps “joy” (the more respectable cousin of happiness). Happiness is simply a fleeting distraction that holds no lasting value. Life is a test requiring great perseverance. God certainly isn’t interested in our happiness because God is much too serious for that. God wants us to grow up and if we aren’t happy, well, so be it. We are at least wise, mature, and orthodox. We have inherited our Puritan ancestors’ fear that if we encourage happiness we tacitly promote the licentious sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentioned earlier.

The pendulum swings back and forth causing so much confusion that even a sweet, Southern girl may resort to swearing in sheer frustration. Both perspectives are distortions of something inherently good. As distortions they are unlivable. Happiness is either pie in the sky, always just out of reach, or it is the dangerous enemy of mature faith, and as such, is illegitimate. We live either as slaves to the seduction of happiness, or as martyrs in the rejection of it.

What would a livable and faithful pursuit of happiness look like? It might begin with knowing that God is happy. Maybe God even desires our happiness. The Biblical story bears witness to this time and again. God apparently creates from sheer delight, reveling in divine artistry and calling creation good. God sees that Adam is lonely and provides a partner, presumably for their mutual help and happiness. Even the law and 10 great rules are given in an effort to preserve happiness in community. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 claim happiness and the dignity of human life without denying the pain and suffering we experience. What if we deeply trusted the goodness and extravagance of a God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment?” (I Timothy 6:17)

If true happiness is rooted in the very nature of God, and God is Love, then we also know happiness involves the giving and receiving of love. Have you noticed, when your heart is filled with love, the craving for “too much” of everything else relents? Or, when you share true presence with your children, their behavior improves? How different would our experience of sex be if the focus was less on seduction and need-gratification, and more about mutual, loving self-offering? Overeating might lose it’s appeal if we were satisfied with enough love every day. Can human love satisfy our every need? No. To seek sufficient love solely from human relationships only changes the focus of the addiction. God is the bottomless source of love. But we grossly underestimate our power to love and sow happiness.

My mom has cooked dinner for my dad repeatedly in their 40-year marriage. I have never once heard my dad complain that the corn is tough or the chicken bland. He simply sits down and relishes whatever she makes. My mother offers him happiness in the meal and he offers her happiness in his response. What if we each decide to cook-up love in the best way we can and then pull up a chair and relish the love-offering of others? I think we might find ourselves transformed into people of deep and abiding happiness.

An ancient hymn, thought to be one of the earliest songs of the Christian church, imagines Jesus as the Phos Hilaron—the “Happy Light.” Legend says it was composed by an old man on his way to being martyred. The executioner’s arm was paralyzed until the elderly bishop had finished his song. May this be true for all of us—may we be given as many days as we need to fully sing our song of love and may true happiness be the result.


Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.

Children, Chaos, and Contemplation

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

There is never a dull moment at our house. My wife and I have four children—amid the flurry of homework assignments, birthday parties, sibling spats, and dinnertime squabbles—there’s a lot of constant noise and movement.

beach-jumpingOne of the delightful things about having young children is their unbridled enthusiasm and overwhelming energy. They are fully present, without a sense that there is anything else to be. They are fully in the moment. This is a gift of being a child, not being weighed down by thoughts of the future, or by a sense of responsibility, or worry. They are right here, right now.

The downside is that everything is so important, and when something doesn’t go their way, right now, it’s reason for complaining, crying, sometimes even—panic. Spilling milk really is something to cry over. A favorite toy breaking feels like the apocalypse. Even as I write this there is fighting in the sandbox. (Don’t worry – we have plenty of moments of calm and laughter as well in our household!)

I long as a parent to be able to maintain an inner calm amid all this outer chaos and confusion. I find that I am very seldom able to cultivate that on the spot. It is something I need to consciously develop in other moments, so that when the chaos comes, I have a reserve of calm from which to draw. It might be a daily time of prayer and silence, a quiet walk outside, Scripture reading, or some other practice. Daily I drive our children to school, about 15 or so minutes through a beautiful, rural landscape. I find this to be a very calming time—at least, the quiet drive home after dropping them off! Soaking in the scenery, I give thanks for the children I have, I look forward to what the day brings, and I have time to connect, in quiet, with God.

Of course the chaos doesn’t wait for me to be contemplatively grounded to begin! As any parent knows—these scenes erupt without a moment’s notice. When this happens, there are times when I haven’t centered myself, and it is only too easy to be caught up in the noise, and even add to it.

“She ate my last French fry!”  

“He always gets to go first!”

“I never get to do anything fun.”

“But I’m not tired!”

At times I’ve given in to the chaos, or even added to it. This not only exacerbates the situation, but it models to the kids that such behavior is OK—not only for them, but even for adults. Here’s where being centered is so crucial. When I’m calm within—I can sense what is happening and allow myself to pull back a moment to seek clarity above the fray. In these moments, the one thing that helps me more than anything is perspective. I try to see the situation from outside it. When I’m able to seek that bit of detachment, things seem to quickly scale to their appropriate place in the scheme of things. Sometimes I just need to remember to breathe, or hold onto a phrase such as “they’re just kids, after all.” Or: “this too shall pass.” Other times I tap into contemplative moments I enjoyed earlier.

Naturally I try to help the child see the larger perspective I’m trying to hold on to. “No more French fries? Well, they’re not that healthy anyway, and maybe we can have a yummy snack later.” But this often only goes so far. “But Dad…!” I can’t remove my child’s sense of imminent frustration, disappointment, or anger. I can’t remove them from the situation. It is a natural desire to help the child see what I see. To help him ‘figure it out.’

Yet what has the most impact, I think, is to simply be that presence of peace. Even if my children don’t understand it, they’ll experience it, and it will register somewhere for them, even if subconsciously. When I remain calm, the equation changes. There is now a presence of peace absorbing the cacophony. There’s a word of encouragement. A hand to hold. A hug to receive. A smile. Peace.

I’m a long, long ways from being a perfect parent, but I love it. I’m grateful for the daily gifts my children bring me—and my prayer is that my presence is also a gift to them.


Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer (and parent of four!) who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @bryberg.

Radical Hospitality in the Woods

Today’s post is by Crystal Corman

It is easiest for me to connect with God when surrounded by nature’s beauty. I try to take in God’s gifts through the sights, smells, and sounds of the mountains, trees, or river. But most days of the year, I live in the middle of a city, surrounded by concrete, traffic exhaust, and the noise of urban living. This summer, I was surprisingly blessed with the opportunity to escape the urban jungle for an adventure in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

This was my first trip to the Wild Goose Festival and my first trip to North Carolina. With the theme of “Living Liberation,” I anticipated inspiring speakers and artists. While I did witness some amazing presenters, musicians, and performers, my most memorable experience was an atmosphere of hospitality that infused the air.

Hospitality is a beautiful spiritual gift that is too often condensed to “coffee hour” at churches. During my time as staff at a campus ministry in Lincoln, NE, we used a Benedictine book called Radical Hospitality to encourage us in our ministry (Paraclete Press, 2011). This small book spoke of simple acts of kindness that seem radical in a world where we are taught to be suspicious of others out of self-protection or privacy. As someone who did not grow up in a city (I’m a farm girl), I find that the longer I live in the city, the less I look people in the eyes when navigating around others in pursuit of my end destination.

WildGooseIMG_0911The campgrounds at Wild Goose felt like another world as people greeted each other warmly, paused to listen to questions, and seemed open to an encounter with anyone and everyone at the festival. It was as if people’s hearts were open to the fact that they would meet Jesus in each person they passed or met. I slowly felt my defenses soften, opening myself to be truly present and seek to see the image of God in those around me.

The first evening I had dinner at the campgrounds, I bought food from a vendor and grabbed an open spot at a picnic bench nearby. I had sat across from a man and young woman in the middle of a conversation. Soon, they pulled me into their conversation and commenced introductions. We sat and chatted about why we came to Wild Goose, then they shared stories from previous years. From this simple invitation at a common table, I felt welcomed and “oriented” to the community of Wild Goose in a deep, meaningful way. I saw these two persons repeatedly throughout the festival, and their generosity further inspired me to open my heart to God’s presence.

This is only one example of many encounters at Wild Goose this summer, but this abundant hospitality that seemed to organically flow made a quick and lasting impression. Perhaps this type of openness should be expected at a festival calling people to come with an “open heart… a willingness to meet respectfully across lines of difference, to share wisdom and listen to each other’s stories.” But I needed this breath of fresh air to remind me that hospitality is a display of love that transforms more than the receiver; it also transforms the giver. As I returned to my life in Washington, DC, I can offer hospitality inside my church – and outside in my everyday life – in ways that may seem radical to the world but are fully in line with Jesus’ teachings and God’s abundant love.


Crystal Corman is a member of the YALLI class of 2015. She is also Program Manager at World Faiths Development Dialogue and a member of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, DC. She earned a Masters of Theological Studies at Wesley Theological Seminary and also has an MA in international peace and conflict resolution. You can follow Crystal on Twitter.

Want to support Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative? Consider sponsoring runner Ed Poling in November’s JFK 50-mile marathon.

What Does it Mean to Be Beloved of God?

Today’s post is by Juliet Vedral

It happened at the last day—the last hour really—of the 2013 Shalem YALLI kick-off retreat (Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative). As our ragtag group of contemplatives wrote down on paper the blockages we sensed to living lives connected to the Spirit, we placed them in a bowl. We were then asked to come up, take a few of the slips of paper, hold them up to God, then return them to the bowl with a prayer: “I am the Beloved of God.”

This snarky, snide former Pastors’ Kid (yes, that’s two pastors) rolled the eyes of her heart. What did that prayer even mean? But then that question tugged at me: what does it mean to be the Beloved of God? It seemed to be the question I had always been asking. Could that really be true of me?

I’ve always loved John’s gospel the most, primarily because of his audacity to define himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” What a claim, right? Yet it seemed the journey that the Spirit was inviting me to take as we left the retreat was to be able to claim for myself, for my core identity, “the Beloved of God.”

2013-06-23 09.02.12Flash forward 10 months. I am on a work retreat with the messaging team and Anne Grizzle, my mentor through Shalem’s YALLI program. I had suggested that one of my projects to incorporate contemplative practices in the workplace was to have this team take some time to learn how best to listen to the Spirit and each other. As we did some listening and discernment, I shared about my life and how I felt as though I have been on a pilgrimage in the darkness and not sure to what end.

To my surprise, two of my colleagues said that they believed I was “blessed” and that perhaps the season I was in was less about me and more for others. It was not what I’d hoped to hear. Still, it struck a chord in me—as in, it caused all the notes that had been playing in my head and my heart for months to harmonize.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, Life of the Beloved, writes that being the Beloved of God means that we are taken, blessed, broken, and then given to others. As Jesus was blessed, broken, and given to us, so are we to the world. It is at once a beautiful and terrible thing to claim about oneself.

As I contemplate certain areas of my life that feel broken, I recognize that perhaps I’m missing the “slow work of God” because change isn’t happening fast enough. Perhaps the challenge of being the Beloved is having the eyes to see that this life is about God and God’s work in this world.

A co-worker recently referenced a sermon she’d heard a few years earlier, about being in the river of God. As we wade deeper into that river, we are carried to places we may not have willingly gone.

Right now I feel that I am at a place in my life where I would not have willingly gone. I am a single (off of a recent, perplexing break up), 33-year-old, childless woman with a great job, but not in her vocation, far from home. All of these aspects of my life make me feel as though I am not Beloved, as I would prefer to be married, with children, living into a vocational calling and near my family. There is a powerful temptation to feel purposeless and “cursed” by God when looking at my life through the lens of a self-centered world that tells me I am barren because I am alone and childless and not “living my dream.”

And yet the One whom God proclaimed a beloved child that pleased the Divine, was “like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised and we held him in low esteem.” (Isaiah 53: 3b). In this upside-down kingdom, Belovedness looks broken. It looks low and impoverished, without “beauty or majesty.” That’s quite a depressing image, right? Who’d really want to sign up for that?

On my birthday I joked that this was my “Jesus year.” Well, here was another 33-year-old, alone, without any descendants, unrecognized for the work he was doing, far from home. So when my colleagues said back to me something I couldn’t hear—the voice of God saying “this is my Beloved Daughter in whom I am well pleased”— it was transformative. To be considered “blessed” despite feeling otherwise showed me how much farther I need to go in embracing all of God’s love towards me. Not just the warm, fuzzy parts. But the real life parts of being broken in front of people and letting them see God heal and restore.

Isn’t that the reason we claim “the Beloved of God” as our identity? I am my father and mother’s beloved daughter even when I don’t always feel it. When I was a child and they didn’t give me what I wanted all the time and they disciplined me to be a kind, thoughtful person, it was because they loved me. As the author of Hebrews writes, “Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father?” (Hebrews 12:7). This discipline is not punishment but instead is teaching me to know my worth to God. I am Beloved even when it doesn’t feel like it and through this process being made more and more like Jesus. And like him, may I continue to be chosen, blessed, broken, and given to those who need to see the slow—yet powerful—work of God.


Juliet Vedral is a member of the YALLI class of 2015. She is the press secretary for Sojourners and the editor of a literary magazine called The Wheelhouse Review. You can follow her on Twitter.

Six Ways to Experience Contemplation Online

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

We live an increasingly virtual existence. We have ongoing conversations with our friends—sitting in our home, or from our office, or while standing on the street waiting for the bus—while they are in a different home, in a different office, or on a different street.

Person-Using-iPhone-4SNews and weather alerts pop up automatically on our phones, keeping us forever in the loop. We update our status so the world can know what we had for dinner, or so that not just family, but every person we’ve ever known can see a picture of our kids on their first day of school. We plug in to our devices to keep up-to-date on the news, choosing a website or newscast of choice. Sometimes, rather than looking out the window or stepping outside, we pull up our favorite weather app to decide if it’s going to be a short-sleeve or long-sleeve day. A number of us even work remotely—something increasingly normal in our ever-connected world.

So how does one maintain and deepen a contemplative stance in such a frenzied, virtual world? One obvious solution is to unplug. Put the phone away. Turn the computer off. Go for a walk. Keep the radio off on the commute to work. Don’t leave a window open with Facebook always tempting you to glance at the latest cat video or Star Trek meme. Even now you’re tempted (don’t do it!).

We all need to unplug from time to time. But I’ve also found that the Internet can be a place to deepen my prayer life and connection to God.

Here are six suggestions:

1) QUIET MUSIC — Find a station on Pandora, iTunes, or your favorite streaming music site, and listen to something that brings you into a contemplative space. I often find myself listening to the yoga, relaxation, or ambient radio channels on Pandora. If you have a favorite channel or artist—feel free to share it in the comments below.

2) PRAYER WEBSITE — For years, I have enjoyed going to Sacred Space, a website run by Irish Jesuits out of Dublin since 1999. It invites one into a quiet, prayerful space online, and leads one through meditative prayer culminating in a Scripture to sit with for as long as one feels led. There are other spaces to explore as well. I’ve even adapted a daily prayer session on Sacred Space for large group use – leading a congregation in a contemplative worship service, and reading the Scripture using lectio divina and silence.

3) MEDITATION TIMER—You might take some more time for silence and meditation if you had some help, right? That’s one of the reason we enjoy silent retreats or yoga sessions – because they provide us structure and give us permission be still. Turns out technology also provides some aids for meditation. The Insight Timer is probably the most famous. A simple app for your phone or iPad, the insight timer creates the sound of beautiful Tibetan singing bowls, gently and peacefully guiding you through your meditation session. With this, your attention can focus inward and with a timer that you set – you don’t need to worry about the clock. There is even an online community around the insight timer – you can check in online or tweet about your meditation session. For those wanting to go deeper – Insight provides guided meditations by teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and Eckhart Tolle. Shalem’s meditation timer is available here: Shalem Timer.

4) AN ONLINE COURSE—There are an increasing number of us who take classes online. Some for college credit. Some for continuing education. Some for personal enjoyment or growth. There are a number of people who offer rich contemplative eCourses. Abbey of the Arts offers an 8-day Monk in the World eCourse, which explores some of the elements essential to a contemplative practice in everyday life. In October, Contemplative Journal is offering an eCourse on Aging as a Spiritual Practice. And Spirituality and Practice is always offering something new. An online course connects you with experienced spiritual teachers while giving you space to practice and experience at your own pace. If you search online, you can find extended, year-long courses, some for a few weeks, and even some one-day retreats. Shalem has several online courses enrolling now: Shalem eCourses.

5) ARTICLES AND BLOG POSTS—There are countless books available that offer rich spiritual wisdom. But sometimes you want just a nugget, an excerpt, maybe a few paragraphs of spiritual insight to feed your soul before you continue on with your day. Well there are a lot of good blogs out there. Where to start? I’ll suggest a few that I enjoy: Richard Rohr provides daily meditations that you can receive via email. Here’s a nugget from today’s meditation:

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of true prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that meditation is going to change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us. It is that kind of long-term thinking that God seems to be involved in and kindly invites us into the same patient process.

Contemplative Journal also provides a rich source of articles and columns—in fact, recently Shalem contributed a series of articles for Contemplative Leadership Week.

The Contemplative Society provides regular posts from Cynthia Bourgeault, who will be recognized with Shalem’s Contemplative Voices Award for 2014 this November. Cynthia is a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, committed to teaching and spreading the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.

There are many other blogs worth following but these are a few to get you started. Want to share some you enjoy? Please share with us below.

6) SOCIAL MEDIA —A final suggestion would be to find contemplative organizations and individuals you enjoy, and follow them on social media. Social media is a great way to connect with contemplative photography, audio teachings and meditations, blog posts, as well as connect to the ongoing contemplative conversation online. Any of the groups I mentioned above would be great to connect with via Facebook. There are also some regular contemplatives on Twitter such as our friend Carl McColman – follow him on Twitter to catch his latest thoughts, quotes, blogs and teachings. Do you have a favorite contemplative that you follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Is there a conversation group that you enjoy? Share with us below!

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably somewhat familiar with what Shalem offers for online contemplative connection. Seeking an online course? Check out our latest here. Shalem is quickly becoming a leader in providing quality online courses led by Shalem’s respected staff and faculty, and we have a 6-week course beginning this fall, as well as two online retreat days.

Looking for some social media connections? Shalem’s daily Facebook posts, comprised of contemplative photography and quotes, are enjoyed by nearly 6,000 people. Why not join them? Did you know that Shalem is also on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn? In each space, Shalem aspires to create offerings and moments of contemplative connection that expand awareness of the Spirit’s presence to all who cross our paths.

These are simply six suggestions that have nurtured and assisted my own spiritual practice. Whether you need a quick spiritual lift from a simple photo or quote, or you’re ready to explore contemplative life and practice in-depth, it may be only a click away. If you have something to share that has been particularly meaningful to you, please share below—we’d love to hear about it!


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. Bryan lives with his wife, Christy, and four children in Holland, MI. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com.

Interested in taking an online course with Shalem? We have several enrolling now!

Cultivating Discernment in Community: Another Chapter

Today’s post is by Lois A. Lindbloom

This is a season of grieving for me and throughout the college town in which I live.  Jennifer, a beloved campus pastor, died at the age of 47.  She was wife, mother of two young children, daughter, sister, friend to neighbors and colleagues, active supporter of children’s activities and concerns for the care of the world in addition to having a listening ear, prophetic voice, and liturgical grace on the campus.  A year and a half ago she learned that an aggressive, cancerous tumor had established itself in her brain.  That is what took her from us.

A few days before her death, I saw a health care provider in our community.  Through her own tears of grief she asked, “Do you know Jennifer?”  “Yes, she and I and two other women have been in a small group together for more than nine years, a spiritual direction group.  We meet for three hours once a month.”  Then the tears rolled for both of us.

Toward the end of her life Jennifer lost her ability to speak.  In our last meeting less than three weeks before she passed, her remaining word was “ya.”  She understood everything we were saying and offered her one word at appropriate times.  Our moments of silence together that day were some of the most profound I have ever experienced.  It seemed as though the rest of us were joining her in the silence that now was the only option available to her.

My grief is mixed with gratitude for these companions on my spiritual journey, each a unique manifestation of the Love of God in the world.  Our purpose together is spiritual discernment:  paying prayerful attention to one’s own life in order to be clearer about and more cooperative with God’s activity.  We each invite one another to listen prayerfully to the part of our lives we want to share; then we hold what we have heard in silence, observing what comes to us — what we notice, appreciate, wonder about — all to underline and encourage that which seems to be of God.  We offer aloud what came to us, and we hold one another in prayer.

We have asked ourselves what makes the group work or what is unique about it?  Gathering with the clear intention of spiritual discernment is one response.  Prayerful listening is another.  Willingness to speak honestly about one’s own life and concerns.  Refraining from advice giving or fixing one another.  Holding one another’s stories in confidence.  Allowing the holy ground of silence to nudge us away from “knee jerk” or “off the top of one’s head” reactions.  Continually honing our perceptions to pay attention to “that of God” in our own and one another’s stories. 

These conversations are confidential; the content is not talked about elsewhere.  Thus, a startling part of this week of grief has been the spontaneous responses about the group experience from others.  For instance, the husbands of my three friends have each referred to the importance of the group as an anchor, a safe place, a place of growth for their wives which in turn has had an influence on  them. 

Early on in our group Jennifer noted that her prayers were being widened.  She began by praying for each of us but found that her concerns were expanded to include all who were dear to us, whatever people and situations we talked about, the needs in the world that touched each of us.  Yes, the group is for us, and not just for us. 

Somehow this all sounds very serious.  In fact, humor, laughter, and birthday cards are important ingredients as we walk together and hold one another’s stories.  For my group, all of that is particularly cultivated during the first movement of each meeting — lunch together, provided in a rotating fashion which we call “lead and feed.”  The person who brings the lunch also brings an opening reading and guides us through the process, step by step.    

I am enormously grateful for the anchor and place of transformation this group is for me.  I am also enormously hopeful that this process, group spiritual direction, can continue to be a transformative container for many other participants and groups.

If you are interested in experiencing group spiritual direction within a prayerful community, Shalem is offering a Group Spiritual Direction Workshop Sept 21-24 in Lexington, Virginia. Deepen your contemplative grounding and expand your capacity to listen to God on behalf of others. Click here for workshop details.

If you are looking for an ongoing opportunity to practice group spiritual direction, consider joining a Sacred Listening Circle. Gather with others to practice deep listening, actively receiving the wisdom and deep stirrings of the Spirit in each person. We do this for ourselves, each other and on behalf of every person and our planet. A Circle is starting this fall, and will meet regularly in the Shalem library in Washington, DC.

Lois Lindbloom first experienced group spiritual direction with Rose Mary Dougherty and others at Shalem (www.shalem.org).  Learn more from Rose Mary’s books, Group Spiritual Direction:  Community for Discernment and The Lived Experience of Group Spiritual Direction and Lois’ booklet Prayerful Listening:  Cultivating Discernment in Community, all available at the Shalem store.  Lois’ booklet is also available via lalindbloom@earthlink.net.

Responsibility & Bliss

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey.

Winsome One,
You, whose very desire is the crucible of creation,
You, who speaks the invitation so alluring,
Let there be-
You, vulnerable and open, enticing yet restrained,
awaiting a response.
I can almost see the gleam in your eye.
We all say, Yes.
Trembling and ablaze,
rising to life.

We are more than friends, you and I.
More than companions,
more than master and humble servant, grateful for your generosity.
We are divine conspirators,
breathing together new life.
You, the beginning and end of all my longing.

This night, as I rise again and again to the cries of my son,
may I know the satisfaction of this liturgy,
The call and response of your hungry love.

May the sun find me with a weary smile upon my face,
drenched in the dew of your desire. 

silhouette-of-carefree-mother-and-daughterI wrote this poem when my son was an infant and the nights felt endless. I originally titled it, “One mother’s prayer at 3:43 am.” It was just the two of us in the house and on that particular night I traipsed repeatedly between the rocker in the nursery and my empty bed. I distinctly remember the conflict within me. I was exhausted and yet wanted to be responsive to this new life entrusted to my care. Somehow in the alchemy of writing, bleary-eyed at that early hour, my feelings found meaning and form. As dawn began to break, I felt renewed warmth in my heart for all that was asked of me. It was the Divine Lover’s voice underneath my son’s cries, longing for my tenderness.

Now, almost seven years later, I realize how often I respond to the people and tasks of my life begrudgingly, as if life itself is an unwelcome imposition on my interior world. I long to bring my contemplation and action into renewed union. I need so keenly to give of my deepest myself, to birth the inner love into form and expression.

Charles de Foucauld, the French Catholic priest and martyr, lived in the desert of Algeria among the nomadic Tuareg people. In 1916 he was assassinated outside the fort he built for their protection. Before his death, he penned this prayer, “Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you…and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence….” (Italics mine)

There can be no greater bliss than to bring delight to the Beloved’s heart. Oh, the joy of receiving and responding in love. In the topsy-turvy beauty of the spiritual life maybe we are given many responsibilities, not as tests of our endurance, but as the natural outcome of God’s yearning within. Maybe there is, woven into our spirits, a divine urgency to give of our deepest selves generously and often. May I be given grace to see each task as an opportunity to surrender into love, boundlessly confident that beneath the immediacy of needs clamoring for my attention there are the gleaming eyes of One who longs for my touch and awaits my response.

Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.