When Earth and Heaven Meet

Today’s post is by Scott Landis

I recently celebrated my 60th birthday with family and friends in Denver, Colorado. Through a series of marvelous coincidences, that I am convinced were orchestrated by God, all members of my immediate family and some of my closest friends were able to gather on the weekend that my husband and I would be in town. A party was planned. A couple of outings to Boulder and nearby points of interest were also part of what quickly became a very full weekend. I had one additional request. I wanted my husband, who is a yoga instructor, to lead a sunrise yoga practice for all those willing to participate.

We gathered mid-morning in the backyard of our host. The sun was already up and warmed us as we sat on the lush green lawn. The autumn air was cool while its gentle breeze reminded us of the dryness typical of the high desert plains of Denver. We began by lighting a candle and burning a braid of sweet grass, a gift from a dear friend who joined us from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Before our smudging ceremony, she told us that the sweet grass is known to the Ojibway Indians as “Mother Earth’s hair,” and it became our connection to the holiness of the ground on which we sat.

We were then guided in a gentle yet invigorating practice complete with downward facing dog, and child’s pose, a warrior sequence, and finally savasana – the corpse pose as our final rest. It was then that it happened. Lying on the grass, I felt a deeper connection to something beyond myself. Was it the pungent smell of sweet grass still alive in my nostrils? Was it the sound of crickets reminding me that I am merely a visitor to their home as I lay still, quiet, in a complete sense of rest? Or was it what in Celtic spirituality is known as a “thin place” where the space between heaven and earth is so narrow – so thin – you can almost see through it?

What I know is that lying there I had the most surreal sense that I was in a liminal space somewhere between life and death, and it mattered not which direction my body would go. It was as if life and death became one – heaven and earth seemed to meet – as an abiding sense of Holy Presence surrounded me in a manner I could not fully comprehend. I remember somehow knowing that this must be, in part, what Divine union is like. Any sense of dualism ceased to exist as even my desire or longing for God seemed to subside. I was completely content – as a state of deep stillness seemed to suspend all sense of time. I felt nothing but peace.

Randy concluded our practice with a prayer while I remained in my deepened state of awareness. I tried to describe my experience to the others in the group. I fumbled for words then almost as much as I am in trying to share the experience now. Suffice it to say that I sensed a deep blessing on this “birthday.” Perhaps I was “born anew,” the experience Jesus offered Nicodemus when he questioned him about eternal life. I’m really not sure. What I believe I experienced is best summed up in a beautiful chant offered years ago by Gerald May – a chant that has become somewhat of a mantra to me, “Changeless and calm, deep mystery. Ever more deeply, rooted in Thee (or me).”

Julian of Norwich, during a time of grave illness, described a series of revelations or “shewings” of the Divine, an experience of “oneing” of union, of being fully present to Presence. I wonder, was I given a small taste of that?

We traveled to Indonesia, to Denver, had dinner with friends, and several parties all in celebration of this special birthday. Each experience I thoroughly enjoyed and will long remember, but this was none other than God’s gift, one I least expected and will forever treasure.


 

Scott CREDO head shotScott Landis is pastor of Mission Hills United Church of Christ in San Diego, California. He is a graduate of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program and is currently an associate in Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program. Scott is an avid swimmer and yoga practitioner and enjoys incorporating a variety of contemplative practices into the life of his congregation.    

 

The Grace of Noticing

Today’s blog post is by Trish Stefanik

I don’t have a cell phone.

I have been meaning to get one, over the years, but still have not done so. I know I will – I am not against the motion of technology, and I imagine I will enjoy many an app and ways to ease communication. I imagine, too, the relief of not having to field disbelieving, even angry, expressions and remarks to my not having a smartphone. But for now, I enjoy cultivating the art of noticing.

Just this week walking to and from the Metro I notice a lavish rose flowering in a lot more suited for weeds. I stop to admire the humor and creativity on a signboard outside a coffee shop: an artistic rendering of the Peanuts character Linus hugging a pumpkin and the invitation, “Welcome Great Pumpkin Chai!” Later I see a bundled beauty of a baby in a stroller at peace and oblivious to the urban sights and sounds teeming around her. In the little patch of green in front of an apartment building, a dog leaps and without fanfare (on his part – I am amazed) catches a flying red Frisbee mid-air. I definitely would have missed this moment if I were looking down at a screen.

Then there is the October sun, situated low in the sky and more apt to be blinding this time of year. I have gotten caught, frozen, more than once in its inescapable glare. I take the opportunity to be grateful to simply bask in the light, as if it is God’s Presence manifest in all-embracing radiance. I take the time to feel that from head to toe to heart.

The leaves turn, swirl, and fall gently in a colorful, graceful display of letting go. Flocks of birds zigzag repeatedly across the sky. I’m not sure what this is about, but I delight in the visual melody. I see a sparrow rustle under a tree at the edge of the sidewalk; on a bare limb above another sings. Yes, there is birdsong amidst the typical engine noises, sirens, and shouts! And when the piercing sounds of the city bear me down or stop me short, I offer a prayer for the EMT workers and the situation they are rushing to, or for a stressed-out driver or harried pedestrian.

I especially enjoy noticing the people along my walk. I don’t mean detached, curious observation. I mean to walk slowly enough, and sometimes stop, to offer a friendly greeting. More than polite etiquette, I light up with the kind of smile that comes only from within and is self-offering. I recognize that human being as beautiful to be seen.

My greeting is not always reciprocated but is more often than not. And when this happens, I experience something shining beyond the encounter, like that embracing Presence in the sun. In some mysterious way, taking the time to really pay attention opens a doorway for a holy spirit to work wonders in me and in you and in whatever the situation may be. Not in a Pollyannaish way. Suffering and pain are all too real, and all the more evident as I take the time to be present. In which case, I still have my presence to give.

I am not always paying attention; I do not always connect with my surroundings. My thoughts distract me; I am not a purist. It is laughable how easily I can move from a beautiful moment of connection with the newspaper carrier at the top of the Metro escalator as he offers, “Have a Blessed Day!” to a place of unawareness on the platform as I bury myself in the paper.

Then I remember and look up, back in the present moment. My friend Joseph talks about “the aesthetic nature of living.” Each moment holds the Eternal, if only I awaken in it. I still have plenty of time to get to work and back home. And I come bearing a heart full and grateful.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Take the time to notice. “Have a Blessed Day!” How are you experiencing your surroundings? What are you seeing and hearing within yourself? What is your response?


TrishTrish Stefanik is a program administrator for Shalem and a contemplative retreat leader living in Washington, DC, after seven years with a study retreat community in a mountain wilderness environment and one year at an ecumenical Benedictine monastery. She is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats program.

Sit.

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I was praying and filled to the brim with so many ideas, desires, and hopes. I was looking for a new direction, a calling, next steps, and a road map clarifying the journey ahead. In my earnest prayer, I asked, “Lord, what shall I do next?” I sensed a small whisper of an answer. I heard this:

Sit.”

Surely, I must have missed something. Sit? Was this it? I was hoping for something with at least two syllables, something grander, maybe even life changing! I thought perhaps I must have misheard, so I prayed again and again and then again on another day. The answer was always the same, a gentle loving nudge to do nothing else but “Sit.”

And so it was. I began to sit and more importantly notice when I wasn’t sitting. I still tried to explore and try on different versions of sitting. I thought perhaps I was to: sit there, sit with me, sit down and enjoy the ride, sit still, or even, sit down and eat your vegetables. I even tried; sit, stay!, sit with us, sit in the sun, sit down and put your feet up, and sit down and daydream awhile. While many of those options seemed lovely, nothing fit except to “Sit.”

My brother-in-law had even mentioned that he learned to pray by focusing on a word that was revealed in prayer. He was granted a three-syllable word – filled with transformation, new beginnings, and insight. Later, I shared with him my little three-letter word. With head down, I slowly revealed, “All I got was, ‘Sit.’”

My sacred word and spiritual directive began to take on more meaning. It granted me permission to rest, to wait on a decision, and to hold my emotions in check until clarity was given. It helped me to be present to God, to grace, to mercy and even the sound of the world around me. I learned to sit with mystery, my breath, with time, and the sun. I learned to sit on the floor, on the porch, with friends, with children, with those who were sick and those who needed an ear. The sitting taught me about being fully present.

Later, I shared with my spiritual director my little word, and she silently nodded with a knowing smile. I could tell that she trusted the word was more powerful than I was yet to realize. What was interesting about the timing of this was that I had just recovered from a concussion, where I had already spent a fair amount of time lying down. I had also entered into training to be a contemplative prayer retreat leader and would need to understand the power of sitting and how to nourish others in their ability be in silence too.

I began to see that I was not alone in sitting. Rose Mary Dougherty’s book, Discernment, reminded me of the importance of finding this still place and listening. She quoted Rachel Naomi Remen who wrote about “querencia,” a term used in bullfighting. It was about being able to find our safe and quiet place, to remember who we are, and to gather our strength and wisdom for the next step. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. reminded me to “Trust in the slow work of God” by writing, “Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that God’s own hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Rainer Maria Rilke also affirmed this, encouraging us be with and to “live into the questions.” It seems that slowing down, sitting, and surrendering are just what are needed to be available to God and the presence of love.

That little word continues to help me be present and to laugh out loud, especially when I think I have something big to do in the world. I can’t help but smile at my simple directive to sit down, be available to love in the world and breathe. I am still learning to sit and I am still trying to understand the special nudge I received. I find it most helpful when people tell me they are hoping for a big inspirational moment, or a road map of next steps and wonder why they have been given only a simple thing to do.

In those moments, I feel myself nodding silently with a smile on my face. I know that whatever they have been given no matter what size or how many syllables, it will lead to a chance to sit, to be, and to be loved.


kimberlyborin

Dr. Kimberly Borin is a School Counselor, Retreat Leader, and in training to be a Spiritual Director with the Shalem Institute.  She believes that we can find peace and grace in simple ways, each moment. She has been a teacher and counselor since 1989 and holds a doctorate in Education, a master degree in Educational Leadership and one in School Counseling.  She is an Ananda Yoga Teacher for adults and children and the author of the Laughter Salad series of books. You can learn more about Kimberly at: www.TheEncouragingWorks.com.

The Gradual Greening

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffee

Each year I look forward to nature’s transformation in March. I imagine the earth as a reluctant lover, having been cold and withdrawn in the winter months. Now slowly, ever so slowly, she warms again to the sun’s touch, showing her pleasure in the tender shoots of daffodils and crocus, budding dogwoods, and the slightest hint of a southerly breeze.

I wonder if earth’s gradual greening might have inspired St. Hildegard, the 12th century German abbess, mystic, and healer. Hildegard was a keen observer of natural processes and she took a gardener’s approach to healing and to the body. She was primarily concerned with something she called viriditas. Viriditas literally means “greenness,” but for Hildegard it was the broader ability of plants to put forth leaves, flowers, and fruits; and by analogy, for human beings to grow, give birth, and to heal. Hildegard noticed that plants and trees grow into the fullness of their nature according to the capacity they were given. A seed grows into the only plant it can. She believed that healing is really the power of your own nature to be itself—the freedom of the true self to live in unity with the life force that has been given to it.

We might think of viriditas as the unity between the self and God, the soul’s response to the warm touch of the Beloved. Healing rises from our identity rooted in the wholeness of God and the essential oneness at the heart of reality. Shalem’s founder, Tilden Edwards, writes in Living in the Presence that we are often captive to the symptoms of our brokenness and that healing may not be what our ego self-image imagines. There is much we cannot control and sometimes our desire for a certain outcome runs amok. There are moments when I feel bound in the dark clay of my being, longing to bloom again, to know the sun’s light in my deepest parts, and yet I am unable to enact my own resurrection. This too is part of the journey: Holy Saturday’s waiting, Jonah in the great fish, Joseph in prison, Dorothy asleep among the poppies, even Robin Hood in the dungeon. The greening itself, the resurrection, the healing is God’s work, it seems. And yet I can long for it. I can anticipate the reunion with my truest nature and the bright star burning within, knowing that whatever form my healing takes will be as it should be, beautiful according to its own nature.

As we watch the slow greening of nature around us, may we allow ourselves to be touched anew and to feel the deep veriditas rising within. Our watching is not passive. No. For as we wait, we long, we anticipate, and we ask for the reconciling, greening, aliveness of God at every level of our being and in our world. May the greening of our lives be made fruitful for the peace and wholeness of all people and all creation.

“Would any seed take root if it had not believed

the promise, when God said:

‘Dears, I will rain. I will help you. I will turn into

warmth and effulgence,

I will be the Mother that I am

and let you draw from

My body

and rise, and

rise.’”

~Thomas Aquinas


Kate-CoffeySavannah 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.

Draining the Pond

Today’s post is by Susan Robbins Etherton.

“As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

(Psalm 42:1-2)

For the past nine years, Shalem Society members have gathered together at Bon Secours Retreat Center in Marriottsville, MD, for an annual retreat. This past October was my third gathering and these are some of my reflections from that retreat.

When I arrived at Bon Secours and found my room, I was delighted to see it had a view of the pond. Through brightly colored leaves, I caught a glimpse of water shimmering below. Ah, the pond! Still water, reflecting clouds and sun, holding leaves aloft – oranges and yellows, sky blue, greyish white and dark green. I noticed the low, constant hum of machinery. I had come to expect the quiet, undercurrent of workers who care for this place. I was grateful for them; grateful for their attention and provision that allowed me and others to retreat without worry or care. Maintaining a beautiful, peaceful place like Bon Secours is always a work in progress.

As I made my way downstairs, I was excited to head outside – to greet the pond that always refreshes me. Yes, the pond was there – and yet, it was somehow different.

pond1On one side of the pond, I observed two large round tubs, bright blue plastic, like small swimming pools, full of water and leaves. On the other side of the pond, yellow caution tape festooned the walkway and a large black hose emerged from the pond, snaking over the walk and emptying out onto the grass. I looked across the pond to the footbridge – a beloved place to walk and reflect. Something like a ladder was suspended below the bridge across its entire length. More of the yellow caution tape was draped over either end of the bridge, barring entry.

I walked around to the far end of the pond. The cattails and other grasses had been leveled. The droning hum, now loud and its source clear, came from the engine of a pump. The scene began to make sense. They were draining the pond.

Confident the work would soon be over, I returned inside. The gathering room was full of loving faces and expectant energy. Greeting friends, I knew great joy and peace at this homecoming. Several days of quiet, in deeply contemplative community, awaited me and I was eager to settle into the now-familiar practice.

pond2As we moved into the second day of retreat and began the Great Silence, I headed outdoors to the pond determined to enjoy this sacred place. I found a bench facing the woods with my back to the pond and equipment. I tried to imagine the continuous, loud drone of the pump as a kind of white-noise. Only later when the pump ran out of fuel and stopped did I realize how much I missed the pure quiet of silence.

Draining the pond. Moving into a time of reflection, the image teased my spirit.

In draining the pond, the clouded water was being poured out. Fallen leaves that had clogged the pump were being cleared away. The underground systems could be viewed and checked for leaks or needed repairs. The bridge was being shored up so it could once again bear the weight of travelers.

Silent retreat is a form of draining the pond for me. I experience a clearing out of my heart space. All that has clouded, cluttered and clogged my spirit can be swept away leaving a spaciousness to consider my own underground systems. Where are the leaks that need tending? What are the broken places or areas needing reinforcement? I undergo a deep and cleansing emptying, exposing myself, broken and bare, safe and open to the tender care of Spirit and loving community.

fish_pondThe next day, the water in the pond was very low. Now attuned to the changes and process, I noticed there were fish in the pond. The large, easily seen ones had been moved but, with the pond almost empty, I could see baby fish – small orange treasures huddling together looking for safe waters. I appreciated that the workmen spent a great deal of time to safely gather these baby fish and move them to a holding pond while the base pond was repaired. I wondered what infant gifts were waiting to be noticed or discovered in me?

As I continued each day to watch the water recede, I began to see the rocks and sediment – the bedrock of the pond. Yes, there were places that needed repair, some shoring up of weak spots, but I could also see the strength of a solid and well-built foundation.

pond3Refilled with fresh water, the pond would once again be refreshing, peaceful, a place of great beauty, reflecting all of creation around it, offering itself as a place of rest.

I imagine myself cleared, unclogged and repaired. I cherish the infant possibilities I will discover. I see myself filled again with new life, Living Water. Refreshed in body and Spirit, knowing the peace that surpasses understanding, I am once again a source of love and refreshment for the world. I resurface grateful — full and free to reflect God’s unending beauty.


rsz_susanethertonSusan Robbins Etherton is a graduate of Nurturing the Call: Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program.  A member of Spiritual Directors International, Susan has actively engaged in the ministry of spiritual direction since 2007. She is married and the mother of two children.  Susan says, “I love God, my family, singing and nature. For fun I play around with a camera.” She is a member of the board of Shalem Institute, and be sure to look for her photographic contributions to Shalem’s daily Facebook postings.

Learning from the Mountains

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Forty-five minutes west of home, I drive over just the next hill and catch sight of them: the gentle layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the distance. I take a deep breath and “drop down” into the center of my being. The traffic has thinned by now and, captured by the tranquil beauty of this ancient geology, I feel my breathing slow and my shoulders relax.

I did not always love the Blue Ridge. I’m embarrassed to say that the first time a friend pointed out the distant “mountains” to me, I burst out laughing. Growing up in the Midwest, “the mountains” were the Rockies, dramatic and breath-taking! It took time and many visits before I came to appreciate the difference that an additional 320 million years had made to softening the Blue Ridge.

mountains_LeahWhat is it about these time-worn mountains that calms my body and opens my spiritual heart? Perhaps because they are among the oldest mountains on the planet, they instruct me in deep time. How can I fail to stand in awe of mountains that began forming before modern humans walked Earth? The breadth of creation simultaneously stuns me and infuses me with joy.

And yet it’s even more that these mountains offer. It’s almost as if I pause to match my breathing with theirs. I reflect on how easy it is to come into the present during our Shalem staff meetings when we gather in shared silent prayer for 30 minutes.   As a part of a spiritual community, my prayer is strengthened, sustained, and enlarged by the silence and prayer of others. And sometimes are graced to sense that our prayer is one prayer, and we are blessed with an awareness that we are truly one.

So too it is with nature, I believe. In the same way that one heart entrains to the rhythm of another’s heart, our hearts are fashioned to entrain to the rhythm of the natural world. The heartbeat of the mountains, the rivers, and the trees steady us, support our open presence, enlarge our compassion, and remind us of our unity with all of creation.

In my busy life, I too often forget that I am – that all are – woven into the amazing collective of being. I return to the life-giving trees, the verdant valley and the primeval mountains to remember to be present to our oneness. Job 12:8 reminds us: “Speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” May I become an ever-better student.


Leah_FBLeah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs. Leah’s 5-day online leadership seminar is registering now.

Top mountain photo by Ana Rampy; inset photo by Leah Rampy

Waiting for Peace, Walking for Peace, Listening for Peace

Peace is not something far away, nor is it something that someone else has to make happen. It is already planted in my spiritual heart, a birthright, given as part of my creation in the image of God and awakened through the gift of God’s spirit in Christ.

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley. This excerpted article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Best Practices for Peace in 2015. The full post can be read at Patheos.com.

Peace I leave you. My own peace I give you. ~ Jesus (John 14: 27)

Sitting here in the post-Christmas detritus of boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbon, and with a list of things left undone, it’s hard to be peaceful. Maybe peace will come when I get my house back in order. Or maybe peace will come when I’ve done all my end-of-the-year chores. Or maybe peace will really only come as wars cease, boundaries agreeably negotiated, and all is well in the world. Perhaps when we live in balance and our commitment to Earth is renewed we will know peace. Or, as my sister says, maybe peace will finally come when she has thin thighs. In other words, never!

I yearn for peace, and I’m waiting for peace to come.

Holy scripture, however, insists that peace is here, now, already given. Peace is not something far away, nor is it something that someone else has to make happen. No one has to go and find peace and bring it back to me. It is already planted in my spiritual heart, a birthright, given as part of my creation in the image of God and awakened through the gift of God’s spirit in Christ.

With this understanding, how do I tap into that peace? How, in my own lived experience, can I realize peace? What contemplative practices will support my desire for peace and help me live from that place? Here are a few suggestions.

Sitting Meditation: Going Deeper

We cannot touch that inner quality of peace by skimming along the surface of life. We have to go deeper. One thing that assists our going deeper is a daily, dedicated time of silent prayer/meditation. We bring to this time our intention to open more fully to God’s presence and to let our silent prayer water the seeds of peace already living in our spiritual hearts.

This requires a certain amount of trust, a trust that peace is already there beneath our thoughts, fears, anxieties, and agendas. If your trust is weak, perhaps the first prayer is for an empowered sense of trust that peace is there, living in you. It is yours, a gift to be received, opened, and magnified. A simple “thank you,” or sense of gratitude, acknowledges the gift, honors the Giver and opens the door into that inner chamber of peace.

This unambiguous set-aside time allows for spaciousness to emerge. In that spaciousness, there is a taste, perhaps just a tiny sip of the sweet waters of peace. At other times, it may seem like a waterfall cascading over you or a river of peace welling up and flowing through you. Peace then flows from you out into the world. You are the peace you yearn for.

Read the full article for more.


caroleCarole Crumley, Shalem Institute’s Senior Program Director, is an Episcopal priest and a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences. She designs and leads Shalem’s contemplative pilgrimages and directs Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program.

Open and Available [audio guided meditation]

Today’s post is an audio guided meditation by Patience Robbins (from the December 10, 2014 Wednesday Noon Prayer session). Feel free to tune in on your iPhone or mobile device, and find a quiet place to listen. Click the orange arrow above to listen.

“It is a great gift to have the time and space for this quiet prayer, open and available for the Holy One within us, among us, and around us. During our time together, we will have a brief centering exercise, some prayer intentions, and a reading that will lead us into a time of silence. We will end with a closing prayer.”

Join Patience each Wednesday at noon, or tune in to past meditations.


Patience-RobbinsPatience Robbins, Director of Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative, is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and has been a spiritual director for over 20 years. She was the Director of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening Program from 2003-08 and is the author of the booklet, Parenting: A Sacred Path.

Pause, Wash, Rinse and Drain

Today’s post is by Christine Berghoef.

Growing up in an old farm house with limited kitchen upgrades, I used to question my mom and dad’s sanity in their choice to not install a dishwasher. Between my parents, me, and my three growing brothers who seemed to put down several meals between meals throughout any given day, it seemed an unnecessary extra chore for my mom to have to conquer the messy stacks of dishes scattered haphazardly in piles across the counters, with crusty food stuck on every which way. She rarely asked us kids to do the washing, which I always thought peculiar. Why not assign the culprits of a disheveled kitchen the task of cleaning it up?

dishes_in_the_sinkOur current house does not have a dishwasher. I was anticipating a frustrating bother to have to do the dishes at the end of each exhausting day. But peculiarly, after the noise and energy of my four children subsides each night, after the juggling of the day’s many schedules, after running here and there and to the moon and back, I have come to anticipate my sweet silent serenity at the end of the day in the company of dirty dishes bathing in a sink brimming with hot sudsy water.

In the predictable rhythm of liquid warmth swirling through my washcloth as I swab away remnants of the day’s nourishment, the liltingly light splash of the faucet rinsing the suds, and the movement from rinse to dry rack, I am soothed. Unwound. Almost tranquilized. It forces me to pause, to ruminate over the events of the day, to be still. The sequential rhythm invites movement of the day’s gathered prayers from nebulous sentiment to thoughtful, tangible release. “God, forgive me for my impatience today…God, I bless you for providing outdoor space for my children to run unhindered…God, give me courage to live into your way.” On and on the mingled prayers disentangle, line up and parade from my heart through the cleansing of these dishes.

There is an additional connectedness that I experience to the women of the generations that came before me. They too faithfully washed, rinsed and laid to dry the dishes at the end of each long day. As I currently live in the house my grandparents formerly lived in, there is a deeper nostalgia that overwhelms me knowing my grandma was bent over with the same daily task in this very sink, looking out this very window, across the stillness of this same field and forest. Yes, with all the changes from one generation to the next, dish washing has been a constant in my family. An unbroken chain of daily routine. A task whose worth I have only recently come to slowly understand and increasingly appreciate in the context of a busy life.

Last year my parents did some kitchen remodeling on their aged farmhouse. Among other modern upgrades, they installed a dishwasher. My first thought was, “Why now? Why get one now…when your kids are grown and all but one are out of the house? You’re retired now and your life has slowed down a bit. You no longer face the constant overcrowded counters, and the rambunctious kids swarming the house with clutter, noise and spirited energy. Now you actually have the time to do the dishes, and less dishes to do!”

But lately as I’ve begun to reflect on my own need of washing the dishes, seemingly antithetical realities have been realized. The busy days… the crazy days… the days when I’m most at my wits end…these are the days I especially need the space to pause, to wash, to rinse, and drain. And with it go my prayers. And with the imparting of my daily prayers, my soul too seems cleansed.

The seasons of life when we most lack the time for pause, tend to also be the seasons that we most need to pause. The necessary chore of doing dishes forces me to take that time when I otherwise might not.

Someday my life might slow down a bit, and similar to the season my mother is now in, I may be ready for the convenience of a dishwasher. But in this season – a season of juggling the needs of family, and work, and seemingly constant activity, I’ll celebrate the mandatory space carved out just for me at the end of each day to pause, wash, rinse and drain.


Christine Berghoef is a published author, (Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him, Wipf and Stock Publishers), mother of four, church planter, photographer, and musician. She currently lives in Holland, MI, and works for the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington DC. You can follow Christine’s writing and photography on Facebook.

Dishes photo by Hey, Lady Grey.

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.