Going Deeper Begins With Me

Today’s post is comprised of two audio testimonials from graduates of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program.

Al Keeney, Episcopal priest and pilgrimage & retreat leader, NY

There were days in my parish ministry when I wondered if there was anything “spiritual” happening in our church community. We often seemed to be caught up in preserving the institution, instead of deepening our relationship with the Holy One and each other. In looking back, I am aware of the Spirit’s quiet nudge to enroll in this program whose subtitle said it all: “going deeper.”

In my first residency, I knew I was in the right place. To a person, we were hungry, for true spiritual community, where we could share our hunger with others and our deep desire to be spiritually grounded leaders. Our gatherings were filled with many occasions of powerful spiritual presence in communal silence. There were incredible seminars that opened our minds and awakened our hearts. There was a real sense of our common life together, one built on trust, where we could be vulnerable, practice deep listening and share seriously with light hearts, joy and a sense of humor. We were living in a spiritual community.

There were many lessons I learned from living out of our spiritual hearts. One of them has been the ground of my work back in parish ministry.

Instead of trying to “change” others, I learned something of the wisdom of the Orthodox St. Seraphim who said: “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.” I learned that “going deeper” begins with me and then finds its way to others.

Listen to Al Keeney’s testimony here:

Elaine Dent, pastor of an inner city church, PA

Early in my ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was encouraged by a colleague to participate in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program.  I thought doing so would be a good idea in order to deepen my relationship to God at the beginning of a new call; what I did not realize was that participating in the clergy program would profoundly shape my life, my spiritual practices and my ministry as a pastor for years to come.  Now, more than a decade later, I am so very, very grateful.

In the clergy program I learned spiritual prayer practices that set free some of my longings to notice God’s presence: attentiveness to the present moment, silence, art, walking, even play—all practices that nurture my soul to this day.  But mostly I learned ways to listen: listen to the Holy One, to my spiritual heart, to others and to the congregation where I serve.  I was challenged to recognize and point out the Spirit’s movement in the life of the congregation, to follow the Spirit’s nudges rather than my own agenda.  I began to recognize times when God’s Spirit calls me and the congregation to take risks.

A wonderful benefit of the clergy program is that it connected me to a community of people who also value contemplative prayer in their lives.  There are many denominational programs and new methods offered to a pastor; it is much, much harder to find people who speak the same language of deep listening to God’s Spirit.

For that reason I continue to participate in Shalem pilgrimages, retreats and clergy days—something that unites me to a worldwide community of many faith traditions, but a community that speaks the same language of listening to the deep peace, love and shalom of God’s Spirit.  I have indeed been blessed and I suspect that my congregation would say the same.

Listen to Elaine Dent’s testimony here:


Are you a clergy member sensing a call to deepen your inner life and bring a contemplative dimension to your congregational setting? Do you know a clergy person who might have such a longing or desire? Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, Class of 2017, is accepting applications now through April 1st. Learn more.

To hear more testimonials from our graduates, visit the program page, Going Deeper, and click on the ‘Testimonials’ tab

 

The Gift

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I’d like to share a story with you from my life that speaks about how God uses us and gives us a unique mission, no matter what we have to give. This story has had a life of its own and has been published in books, told in sermons, and shared with students.

The story speaks of how our mere presence can enhance and heal the world through even the tiniest of moments. Sometimes our gift to the world is just a matter of showing up. Sometimes, our gift to the world is our story and knowing that it can offer hope to others.

In 1992, with 14 friends, I rode my bicycle from Seattle to Atlantic City for the American Lung Association. One day in Idaho, I decided to ride alone. My friends and the van that usually followed us were far in front of me.

I was enjoying the day and the ride, when without warning my bike broke down. A closer inspection determined that the tiniest and most essential screw that holds the derailleur together was gone. Without it to help me shift through the gears I could not ride my bike.

I looked around for help and all I could see was a small town on a distant hill – a very long hill that I had just ridden down! So, I began walking, uphill with my broken bike –angry, scared and confused. I was only in Idaho, and I had still thousands of miles to go – this was not good!

I made it to the town and then to a car repair shop, explained that I was a cyclist from New Jersey, riding my bike across the country and that I needed a small screw for the derailleur. Then the mechanic interrupted, “New Jersey? Wait until I tell Fred that you are here. You have to meet him, he will be so glad to know that you are here!

I felt really uneasy and worried and wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. Here I was alone in the middle of Idaho, no cell phone, no money, a broken bicycle and my friends very far away from me. And this man was talking about some man named “Fred.”

The mechanic decided that the best place to find a screw this tiny was the sewing machine shop. We walked there and I explained my story to the owner, while the mechanic went to tell Fred – whoever he was — that I had arrived. Some 20 or 30 boxes of sewing machine screws later we found one that fit. As the owner walked me back to the automotive shop, she told me that when you are a stranger in a small town with less than 1,000 people word of a new arrival travels fast. Sure enough, as we left the shop, three people walked by. One shouted, “Oh! You must be Kimberly! Fred will be so glad to see you!”

It crossed my mind that perhaps I had entered some science-fiction world, some sort of twilight zone experience where I would be spending the rest of my life – never to see my friends again.

Back at the repair shop we put the sewing machine part into the derailleur and my bicycle worked! I used the shop phone to call my friends and waited for them to pick me up. Moments later, a van pulled up and a frail, elderly man carrying two brown bags of vegetables got out. He walked into the shop and looked at me with wide eyes and a smile and said, “You must be Kimberly!”

As Fred walked towards me, I could see a strange sadness on his face. He offered me the bags of vegetables that he had just picked from his garden and then in a shaking voice with his eyes welling up he said, “I am so glad to see you. I can’t believe that you are actually here.”

Fred asked me where I was from in New Jersey. We were surprised to find out that we were from the same area near Flemington. Oddly enough, Fred had also been good friends with some of my high school teachers, including my driver’s ed teacher and my running coach. Fred then began to tell me his story. He told me that he had left New Jersey about 12 years ago because something very bad had happened and he could not bring himself to return.

All of those years he had been praying for forgiveness. He continued with tears streaming down his face and said, “I prayed that if someone had come to this small town in the middle of Idaho, who was from my home town in New Jersey it would be a miracle and a sign from God that I had been forgiven.”

I was stunned and so was he. We stood for what seemed like an eternity, speechless, then gave each other a big hug. The idea of what had happened was so humbling, unbelievable and truly a miracle.

This story still holds tremendous power for me – it is nourishing, affirming and reminds me that I have a gift to bring. I know that God has a greater purpose for all of us and is using us and our stories everyday in ways that we will never know.

Make no mistake, your story matters. Your story has already offered smiles, a gift of forgiveness and a moment of caring in mysterious ways that helped to heal the world. You and your journey are an inspiration – you can bet on it.

So, today, grant yourself permission to tell your story. Tell your story even if it seems small or insignificant or commonplace. By telling your story you allow yourself and others to be affirmed. You validate who you are and who you are becoming. As you tell your story – you will see how you have been guided to know without a shadow of a doubt that God is using you and that you are a gift to the world.


kimberlyborin

Dr. Kimberly Borin is a School Counselor, Retreat Leader, and in training to be a Spiritual Director in Nurturing the Call: the Spiritual Guidance Program of 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.

Seeing When It’s Not Pretty

Today’s post is by Trish Stefanik

It is his feet I notice first. My mind right away says, homeless. It is uncomfortable to see, but something in me says don’t turn away, stay with your feelings, don’t opt out.

I am on the Metro early this November morning on my way to catch an Amtrak train from DC to NC to lead a retreat. The train is business day pack-full. I am standing and practically hovering over a slumped, trying-to-slumber figure—a man or woman, I can’t immediately tell.

The feet and ankles are unrecognizable, so grossly swollen and riddled with marks resembling rotten wood. I think these must be crazy tights, but no, the toenails tell otherwise.

This is not easy to write and I imagine for you not easy to read. But please stay with me.

From the feet my eyes slowly pan up. The figure’s hair is about chin length, brunette and a bit wild with hints of gray, like mine. The head is bowed down low and bounces with the train’s fits and starts. With one particular jolt, a man’s face appears; I catch a glimmer of eyes before the head drops again.

I am grateful to see the man attired in a jacket appropriate to the morning’s chill. But then there are the sandals, and no socks. It is achingly ironic that the shoes sport a logo of an adept jumping athlete.

At the man’s feet are two worn bags. I conjecture that what fills them are everything he owns. I glance at my carry-on and backpack. These hold just a weekend’s worth of clothes and other items, not including home goods, a well-stocked kitchen and refrigerator, a linen closet, bath accessories, hobby and recreational stuff – I think you know what I mean.

I notice my breath catching a bit. My gaze turns to the other passengers on the train – all shapes and sizes and colors of humanity – all on the way to somewhere. I wonder where this homeless man is going. Please, I pray, I want him to find a way to Christ House, a residential medical facility for homeless men and women, in my neighborhood. I know they wash feet there, as Jesus did. Please.

With each stop of the train, the crowd disperses a little more. All this is happening in a matter of minutes. At some point I briefly take an open seat across from the slumped man with the swollen feet and hair like mine. I resist the urge to look away or judge or dismiss. I continue to pray. I feel the discomfort, the fear, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I look down at my feet, and for a brief moment I see myself in his shoes. I feel tears behind my eyes. The train is at my stop, and I get off.

In my city I see homelessness and encounter some degree of social vulnerability or suffering every day on the streets. Every day. And even if I did not see it, there is no denying such reality right around the corner or in the town just over, as well as from country to country across the globe.

I do not like that this is the way of the world. Most of the time I don’t know what to do. But I trust that there is something good that comes with being present to what is. Even when that within or before me is not pretty, a contemplative reception is leaven for hope. Transformation of self – and, yes, the world – begins with one willing look of compassion. It opens me to see ourselves in God. Surely it is this kind of love that propels and animates creative action for healing and wholeness.

I am onboard Amtrak now, gliding into Virginia. I look at the passengers around me, the fall color out the window. Everything appears sharper. As the train moves, I am aware that something has been stirred, hope-filled, in me. I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving. And I pray that in the now and the next thing, I will do what is called forth out of love.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Take a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What comes up in you? Stay with that. Offer a prayer for yourself and the other. Listen for an action you might take or join in for good.


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.

(Photo Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Consider giving the gift of a contemplative experience to yourself or a loved one this Christmas season.

Click here to explore some gift options from Shalem.

Gravy, Not Soup

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

Recently, I had the good fortune of being on retreat with the Shalem Institute at the Bon Secours Retreat Center.  During our retreat we were blessed with beautiful, delicious meals, which often included soup!  One day, in the midst of our silent retreat all I could think about was soup.  As I got closer to the soup pot, I could see that there was very little soup.  In addition, there were no more soup bowls or soup spoons.

I felt defeated but I was determined to have soup! I found one of the caterers and asked for a bowl, and pointed to the soup.  She looked at me in an odd way but gladly handed me a bowl.  I went back to the line and started ladling bit by bit whatever soup was left in the pot.  The ladle made quite a bit of noise scraping the bottom and sides of the pot as I determinedly filled my bowl.  I was desperate to get whatever was left.

The person, behind me was quite patient, despite my constant dips of the ladle into the fairly empty pot.  She remained serene even with all of the clanking of my soup seeking gestures.  After I was done I noticed that she put some of this soup all over her turkey.  “Hmmmm, That’s a nice idea,” I thought to myself.

I went back to my table and started eating my salad, eager to eat my soup next.  All of a sudden, it occurred to me that perhaps I had desperately ladled myself a whole bowl of gravy, not soup.  I quickly dismissed the thought, with a silent “That’s ridiculous,” and a shake of the head.  Although I knew that the minute I tried the soup I would realize it was indeed – gravy.

I did try the soup… it was gravy.  I was left to eat the remainder of my salad, in silence, while staring at my bowl of gravy.  I was on the edge of bursting out laughing and knowing that my friends who had watched me loudly excavate for the soup probably felt the same way.

Current class of Shalem's Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats

Current class of Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program

The next day, when we came out of silence, I went to my friend who had been standing next to me in line.  I said, “Oh, I have to tell you something.”  Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, the story about taking a whole bowl of gravy?”  “Yes!”  I replied.  Together we laughed out loud and so did everyone else.  From that day forward everyone in line would point out to me, what was gravy and what was soup.

This little bit of mistaken identity struck me in such a way that I could not forget about the incident.  In between making me laugh, the metaphor helped me see a deeper lesson.

Were there other things in my life that were only gravy and not nourishing like soup?  Were there people, places, things in my life that I was desperately hoping would nourish me, but would not provide what I needed, or what God intended for me?

This beautiful metaphor of gravy not soup, has been nourishing me ever since.  In my contemplative practices I have been noticing moments of consolation and desolation.  I have also been noticing moments of gravy, not soup.  These simple labels have been helping me to see the places that provide the nourishment I need – places God would have me go.  I feel so grateful to have this little moment of soup, of silliness, and of story that helps me to choose nourishment on every level in my life.


kimberlyborinDr. 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.

Going Deeper

Today’s post is by Patience Robbins

“Holiness is not in what you do, but what you allow to be done
to you by the circumstances of your life.”
~Richard Rohr

At a retreat for Shalem staff, we were pondering the phrase: going deeper. This phrase emerged in conversations during the year about our desire for God and growing in our relationship with God. These are some of my reflections on this theme.

When I hear “going deeper,” my first response is to think of some profound mystical experience — something dramatic, extraordinary, a striking revelation of God in my life. I usually associate this with something special that I do: a retreat, time of prayer, a visit to a sacred place, attending a church service. But as I listen to others and reflect on my experience, I realize that going deeper into God happens in the very ordinary, nitty-gritty of my life. It is usually an ongoing process and does not occur with flashing lights or strong winds.

A symbol that emerges is a tree. A tree is solid, steady, rooted and true to its being. A tree lives through various seasons and time. Occasionally there are some spectacular happenings like a storm with heavy winds, lightning and hail, but usually, life is flowing: light, darkness, rain, sun, wind, snow — the ongoing, ordinary passage of time and seasons. The tree continues to grow, fed and nourished through its roots, true to its being and bearing fruit.

And so it is with us. Life is usually very mundane. But as we seek God and allow ourselves to be rooted in God, we grow and expand in the very ordinary circumstances of life. This rootedness in God is hidden and imperceptible — we are not necessarily aware of all that happens in the dark. As we continue to seek God, we too bear fruit and become more of our true self.

This “being” or rootedness in God implies a choice, however. It requires a deep acceptance of the circumstances of our lives, which are unique for each of us. It requires that we trust that God is present in our lives and companioning us in our reality. The surprise may be that the painful, difficult or unwanted circumstances of life could be the very ones that enable the roots to go deeper into God and let us stand more firmly in who we are.

A story that comes to mind is the one from the Gospel of Luke in which two disciples were walking with Jesus to Emmaus. As they were walking, they recounted their disappointment with all that had happened the past few days using the words: “we had hoped….” Everything seemed to have gone wrong. The man Jesus whom they followed had been crucified as a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed — now what? And as they walked and ate with Jesus, he revealed another way of looking at all of this so they saw it in a new way. What a twist — a surprise — to view these events in a different way so that God was there but not in the way they expected.

And so it with us. The way of deepening our relationship with God may not be what we had in mind or the way we had hoped. Instead, going deeper may be about our openness to God’s presence in all of the ordinary circumstances of life and saying yes to what is given — with joy.


Patience Profile PicPatience Robbins 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 has recently been Director of Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative. Patience is the author of Parenting: A Sacred Path.

This reflection first appeared in the Shalem News, Winter 2003.

BannerSquareLWLWAs we head into summertime, and schedules shift and perhaps open, we invite you to join Patience for a 6-week eCourse: Living Word, Living Way. Allow Patience to guide you through the use of lectio divina, walking meditation, the practice of gratitude and intercessory prayers—practices that will deepen your inner life wherever you are on your spiritual journey. Course begins June 21. Sign up today!

Silence, Seeing, Solidarity, Salaam

Today’s post is by Weldon Nisly

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. (Isaiah 62:1)
Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41f)

Isaiah sees injustice and invokes Jerusalem, refusing to keep silent. Jesus sees Jerusalem and laments our refusal to see peace. Jerusalem, a central and symbolic place whose name embraces peace — salaam/shalom – embodies violence.

To see what makes for peace is to know when to break silence and when to be silent in solidarity with suffering people seeking salaam or shalom—peace. Contemplatives know that we see and speak from our heart and head.

Before seeing Selma recently, I “saw” again Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967, sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” He dared to break silence to help us see that militarism, materialism, and racism reveal a nation “approaching spiritual death” by waging war on “enemies” at home and around the world. “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he concluded. “We have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Seeing and speaking truth has consequences. A year later King was killed, but his life is not silent if we too see and speak truth.

Jesus, King, and my experience at Shalem give me eyes of the heart to see “what makes for peace.” The eyes of my heart turn to the war in Iraq, where I have been three times: 2003 (beginning war), 2010 (war presumably winding down), and 2014 (war escalating again).

Last fall I was in Iraqi Kurdistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT has been a peaceful presence in Iraq since 2002, first from Baghdad and since 2006 from Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, at the invitation of and in solidarity with local people of peace.

Turkey KurdsThe simmering ISIS crisis boiled over in August, with ISIS controlling a third of Iraq and Syria. Once again the U.S. response is to see bombs as the way to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Our CPT response is to accompany Kurdish human rights groups responding to victims of war.

Being in Iraqi Kurdistan is to have one’s eyes opened to see the people and place, to see their suffering, to see into the past as well as the present, and to hear their cry.

I saw welcoming people in the midst of war. When I arrived at the Sulaymaniyah International Airport, I saw Mohammed’s warm smile and heard his greeting, “Welcome to Kurdistan.” A school teacher and a leader of CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan Team, Mohammed’s hospitality helped me begin to see the Kurdish people and hear their story. One evening, walking along a busy street, someone on a motorcycle yelled, “Welcome to Suli” (as Sulaymaniyah is known). Later, traveling across Iraqi Kurdistan, a checkpoint guard, hearing we were CPTers, waved us on with, “Welcome to Kurdistan.”

We also saw damage from oil drilling at a village near an oil drilling company. In addition to trucks destroying the roads, the company’s earthshaking drills caused a jagged crack across the wall of the school. We saw the specific danger to schoolchildren and the symbolic damage of our insatiable appetite for oil. Invited home by the village leader, we sat on the floor drinking tea while he and his wife told us about the trembling earth and polluted air and water endangering their children’s lives. Endless empty promises to repair roads and rebuild the school have been made. They weren’t asking to stop drilling, they were asking to be seen and heard.

In a press conference in Suli, we saw Muslims, Ezidis, Christians, and Kurds calling for everyone to work together for peace. With others, I accompanied Zhiyan, a human rights delegation to Duhok, near the Syrian border, where we saw our Zhiyan leader, a Kurdish woman of diplomatic wisdom, speaking passionately with the Governor of the region and compassionately with the displaced Ezidi people in the IDP camps. We saw deep suffering as we documented women and girls abducted by ISIS. We saw lively children flocking round us in the camps. We saw traumatized Ezidis inviting us into tents for tea to tell us about missing family members. We heard countless calls for bombing ISIS as the only effective response under these tragic circumstances.

A contemplative challenge is to sense when to be silent and when to speak with suffering people while being committed to breaking the cycle of violence. It means seeing and listening deeply to those whom we accompany to hear their suffering and solutions for salaam. Out of silence we break silence by our seeing solidarity seeking salaam.


WeldonNislyWeldon Nisly is a Mennonite Pastor who has served with Christian Peacemaker Teams, seeking to bring a peaceful presence to Iraq and the Middle East. He is a graduate of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program. Weldon, along with Shane Claiborne and others, has sought to tell an alternative story involving Iraqis and Americans working for peace.

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Do you long to lead from your spiritual heart or know a clergy person who does? Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper is for clergy of all denominations and geographic locations who serve on the staffs of local churches or whose ministry involves the local church. This 18-month Program offers a dedicated time for nurturing one’s own soul and for deepening one’s contemplative orientation as a congregational spiritual leader. The deadline for this program is only two weeks away: March 15.
Learn more and apply here.

Joy Unspeakable

Today’s post is by Tanya Radford

Black History month for me comes with great joy and great dread. Dread because the month typically consists of the same history and politically correct acknowledgements. No new enlightenment. But great joy as it gives me the opportunity to present something of more depth for conversation, for consideration about my culture, about who I am.

So, it is with this joy that I muse about what it means to be contemplative and African American. I’ve been thinking, praying, and studying this seeming contradiction for some time—only to conclude that there is no contradiction. For people of color, the contemplative is embedded in our DNA.

Before I began my journey at Shalem, it was recommended that I read a book titled Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. I began reading this beautiful study, and it was like a salve to my yearning soul. The author, Barbara Holmes, filled in the blanks and answered many questions. She discusses the communal nature of worship for African descendent peoples and explains why for me being contemplative is not all about silence but about community, spirited worship in community and silence.

Barbara Holmes begins her study in the church—the center of our community, the place we gather to give strength to each other as we receive strength from one another. The worship experience in the Black church is spiritual nirvana! It is the height of oneness: the prayers, the music, the preached word, the swaying, the shouting, everyone in one accord. There is nothing more powerful than when a people come together to praise and worship God, pray together and experience the supernatural power of the all mighty God! This communal worship informs our silent times, gives a place to bare our souls, reconnects us to the ancestral memory of wholeness, oneness. It is no wonder that the greatest movements in our history are borne out of the church. We need this experience. The goal therefore becomes carrying this experience of God’s presence into the everyday, to tap into that power for clarity and direction.

For me this also begs another look at the icons of our faith. For just as Howard Thurman is recognized as a contemplative, I would suggest that many others should also be named, among them Martin Luther King, Jr., who penned some of his greatest writings out of the solitude of seeking God to find a way to bring the peace of God into unimaginable situations. King then brought his experience of God back to the community to galvanize a people and give them the tools to tap into that strength to face the challenges of each day. He found strength in community and in the silence.

This suggests to me that maybe the definition for being contemplative shouldn’t be too narrow, too exclusive, too restrictive. This way of life is not so much about a practice but more about the approach to all of life. For African descendent people, the oneness of worship in all of its joyful celebration is a necessary part of the solitude of silence. It is a way, one way, our way to the contemplative mind. No contradiction, and certainly just as powerful.

Would you like to read more? Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color explores the unique concerns, issues and experiences of people of color. The essays, told from the viewpoint of the spiritual director, inspire us to explore our own traditions and encourage us to embrace culturally relevant approaches to spiritual direction.


Tanya-RadfordTanya Radford, Shalem’s Special Assistant/Program Administrator, works with Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and assists with all other programs at Shalem. In addition, she helped produce Shalem’s 40th anniversary video and managed the creation of Shalem’s new web site and database. She has a degree in Media Arts and is a writer, vocalist and student of the word of God.

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

Peace on Earth: Contemplating the Possibility [audio]

Today’s post is an audio guided meditation by Leah Rampy. Feel free to tune in on your computer or your iPhone or other mobile device, and find a quiet place to listen. Click the orange arrow or the title above to listen.

The greeting cards arrive extolling “Peace on Earth.” They come as messengers, revealing the longings of other hearts. And for a moment, they remind me that I too long for peace to flood my soul and to encircle our fragile world. Then I consider the violence, injustice, pain and tragedies that surround us. My heart breaks for our dying oceans and all the species that have perished by our thoughtlessness. In the brokenness and chaos of our times, can we hope to live in a way that honors our longing for peace on earth?


LRampyLeah 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.

Contemplative Reawakening

This video clip is an excerpt from Cynthia Bourgeault’s talk at Shalem’s Contemplative Voices Award Benefit in November 2014.

DSC_8461“Contemplation was originally in the Greek and early patristic understandings reserved for a kind of higher or noetic knowing, knowing through the nous, the eye of the heart. Sometimes it takes the form of visionary seeing, images, but more typically it is simply a kind of luminous, situational knowingness that can’t be attributed to any outside source. It becomes part of one’s own being…

…We need to begin to claim the slowly growing collecting reservoir of noetic insight and draw on it consciously in service of the continuing evolution of humanity and the life of the planet.

Contemplative reawakening may have begun on the ground of personal healing and transformation, but it has now found its authentic wingspan in the prophetic and the collective.”

» To hear the rest of her talk, you may purchase access to view the recording.


Cynthia B photoCynthia Bourgeault is a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, who divides her time between solitude at her seaside hermitage in Maine and a demanding schedule traveling globally to teach and spread the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path. She is the founding director of both The Contemplative Society and the Aspen Wisdom School.

Photos by Susan Etherton