Prayer Circles for Peace

Today’s post is by Patience Robbins

Right now there are about two billion Christians on the planet. If a significant portion of them were to embrace the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, the emerging global society would experience a powerful surge toward enduring peace.
-Thomas Keating

“I am a cosmic citizen, a planetary being who lives in the Americas in the United States.” This was a line shared by a teacher I had one summer. It sure blows open any narrow attachment to a certain country or geographical place and calls forth a whole new perspective on who I am related to and where I belong. This ties in so well with what I have been learning (and thus teaching) in my own life–the interconnectedness of all.

For years I have been quoting a line from Thomas Merton: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” As I grow in the contemplative life, I continue to notice and experience the truth of these words–unity with others and the earth. In fact, now I am praying the question: How do we live out of this interconnectedness, especially as I notice that I often act, think and live as though I am separate, independent and self-sufficient?

One of my favorite people is Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a redwood tree in California for two years in order to bring attention to the destruction of the forest. In her book, The Legacy of Luna (which is about her tree-sit at the age of 25), she records a very inspiring transformational experience in which she gave over her life to God. She was willing to surrender her life, for good, for Love, for this deeper call she knew within her being. During this transformative time, she started noticing and experiencing her oneness with the tree, the ants, the birds, the people who were attempting to force her to leave the tree so they could chop it down as well as all the people who were supporting her. It is a very moving story of what can happen when we live out of our deepest self, available to God and experiencing ourselves as part of one living organism.

It is out of this conviction and reflection on this oneness that I woke up one morning with an image of “prayer circles for peace.” These would be opportunities to gather in community, recognizing our interconnectedness, intentionally praying for peace, and encouraging one another to claim and live out this vision of peace in our hearts, our communities and our world. I was reminded of Gandhi’s line: “My greatest weapon is mute prayer.” Thus our deep desire and longing to embrace the gift of peace is what creates that possibility for ourselves and our world.

I have begun a variety of these circles over the years. As we gather to sit in silent prayer, it may not feel or look like we are doing anything to aid the suffering and ease the hatred, violence, and destruction in our world, but there is a profound sense of holding the world and each other in a loving and compassionate way, of BEING love and peace for all that is.

So I continue to have hope and an ever deeper commitment to world peace along with a bubbling joy. I invite you to join me in acknowledging our oneness, being a loving presence for our world, and claiming and living into this vision of peace. Perhaps you, too, would like to start a “prayer circle for peace” in your neighborhood?

Article from Shalem News, Fall 2006 issue.

openhands_image1This New Year, journey with Patience Robbins for Open Hands, Willing Hearts, a  6-session eCourse series, beginning January 10. In this course, we will explore with the questions: Why am I here?  What is mine to do? Who am I called to be? And what can I contribute and offer to the world? Register here.


Patience Profile PicPatience Robbins is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and has been a spiritual director for 30 years. She was the Director of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening Program from 2003-08 and the Director of the Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative from 2013-2015.  She is the author of the booklet, Parenting: A Sacred Path.

Banner photo by Susan Etherton

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.

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Gabriel’s Towing Service

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I was rescued by an angel named Gabriel. It was the last day of our retreat and our leader offered some suggestions. She said it was best to not rush off from the retreat to try to catch up on all the things we didn’t get done. She encouraged us to take our time, drive slowly and rest as we eased back into our busy work schedule. Of course, I felt that somehow I was exempt from her instructions.

The minute the retreat was over and we said our goodbyes, I hopped into my car, threw my bags in the backseat and tried to get out of the parking lot before it got jammed up. Not more than 40 seconds later I found my car bucking, jerking, revving, and on the verge of stalling at the next traffic light. I was horrified and immediately filled with dread. I had no time to deal with a problem car.

Lucky for me I made it to the next large building, a spa. I found it interesting to have just left a retreat center and to barely have made it to the parking lot of a spa. I parked the car, gave it a grimacing look, and went to the spa to call Triple A. I growled at myself for not having listened to our retreat leader and wondered if I was being punished for not following the directions.

I was also upset because I had just put $1200 worth of work into my car and this seemed so unfair. While I waited for the towing service I called my family to tell my woeful story. I shared about how I had just ended this retreat and felt peaceful and calm and now here I was, stuck. In addition, I was going to have my car towed all the way home incurring even more expense than I already had.

So, I tried to consider my good fortune of having landed at a spa and waited on the comfortable and spacious couches. I thought to myself, there must be some gift or insight in all of this. I reflected upon the words of a friend of mine who said, “God uses everything. Nothing goes to waste.” I was looking forward to seeing how God planned on using this. I was tired, hungry, broke, and now totally behind on the “To Do” list.

While I was waiting I saw the tow truck pull up to the spa. In bright red letters on the side of the door it said, Gabriel’s Towing Service. “What?” I thought to myself, “Am I being rescued by an angel?” The gentleman driving the tow truck was more than kind to me. He loaded my failing car onto the truck and I hopped in the front seat. I revealed how hungry and disappointed I was and we headed straight to the sandwich shop to get lunch before the long ride home.

On our way home, in between eating sandwiches we had a wonderful conversation and talked a lot about God. We talked about his children, their schooling, the economy, synchronicity, and how many people felt that they too had been rescued by the angel Gabriel. We talked about how we all need to be rescued by angels from time to time and how we never know what God has planned.

It was a ride and lesson that I will not soon forget. I know now that God does use everything and that nothing goes to waste, not car trouble or following instructions. I also know that angels arrive right on time.


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.

If you are discerning about Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and its rightness for you, please join us in this conference call with inquirers and program graduates. This is a special, informal opportunity for asking about Shalem’s contemplative leadership program. The program director, Liz Ward, will facilitate the conversation on November 4, from 12:00-1:00 PM EST.

Registration is free, click here to be sent a call in number.  Space is limited.

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.

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.