A Constant Steady Force of Peace

Today’s post is by Jamie Deering

Spring offers us evocative reminders of the power and strength in rebirth. Seeds wintering below the surface of soot and soil waiting for love’s signal to sprout. Birds of the air and fish of the sea beginning their long migrations to nesting grounds across testing terrain. My own inner spirit coming out of winter’s drowse to look up and see life teeming all around.

I live on a bay in a tiny alcove of Puget Sound in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. This area in Washington state offers one of the most diverse, sweeping, explorable landscapes within the U.S. We are known for sitting at the feet of nature rather than inside a church.

As you drive into my hometown, Port Ludlow, there’s a sign that says “A Village in the Woods by the Bay.” Here I get a daily view of nature’s rhythms. It’s a constant steady force of peace in my life that I had no idea awaited me when I moved here three years ago. Coming from the busier metropolis of Tacoma, 60 miles south, I was unaware of the pace of life offered deeper in Northwest terrain.

PL Heron.jpgFrom my dining room chair where I write, I can look up at any moment and there is a different view than the moment before. The water has shifted, the sun is a bit higher. A bird keeping watch from the porch railing, a river otter frolicking with her family, tails flipping over the water’s rim. A constant changing land and seascape that says, “come and be with me.” Calling me to practice an ever-present awareness of God’s presence and space. Big, wide-open space.

It’s not always a gentle, loving message. The sweeping call of nature evokes the vast span of the call of Presence. Sometimes it’s a missive of courage and bravery that incites my own. Watching an eagle’s driving pursuit of a heron and hearing the heron’s screaming cry called me out onto the porch a month ago. The great blue heron was in a race for its life as the eagle gained ground. With talons flaring, the eagle caught up and shackled the heron, plunging it underwater and holding it there time and again. I had never been such a close observer to a fight to the death. The heron stopped struggling, submerged completely as the eagle sat atop it.

Neah Bay 3.jpgSuddenly, two crows began to dive bomb the eagle. They weren’t big, but they were noisy and persistent. Again and again they dived down to heckle the eagle. After several attacks, the eagle released the heron and went after the crows, which were more agile in the air acrobatics. They drew the eagle across the water toward the trees. I kept watch on the water where the heron was floating. I was rooting for the heron; willing it to get up. My husband had joined me on the porch and together we wondered aloud if it were too late. Yet hope kept our eyes on the heron. We spotted tiny movement, though it was hard to discern if it were hope-worthy. Then another and another. Incredulously, after several minutes, the heron rose out of the water and flew across it within inches of its surface to the waiting marina docks. From here it left our view. While this was happening, the crows continued to draw the ire of the eagle and lure it away from the heron.

Bald eagles are coming back from the brink of extinction. If the eagle had succeeded in securing its large lunch, this would have been perhaps a more characteristic playing-out of nature’s birth and death cycle. But on this day, the crows intervened quite deliberately to save the heron’s life. I am still meditating on this. Another day has dawned and I return to gazing in awe, respect, and wonder at the incredible scenes before me of nature’s story being told in the Pacific Northwest. What a joy it will be for me to share my love for this sacred space with Shalem pilgrims this September.


Jamie DeeringJamie Deering is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Groups & Retreats Program and offers contemplative experiences throughout the Pacific Northwest. She relishes life among the salmon, eagle, bear and orca in Port Ludlow, WA, the heart of the land for Shalem’s upcoming Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest. A licensed massage therapist, somatic therapy coach, and soon to be spiritual director, Jamie is active in creating a thriving global community.

The Olympic Peninsula, at the northwest edge of the continental United States, offers a rare and unique experience of one of God’s cathedrals. Consider joining Shalem on Uniting with Earth’s Rhythm: A Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest, led by Jamie Deering and Leah Rampy, Sept 24 to Oct 1, 2016.

 

Shame Sandwich

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

Every once in a while, we find ourselves making a Shame Sandwich. You know the kind. Usually it starts out with a layer of “bad.” Something we feel badly about like being late, or forgetting a birthday, or leaving that cup of coffee in the microwave for three days. Then, the next thing you know, we add a layer of shame, guilt, worry, and sometimes fear. Of course, we load up on the mayonnaise and maybe even add some old, familiar stale story bread. Then, we get to serve ourselves, a good old Shame Sandwich.

I have used this analogy with my students. It helps to see how we pile up feelings like layers of meat on an Italian hoagie. First the anger, then the shame. First the sadness, then the shame. First the fear, then the shame, and on it goes. I always encourage them by saying, “No sense making a Shame Sandwich.” I want them to know that all of their feelings are normal and natural and part of our humanity. I want to free them from a whole pile of feelings that make them feel terrible! I want to help them accept their feelings, no matter what they are and to be kind to themselves in the process. I often want to free myself from some of these feelings, too!

As I was thinking about this, and I wondered what kind of recipe I could create for a different sandwich, maybe a Self-Love Sandwich or even a No-Shame Sandwich. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be offered a sandwich filled with hope, forgiveness, kindness and love just when you need it? I imagine that this is just the kind of recipe that God would love and want us to have. So, here it is…

Recipe for a Compassion Sandwich

Ingredients:

Fresh Bread

Kindness

Empathy

Compassion

Love

Forgiveness

Trust in God’s Grace

Healing

Lettuce

Tomatoes

Directions:

  1. Start with some fresh bread; any kind will do. Be sure to choose something healthy, interesting and worthy of you.
  2. Spread forgiveness and healing on the insides of both pieces of bread. Be generous; you can never have enough!
  3. Layer your sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and love. Don’t be afraid to put on extra love just in case. Then, place compassion, empathy towards yourself, and kindness on top of the love. You may want to add some laughter as this kind of nourishment is miraculous and you can’t have too much!
  4. Gently place both halves of the sandwich together and serve on a beautiful plate. You may even want to light a candle to celebrate your beautiful self and your sandwich, too.
  5. Enjoy with grace, love and trust that you will receive all of the acceptance and healing you need. God would have it no other way.
  6. Believe in your most amazing self and give yourself permission to feel and express your feelings. You are perfect just as you are.

Repeat directions for tomorrow if needed.


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.

Minding the Gaps

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“We carry our own light and move in love through the dark,
as the seed loves the earth enclosing it.”
-Christina Pacosz

Each season offers gifts all its own. January’s spare beauty seems fitting after the extravagance of the holidays. Trees have shed every outer expression of the living sap within. Icy streams conceal mottled fish resting below. Snow blankets the fields’ ridges, gullies, and rocks. Winter, in her unparalleled way, changes the view. What was once hidden under canopies of green is now revealed, while the things once readily apparent are now veiled.

Winter is a welcome arrival in the cycle of each year, but I sometimes feel frightened during the winter seasons of my life when “spare beauty” actually seems barren and desolate. I wonder where the vitality has gone. I fret; maybe the inner sap is no longer flowing and the creative stream has dried up. Does my life still hold meaning when I feel stuck and frustrated, my efforts coming to naught? I unwisely try to force something seemingly fruitful to happen. I want to bust out the butterfly from its imprisoning cocoon, knowing all the while that life doesn’t work that way. I would kill the still-transforming caterpillar in my violent attempt. I feel out of step with grace, either running ahead or dragging behind.

The phrase “mind the gap” is often painted on subway platforms in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, cautioning travelers to be aware of the gap when stepping between the platform and train. The gaps in life sometimes loom large and ominous. Gaps between present experience and future vision. Gaps between income and the budget. Emotional and physical distances between loved ones. Gaps between the current living situation and a longed-for homecoming. We live in the tension between our desire for greater fullness of life and the sometimes-difficult present realities.

Might we find grace in the gaps? Winter offers her wisdom. When darkness descends early on both our inner and outer landscapes, we are invited to trust the ever-renewing flame within. In lieu of the outer greening, we may find that the view changes, our insight growing sharper and more discerning. The sufficiency within us and available to us becomes more apparent. We might honor and hold the future vision in one hand while blessing our present reality with the other.

Before the birthing, a baby grows slowly and steadily in the dark enclosure of a womb. A seed lies contained in the black soil, dormant and still, but a seed nonetheless. The shape of a flower is already full within its being, future blooming held securely in fertile darkness. Both seed and flower are blessed.

If the landscape seems void and the visions so delayed in their fulfillment, then let us not miss the beauty of dark gaps and liminal spaces in our lives. Stars appear to shine more clearly in the winter sky, Orion’s belt looming large. All five of the brightest planets in our solar system will become visible together during late-January’s nightwatch, an event last occurring in 2005. Nature models the movement between inner rest and outward expression. Winter, both literal and metaphorical, issues an invitation to humbly enter the mysterious rhythm of life, to retire to bed a bit earlier perhaps, to let life’s conundrums rest for a bit without our fretful vigilance. Dreams are given to the quiet sleeper, dreams that nourish tomorrow’s blooming.


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.

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.    

 

In the Garden

Today’s post is by Kathleen Moloney-Tarr

Lately my thoughts have turned to letting go and being afraid, the prompts for two spiritual journey writing groups. I struggle with these, not because I haven’t been afraid or haven’t let go but because each time I think of possible topics—traveling to Guinea to start a refuge school, starting my own business, taking my weavings to galleries, traveling abroad alone, being pregnant—there no energy rises around the fear I once had. When I consider our children going to college or my release of things I once loved like West African drumming or my professional work, I feel nothing. I can’t go there now. They just don’t resonate with me today. Or yesterday. Or the day before.

I snuggle into my favorite chair in my studio, looking out once again at the oak tree whose lavender bark I have memorized over thirty years or a dozen large hosta plants, all grandchildren of my neighbor’s one small gift. I recall yesterday, a day of sharing and listening as I sat four times with seekers of an intimate connection with Spirit. I heard affirming stories about being afraid of what might happen if a choice is or isn’t made or how hard it is to let go of old patterns of behavior, of what God is calling forth or how even though we want to let go, we hold on to that which has ended.

Now a black snake slithers across the moss outside the tall studio doors. I leave my chair and walk to him. Black snake always opens me to Spirit and transformation. Twenty years ago, as I nervously drove from my house to present a talk about my faith at church, I asked for a sign that all would be well. Immediately a black snake eased across the road in front of my car; I breathed easier. When my beloved cockatiel, Charlie, was buried beside Skip-the-lovebird in our back garden, a black snake circled the graves and the patio, as though honoring death and loss. His presence soothed me, affirmed the value of the cycles of life. Today as I consider fear and letting go, I lean into the extended meaning of this visitor.

He is the second one in two days. As I started to say, yesterday’s stories of being deeply led and affirmed in spite of the pain and suffering strengthened me.

During the last conversation, I spotted a medium sized box turtle strolling across the mulch just a foot from where Mr. Snake slithered today. We immediately walked out to experience the presence of this turtle, only the fourth seen in the garden in decades. The gold patterns on her back must be painted with real gold. Shimmering in the sun, the designs could be Egyptian or Greek. We are silent, witnessing this gift of nature, of Spirit. She draws herself under a hosta and waits for safety. We watch for a few minutes, then return to our chairs to complete our time together. When I am alone again, I go out, pick up Madame Turtle to talk with her, complimenting, wondering, thanking. When I release her, she moves steadily under a sweeping azalea as an afternoon shower cools the air.

Turtle is one of my totems. As a teenager I tended sixteen little turtles plucked from a nearby lake. Small, carved turtles rest on the shelf by my chair, on the edges of our sinks. During some of my darkest days when I could not think or sleep or pray, when I lived in blank nothingness without any images, yes, me the one for whom image matters so much, the first image that came was of a turtle without a shell buried in the mud on the side of a riverbank. That image offered wordless understanding of what was happening as I waited for healing and accepted the unknowing I was in.

I realize it is the turtle’s stillness, her steadiness that I wanted to write about when I sat down in this chair. And then Mr. Snake arrived and echoed the same qualities. Both have a cautious deliberation, a patience born of ancestral wisdom and experience. Each arrives quietly and without the fanfare I add to their presence here in my garden. I spend thirty minutes or so with each one. I wait for them to move as they wait for me to be still. It is a perfect pairing. I am struck by the similarity to a spiritual seeker and the Divine Mystery. I wait for movement, while my stillness is awaited by Spirit. I wait for some way to approach writing of my spiritual journey and yet stillness and silence are what bring the words forward. Fear and loss are significant in my life, yet today it is stillness and slow steady movement that capture me.


Kathleen Moloney-TarrKathleen Moloney-Tarr, a graduate of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program, enjoys the privilege of offering spiritual companionship to those of all faiths who seek contemplative, prayerful space to notice and turn toward the sacred Presence in their lives. Kathleen also writes poetry and personal essays, weaves and knits, and leads workshops such as Writing Your Spiritual Journey.

Do you companion others on their spiritual journeys? Do others see your spiritual commitment and your gift of spiritual companioning? The Spirit may be calling you to Nurture your Call with Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program. Hear audio testimonials from Shalem graduates of Nurturing the Call: Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program by clicking here. The Early Bird/discounted Application deadline for this program is November 30, 2015.

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.

Being Contemplative in the Digital Age: 6 Tips to Nourish Your Prayer Practice

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley (Previously published at Huffington Post Religion)

Prayer is often thought of as speaking to God but prayer doesn’t have to be about speaking. It can be about silence and listening. This practice from the Christian contemplative tradition can serve to help calm the storm of stimuli that is part of living in the digital age.

St. Benedict, a sixth century spiritual leader, advised his monks to “listen with the ear of the heart,” that is, to listen deeply, noticing the many ways God spoke to them in their daily activities as well as through scripture and worship.

There are many ways to pray, many ways to open to God’s living presence and nurture an awareness of the sacred in daily life. Whether you are just beginning on a spiritual path or seeking to deepen your spiritual practice, here are some ways to begin or begin again.

6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

  1. Establish a daily set-aside time when you can honor your desire to open to God. We recommend 20 minutes of silent prayer time daily. For some that might seem like a long time. For others, it may be way too short. The exact number of minutes is not that important. Start with what is right for you. The important thing is doing it daily.
  2. Create a set-aside place, a space that honors your intent, where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted for your prayer time. This might be a prayer corner or even a prayer chair. If a chair, just make sure it is different from the one you sit in to watch television, work on your computer or take a nap. A different chair will help you be more alert and attentive in your prayerful listening. You might also place a candle or flower or image in your prayer space, something that helps draw your focus to God’s presence.
  3. Begin with stretching and releasing any physical tensions. We carry the tensions of the day or night in our bodies. Notice the places in your body that are tight or constricted. Stretch into those places, hold for a moment or two, and then relax the tension. Sometimes a gentle body-stretching practice is all that is needed to quiet the mind and prepare the body for opening in prayer.
  4. Notice your breath. Your breath is a spiritual tool that you always have with you. It is your most intimate connection with God. Sense your breath as a living instrument of God’s spirit, ever cleansing and inspiring. At any time or place, you can notice your breath. Is it rapid or slow? Shallow or deep? Just noticing and slowing your breath can quiet the mind and draw you deeper into the heart of God. It is the most fundamental practice in the spiritual life.
  5. Open to God’s living presence, keeping your desire for your own and the world’s fullness in God before you in prayer. No words are needed. Simple, quiet openness and availability are enough. Trust that God’s healing, transforming power is at work whether you know it, you believe it, or not.
  6. Find support for your spiritual life. Support can come in many forms. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Go to a museum and feast your eyes on great art. Walk in nature. Read some of the great classics by contemplative authors. Study the lives of the saints. Find a spiritual director who listens with you to the movement of the Spirit in your life. Attend worship services that nourish your spiritual heart. Seek out others who share a similar desire and join with them for dedicated times of prayer.

We live in a noisy, busy world. Quiet, silent prayer is counter to our culture and yet it offers the missing spiritual resource our souls need. Contemplative prayer is not just for ourselves alone. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that, “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.”

Contemplative Prayer is a way of being rather than something that we do, a way of being open to God all the time. As you return to your busy day, remember, there are no right ways or wrong ways to pray. You can trust whatever is simplest and feels most natural for you.

How do you sense God is inviting you to pray in the midst of your daily activities? What do you find helpful as you seek to open your mind and awaken your heart to the living Spirit?


caroleCarole Crumley, Shalem’s Director of Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, is an Episcopal priest with experience in three congregations as well as at the Washington National Cathedral. She is a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences, and a seasoned pilgrimage guide to sacred sites throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Wanting to take some beginning steps into contemplative prayer? Or are you a seasoned contemplative who would like support for your daily practice? Join Carole starting this Sunday in Opening to the Spirit, a 6-week eCourse. Registration ends on Monday, October 19. Sign up today!

“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!


Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

Walk Lightly

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“Hark! How the winds have changed their note!
And with warm whispers call thee out;
The frosts are past, the storms are gone,
and backward life at last comes on.”
~Henry Vaughan

Summer has returned, both to our Northern Hemisphere and to my life after a protracted season of difficulty. Summer’s approach has been halting, in fits and starts, but the change is real and the days are sunny and hopeful. Winter’s surrender and fecund Spring have given birth to ripe summer beauty. My heart is filled with deep gratitude, wonder, and…fear.

How difficult it can be to enter fully into happiness! I may be as afraid to be happy as I am to suffer. Pain, though unwelcome, feels solid and real. We daily confront the violence of our world, and the losses of our lives. We know pain’s tendency to take up residence in our bodies and spirits. But happiness? Happiness seems kin to the fleeting fireflies, enchanting but rather short-lived.

The Book of Common Prayer implicitly acknowledges this dilemma in a beautiful Compline prayer. It reads in part: “Tend the sick…give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake….” We entreat God to gently care for the sick, weary, dying, suffering, the afflicted, and the joyous. There is as much vulnerability in joy as there is in pain. Our hearts may be broken open just as easily by great delight as by sorrow. We often deny the full experience of happiness thinking it will soften our fall, or we choke the tender blossoming in our need to grasp the beauty.

“It is dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly my darling…”

~Aldous Huxley

What freedom of spirit might come from holding all of life’s experience more lightly! This is not to deny the suffering in our world and the intense engagement required, nor is it to refuse joy’s courtship and lovely gifts. My colleague’s wife is a yoga teacher and she encourages her students to move solidly into a posture, but then to soften just a little and find the ease within the position they have taken. We can embrace the gifts of happiness fully and then find the freedom to smile at ourselves when we realize how tight is our grip and how serious our determination.

At a dinner party with dear companions, Jesus sees that his friend Martha is worried about so many things. Only one thing is necessary he says: to simply share presence, offering her open heart (this is perhaps the essence of both prayer and love). He knew the cherished meals together would soon end and the loss would be great. Maybe she knew too. Maybe he whispered as she passed by, tightly clutching an armful of plates, a strained smile upon her face, “Lightly, my darling.” I hope she sat down, just for a few minutes, and fully received the joy and love in her midst. In the shadow of the cross to come I hope she was sustained by those irreplaceable moments of delight. May we be given the grace to wrap our arms around joy and then gently soften our grasp. In all our experience, in both the happiness and the sorrow, we are held in the loving, unitive heart of Reality, held by One who promises to be fully present no matter the season.


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.

Finding a Thin Place

Today’s post is by Bill Stone

People come to Scotland looking for all sorts of things. When I first moved to Scotland six years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had traveled here twice on vacation and fallen in love with both the people and the place itself. But I also knew that living here would be much different from visiting for a week. There were a lot of unanswered questions floating through my head as I boarded a one-way flight into Edinburgh that August, but I was sure that this was where I was called to be.

Edinburgh-Cows-DSC02743The weeks that followed were a whirlwind of activity as I began a new job, moved into a new home, and obtained (after several failed attempts) a new bank account and mobile phone. In those early and hectic days I would often head up into the hills surrounding the town for some peace and quiet. Here I could rest. Here I could (literally) get a new perspective on things. Here, amidst the gorse bushes and the rowan trees, I had found my thin place—where the boundary between heaven and earth was especially transparent. Hill walking became a habit for me, and I came to regard my time there as sacred.

The Celtic notion of thin places—locations where the divine presence is more readily encountered—is well known. From the hills of the highlands, to the shores of Iona, there are many locations in Britain that feel set-apart in time and space. In the Middle Ages these places became sites of pilgrimage. Inspired by stories of the saints who once lived in and around these sites, pilgrims would come seeking a profound religious experience.

Ian Bradley in Pilgrimage: A Spiritual and Cultural Journey suggests that, “the prevailing view in Irish monastic circles about the benefits to be gained from visiting holy places was profoundly skeptical.” As evidence of this he offers a verse attributed to a ninth-century Irish abbot:

Who to Rome goes

Much labour, little profit knows;

For God, on earth though long you’ve sought him,

You’ll miss in Rome unless you’ve brought him.

For some, pilgrimage to a sacred or thin place was—and still today is—a truly moving and spiritually transforming experience. For others, though, their travel amounted to little more than religious tourism. If you did not begin your pilgrimage with the right intentions, you could travel for miles looking high and low for something that would forever remain elusive.

There is a certain cynicism in that rhyme, but there is also the profound insight that you don’t need to go to Rome to encounter God—for the divine presence is already there, within you, and all around you. It’s possible to connect with something greater than yourself not just on a remote isle or in the solitude of the hills. You can approach everyday life with the intention of being truly present and discover thin places right in your own back yard. One of the great benefits of pilgrimage to more distant places like Rome and Iona is that, when you do encounter the holy along the way, you are much more prepared to notice it once you return home. Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s much easier to spot.

When I first boarded a plane for Scotland in 2009, I never expected that six years later I would still be here. Here in Edinburgh I find more and more frequently that everywhere I turn there is a new invitation to encounter God. It is easy to feel connected to the past as you walk down the city’s ancient streets. There is a rich history of thinkers, writers, and theologians, and a culture that today still celebrates their contributions. The city is also a place where urban and nature meet—enclosing seven hills within its boundaries. In such a place, with such a vibrant community, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that all of Edinburgh has become a thin place for me.



Edinburgh-Bill StoneBill Stone
is an ordained Presbyterian minister from the United States who has served in the Edinburgh area for the past five years. He and his wife Hayley O’Connor co-lead Shalem’s Young Adult Contemplative Life and Leadership Initiative and have provided leadership for multiple Shalem pilgrimages. He and Hayley, along with Leah Rampy, will be leading Shalem’s young adult pilgrimage to Edinburgh, October 18-24, 2015.

Bill Stone and his wife Hayley are leading a pilgrimage to Edinburgh this October! Today’s chaotic and hurting world urgently needs the inspired leadership of young adults. This pilgrimage to Edinburgh, Scotland, will offer a spacious time for young adult leaders to listen within for the invitation to leadership by walking the ancient hills of this beautiful city and opening to the wisdom of the earth. Space is limited to 12 participants in this inaugural pilgrimage for young professionals. We encourage your early application.
To find out more or to apply, click here.