Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“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.

Wind, Breath and The Blue Heron

Today’s post is by Kimberly Ann Borin 

Recently, I had an experience that reminded me of the life-giving power of breath, the wind and the spirit of God. Each day, I walk along a road that winds around a large lake. On the road, the wind can whip across the lake making for a strong headwind, sometimes going out and coming back. One day, the wind was so fierce that I practically walked sideways leaning to the right, turning my face and body away from the harsh currents. As I turned away, I wondered why I was always so afraid to face the wind.

With that, I decided to see what I was missing. I turned to the left and felt the strong, cold wind on my face and neck. I opened my hands to feel the cool air and took in the sound of the rushing air. There was something freeing about facing that powerful wind, walking with it, and breathing it in. It had not occurred to me that the wind I often feared could teach me. The wind at my face reminded me of my freedom and my courage to face the winds of life and what lies before me.

The next day at church, we read the story of the Valley of the Dry Bones from the Hebrew Scripture, Ezekiel 37: 1-10, which states:

37 The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. 2 Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. 3 And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”

4 Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. 6 I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 Indeed, as I looked, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them over; but there was no breath in them.

9 Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army.

Even though I have heard this passage before I was struck by the mention of the wind especially given my experience the previous day.  I was also struck by the mention of the breath and how God used both to bring a valley of dry bones to rise up as a powerful, living, breathing army.

The passage reminded me of the life-giving power of breath. In my yoga class, my students use their breath to find inner peace and stretch their weary muscles. As a guidance counselor, my students breathe through their grieving, worry, or anger. As a retreat leader, my participants breathe into the moment and open to the presence of God in and around them. Ezekiel’s words reminded me that life-giving breath, wind, and the spirit of God, can heal us and bring life to our dry bones in the valley places of life.

The next time I was walking beside the lake, I noticed my friend, the Blue Heron. He was balancing on a rock that was surrounded by crashing waves. The Heron was facing the steady wind. The gusts were pushing back the feathers on his long, graceful head and neck. His elegance, strength, and ability to be present offered me healing, bringing life to my dry bones. The Blue Heron reminded me that we, too, can face the wind, breathe in life, and be a healing presence to those around us. Together with God we can all claim our freedom, greater life, and healing…and for this I say, Veni Sancte Spiritus!



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


Resource:, Retrieved on Saturday, June 27, 2015.

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:

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!

Music as a Doorway to Prayer

Today’s post is by the late Ann Kulp

Music has called us to prayer through the ages: the shofar, psalm, pipes, harp, trumpet, the peal of bells, the carillon, and symphony. Some of us have been stilled and called through Tibetan bowls, whose sound lingers and leads us into the silence of waiting. There is the music of the gurgling brook, wind in the rustling trees, the chirping of cicadas and other natural sounds. There is the music of Native American flute, a jazz band, a Gregorian chant. It matters not what kind. Each is an echo of some sound heard eons ago, and perhaps remembered. At different times in our lives we may hear sounds that become moments of such recollection, drawing us more deeply into the attitude called prayer.

As I ponder the meaning of music for me, I have a sense of being touched deeply, as though certain melodies come from elsewhere, as though they resonate with a part of me with which I have little knowledge. The melodies seem to possess a power to unlock a part of my emotions through a rhythm or sequence of tones that sounds simply sublime. I feel in tune with a different kind of reality, different from my everyday routine. I may experience solace, release, a “lift” or sheer exhilaration. Music becomes a pathway from my head to my heart. My attention is diverted from ordinary distractions to a language that has direct access to my spirit. Music engages me, stills me, inspires me, and sometimes connects me to the Source of all sound and silence. It becomes a holy moment. It opens me to prayer, sheer attentiveness. My heart is open. Music has become the doorway.

Is there a special kind of music that possesses this power? Perhaps, but I rather think it is an individual matter of preference, timing and environment. What might leave me cold at a concert may move me deeply in a quiet place, or vice versa. One can’t predict when that special doorway will present itself. But it does. I like to think that just as the composer was moved to pen the notes, so the listener can be moved to respond to them. If in the divine economy nothing is wasted, then someone will undoubtedly transmit the inspiration of sound to another who is waiting to hear it.

Music, as a form of creative expression, seems to be a doorway for the composer as well as the listener. Both experience its power to touch places not normally available to the conscious mind. Beethoven wrote his Sixth Symphony (the “Pastoral”) after the onset of deafness, when he found greatest solace in nature. Paul Winter was inspired to write “Return to Gaia” (from Earth Mass) after reading a letter from astronaut Rusty Schweickart who spoke convincingly of his deep longing within for Earth/Home. Mahler’s Third Symphony reveals the composer’s spiritual struggle as he presents a cosmological ascent culminating in a triumph both contemplative and explosive, proclaiming, “Love God alone all your life.”

As Westerners, we tend to choose activities that engage the conscious mind. But with music we can be opened to appreciate the raw material of creativity and opened to something deeper in ourselves. Receptivity to the Eternal Sound, as expressed in music, can lead us into the Eternal Silence, to God, with opened hearts.

AnnKulpAnn Kulp was an associate staff member with Shalem for 17 years, leading quiet days, contemplative prayer groups, workshops with Tibetan singing bowls, adult education classes, series on the mystics, and other miscellaneous topics related to spirituality. Ann was a graduate of The College of William and Mary and Northwestern University. This article originally appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 1996.

Shalem is grateful to offer two contributions that Ann worked on during the last year of her life:

spiritwindowsSpirit Windows
is a unique and valuable handbook written specifically to assist leaders in planning experiences such as retreats, prayer groups, church school classes, Bible study groups, and more. This handbook is filled with sample prayers, suggestions for music, meditations, inspirational quotations, retreat ideas and a wide array of other resources. It was revised by Ann and is now offered as an updated edition. Purchase your copy here.

1SquareIcon_Holy_InterruptionsHoly Interruptions: An Online Retreat Day to Cultivate Deeper Divine Awareness. Are you ready for a retreat? Busy schedule keeping you from getting away? With Holy Interruptions, you can take a quiet day wherever you are, and be led by a contemplative teacher to a greater awareness of the holiness found in each moment. Gain a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the mundane, daily realities of your life. Find practices and support you can take with you beyond this online encounter. Through teaching audio and guided meditations, reflection questions, art, and intentional silence, Ann Kulp leads you into holy connections in this virtual retreat space. Materials available now through mid-June. Register here.

Heart, Mind & Prayer

Today’s post is from the writings of the late Gerald May

Sometimes, instead of praying, I find myself thinking about praying; evaluating how I’m praying, figuring out what is proper or most effective. While these mental gymnastics may be well intentioned, and in fact have some real value as reflections before or after prayer, their effect during prayer is to keep me from really praying. They keep me in the mind and out of the heart.

As long as attention resides solely in the mind, we may spend our time producing scenes in which images of ourselves pray to images of God. This can become very effortful and can lead to a kind of “pretending” at prayer. Real prayer requires at least an attempt to leave such mental struggles and allow our attention to sink deeply, simply, and nakedly into the heart. Bringing attention to the heart is not a complicated process, but it does take real intention and courage. It involves a gentle, steady and wakeful willingness to let ourselves be just who we are before God and to let God be just how God will be within us. This demands no special generation of images. Nothing need be contrived or censored. It is a disarmingly simple matter of relaxing and allowing whatever we really feel, perceive, want or fear to surface as it will. It is seldom easy and sometimes impossible to be successful at this, but the attempt needs to be made.

Courage is necessary because what we experience at this heart level may be so painful, boring, frightening, or beautiful we can hardly bear it, and the deeper perceptions of “me” and God that emerge may be threateningly unlike our usual mental images. To remain in the heart and permit such a fierce and simple honesty is the real work of prayer.

In my own heart-experience I often feel childlike, tender and dependent; and the God-presence that meets my heart may be so overwhelmingly loving that I feel I simply must escape. At other times, the hopes and fears of my heart just seem to lie there in emptiness, with no sense at all of God’s response. Then, too, I want to escape, back to mind-images where I can make something happen.

It takes a strong commitment to try to remain in the heart regardless of what may come, but with time and grace, one’s trust in the open mystery of God and self can grow into an ever deepening, heartfelt prayer.

As I reflect upon my own history of prayer and meditation, I can identify two parallel but very different patterns of growth. On the surface are mental concepts and images of self, world and God that have evolved over the years. These are more theologically and psychologically mature than they used to be, and they are valuable. But somewhere nearer my heart, another evolution has been taking place. Here there is a little child, a child without concept; a child who is growing in trust and hope and love, but who in some way will forever remain a child. Here also is a growing sense of God, a God beyond image yet palpable, intimate, and inexpressibly loving. Perhaps in true maturity these growing paths of mind and heart become one. I don’t know. But it does seem that if our hearts can be given attention in prayer, then our minds can find their home.



ME/May-obGerald May was a member of Shalem’s staff from 1973 until his death in 2005. In this the 10th anniversary of his passing, we are offering a piece by him that first appeared in the Shalem News, Winter 1984, and is part of his collected newsletter articles, Living in Love. To purchase your own copy of Living in Love, click here.


In honor of Gerald May’s life, Shalem has created the Gerald May Seminar, featuring a variety of contemplative and spiritual leaders. This year’s speaker is James Finley, a clinical psychologist and renowned leader of retreats and workshops throughout the US and Canada. His Friday lecture topic is Turning to Thomas Merton As Our Guide in Contemplative Living and Saturday’s workshop is on The Spirituality of Healing. Purchase tickets to the event here. If you cannot join us in person, Friday’s lecture is available for live stream, which you can purchase here.

The Gradual Greening

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffee

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

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

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

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

“Would any seed take root if it had not believed

the promise, when God said:

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

warmth and effulgence,

I will be the Mother that I am

and let you draw from

My body

and rise, and


~Thomas Aquinas

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