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.

Into Spring and Beyond

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

Pulling in to the monastery, the snow was piled high on the abbey grounds. The walkways were cleared, as the monks had fastidiously kept the paths open for themselves and any guests who would take advantage of their hospitality. I arrived on a chilly day that began less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit—one of several guests seeking a quiet retreat. It had been a long snowy season, and this cold morning was perhaps one last, serious squeeze from old man winter.

I checked into my dormitory-style room in the abbey guesthouse, a very spartan layout, with a simple bed, a desk, and a small rug on the wood floor. Looking out the window, I was greeted with a winter view of a large snow-covered field bordered by leafless branchy trees. A few large icicles hung from the roofline. There was a small walkout balcony accessible to my second-floor room, with an area to sit outside on warmer days.

Arriving on this cold day for a brief retreat at the Benedictine Abbey, I was struck by the ongoing rhythm of the monks who live there. They go about their regular patterns of prayer and work, regardless of the season. Whether summer, fall, winter or spring—they faithfully enter the chapel space for prayers, from early morning matins to evening compline. Joining them, and settling into the rhythm of prayer, work, silence, eating and reflection was a welcome change from my normal busy family life. Sitting in the presence of these monks as they chanted the Psalms, I could feel something inside me warming to it, as a cat stretches and curls up by the fire on a wintry day.

And, as nature would benevolently have it, that kindling of inner warmth was echoed by the March sun, which woke us beautifully the next morning. By mid-afternoon, temperatures soared above 40 degrees for perhaps the first time in 2015. By late afternoon, the large icicles that had slowly formed over the previous months came crashing down. It was even warm enough for me to pull my desk chair out onto the balcony and sit (soak!) in the sunshine. And as the snow on the roof began to melt, creating a chorus of regular drips, I was reminded that every season gives way to another, and that God is with us in each one, even if our perception, or circumstances, or heart stirrings might change.

Newly nourished by these warm moments of sunshine, I walked along the melting snow-lined path to the chapel for evening vespers. I sat down quietly in the space reserved for guests. The monks, wearing their black robes, walked in at the appointed time. I wondered briefly if they had had a chance to enjoy the first glimpse of spring as I had. Either way, they did not blink or change rhythm one bit. They chanted the same Psalms, echoed the same prayers that they had been praying all winter, and would continue well into spring and beyond.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

Pause, Wash, Rinse and Drain

Today’s post is by Christine Berghoef.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dishes photo by Hey, Lady Grey.

Practicing Contemplation on the Road

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Changing LanesMy hands are locked on the steering wheel as I sit in the mass of vehicles inching down I-395 during morning rush hour.  I look straight ahead, my eyes locked on the truck just ahead of me.  I carefully avoid eye contact with the driver of the car to my right.  I pretend not to see her blinker, not even to be aware that she’s there trying to move her car in front of mine.  Drat!  My peripheral vision is too good; I can see her now beside me, just as I saw her pull out a dozen cars back into the diminishing right hand lane, moving up to the front of the line, trying to bypass all the rest of us who are waiting “patiently” to make our way to work.  I am indignant that she does not follow the rules.

There’s something about righteous indignation that feels so good, so superior— at least for a minute.  And then it all comes crashing down.  What am I doing?!? I started with a spacious morning, I set my intention to bless those along the way, I really want to be gracious to others I meet, and I’m on my way to Shalem for heaven’s sake!  Yet here I am again, hijacked by my amygdala, under the control of my ego, or maybe just caught up in an old habit.  How distressing!

I suppose in some ways it’s a blip on the radar.  And yet I feel sad.  Why is it so difficult for me to live consistently from the spiritual heart?  In this moment, I feel that others have figured out the key.  They pray enough; they hold silence longer, they don’t fail so often in their intent.

And then I smile.  In the course of two minutes, I’ve fallen fully into dualistic thinking.  The other driver is wrong; I’m right.  No, she’s fine; I’m the one who’s not good enough.  My thinking mind is a judgment machine!  It leaves no situation unlabeled!  I open to the possibility of simply being with what is, as it is, in this moment.  I breathe.

Such a small and yet such a frequent occurrence in my life.  I think it’s time for the words of Richard Rohr to be taped to my visor: “Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think. Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection! —just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.  It is the gift of non-dual thinking and seeing, which itself is a gift of love, suffering, and grace. In fact, this is the radical grace that grounds all holy seeing and doing.”

What shows up for you as you as you open to living contemplatively?

Leah 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 has participated in Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening as well as Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats: Transforming Community.

Shalem’s intention is to open space for you to deepen your own contemplative practice and awareness. We offer online courses, one-day retreats, and extended in-person programs. This fall, Leah Rampy will be leading an online Contemplative Leadership workshop. Read more here.

Finding Sabbath

DSCN1004By Gerald May*

*Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here.

There is a rhythm to every workweek, regardless of what the jobs may be and where the workplace is: home, office, farm, construction site, on the road. In all places there are times of activity and times of repose, pressured moments and spacious moments. One of the major risks we human beings encounter is to miss the times of spaciousness and rest. We are likely to see them as useless, and to fill them up with other activities. Here the ancient rhythm of Sabbath can help release us from such compulsions. Find your Sabbaths and claim them. Sabbath is normally seen as a day of rest, recapitulating the creation story in which God rested on the seventh day. Practice that Sabbath day as much as you can. Sabbath, however, can be found not only in days, but also in certain hours of a day, and in certain precious minutes within the hours. Pray to be aware of such moments and times when they are given, and savor them.

 

Where do you find your Sabbath? I tend to be really good about it for a while and then the busyness of life creeps up on me and I start to lose one and then another Sabbath moment/day. Then suddenly I wonder why life seems overwhelming and I creep back to these precious times. Perhaps just being aware is what would save them. Taking that moment instead of trying to squeeze one more thing into those two minutes. Remembering to be gentle with myself and savoring them.

 

 

Emergent Growth

bleeding heartsBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

It’s the first really warm day we’ve had in this uncertain spring in Maryland. It’s lovely to be able to write on the porch this morning.

I thought I had a different topic brewing, but as I sit here listening to the birds’ spring songs and see the full, budding trees, I am led to an alternative awareness.

Emergent is the word that keeps whispering to me. Emergent.

We have been in the cold and dark for what feels like a long time. But it has not been a barren time. Sometimes it is so wonderful to shut off the brain, to let things be as they will and to even let go of our struggle for awareness. Let the universe work its wonders in the dark.

I was in the garden yesterday evening, pulling back the leaf cover and was overjoyed to see the bleeding heart I had forgotten I’d planted last year. Its robust green growth emerging while its mostly hidden white stalk and roots lay deeper in the soil. It always amazes me how even during what seems like an endless winter with late snows and single digit temperatures into March and April the flora and fauna are undaunted by the chill and just followed the light. That was their guide, not fickle, fluctuating weather. They had a deep knowing of what to follow.

While you and I were off with our busyness, living out lives, there were all kinds of miracles brewing, growing toward the light. It is the perfect metaphor of hope and then trust.

What miracles are working inside me, inside you that we may not even know about or have forgotten. What is emergent, reaching toward the light during this wonderfully tingling time? I’m reminded that I need to step aside and let it blossom for just like the plants, the light is what feeds us.

 

A Deeper Understanding of Beauty

2013-12-27 16.04.03By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.

This holiday season has given me a deeper understanding of beauty and it’s connection to Spirit.

It’s probably pretty easy for us to have that feeling of awe and connect to what’s holy when we see a beautiful vista or sunset.

But recently I’ve come to know beauty in a different, expanded way. I realize that when something is “beautiful” it is because there is a connection there from me to that other person or thing. Beauty is when there is that sense of unity to that of God in someone or something. It could be when you hit a tennis ball or golf ball and feel the sweet spot; it could be the deep, cerulean blue sky. It could be an interaction with another person when you feel that reverberation, that current. It could be the awesome new decorated paper star that I got for Christmas. We are drawn to all forms of beauty in our longing for connection, our longing for unity, our longing for truth, and our longing for what is holy.

John Keats said, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” and there is all kinds of conjecture on what he meant, but perhaps beauty is that raw, foundational truth, the truth of connecting to that of God in ourselves and others and it calls us like a homing device, bringing us home to ourselves, bringing us home to what’s holy.

What is your experience?

 

In Thanks for the Dark and the Light

2013-10-11 20.49.20By Stephanie  Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

In the northern hemisphere we are living with short days and long nights. It seems to me that we, as humans, are quite taken with the power of light and dark. We often fear the dark and are drawn to the light.

The dark represents the unknown, the unexpected, whether it’s at night in the woods or the uncharted territory of our own interior. And, what we don’t know can make us anxious.

We love the light, whether it’s a single candle flame or the sun, it shows us clearly what is before us.

But perhaps we can see this time of darkness as a time to go within, a time for quiet, a time for contemplation.  What could be gestating in the respite time?

Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of light and dark that makes them both potent. Without the dark we couldn’t see the stars.

Maybe instead of lamenting the loss of sunshine we can welcome this time and instead of pushing to do more and more, to race from task to task during this advent season, we could pause so our own Light can shine more clearly even through the unknown.

We lost a Light that burned brightly among us when Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday. Although he was fully human, there are few I know of who lived a life based on forgiveness and reconciliation to the extent he did. Through his personal and societal painful times, he became a beacon.

We as humanity need the dark to rest and grow in, but we also need as many Lights, big and small, as possible to help guide us.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for the beacon you were to so many of us.

Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.—Eskimo Saying

Thankful: The Spirit of Hard Things

2013-10-26 10.02.14By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an
unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
–RUMI

During this season of Thanksgiving, when we are more aware of being grateful it can still take some effort to see the gift in the struggles of life.

It is so easy to see God in a stunning sunset, an amazing vista, a baby, anything beautiful. What is more difficult is to see the Holy in the hard things–an argument, an illness, a difficulty.

I remember when a family member had a serious health issue. Through those dark months where we weren’t sure of not only mortality, but if he lived, what life would be like. That period gave us a new understanding of the depth, power, and resiliency of community. This teaching was pure gift and grace even through the pain of illness.

I was talking with a friend the other day about a hard relationship. She reminded me that this person I was speaking of was my teacher, someone who was helping me, through this friction to break open, and finally learn this lesson I’ve been trying to get my whole adult life. This tension, this struggle was a gift. Yes, let me remember that.

There is the gift of an argument when we can really listen and learn. When we hear the question, the challenge, in our heart.

Gifts are not always wrapped in bows and shiny paper. Sometimes they are hidden and frighteningly disguised.

Perhaps those are the bigger gifts. The ones that break us open and make us grow in ways we wouldn’t have taken on ourselves.

Maybe, when we have enough hindsight and done it enough times we can welcome these difficult guests as we would an old friend, in gratitude for their presence and the gifts they bring.

Thank you. Thank you for all of it.

Contemplative Living and Fallow Time

By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

“The time of fallowness is a time of rest, restoration, of filling up and replenishing. It is the moment when the meaning of all things can be searched out, tracked down, made to yield the secret of living. Thank God for the fallow time!”—Howard Thurman

I was at a silent retreat recently. Several people, when asked, said they were here because they felt fractured, exhausted, pulled in so many directions. I’m not sure how far this depleted fragmenting has spread around the world, but I know it is an epidemic in this area.

I went to the retreat that weekend because I have a call to listen to my heart in a new and deeper way. After years of rampant busyness, my heart’s voice is sometimes so soft it can be a struggle to hear it clearly.

What I hear in myself and the other retreatants is a true need for more fallow time. Time to rest, restore, fill up, quiet down, a time to listen deeply. The word retreat comes from the Latin word meaning to ‘pull back.’

Instead of pushing forward, don’t keep at it, pull back, ease up.

I have had to work hard over the years, as I’m sure many of you can relate, to be comfortable and able to do “nothing.” On the retreat my spiritual discipline was to allow the fallow time. I

absorbed each word of a poem

became entranced by the beauty of a milkweed seed

watched ripples on a pond

napped

walked slowly

breathed deeply

replenished

When I came home, I found that I could more easily recall those still spaces. I took 30 seconds and sat and watched the gray November morning make the fall colors pop in the woods as the rain fell.

I stood and watched leaves glide by in a small crook of the Patuxent River.

These fallow moments only took half a minute, but they connected me to the Great Silence and restored me for a day.

Blessed be the fallow time. May it restore you and may you carry a piece of it with you.

What is your experience?