Contemplative loss

Dad croppedBy 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.

I realize I am lucky. I have a great relationship with my dad. He is a loving, supportive man. He is very much a part of my life even though he died three and a half years ago of a stroke, a brain hemorrhage.

His loving presence, his laughter, his feisty passion crop up in my life on a regular basis. At times I’m brought to tears, at others laughter, and consistently gratitude.

There is a contemplative air about this loss. Although he is not physically here anymore, he is very present emotionally and spiritually and that presence evokes the prayer, “Thank you.”

Now, my dad was no saint and there were plenty of trying times but when I see a man of his build, try a new food, do something adventurous, or hear someone say, “Ray,” I am grateful. Thankful for these memories, the characteristics he passed on to me, the loving relationship we had, the laughs and it is a reminder of that of God in my life.

It is another way for God to remind me, “I’m here with you.”

We all have different ways that God speaks to us, makes the Holy clearly present in our daily lives. Sometimes it depends on how open and aware I am being, but at other times, God bops me on the head with it and I, thankfully, can’t help but be aware.

Sometimes it’s a beautiful view, a full moon, music by Hildegard of Bingen, the children I saw playing in the fountain last night in the summer heat, at others it’s the memories of a loved one, lines of a poem, the tone of a singing bowl.

It’s all evidence of the Grace of living, the Grace in death, and how God shows up in many ways in life.

What is your experience?

Benediction: Beauty and Contemplative Poetry

ShalemGuest blog by Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP,  who directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located in the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He leads ecumenical retreats and workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. An active contemplative and lover of the outdoors, Tom has authored 14 books on a variety of themes in the spiritual life as well as the DVD Yoga Prayer. www.tomryancsp.org. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for 40-Hour Contemplative Prayer Vigil.

At the end of every summer, I make an eight-day retreat to my sweet spot on the planet, an island in the middle of Lake George in upstate NY owned by my community, the Paulists, since the early 1860s. There’s a cabin among the trees , and the island is embraced on both sides of the lake by the forested mountains of Adirondack State Park.  When the Jesuit missionary explorer Isaac Jogues first descended the lake in a canoe with native Americans, he was so taken by the transcendent beauty of the 32 mile long lake and mountains that he named it Le Lac du Saint Sacrament  (French for: Lake of the Blessed Sacrament). Here is a poem I wrote on my retreat on the island at the end of August.

Benediction

Sitting at the end of the dock
my first night on the island,
full moon shining like
an elevated host held by
the fingertips of the mountain
with its burley shoulders wrapped
in a dark forest-green cape.

Crickets chant in soft, adoring chorus
and beavers swim by my feet
slapping their tails in acclamation
as tufts of cloud-like incense float by
before the monstrance of the moonlight
with tree tops bowing their heads

in the Spirit-breath
of the late night breeze
while the stars above
glow like benediction candles
over le Lac du Saint Sacrament.

8-20-13, Thomas Ryan, CSP

Ever Present Holy Lessons

2013-09-20 08.55.56By 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.

What is it about the change of seasons that makes us pause? Is it the awareness of the passage of time?
August in Maryland can often be a hot, sticky, dry time where the grass looks and feels like quills. It is just mid-September and we have been blessed with a string of cool nights and warm, pleasant days. Humidity is low and, without the stickiness, the sky is crystal clear blue.
Is it the beauty that makes me pause, the welcome coolness? I’m not sure, but it brings me to a new awareness of being.
I see the first leaves turning yellow and as I sit on the porch and write a breeze sweeps through the woods and I am shocked by the amount of leaves that release their grip.
Ahh…letting go. A perennial lesson. Release, let go of the things and ways of being that I no longer need, that no longer serves me.
I realize it is not necessarily something I can think my way through. I can’t think my way to letting go, pausing at every action, “Does this serve me?” “Can I release this?” Release is a place of not needing to collect. It is a place of dayenu: even this is enough. A place of realizing the bounty in the moment.
How little energy it takes when we remember we have all we need and we can just be.
Isn’t it truly awesome that the Holy One lays all these reminder lessons all around us for us to access at any time? Ever present, ever supportive.
What makes you pause? What is your experience?

To seek God is to find God; To find God is to seek God

 

FrLaurence7695Guest blog by Laurence Freeman OSB. Fr Laurence is a Benedictine monk and the spiritual guide and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, a contemporary, contemplative community. He travels widely as an international speaker and retreat leader, and is the author of many articles and books including, The Selfless Self,  Jesus: The Teacher Within,  and  First Sight: The Experience of Faith.  This blog is excerpted from his book First Sight (Continuum, 2011). For more information on  Fr Laurence visit http://www.wccm.orgHe is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Prayer Vigil.
 
First sight is seeing what is. Deep listening is an act of radical obedience to what is. Obedience means more than just doing what you’re told. It is becoming the truth you hear. The Latin obaudire links listening to obedience. St. Benedict speaks of obedience without delay as the means of uniting the mind of the disciple with that of the master. St. Augustine brings these two forms of perception together when he speaks about the spiritual senses or the ‘inner sense’, and by saying that hearing is a degree of vision.
 
The ‘kingdom of heaven’ or the ‘reign of God’ are the gospel terms for union with God and others in the fully developed form of love without boundaries, called ‘agape’. Jesus speaks simply about these realities, but he says you can’t say, ‘look, here it is, or there it is’, because it is non-spatial and non-dual. It is, in fact, both in you and among you. This non-duality does not exclude it from day-to-day reality, from ‘ordinary’ sense perception or rational observation. The non-dual contains the dual. Reason can operate in the spiritual realm. The point is that union is not limited by any form of perception. The kingdom is here and now, but also super-spatial and trans-temporal. As with the spirit, you can’t say where it comes from or where it is going, but it is always present. It’s this assurance that allows us to get on with the work we have to do while following the way of faith with complete commitment. Raising a family, meditating alone, developing one’s gifts, going through grief or celebrating success: none of these states need interrupt the way of faith. To evoke the ordinariness of this mystery of reality, Jesus uses parables about natural growth, family relationships, finding and losing things or helping the helpless, to describe the process of faith that awakens the kingdom. As he presents it, heaven is a present reality or an eternal process rather than a place or a reward. Union, once it is uncovered, is boundless.
 
Coming into union means we have never arrived at a final destination because the journey has become limitless. ‘To seek God is to find God’, says Gregory of Nyssa. But equally, he says, ‘To find God is to seek God’. We set out endlessly on a penetration of reality moving towards an ever-receding horizon. Peace means the acceptance of this freedom from limitation. Modern cosmology observes us inhabiting an expanding universe and offers us a new metaphor the earlier masters would have enjoyed. We are also told however that it is space, not matter, that is expanding. We are being infinitely stretched into nothingness by what we inhabit, and because what inhabits us is expanding endlessly. It is what we call and strive for as freedom.

 

 

Contemplative Eyes and Continual Prayer

by 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.

eyesDuring your personal prayer/meditation times at home, or at other prayer times during the day, try experimenting with letting your eyes be open. If you’re used to closing your eyes for prayer and meditation, go gently. At first, just let your eyes be partially open, not focused on anything. See if this seems to interfere with your inner sense of presence and openness. If it does, keep gently experimenting with eyes closed, eyes open. See if you can recover your prayerfulness with your eyes open. Remember times in the past when you’ve felt very prayerful with eyes open: in nature perhaps, or in worship, looking at a loved one, gazing at the sky, etc.

Keep experimenting with this until it becomes more comfortable. Then let your eyes come naturally open, looking around and at different things in your environment. If you lose your sense of presence, close your eyes again and keep experimenting with the transition until it feels more natural to have your eyes open. The idea is to let yourself be free to be prayerful regardless of whether your eyes are closed or open. Prayerfulness with eyes open becomes important, of course, if you want to be prayerful as you’re working on different tasks. And if this is indeed what you want, don’t forget to pray for it!

~~

I am still working on this one, but love the feeling of it. When I meditate/pray, I shut my eyes, breath deeply….shut out the world. I love this idea of feathering out the prayer regardless of eyes open or shut, to live the continual prayer.

What is your experience?

The Spirituality of Relationship

butterfly on tithoniaBy 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.

My 21-year-old daughter has an internship on The Hill this summer. It’s been a deep, formative experience and we were talking about it the other day. This is a crossroads period for her. She is getting ready to enter her senior year in college, full of questions of her future.

As we sat at the kitchen table, I was so aware of the need to keep my mouth closed and just listen. So often just verbalizing feelings and thoughts helps to put them into perspective, helps us to make more sense of them. When we feel unheard or talked over, it puts an end to this opening. It’s so easy, especially as a parent, to fall into giving advice.

She was born independent and ready to race out and love the world, so I learned early on (after much trial and error) to ask, “How would you like me to respond?” when she tells me something weighty. In other words, how can I support you in your journey? Sometimes she wants advice, but sometimes she just wants to vent or for me to bear witness. It also allows me a chance to pray into the experience, “Dear One, please let me be a conduit for your words. Hold this child of yours in the Light.”

This also reminds me that although I gave birth to her, I am not in charge and I am in no way in control. She taught me that as a baby, as all babies do. (You think you’re going to sleep now, but this little one has other plans!) It is her journey and I am just a passenger in her car.

Of course listening, not giving advice, and realizing we’re not in control works with everyone, not just our children. And it works at all times, not just when something “big” is happening.

My prayer broadens out: How can I be a supportive companion more often?

What is your experience?

Surrender

2 pines w moon w cBy 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.

What thoughts or feelings come to you when you hear this word? Surrender.
It has a lot of mixed feelings, at least in spiritual groups. I have heard more than once from ministers, priests, colleagues, neighbors, young, old, male, female, “I have trouble with that word.” But at the same time we hear we should surrender to God.
What bothers some of us about this word, this concept? Is it our pride, our fear of seeming not to be in control, not wanting to give up, too big a leap of faith?
Often, when there is some sort of resistance, there is our growing edge.  What we resist, what repels us is what we are being called to look at.
I became friends with surrender many years ago, when I was going through a very dark time in my life. Marriage, career, money…lots of pain. I got to a place where I just couldn’t fight it anymore. All the coping mechanisms, all the alternatives I knew were not working. I did not know where to turn or what to do. There was nothing anyone could do for me. It was all raw me and I had no more ideas on how to move forward.
I have always been very independent, which is a double-edged sword. A great weight was lifted from me when I realized that not only could I not figure it all out and do it myself, but I didn’t have to try to. I didn’t need to keep hitting my head against the wall.
When I hear the word surrender now, I feel free. The weight of me trying to figure it out on my own is gone. It’s about giving over my burdens, not giving up. It’s about letting go and letting God. It’s about trusting that God is taking care of it.

What is your experience?

The Spirituality of Struggle

shore and river w cBy 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.

Have you ever struggled with a decision and the weight of it lays heavily on your heart, where the burden may ease at times and bore down at others? You pray, but don’t get clarity.

Sometimes I find my prayer’s focus is targeting the wrong frame, an inaccurate question. I’ve found myself praying over a yes-or-no when in fact my prayer needed to be a broader plea for help.

As my friend Susan said, if I had gotten that yes/no answer my learning would have been so small.

I’m starting to see that if I’m not getting clarity, perhaps I need to look at my question and broaden it out. God is not myopic and prayers that are tend to be not so helpful.

Sometimes the simple prayer is the best: help. Or, God, you know my heart, please help. And then trustingly waiting for clarity.

I have found solace in this quote by Lao-Tzu:
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?

What is your experience?

Body Prayer: A Vehicle of God’s Spirit

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy 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.

In this blog we are all about contemplative living, inviting and recognizing God’s presence in every aspect of life. We’ve talked about being spiritual while working, saying no, recognizing thin places. So we’ve looked at all kinds of “doing,” but what about being?

I am enrolled in Shalem’s School of Contemplative Prayer, which is a 6-week online course that invites you to deepen your prayer life by nurturing and supporting you through the week via email, journaling, contemplative quotes and images, videos, recordings, and more. A spiritual deepening course conveniently in your inbox! A few weeks ago the concentration was on body awareness. Carole Crumley, who leads us, reminded us “our bodies are special vehicles of God’s spirit, an instrument from God with spiritual dimensions that can draw us closer to God.”

As I’m sure many of you have experienced, Western religions tend to not pay much attention to the body, sometimes even totally discounting or giving it negative connotations. Thankfully there has been growth away from this, and a realization that

Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…therefore, glorify God in your body.

(1 Corinthians 6: 19,20)

There is wisdom in our bodies. As Celeste Snowber Schroeder says in her book, Embodied Prayer, “What is felt in the soul and heart is expressed in the body.” She explains that our bodies can be an honest expression of our inner, truest selves.

She goes on to say, “Many of our experiences, through the sometimes mountainous and even torturous trek in life, are buried within us, even stored in our bodies: deep hurts, losses, disappointments, and traumas waiting to find release in our lives. It is these deepest of feelings that must find voice.”

One way to recognize the holiness of your body and reunite body and soul is through body prayer. This form of prayer allows us to be more present to God and gets us out of our heads.

In 2010 Matthew Fox was the Gerald May Seminar speaker. It was the same year my dad died. At one point in the talk Matthew had the entire audience get down on our hands and knees and do a grief exercise. You can probably imagine how this hit me. I felt like I released grief so far down in my body it was my ancestors’!

But body prayer is not just for the hard feelings. Yoga, dance, breathing, stretching, walking can all be body prayers. Body prayers are just another opening for God to live through us, incarnate.

What has been your experience?

Contemplative Eyes

2013-05-24 08.35.13By 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.

http://www.shalem.org/index.php/resources/newsletter/newsletter-archive/winter05

During your personal prayer/meditation times at home, or at other prayer times during the day, try experimenting with letting your eyes be open. If you’re used to closing your eyes for prayer and meditation, go gently. At first, just let your eyes be partially open, not focused on anything. See if this seems to interfere with your inner sense of presence and openness. If it does, keep gently experimenting with eyes closed, eyes open. See if you can recover your prayerfulness with your eyes open. Remember times in the past when you’ve felt very prayerful with eyes open: in nature perhaps, or in worship, looking at a loved one, gazing at the sky, etc.

Keep experimenting with this until it becomes more comfortable. Then let your eyes come naturally open, looking around and at different things in your environment. If you lose your sense of presence, close your eyes again and keep experimenting with the transition until it feels more natural to have your eyes open. The idea is to let yourself be free to be prayerful regardless of whether your eyes are closed or open. Prayerfulness with eyes open becomes important, of course, if you want to be prayerful as you’re working on different tasks. And if this is indeed what you want, don’t forget to pray for it!

In what ways have you tried to be continuously prayerful, regardless of what else is going on?

I am still working on this one, but love the idea. I respond in a very Pavlovian way when someone says, “May we have a moment of silence” or “Let us pray.” I shut my eyes, bow my head, breath deeply….shut out the world. I love this idea of letting the prayer resonate throughout the day, regardless of whether my eyes are open or shut.

What is your experience?