Prayerfulness at Work

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.

Rublev Trinity Icon

Rublev Trinity Icon

Recently several people have asked me for suggestions about cultivating prayerfulness in the workplace. Here is a collection of suggestions from my previous writings and current inspirations:

I think people have two main reasons for wanting to enhance their prayer in the workplace. First, they desire their work, and everything else in life, to be inspired and guided by God. They do not want to take things into their own hands and forget the Living Presence of the Holy. Trusting that there is no place from which God is absent, they long to join God’s dance in the workplace as well as in all the other places of their lives.

Second, sooner or later, people often become aware of a desire to nurture a contemplative attitude in work and in life. True contemplative presence always comes as a gift; there are no techniques or methods we can use to make it happen. But cultivating a contemplative attitude can enhance our appreciation of the gift-and perhaps even our receptivity for it. A contemplative attitude is an open, receptive kind of prayerfulness that is willing to be present and responsive to things just as they are in the immediate moment-seeing and accepting the situation fully without blinders or prejudice. It includes a willingness-even a longing-to be in mystery, trusting and praying for God to guide one’s action even if there is no understanding or sense of direction. And it involves a deep radical trust that allows people to refrain from acting on their own initiative. It is like joining God’s dance without having to know what the next step is.

Your desire may be something like what I have described, or you may experience it quite differently. Regardless, I think the most important thing you can do is to identify your desire, claim it, and make it your prayer. In other words, if you want to be more prayerful in your work, pray for it.

Do you desire to be more spiritual at work? How do you bring your spirituality to your job? Is it a challenge or comfortable? 

It’s All Thin

By Al Keeney

IMG_0256A few years ago, I made a Shalem pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland. I was drawn to experience, what in Celtic spirituality, is called a “thin place”  –  a place where heaven and earth seem to touch. It was an awakening for me of the divine presence in the raw beauty of nature on Iona, and in the sacred presence of the deep spiritual community there. There was no question in my mind that this place was one of those unique places that can open one’s heart to what is. The moments in my memory of those “thin place” encounters still resonate within my spirit.

I’ve been blessed to make other pilgrimages where I have had similar experiences, and it’s made me a pilgrimage junkie of sort… looking for the next opportunity to go “thin.”

Not too long ago, I attended the ordination of a friend and found my heart touched as I heard the preacher speak of the burning bush that Moses saw in that “thin place” the Holy One had called him to. The preacher went on to say that there are burning bushes (and thin places) all around us, all the time, if only we would look and see.

I live in a rural area of upstate New York. And while, it is a beautiful area, I never thought of it like I thought about those “official” thin places of my pilgrimages. It’s been a gift, a grace, to be made aware that I need not travel far to be close to Divine Presence… that there are burning bushes… thin places… moments of deep presence in this place, in this community, within myself. In other words, it’s all thin!

For me, one of the things that has been a block to seeing the deep reality of Presence in the thin places around me is the lack of wonder I have for the familiar. It’s as if I dismiss the ordinary, the immediately present, for some experience somewhere else, at another time. I am so easily distracted and attracted by the new and the unfamiliar. Still, the good news is that just because I may not be paying attention, Presence is always there. For that I am extremely grateful.

Are there any “thin places” that have a particular meaning for you? Any blocks you notice to seeing the burning bushes or thin places around you?

Former Warden, John Philip Newell, of the Iona Community on the Isle of Iona (an “official” thin place), is this year’s speaker at the Eighth Gerald May Seminar on May 17 and 18. For more information go to

The Big Rocks

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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.

Time. It seems to be the bane of a deepening spiritual life.

I have spoken with people who have been in various spiritual classes, retreats, pilgrimages I’ve participated in and so many say something like, “I know I feel better when I do it, but I just don’t have time to meditate or pray every day.”

Time is also my story. You know how we tell ourselves or others we can’t so something because of x,y, or z (fill in the specifics with whatever your story is). Well my story is, “I don’t have time.”

It is true to a certain extent. It’s probably safe to say that most of us are busy and don’t have time— work, volunteering, family, kids, spouse, friends, classes…

It’s all good stuff, which makes it harder to cut something out.

So how do I find time to pray? How do I leave more space for God?

Not only are these questions I have asked myself, but when I have led retreats, classes, or PSDP (Shalem’s Personal Spiritual Deepening Program) it invariably comes up. How do I fit this spiritual practice in around all the other things I do?

People, including me, know they are better for sticking to a spiritual practice. I know that this is my anchor and if I don’t do it for a few days, I am not as kind and loving to my family (and world) as I would like to be. I just feel out of sorts. So, it’s for my loved ones’ benefit and mine that I start my day reigniting that connection to the divine. If I leave it for later in the day, it keeps getting bumped, and I’m not as grounded and as steady as I would be had I started the day off with some stillness.

I am reminded of the story of the rocks and a jar. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried it, but if you have a large jar, sand, pebbles, stones, and a few big rocks you will find that if you put the small stuff in first, you don’t have room for the big things.

But, if you put the big things first, you have plenty of room for the smaller ones.

Ah, yes. If I put what is most important first, I’m able to fit all the other things in around my priorities.

So, I start my day with meditating, I get God in first.

What do you do? Have you wrestled with sticking to a spiritual practice? What works for you?

Resting in God

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.

I was recently at a Quaker women’s retreat titled Play, Nap, Feast, which centered on how we nurture and feed ourselves spiritually. With a title like that, how can you lose?

During the retreat we were asked to move into small clusters called worship sharing groups. In these groups we were asked three queries that we took into silence and prayer. Each woman answered these questions as moved by the Spirit from the silence.

On one of the evenings the groups were asked these queries:

– What do you do for spiritual self-care?

– How do you make sure you’re cared for?

– How do you rest in the Spirit?

The group wrestled with that third question more than any other question during the whole retreat. So profound was the question that one woman in my group said she felt she needed to take that query into meditation for the year.

We can talk about how we open to God as we are meditating, singing, driving, washing dishes, working, being with our family, but how do you rest in God?

It doesn’t seem to be something we easily fall into as adults. I talked with others and the response was more wrest than rest.

All of these queries are questions for the heart, but how do you rest in God?