Integral Joy

Today’s post is by Carl McColman

A phrase from the Lakota language, mitakuye oyasin, means “all are related” or “all my relations.” It’s a way of seeing: of recognizing that we exist not as some sort of isolated cells over and against our environment or are communities, but that our existence, our very lives, are indeed integrally bound up together with all other beings, with the world and the cosmos. We are all related. We are all connected.

This in turn reminds me of Julian of Norwich, who wrote “the fullness of joy is to behold God in all.” So not only are we connect to all, but that if we learn how to see, we can behold God in all to which we are connected. In scripture we read, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Psalm 139:8).

God is everywhere: in the celestial regions as well as the underworld, and of course everywhere in between. Perhaps this is why we can say with confidence, mitakuye oyasin, all are related: because everything is knit together in the silent presence of God.

What all this means, of course, is that silent prayer or contemplative practice cannot be divorced from the rest of life. Spirituality is not something apart from everything else we do; it is knit into the fabric of our undivided lives, the same way that breathing is. In silence we pay attention to our breath, and then for the rest of the day we continue to breath, whether we attend to it or not.

In contemplation we rest in God’s presence, whether we feel or consciously experience it or not. Likewise, throughout the day we rest in the Divine, regardless of how attentive we may be to this fact. But the invitation is more than just cognitively acknowledging the Divine, but rather to enter into the fullness of joy. Learning to see God means learning to find joy.

Several times the Bible notes that “God is love” — but I think we can make the case that “God is joy” also. St. Paul calls his readers to “rejoice always” (I Thessalonians 5:16), and when he lists the fruit of the Spirit, joy is second only to love (Galatians 5:22). The Greek word here is χαρά, “chara,” meaning joy or delight — it’s related to χάρις, “charis,” the word for grace or gift. As it is God’s nature to love, so it is God’s nature to give, and to exude joy and delight. To gaze into God is to gaze into joy.

Now, in truth, much of life may seem anything but joyful. We suffer, we hurt one another, we encounter disease or abuse and death. Where’s the joy in all that?

I don’t believe God calls us to rejoice in suffering itself, but rather to rejoice in God even in the midst of suffering. That may not “feel” any different — I think joy is something deeper than the mere emotion of gladness, as lovely as that may be. Joy is a calibration of our inner compass. It gives us strength and faith to persevere in times of suffering and to bring light into the dark places of our lives.

Finding joy in beholding God in all means not that life suddenly becomes uniformly pleasant, but that we become conduits of God’s grace in any and every situation we find ourselves. It means trusting that God is present, here and now, regardless of what we may feel or think. Trusting that Divine presence, and learning to see it even in the most painful places, means not that we will never suffer again, but that suffering will never overcome us. For we will always bring the hope of joy with us, wherever we go.

Mitakuye oyasin. We are all related, and we are one in God. When I sit in silence, I pray to the one who brings joy to everyone and every situation. In following my breath, gently and silently, I train myself to more faithfully discern that joyful presence in every time and place.

Of course, I still make mistakes and I still fall down. But the grace is always there, waiting to be seen, to be beheld, to be shared. With every breath we have a new opportunity to share the joy.

CarlMcColman-JS-225x300Carl McColman is an interfaith-friendly contemplative Christian writer, speaker, retreat leader and spiritual companion. Formed by the teachings of the saints and mystics and ancient practices like lectio divina and silent prayer, his message is simple and timeless: God calls each of us to a joyful, creative life of love and service, and the wisdom of our spiritual heritage shows us the way. His books include Answering the Contemplative Call and The Big Book of Christian Mysticism. His writing appears in The Huffington Post, Patheos, and Contemplative Journal, as well as on his own blog/website,

Peace on Earth: Contemplating the Possibility [audio]

Today’s post is an audio guided meditation by Leah Rampy. Feel free to tune in on your computer or your iPhone or other mobile device, and find a quiet place to listen. Click the orange arrow or the title above to listen.

The greeting cards arrive extolling “Peace on Earth.” They come as messengers, revealing the longings of other hearts. And for a moment, they remind me that I too long for peace to flood my soul and to encircle our fragile world. Then I consider the violence, injustice, pain and tragedies that surround us. My heart breaks for our dying oceans and all the species that have perished by our thoughtlessness. In the brokenness and chaos of our times, can we hope to live in a way that honors our longing for peace on earth?

LRampyLeah 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 is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs.

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.

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.