Six Ways to Experience Contemplation Online

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

We live an increasingly virtual existence. We have ongoing conversations with our friends—sitting in our home, or from our office, or while standing on the street waiting for the bus—while they are in a different home, in a different office, or on a different street.

Person-Using-iPhone-4SNews and weather alerts pop up automatically on our phones, keeping us forever in the loop. We update our status so the world can know what we had for dinner, or so that not just family, but every person we’ve ever known can see a picture of our kids on their first day of school. We plug in to our devices to keep up-to-date on the news, choosing a website or newscast of choice. Sometimes, rather than looking out the window or stepping outside, we pull up our favorite weather app to decide if it’s going to be a short-sleeve or long-sleeve day. A number of us even work remotely—something increasingly normal in our ever-connected world.

So how does one maintain and deepen a contemplative stance in such a frenzied, virtual world? One obvious solution is to unplug. Put the phone away. Turn the computer off. Go for a walk. Keep the radio off on the commute to work. Don’t leave a window open with Facebook always tempting you to glance at the latest cat video or Star Trek meme. Even now you’re tempted (don’t do it!).

We all need to unplug from time to time. But I’ve also found that the Internet can be a place to deepen my prayer life and connection to God.

Here are six suggestions:

1) QUIET MUSIC — Find a station on Pandora, iTunes, or your favorite streaming music site, and listen to something that brings you into a contemplative space. I often find myself listening to the yoga, relaxation, or ambient radio channels on Pandora. If you have a favorite channel or artist—feel free to share it in the comments below.

2) PRAYER WEBSITE — For years, I have enjoyed going to Sacred Space, a website run by Irish Jesuits out of Dublin since 1999. It invites one into a quiet, prayerful space online, and leads one through meditative prayer culminating in a Scripture to sit with for as long as one feels led. There are other spaces to explore as well. I’ve even adapted a daily prayer session on Sacred Space for large group use – leading a congregation in a contemplative worship service, and reading the Scripture using lectio divina and silence.

3) MEDITATION TIMER—You might take some more time for silence and meditation if you had some help, right? That’s one of the reason we enjoy silent retreats or yoga sessions – because they provide us structure and give us permission be still. Turns out technology also provides some aids for meditation. The Insight Timer is probably the most famous. A simple app for your phone or iPad, the insight timer creates the sound of beautiful Tibetan singing bowls, gently and peacefully guiding you through your meditation session. With this, your attention can focus inward and with a timer that you set – you don’t need to worry about the clock. There is even an online community around the insight timer – you can check in online or tweet about your meditation session. For those wanting to go deeper – Insight provides guided meditations by teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and Eckhart Tolle. Shalem’s meditation timer is available here: Shalem Timer.

4) AN ONLINE COURSE—There are an increasing number of us who take classes online. Some for college credit. Some for continuing education. Some for personal enjoyment or growth. There are a number of people who offer rich contemplative eCourses. Abbey of the Arts offers an 8-day Monk in the World eCourse, which explores some of the elements essential to a contemplative practice in everyday life. In October, Contemplative Journal is offering an eCourse on Aging as a Spiritual Practice. And Spirituality and Practice is always offering something new. An online course connects you with experienced spiritual teachers while giving you space to practice and experience at your own pace. If you search online, you can find extended, year-long courses, some for a few weeks, and even some one-day retreats. Shalem has several online courses enrolling now: Shalem eCourses.

5) ARTICLES AND BLOG POSTS—There are countless books available that offer rich spiritual wisdom. But sometimes you want just a nugget, an excerpt, maybe a few paragraphs of spiritual insight to feed your soul before you continue on with your day. Well there are a lot of good blogs out there. Where to start? I’ll suggest a few that I enjoy: Richard Rohr provides daily meditations that you can receive via email. Here’s a nugget from today’s meditation:

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of true prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that meditation is going to change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us. It is that kind of long-term thinking that God seems to be involved in and kindly invites us into the same patient process.

Contemplative Journal also provides a rich source of articles and columns—in fact, recently Shalem contributed a series of articles for Contemplative Leadership Week.

The Contemplative Society provides regular posts from Cynthia Bourgeault, who will be recognized with Shalem’s Contemplative Voices Award for 2014 this November. Cynthia is a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, committed to teaching and spreading the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.

There are many other blogs worth following but these are a few to get you started. Want to share some you enjoy? Please share with us below.

6) SOCIAL MEDIA —A final suggestion would be to find contemplative organizations and individuals you enjoy, and follow them on social media. Social media is a great way to connect with contemplative photography, audio teachings and meditations, blog posts, as well as connect to the ongoing contemplative conversation online. Any of the groups I mentioned above would be great to connect with via Facebook. There are also some regular contemplatives on Twitter such as our friend Carl McColman – follow him on Twitter to catch his latest thoughts, quotes, blogs and teachings. Do you have a favorite contemplative that you follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Is there a conversation group that you enjoy? Share with us below!

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably somewhat familiar with what Shalem offers for online contemplative connection. Seeking an online course? Check out our latest here. Shalem is quickly becoming a leader in providing quality online courses led by Shalem’s respected staff and faculty, and we have a 6-week course beginning this fall, as well as two online retreat days.

Looking for some social media connections? Shalem’s daily Facebook posts, comprised of contemplative photography and quotes, are enjoyed by nearly 6,000 people. Why not join them? Did you know that Shalem is also on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn? In each space, Shalem aspires to create offerings and moments of contemplative connection that expand awareness of the Spirit’s presence to all who cross our paths.

These are simply six suggestions that have nurtured and assisted my own spiritual practice. Whether you need a quick spiritual lift from a simple photo or quote, or you’re ready to explore contemplative life and practice in-depth, it may be only a click away. If you have something to share that has been particularly meaningful to you, please share below—we’d love to hear about it!

bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. Bryan lives with his wife, Christy, and four children in Holland, MI. You can see more of his writing at

Interested in taking an online course with Shalem? We have several enrolling now!

Slowing Down

DSCN1481By Clair Ullmann. The Rev. Clair Ullmann, a Shalem board member, is a priest in the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. She and her husband received together their Masters in Family Systems and Sexuality from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium and created Marriage: An Adventure in Progress (

There are two gears in my body:  fast and stop.  I am trying to find or create some intermediate speeds, but it is very difficult.  I have even tried QiQong to slow me down and to notice the moment.  Even with this, I find I am faster in the movements than everyone else.  I can sit and meditate and get lost in time and space, but once I start moving I get faster and faster.  My son who is about a foot taller than I commented one time, “Mom, for someone with such short legs, how do you walk so fast?”

This past summer I participated in the online prayer sessions that Patience Roberts led in the School of Contemplative Prayer.  One of the sessions was slow walking.  We were supposed to walk slowly, be aware of our breathing, and look intently, see and inhale our surroundings.  I tried and tried and tried.  I continue to try.  There are some things in life that take a long time. Slow walking or slow anything is that for me.

Online prayer is a lifeline for me.  I live in an area where there are not too many people.  In fact, there are more cows than humans.  This means that unless I speak cow language, I don’t have a lot of interaction.  Being a spiritual person and one seeking relationship with others on a spiritual journey, the online prayer courses offered by Shalem are a Godsend.  It is something I can tap into and actively participate.  In this particular course, it was very challenging to stay involved because of all the visitors and activities and travel over the summer. In spite of that I felt this need to reconnect with the course and my fellow pilgrims as we followed Patience’s gentle guidance and support.

I look forward to the next course and all the ones following.  On our pilgrim’s way, we need companions, we need to hear from others, their struggles and wanderings as well as receive support and compassion for ours.  It is so helpful and life-giving to know there are others who also wonder how some people can be so attentive and contemplative.

Each course offers a different aspect of living in the present in contemplation.  Even if you think you know it all and have done it all, go back for a refresher.  I did not think the courses would provide me with new information, but I was wrong.  On a spiritual journey, we are constantly changing, like the ever-flowing river.  We will be different people tomorrow than we are today.  Our emotions are constantly triggered by things of the environment, by things of worldly conflict, whether to get involved or not, by life and death, by sudden illness or accident; the list is never-ending.

For me, my saving grace is to be drawn back into the space of the Divine, back to a space where I can breathe and open my eyes and see the wonder around me.  This helps me remember that I don’t have to be responsible for all that happens in the world.  Slowing down helps me focus more clearly on the things that do matter, like holding my 19-year-old cat or sitting with my husband by the fire and watching the flames, like reading Julian of Norwich or Anne Lamont.  When I take time like this, I realize I really can slow down and just be.  My mind slows down, my heart beat slows down, my breathing slows down.  In fact, my whole body, mind and soul seem to find a place of harmony and rest.

Can I do this while walking? It seems when I stand up my mind is already telling me all these things that need to be done and worried about and looked after.  Yes, I still need practice and practice I will.

I invite you to join me on the next course.  Perhaps we will meet online, perhaps we will find that we have things in common, perhaps we will begin to support one another, perhaps we will be able to laugh at ourselves and one another thereby making our day a day of joy and gratitude.  It is amazing how much can open up from slow walking, slowing down, and opening our senses.

Read more about Shalem’s eCourse offerings here. Currently registering now through Nov. 6 for next courses. Sign up today!

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?