Flirting with Leadership

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley (originally published in Shalem News, Fall 2004)

We were 25 women standing in a large circle, arms outstretched, only touching one another by our fingertips. In the center of the circle stood Flirt, a 1200 pound horse. It was our job to keep Flirt inside the circle. It was Flirt’s job to get out.

Guess who won.

Flirt gave one little flick of her eye, glanced around the circle and simply walked out underneath one pair of outstretched arms.

This was part of an exercise that uses horses to give feedback on leadership qualities. The setting was a large exercise barn at a horse farm in the Pennsylvania countryside. The horses were teaching us which behaviors encouraged their trust and what led them to bolt and run, which actions engendered confidence and what confused them. In other words, how to lead.

Horses are the perfect animal for this kind of experiment. Since they are herd animals, they will follow a leader. They also express their feelings directly, giving immediate feedback through their actions. They run when threatened. They go their own way if a direction is not clear. They can kick, bite or shove if one hasn’t established a trusting relationship with them. They are big, powerful, beautiful and sometimes scary in their unpredictability.

We tried again. We were still in a circle, only touching by fingertips, but this time we strategized that if Flirt moved towards any one of us, those on either side would lean closer. We imagined we could close any gap quickly enough to keep Flirt in.

Wrong.

Flirt was out of there even more quickly than before.

We regrouped. What had just happened? Why did Flirt choose a particular point in our circle to make her escape and not some other place? We learned that horses are exquisitely attuned to the dynamics of a group and the emotions of individuals. They easily recognize messages of doubt and unease. How had we been appearing to Flirt and to one another? Anxious or centered? Threatening or reassuring? Focused or unfocused? After considering these questions, we decided on yet another approach.

Once more Flirt came back into the center of the circle. This time we each concentrated on staying grounded, breathing deeply, being clear about our intent, non-anxious, soft-eyed. Our arms were still outstretched, fingertips still touching, and…. Flirt didn’t move. We looked around, secretly not trusting, waiting for her to bolt.

No movement.
We waited some more.
No movement.
We slowly lowered our arms.
Still no movement.

We stood there, with wide open gaps between each of us, and still no movement. Flirt was as steady and immov-able as a candle in the center of one of our prayer groups.

Eventually we realized that we could have stood just like that from the very beginning, relaxed, open, no outstretched arms, no touching of fingertips, no strategy, no anxiety. Just grounded, centered, present, soft-eyed and Flirt would have stayed inside our circle forever. As long as we were communicating that all was well, that there was no threat, no need to go somewhere else, Flirt was content. Evidently horses also recognize messages of peace and well-being.

Now, months later, there seem to be endless occasions to remember Flirt. When confronted with situations where there is hurt or anger, when fear, disappointment or anxiety fill the circle of life, there is an invitation to gaze softly at the situation and to remember that, in God, all is well and all shall be well. Having others in the circle, a spiritual director or other soul friends, who share a similar prayerful intent helps. Together we can remind one another of God’s faithfulness, collectively soften our gaze and turn to the larger Love that animates all of living.

When I am offering leadership and tempted to try to figure things out or make things happen, then just relaxing my stance can open my awareness in a new way. Being centered can shift my attention from my own agenda and willful striving to a prayer of surrender and a willingness for God to lead.

It is this kind of surrender that the 13th century mystical poet Rumi said gives grace a chance to “gather us up” and gives “miraculous beings” an opportunity to come “running to help.” It is also this total surrender to the beauty of God’s leadership, Rumi, says, that guides us towards becoming “a mighty compassion.” (“A Zero Circle” translated by John Moyne and Coleman Barks)

I yearn for that kind of compassionate leadership in the world and pray for its realization in my life. Then perhaps one day all humanity, along with Flirt and all creation, can stand together in a circle of friendship, at peace and unafraid.


TPC_CaroleCrumley_bioCarole Crumley is Director of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership, Class of 2016, an Episcopal priest, a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences, and a seasoned pilgrimage guide to sacred sites throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Interested in expanding your leadership with compassion and contemplation? This May Shalem is offering With Hearts Wide Open: an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar with Leah Rampy. The seminar is available May 4-25 and can be accessed according to your schedule. Sign up today!

A Constant Steady Force of Peace

Today’s post is by Jamie Deering

Spring offers us evocative reminders of the power and strength in rebirth. Seeds wintering below the surface of soot and soil waiting for love’s signal to sprout. Birds of the air and fish of the sea beginning their long migrations to nesting grounds across testing terrain. My own inner spirit coming out of winter’s drowse to look up and see life teeming all around.

I live on a bay in a tiny alcove of Puget Sound in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. This area in Washington state offers one of the most diverse, sweeping, explorable landscapes within the U.S. We are known for sitting at the feet of nature rather than inside a church.

As you drive into my hometown, Port Ludlow, there’s a sign that says “A Village in the Woods by the Bay.” Here I get a daily view of nature’s rhythms. It’s a constant steady force of peace in my life that I had no idea awaited me when I moved here three years ago. Coming from the busier metropolis of Tacoma, 60 miles south, I was unaware of the pace of life offered deeper in Northwest terrain.

PL Heron.jpgFrom my dining room chair where I write, I can look up at any moment and there is a different view than the moment before. The water has shifted, the sun is a bit higher. A bird keeping watch from the porch railing, a river otter frolicking with her family, tails flipping over the water’s rim. A constant changing land and seascape that says, “come and be with me.” Calling me to practice an ever-present awareness of God’s presence and space. Big, wide-open space.

It’s not always a gentle, loving message. The sweeping call of nature evokes the vast span of the call of Presence. Sometimes it’s a missive of courage and bravery that incites my own. Watching an eagle’s driving pursuit of a heron and hearing the heron’s screaming cry called me out onto the porch a month ago. The great blue heron was in a race for its life as the eagle gained ground. With talons flaring, the eagle caught up and shackled the heron, plunging it underwater and holding it there time and again. I had never been such a close observer to a fight to the death. The heron stopped struggling, submerged completely as the eagle sat atop it.

Neah Bay 3.jpgSuddenly, two crows began to dive bomb the eagle. They weren’t big, but they were noisy and persistent. Again and again they dived down to heckle the eagle. After several attacks, the eagle released the heron and went after the crows, which were more agile in the air acrobatics. They drew the eagle across the water toward the trees. I kept watch on the water where the heron was floating. I was rooting for the heron; willing it to get up. My husband had joined me on the porch and together we wondered aloud if it were too late. Yet hope kept our eyes on the heron. We spotted tiny movement, though it was hard to discern if it were hope-worthy. Then another and another. Incredulously, after several minutes, the heron rose out of the water and flew across it within inches of its surface to the waiting marina docks. From here it left our view. While this was happening, the crows continued to draw the ire of the eagle and lure it away from the heron.

Bald eagles are coming back from the brink of extinction. If the eagle had succeeded in securing its large lunch, this would have been perhaps a more characteristic playing-out of nature’s birth and death cycle. But on this day, the crows intervened quite deliberately to save the heron’s life. I am still meditating on this. Another day has dawned and I return to gazing in awe, respect, and wonder at the incredible scenes before me of nature’s story being told in the Pacific Northwest. What a joy it will be for me to share my love for this sacred space with Shalem pilgrims this September.


Jamie DeeringJamie Deering is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Groups & Retreats Program and offers contemplative experiences throughout the Pacific Northwest. She relishes life among the salmon, eagle, bear and orca in Port Ludlow, WA, the heart of the land for Shalem’s upcoming Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest. A licensed massage therapist, somatic therapy coach, and soon to be spiritual director, Jamie is active in creating a thriving global community.

The Olympic Peninsula, at the northwest edge of the continental United States, offers a rare and unique experience of one of God’s cathedrals. Consider joining Shalem on Uniting with Earth’s Rhythm: A Pilgrimage in the Pacific Northwest, led by Jamie Deering and Leah Rampy, Sept 24 to Oct 1, 2016.

 

Shame Sandwich

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

Every once in a while, we find ourselves making a Shame Sandwich. You know the kind. Usually it starts out with a layer of “bad.” Something we feel badly about like being late, or forgetting a birthday, or leaving that cup of coffee in the microwave for three days. Then, the next thing you know, we add a layer of shame, guilt, worry, and sometimes fear. Of course, we load up on the mayonnaise and maybe even add some old, familiar stale story bread. Then, we get to serve ourselves, a good old Shame Sandwich.

I have used this analogy with my students. It helps to see how we pile up feelings like layers of meat on an Italian hoagie. First the anger, then the shame. First the sadness, then the shame. First the fear, then the shame, and on it goes. I always encourage them by saying, “No sense making a Shame Sandwich.” I want them to know that all of their feelings are normal and natural and part of our humanity. I want to free them from a whole pile of feelings that make them feel terrible! I want to help them accept their feelings, no matter what they are and to be kind to themselves in the process. I often want to free myself from some of these feelings, too!

As I was thinking about this, and I wondered what kind of recipe I could create for a different sandwich, maybe a Self-Love Sandwich or even a No-Shame Sandwich. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be offered a sandwich filled with hope, forgiveness, kindness and love just when you need it? I imagine that this is just the kind of recipe that God would love and want us to have. So, here it is…

Recipe for a Compassion Sandwich

Ingredients:

Fresh Bread

Kindness

Empathy

Compassion

Love

Forgiveness

Trust in God’s Grace

Healing

Lettuce

Tomatoes

Directions:

  1. Start with some fresh bread; any kind will do. Be sure to choose something healthy, interesting and worthy of you.
  2. Spread forgiveness and healing on the insides of both pieces of bread. Be generous; you can never have enough!
  3. Layer your sandwich with lettuce, tomatoes, and love. Don’t be afraid to put on extra love just in case. Then, place compassion, empathy towards yourself, and kindness on top of the love. You may want to add some laughter as this kind of nourishment is miraculous and you can’t have too much!
  4. Gently place both halves of the sandwich together and serve on a beautiful plate. You may even want to light a candle to celebrate your beautiful self and your sandwich, too.
  5. Enjoy with grace, love and trust that you will receive all of the acceptance and healing you need. God would have it no other way.
  6. Believe in your most amazing self and give yourself permission to feel and express your feelings. You are perfect just as you are.

Repeat directions for tomorrow if needed.


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.

Going Deeper Begins With Me

Today’s post is comprised of two audio testimonials from graduates of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program.

Al Keeney, Episcopal priest and pilgrimage & retreat leader, NY

There were days in my parish ministry when I wondered if there was anything “spiritual” happening in our church community. We often seemed to be caught up in preserving the institution, instead of deepening our relationship with the Holy One and each other. In looking back, I am aware of the Spirit’s quiet nudge to enroll in this program whose subtitle said it all: “going deeper.”

In my first residency, I knew I was in the right place. To a person, we were hungry, for true spiritual community, where we could share our hunger with others and our deep desire to be spiritually grounded leaders. Our gatherings were filled with many occasions of powerful spiritual presence in communal silence. There were incredible seminars that opened our minds and awakened our hearts. There was a real sense of our common life together, one built on trust, where we could be vulnerable, practice deep listening and share seriously with light hearts, joy and a sense of humor. We were living in a spiritual community.

There were many lessons I learned from living out of our spiritual hearts. One of them has been the ground of my work back in parish ministry.

Instead of trying to “change” others, I learned something of the wisdom of the Orthodox St. Seraphim who said: “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.” I learned that “going deeper” begins with me and then finds its way to others.

Listen to Al Keeney’s testimony here:

Elaine Dent, pastor of an inner city church, PA

Early in my ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was encouraged by a colleague to participate in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program.  I thought doing so would be a good idea in order to deepen my relationship to God at the beginning of a new call; what I did not realize was that participating in the clergy program would profoundly shape my life, my spiritual practices and my ministry as a pastor for years to come.  Now, more than a decade later, I am so very, very grateful.

In the clergy program I learned spiritual prayer practices that set free some of my longings to notice God’s presence: attentiveness to the present moment, silence, art, walking, even play—all practices that nurture my soul to this day.  But mostly I learned ways to listen: listen to the Holy One, to my spiritual heart, to others and to the congregation where I serve.  I was challenged to recognize and point out the Spirit’s movement in the life of the congregation, to follow the Spirit’s nudges rather than my own agenda.  I began to recognize times when God’s Spirit calls me and the congregation to take risks.

A wonderful benefit of the clergy program is that it connected me to a community of people who also value contemplative prayer in their lives.  There are many denominational programs and new methods offered to a pastor; it is much, much harder to find people who speak the same language of deep listening to God’s Spirit.

For that reason I continue to participate in Shalem pilgrimages, retreats and clergy days—something that unites me to a worldwide community of many faith traditions, but a community that speaks the same language of listening to the deep peace, love and shalom of God’s Spirit.  I have indeed been blessed and I suspect that my congregation would say the same.

Listen to Elaine Dent’s testimony here:


Are you a clergy member sensing a call to deepen your inner life and bring a contemplative dimension to your congregational setting? Do you know a clergy person who might have such a longing or desire? Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, Class of 2017, is accepting applications now through April 1st. Learn more.

To hear more testimonials from our graduates, visit the program page, Going Deeper, and click on the ‘Testimonials’ tab

 

Create in Me a Clean Heart and a New Blog Post

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I said “yes” to writing a blog. At the time, writing a blog about something I loved seemed like a piece of cake. I could instantly see all of the prayers I would include, the artwork, the inspirational music videos and more.  I was excited to create the blog until I actually started writing and wondering how I would fill its approximately 50 blog posts.

The topic was Lent and all of the days leading up to the magnificent Easter celebration. In the midst of creating the posts I was thinking about my own Lenten journey. I was praying for perfect words and a clean heart so that the posts would be holy and a blessing.  I was trying to get it just right and was feeling very overwhelmed.

Then, I realized, it made sense that I felt a little frightened. I was writing about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his resurrection from the dead, and his hope and love for all of humanity.  I wanted to capture the essence of the angels and their message of courage and love, too. I asked myself, “How could I possibly capture any of the hope, joy, suffering, humility, sacrifice, and love in any of my small blog posts?”  I felt defeated and felt afraid to try.

At the same time, I was also excited and decided to just begin. I gave myself permission to be a Child of God, just doing the very best I could with the very best intentions. I humbly started writing, added photos, art, inspirational music videos, and poetry. I had hopes that some of these might capture the glory of God and His love for us. It was a humbling undertaking to say the very least.

While working on the blog I could hear myself say, “Create in me a clean heart and please just one more blog post.”  It was a strange juxtaposition of creativity and spirituality.  I had arrived somewhere between the garden of suffering and learning how to upload just the right photo. I felt inadequate on more than one occasion and prayed that it would offer people the hope or comfort that they needed.

The creation of the blog became a prayer in itself. Offering only what I knew how to do and trusting that God would just fill in the rest. It was (and is) a walk of faith and I am hoping that God will offer whoever reads the blog just what they need on their own Lenten journey.  I trust that the blog is just a simple bridge for love and grace that only God can bring.

And so once again I pray to God, “Create in me a clean heart and please just take care of the rest.”  If you’d like to check out the blog posts, they began on February 10, 2016 (https://becomingthestorywetell.blogspot.com ). This is a part of the ministry of my church, The Church of the Holy Spirit, Episcopal Church. I am wishing you and all those you love a most magnificent Lenten journey and the abundant joy and peace during the Easter Season.


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.

Are you a clergy person who would like to deepen your inner life, as well as bring a contemplative dimension to your congregational life? Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program is taking applications right now! Early bird registration deadline is March 1, and final application deadline is April 1. Learn more about this respected program here: Going Deeper.

A Challenge to Everyday Life

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

“The object of pilgrimage is not rest and recreation—to get away from it all. To set out on a pilgrimage is to throw down a challenge to everyday life. Nothing matters now but this adventure.”
~Huston Smith

 

The alarm went off, and my wife and I sleepily rolled out of bed, roused the children, brewed the coffee, and started the day. A few hastily-made lunches and bowls of cereal later, and the kids were ready to head out the door to school. A regular scene. A snapshot of hundreds of other similar days. OK, some days I hit snooze (or most days!).

We are all traveling somewhere, whether we regularly find ourselves at the airport, on a path through some untamed wilderness, or at the kitchen table. Life’s journey moves us from one place to another, and we are the unwitting (and sometimes unwilling) passengers.

For many of us, amid the routine of daily life, we might begin to imagine that a fabulous journey to a new locale is only a rare occurrence. Perhaps something that happens very infrequently in our lives, maybe only once or twice. Day after day—if we’re fortunate—we wake up in a familiar bed, wash up in a familiar bathroom, look in the same mirror, pour the same bowl of cornflakes.

Routine is a wonderful and comforting thing, like a special blanket or a favorite chair. Without it, we might find ourselves adrift, always trying to find our footing. Yet routine can sneak up on us. It can lull us to sleep about this very rare, precious thing that is our life. A little travel or change of scenery can sometimes snap us out of this sleepy reverie. Yet travel isn’t possible for all of us—whether for financial, physical, or health reasons. Phil Cousineau invites us, in his book, The Art of Pilgrimage, to extend our vision of pilgrimage to something beyond an actual journey to Jerusalem, Mecca, or Machu Picchu.

He invites us to think about unique times or stages in our lives that might hold a special difficulty. Perhaps extended time at the bedside of a loved one in hospice could be seen as a pilgrimage of sorts. Or walking with a child through a health crisis, or a learning challenge. Maybe a short-term job assignment, or an unwelcome task that comes our way could be reframed in this way. Perhaps even just a regular day on the calendar could be reimagined.

This is not to make light of break-out-the-map-and-the-hiking-boots pilgrimages. Those have their place as well. In fact, as I prepare to go on Shalem’s pilgrimage to Iona this coming June, part of my pilgrimage preparation is to cultivate the pilgrim’s mindset of “openness, attentiveness, and responsiveness.” One of the things that happens with travel, inevitably, is that something goes wrong—a flight is delayed and a connection is missed, or a hotel is booked that we were counting on, or we wander off the trailhead and find ourselves off the map. And so we are encouraged to “have a purchase on our surroundings by being centered in ourselves, not somewhere in the outer world.”

The invitation, then, in my daily life, is twofold: 1) Am I centered in myself, and indeed, in something greater than myself? And 2) Am I attentive to the small details that fall my way?

Am I intentional in making time to connect with the Spirit, amid schedule, meetings, and an overly full inbox? Do I see something mundane, such as making breakfast for my kids, as a sort of wonder? Do I notice their delight when I announce we’re having eggs and toast instead of (the usual) cereal? Do I allow that delight to fuel me toward an attentiveness, openness, and enthusiasm about the rest of my day? I tried it out this morning, just to see. I soaked in those smiles a bit longer. I was more patient with slow-dressing children. I paid more attention as I said, “Have a great day today.” And it really did filter into the rest of my day. I have to say, I like this whole idea of “throwing down a challenge to everyday life.”

Look out, Monday, my hiking boots are on, and I’m coming for you.


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.

Interested in hitting the path with a group of other pilgrims? Shalem has several upcoming pilgrimage opportunities: Pilgrimage to Assisi: April 17-25 to Assisi, Italy; Iona Pilgrimage: June 2-12 to Iona, Scotland; A Pilgrimage to the Pacific Northwest: Sept 24-Oct 1, 2016 to the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State (more info coming soon).

Visio Divina and Eyeglass Repair

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

The practice of Visio Divina offered me new ways of seeing, through God’s grace and eyeglass repair.  It was another chance to see the spirit of God and to laugh out loud in the way that God speaks to me and encourages me to see in a new way.

In our contemplative group, we had just learned about Visio Divina. Visio Divina, “divine seeing” is an ancient, contemplative prayer practice allowing us to pray through what we “see.”  In being available to sacred icons, or the natural world or life itself, we allow ourselves to be seen by God through the images — as we are open to look at God through what we see. The images and icons serve as a bridge or window to the divine — allowing us to see and be seen in a new way. This beautiful contemplative prayer practice offers us new insights for our lives and allows us to be nourished as we see and are seen by Love.

In our group session, we understood the careful steps to take as we entered into this sacred practice. The icons were elegantly swaddled in richly colored fabrics, with small votive candles all around them.  Chairs had been carefully set up near each icon for those praying and viewing to sit comfortably. We were eager to approach the icons set up around the room. In doing so, we carefully got up from our chairs and walked in silence to the icon that called to us.

I was excited to begin and knew which icon was calling me. I was eager to see the icon “Jesus of the People” as it was different from any icon I had ever seen.  (You can find this magnificent picture here: http://www.bridgebuilding.com/narr/jmjep.html) I got up from my chair, gently moved toward the icon — looking down to take a handout. As I did I saw my eyeglasses gently fall from my head in slow motion, breaking on the floor.

I was shocked as I bent down to gather up the pieces. After I caught my breath, I thought about the irony of the situation, a new way of seeing — the lesson was definitely not lost on me.  I realized that God often spoke to me in ways that got my attention (ready or not).  Thankfully, I also remembered that I had brought a newer pair of glasses that I never wore and realized that I would definitely need them now — divine seeing or not.

After retrieving the new pair of glasses, I sat down in front of the icon. As I looked at the image, I was aware of the reflection of myself. I saw tired eyes, questioning, the colors I love a combination of pink, black, and symbols from other faiths. As I settled down to be quiet and to be willing to see what would be revealed, I sensed the essence of the image, one of non-apologetic power and voice.

As I continued to pray and see, it was as if the image of Jesus in the picture demanded that despite my broken glasses, tiredness, and fears that I claim what belonged to me. I was surprised by the combination of compassion and commandment, which seemed to come through loud and clear — despite my worry and getting used to my new glasses. There was something about the image and my prayer that encouraged me to step into my gifts and move forward with more confidence than I had.  This new way of seeing was a gift.

The next day, I went to see if I could get my eyeglasses repaired.  It was a miracle, as the shop was open on a Saturday. They fixed my glasses for free, cleaned them, tightened up the hinges and returned them to me better than they were before.  While there, the shop owner and I talked about the Visio Divina exercise and the focus of spiritual direction.  I shared with the owner that having my glasses repaired felt like a miracle and a gift of grace. We laughed out loud at the synchronicity of my new “gift” of seeing, which seemed even more like a blessing.

Our practice of Visio Divina allowed me to see a reflection of myself, to learn to claim who I am as a Child of God. The practice allowed me to see in a new way, literally.  I was in awe of how many things came together for the benefit of my vision, all of which I had no control over.  The experience reminded me that, when we choose to be available to see in a new way, we can trust that our vision will be enhanced by the divine in more ways than we could possibly imagine.


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.

tildenecourse_banner_smallWant to improve your spiritual vision and learn to “see” from the spiritual heart? Join Tilden Edwards in his eCourse for Lent: Living From the Spiritual Heart. Starts February 21. Register now!

A Gift of Centering Prayer

Post by Trish Stefanik        

ON SILENT
RETREAT

Stillwater runs
deep.
In the
darkness,
in time,
one might
glimpse infinite
possibility.

Who knows then
what might rise
to the surface,
— right through
the muck —
to tenderly kiss
your face and
announce you
“beloved”?

This past fall I was immersed in two months of study and practice in Centering Prayer, an invitation to sacred surrender and holy receptivity to God’s Presence through regular, intentional periods of silence, in solitude and in community.

The ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC, of which I am a part, had invited Fr. Carl Arico of Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. to take us through a time of renewal. He had introduced Centering Prayer to the community 25 years ago, and many attribute this experience to the church’s depth of commitment to the inward journey in relation to its outward journey of discipleship.

Our two months culminated with a silent retreat on the fruits of contemplative prayer. As we shared in our closing circle I was moved to tears. I had a visceral sense of profound healing and reconciled existence and being held – all of us – in Love so intimate yet beyond understanding.

The words of Thomas Keating, OCSO, a founder of the Centering Prayer movement, come to mind, “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from God” (Open Mind, Open Heart).

Amen.

So I cherish my quiet time, a daily unambiguous period of silence to let go to the Indwelling Spirit. I need a contemplative prayer practice as much as two people in love or a community committed to grow need time to simply rest in each other’s presence. Day after day, through the ordinariness of showing up true to one’s deepest longing and vulnerable and available to the other, trust is cultivated, self-awareness is sharpened, love deepens, possibility awakens. But it takes time and the willingness to be in this prayerful relationship.

I think many of you would say with me that any human relationship can be mystifying. And a relationship with God is all the more. Seeing myself still and silent with my eyes closed in a chair for 20 minutes can look a bit silly. So I wish you could have been with me during a workshop with Fr. Carl when during a question and answer session, a young woman new to Centering Prayer asked all of us present, quite earnestly, what contemplative prayer might have to do with “real” life. The response from practitioners gathered was nothing less than an enlivening, witnessing rush of the Spirit.

  • I have a greater capacity for love and compassion and joy.
  • It is such a relief that I don’t have to “get it right” – I only need to show up in faith.
  • It’s about something more than me, but I am invited to be a part.
  • What freedom to learn I am not in control – and don’t need to be!
  • Things are clearer now.
  • I find myself more creative.
  • In time I have been softened.
  • I have more courage to face the hard things about myself.
  • I don’t just react to life, I respond.
  • There is more depth to living and to my relationship with God and other people.
  • This way of surrender helps me be more forgiving.
  • I have come to see all of us as a community. We need each other for our own healing and wholeness.
  • It helps me live in the present moment.

What a gift.

IN QUIET PRAYER

I am content to
sit still.
Enough moves.
Listen. Observe
deeply — you know —
from the heart.

Take the time
to be aware and
alive to what is.
Now. Yes, allow
the Spirit within
to percolate.

In the silence
— when I’m open
and honest —
I know God has
better for me
than I can ever
imagine…

to lead me then,
to move, to act,
to love.


TrishTrish Stefanik is a program administrator for Shalem and a contemplative retreat leader living in Washington, DC, after seven years with a study retreat community in a mountain wilderness environment and one year at an ecumenical Benedictine monastery. She is a graduate of Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats program.

On Thursday, March 10, Shalem will honor Father Thomas Keating with our Contemplative Voices Award. Please join us for this special fundraising event. Click for details.

The Gift

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I’d like to share a story with you from my life that speaks about how God uses us and gives us a unique mission, no matter what we have to give. This story has had a life of its own and has been published in books, told in sermons, and shared with students.

The story speaks of how our mere presence can enhance and heal the world through even the tiniest of moments. Sometimes our gift to the world is just a matter of showing up. Sometimes, our gift to the world is our story and knowing that it can offer hope to others.

In 1992, with 14 friends, I rode my bicycle from Seattle to Atlantic City for the American Lung Association. One day in Idaho, I decided to ride alone. My friends and the van that usually followed us were far in front of me.

I was enjoying the day and the ride, when without warning my bike broke down. A closer inspection determined that the tiniest and most essential screw that holds the derailleur together was gone. Without it to help me shift through the gears I could not ride my bike.

I looked around for help and all I could see was a small town on a distant hill – a very long hill that I had just ridden down! So, I began walking, uphill with my broken bike –angry, scared and confused. I was only in Idaho, and I had still thousands of miles to go – this was not good!

I made it to the town and then to a car repair shop, explained that I was a cyclist from New Jersey, riding my bike across the country and that I needed a small screw for the derailleur. Then the mechanic interrupted, “New Jersey? Wait until I tell Fred that you are here. You have to meet him, he will be so glad to know that you are here!

I felt really uneasy and worried and wondered what in the world I had gotten myself into. Here I was alone in the middle of Idaho, no cell phone, no money, a broken bicycle and my friends very far away from me. And this man was talking about some man named “Fred.”

The mechanic decided that the best place to find a screw this tiny was the sewing machine shop. We walked there and I explained my story to the owner, while the mechanic went to tell Fred – whoever he was — that I had arrived. Some 20 or 30 boxes of sewing machine screws later we found one that fit. As the owner walked me back to the automotive shop, she told me that when you are a stranger in a small town with less than 1,000 people word of a new arrival travels fast. Sure enough, as we left the shop, three people walked by. One shouted, “Oh! You must be Kimberly! Fred will be so glad to see you!”

It crossed my mind that perhaps I had entered some science-fiction world, some sort of twilight zone experience where I would be spending the rest of my life – never to see my friends again.

Back at the repair shop we put the sewing machine part into the derailleur and my bicycle worked! I used the shop phone to call my friends and waited for them to pick me up. Moments later, a van pulled up and a frail, elderly man carrying two brown bags of vegetables got out. He walked into the shop and looked at me with wide eyes and a smile and said, “You must be Kimberly!”

As Fred walked towards me, I could see a strange sadness on his face. He offered me the bags of vegetables that he had just picked from his garden and then in a shaking voice with his eyes welling up he said, “I am so glad to see you. I can’t believe that you are actually here.”

Fred asked me where I was from in New Jersey. We were surprised to find out that we were from the same area near Flemington. Oddly enough, Fred had also been good friends with some of my high school teachers, including my driver’s ed teacher and my running coach. Fred then began to tell me his story. He told me that he had left New Jersey about 12 years ago because something very bad had happened and he could not bring himself to return.

All of those years he had been praying for forgiveness. He continued with tears streaming down his face and said, “I prayed that if someone had come to this small town in the middle of Idaho, who was from my home town in New Jersey it would be a miracle and a sign from God that I had been forgiven.”

I was stunned and so was he. We stood for what seemed like an eternity, speechless, then gave each other a big hug. The idea of what had happened was so humbling, unbelievable and truly a miracle.

This story still holds tremendous power for me – it is nourishing, affirming and reminds me that I have a gift to bring. I know that God has a greater purpose for all of us and is using us and our stories everyday in ways that we will never know.

Make no mistake, your story matters. Your story has already offered smiles, a gift of forgiveness and a moment of caring in mysterious ways that helped to heal the world. You and your journey are an inspiration – you can bet on it.

So, today, grant yourself permission to tell your story. Tell your story even if it seems small or insignificant or commonplace. By telling your story you allow yourself and others to be affirmed. You validate who you are and who you are becoming. As you tell your story – you will see how you have been guided to know without a shadow of a doubt that God is using you and that you are a gift to the world.


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.

Minding the Gaps

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“We carry our own light and move in love through the dark,
as the seed loves the earth enclosing it.”
-Christina Pacosz

Each season offers gifts all its own. January’s spare beauty seems fitting after the extravagance of the holidays. Trees have shed every outer expression of the living sap within. Icy streams conceal mottled fish resting below. Snow blankets the fields’ ridges, gullies, and rocks. Winter, in her unparalleled way, changes the view. What was once hidden under canopies of green is now revealed, while the things once readily apparent are now veiled.

Winter is a welcome arrival in the cycle of each year, but I sometimes feel frightened during the winter seasons of my life when “spare beauty” actually seems barren and desolate. I wonder where the vitality has gone. I fret; maybe the inner sap is no longer flowing and the creative stream has dried up. Does my life still hold meaning when I feel stuck and frustrated, my efforts coming to naught? I unwisely try to force something seemingly fruitful to happen. I want to bust out the butterfly from its imprisoning cocoon, knowing all the while that life doesn’t work that way. I would kill the still-transforming caterpillar in my violent attempt. I feel out of step with grace, either running ahead or dragging behind.

The phrase “mind the gap” is often painted on subway platforms in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, cautioning travelers to be aware of the gap when stepping between the platform and train. The gaps in life sometimes loom large and ominous. Gaps between present experience and future vision. Gaps between income and the budget. Emotional and physical distances between loved ones. Gaps between the current living situation and a longed-for homecoming. We live in the tension between our desire for greater fullness of life and the sometimes-difficult present realities.

Might we find grace in the gaps? Winter offers her wisdom. When darkness descends early on both our inner and outer landscapes, we are invited to trust the ever-renewing flame within. In lieu of the outer greening, we may find that the view changes, our insight growing sharper and more discerning. The sufficiency within us and available to us becomes more apparent. We might honor and hold the future vision in one hand while blessing our present reality with the other.

Before the birthing, a baby grows slowly and steadily in the dark enclosure of a womb. A seed lies contained in the black soil, dormant and still, but a seed nonetheless. The shape of a flower is already full within its being, future blooming held securely in fertile darkness. Both seed and flower are blessed.

If the landscape seems void and the visions so delayed in their fulfillment, then let us not miss the beauty of dark gaps and liminal spaces in our lives. Stars appear to shine more clearly in the winter sky, Orion’s belt looming large. All five of the brightest planets in our solar system will become visible together during late-January’s nightwatch, an event last occurring in 2005. Nature models the movement between inner rest and outward expression. Winter, both literal and metaphorical, issues an invitation to humbly enter the mysterious rhythm of life, to retire to bed a bit earlier perhaps, to let life’s conundrums rest for a bit without our fretful vigilance. Dreams are given to the quiet sleeper, dreams that nourish tomorrow’s blooming.


Kate-CoffeySavannah Kate Coffey is a graduate of Columbia Theological Seminary and Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program for which she now serves as adjunct staff. She lives and writes in South Carolina.