In the Garden

Today’s post is by Kathleen Moloney-Tarr

Lately my thoughts have turned to letting go and being afraid, the prompts for two spiritual journey writing groups. I struggle with these, not because I haven’t been afraid or haven’t let go but because each time I think of possible topics—traveling to Guinea to start a refuge school, starting my own business, taking my weavings to galleries, traveling abroad alone, being pregnant—there no energy rises around the fear I once had. When I consider our children going to college or my release of things I once loved like West African drumming or my professional work, I feel nothing. I can’t go there now. They just don’t resonate with me today. Or yesterday. Or the day before.

I snuggle into my favorite chair in my studio, looking out once again at the oak tree whose lavender bark I have memorized over thirty years or a dozen large hosta plants, all grandchildren of my neighbor’s one small gift. I recall yesterday, a day of sharing and listening as I sat four times with seekers of an intimate connection with Spirit. I heard affirming stories about being afraid of what might happen if a choice is or isn’t made or how hard it is to let go of old patterns of behavior, of what God is calling forth or how even though we want to let go, we hold on to that which has ended.

Now a black snake slithers across the moss outside the tall studio doors. I leave my chair and walk to him. Black snake always opens me to Spirit and transformation. Twenty years ago, as I nervously drove from my house to present a talk about my faith at church, I asked for a sign that all would be well. Immediately a black snake eased across the road in front of my car; I breathed easier. When my beloved cockatiel, Charlie, was buried beside Skip-the-lovebird in our back garden, a black snake circled the graves and the patio, as though honoring death and loss. His presence soothed me, affirmed the value of the cycles of life. Today as I consider fear and letting go, I lean into the extended meaning of this visitor.

He is the second one in two days. As I started to say, yesterday’s stories of being deeply led and affirmed in spite of the pain and suffering strengthened me.

During the last conversation, I spotted a medium sized box turtle strolling across the mulch just a foot from where Mr. Snake slithered today. We immediately walked out to experience the presence of this turtle, only the fourth seen in the garden in decades. The gold patterns on her back must be painted with real gold. Shimmering in the sun, the designs could be Egyptian or Greek. We are silent, witnessing this gift of nature, of Spirit. She draws herself under a hosta and waits for safety. We watch for a few minutes, then return to our chairs to complete our time together. When I am alone again, I go out, pick up Madame Turtle to talk with her, complimenting, wondering, thanking. When I release her, she moves steadily under a sweeping azalea as an afternoon shower cools the air.

Turtle is one of my totems. As a teenager I tended sixteen little turtles plucked from a nearby lake. Small, carved turtles rest on the shelf by my chair, on the edges of our sinks. During some of my darkest days when I could not think or sleep or pray, when I lived in blank nothingness without any images, yes, me the one for whom image matters so much, the first image that came was of a turtle without a shell buried in the mud on the side of a riverbank. That image offered wordless understanding of what was happening as I waited for healing and accepted the unknowing I was in.

I realize it is the turtle’s stillness, her steadiness that I wanted to write about when I sat down in this chair. And then Mr. Snake arrived and echoed the same qualities. Both have a cautious deliberation, a patience born of ancestral wisdom and experience. Each arrives quietly and without the fanfare I add to their presence here in my garden. I spend thirty minutes or so with each one. I wait for them to move as they wait for me to be still. It is a perfect pairing. I am struck by the similarity to a spiritual seeker and the Divine Mystery. I wait for movement, while my stillness is awaited by Spirit. I wait for some way to approach writing of my spiritual journey and yet stillness and silence are what bring the words forward. Fear and loss are significant in my life, yet today it is stillness and slow steady movement that capture me.

Kathleen Moloney-TarrKathleen Moloney-Tarr, a graduate of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program, enjoys the privilege of offering spiritual companionship to those of all faiths who seek contemplative, prayerful space to notice and turn toward the sacred Presence in their lives. Kathleen also writes poetry and personal essays, weaves and knits, and leads workshops such as Writing Your Spiritual Journey.

Do you companion others on their spiritual journeys? Do others see your spiritual commitment and your gift of spiritual companioning? The Spirit may be calling you to Nurture your Call with Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program. Hear audio testimonials from Shalem graduates of Nurturing the Call: Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program by clicking here. The Early Bird/discounted Application deadline for this program is November 30, 2015.

Gabriel’s Towing Service

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I was rescued by an angel named Gabriel. It was the last day of our retreat and our leader offered some suggestions. She said it was best to not rush off from the retreat to try to catch up on all the things we didn’t get done. She encouraged us to take our time, drive slowly and rest as we eased back into our busy work schedule. Of course, I felt that somehow I was exempt from her instructions.

The minute the retreat was over and we said our goodbyes, I hopped into my car, threw my bags in the backseat and tried to get out of the parking lot before it got jammed up. Not more than 40 seconds later I found my car bucking, jerking, revving, and on the verge of stalling at the next traffic light. I was horrified and immediately filled with dread. I had no time to deal with a problem car.

Lucky for me I made it to the next large building, a spa. I found it interesting to have just left a retreat center and to barely have made it to the parking lot of a spa. I parked the car, gave it a grimacing look, and went to the spa to call Triple A. I growled at myself for not having listened to our retreat leader and wondered if I was being punished for not following the directions.

I was also upset because I had just put $1200 worth of work into my car and this seemed so unfair. While I waited for the towing service I called my family to tell my woeful story. I shared about how I had just ended this retreat and felt peaceful and calm and now here I was, stuck. In addition, I was going to have my car towed all the way home incurring even more expense than I already had.

So, I tried to consider my good fortune of having landed at a spa and waited on the comfortable and spacious couches. I thought to myself, there must be some gift or insight in all of this. I reflected upon the words of a friend of mine who said, “God uses everything. Nothing goes to waste.” I was looking forward to seeing how God planned on using this. I was tired, hungry, broke, and now totally behind on the “To Do” list.

While I was waiting I saw the tow truck pull up to the spa. In bright red letters on the side of the door it said, Gabriel’s Towing Service. “What?” I thought to myself, “Am I being rescued by an angel?” The gentleman driving the tow truck was more than kind to me. He loaded my failing car onto the truck and I hopped in the front seat. I revealed how hungry and disappointed I was and we headed straight to the sandwich shop to get lunch before the long ride home.

On our way home, in between eating sandwiches we had a wonderful conversation and talked a lot about God. We talked about his children, their schooling, the economy, synchronicity, and how many people felt that they too had been rescued by the angel Gabriel. We talked about how we all need to be rescued by angels from time to time and how we never know what God has planned.

It was a ride and lesson that I will not soon forget. I know now that God does use everything and that nothing goes to waste, not car trouble or following instructions. I also know that angels arrive right on time.


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:

If you are discerning about Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and its rightness for you, please join us in this conference call with inquirers and program graduates. This is a special, informal opportunity for asking about Shalem’s contemplative leadership program. The program director, Liz Ward, will facilitate the conversation on November 4, from 12:00-1:00 PM EST.

Registration is free, click here to be sent a call in number.  Space is limited.

Going Deeper

Today’s post is by Patience Robbins

“Holiness is not in what you do, but what you allow to be done to you by the circumstances of your life.” -Richard Rohr

At a recent retreat, we were pondering the phrase: going deeper. This phrase emerged in conversations about our desire for God and growing in our relationship with God. These are some of my reflections on this theme.

When I hear “going deeper,” my first response is to think of some profound mystical experience – something dramatic, extraordinary, a striking revelation of God in my life. I usually associate this with something special that I do: a retreat, time of prayer, visit to a sacred place, attending a church service. But as I listen to others and reflect on my experience, I realize that going deeper into God happens in the very ordinary, nitty-gritty of my life. It is usually an ongoing process and does not occur with flashing lights or strong winds.

A symbol that emerges is a tree. A tree is solid, steady, rooted and true to its being. A tree lives through various seasons and time. Occasionally there are some spectacular happenings like a storm with heavy winds, lightning and hail, but usually, life is flowing: light, darkness, rain, sun, wind, snow – the ongoing, ordinary passage of time and seasons. The tree continues to grow, fed and nourished through its roots, true to its being and bearing fruit.

And so it is with us. Life is usually very mundane. But as we seek God and allow ourselves to be rooted in God, we grow and expand in the very ordinary circumstances of life. This rootedness in God is hidden and imperceptible – we are not necessarily aware of all that happens in the dark. As we continue to seek God, we too bear fruit and become more of our true self.

This ‘being’ or rootedness in God implies a choice, however. It requires a deep acceptance of the circumstances of our lives, which are unique for each of us. It requires that we trust that God is present in our lives and companioning us in our reality. The surprise may be that the painful, difficult or unwanted circumstances of life could be the very ones that enable the roots to go deeper into God and let us stand more firmly in who we are.

A story that comes to mind is the one from the Gospel of Luke in which two disciples were walking with Jesus to Emmaus. As they were walking, they recounted their disappointment with all that had happened the past few days using the words: “we had hoped….” Everything seemed to have gone wrong. The man Jesus whom they followed had been crucified as a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed—now what? And as they walked and ate with Jesus, he revealed another way of looking at all of this so they saw it in a new way. What a twist—a surprise—to view these events in a different way so that God was there but not in the way they expected.

And so it with us. The way of deepening our relationship with God may not be what we had in mind or the way we had hoped. Instead, going deeper may be about our openness to God’s presence in all of the ordinary circumstances of life and saying yes to what is given – with joy.

On your own journey of discernment? Are you asking questions such as: Why am I here?  What is mine to do? Who am I called to be? And what can I contribute and offer to the world? This Lent, journey with Patience Robbins for a 6-session eCourse series: Open Hands, Willing Hearts, February 22 to March 29, 2015. Registration deadline is less than a week away! (Weds, Feb 18)

Click here to register.

Patience-RobbinsPatience Robbins has recently been directing Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative, and is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program. She has been a spiritual director for over 20 years. Patience was the Director of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening Program from 2003-08 and is the author of the booklet, Parenting: A Sacred Path. She is excited about the launch of her new eCourse: Open Hands, Willing Hearts, next week.

Redwoods photo by Susan Robbins Etherton

Spiritual Direction?

sunshine glareBy 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.

The first time I heard the term spiritual director was when I was taking Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats. It’s an 18-month long amazing program that calls you to dig deep within your spirit and live your gifts. Thus, one of the requirements is to have a spiritual director. In my life as a Lutheran, Presbyterian, Quaker I had never run across this concept.

So I asked, what is spiritual direction and what does a spiritual director do? I have heard lots of explanations, many times including mostly what it is not: therapy, counseling, a program, directive, etc.

Have you ever had it happen to you where you have something explained to you by several people in several ways and it still just doesn’t gel? My understanding of spiritual direction came from living it and maybe that’s appropriate. This person is more of a companion, a witness or a spiritual guardrail. As you talk about what is going on in your life, he or she asks you, “Where is God in this? What is your prayer in this? How are you and God?” These guiding questions become your beacon, leading you to the Truth within you.

Spiritual directors do not direct you, they are listening to you so prayerfully that they hear what you sometimes cannot and guide you back to you, weaving God further into the intricacies (both struggles and joys) of your life. It is different from a dear friend with whom you share the depths of your spiritual life. There is something about the fact that they don’t know your daily doings that allows them to be more focused on where God is in your life. He or she is an objective third party and I have so very often been grateful for the contemplative guidance I’ve received.

What has been your experience?