Draining the Pond

Today’s post is by Susan Robbins Etherton.

“As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”

(Psalm 42:1-2)

For the past nine years, Shalem Society members have gathered together at Bon Secours Retreat Center in Marriottsville, MD, for an annual retreat. This past October was my third gathering and these are some of my reflections from that retreat.

When I arrived at Bon Secours and found my room, I was delighted to see it had a view of the pond. Through brightly colored leaves, I caught a glimpse of water shimmering below. Ah, the pond! Still water, reflecting clouds and sun, holding leaves aloft – oranges and yellows, sky blue, greyish white and dark green. I noticed the low, constant hum of machinery. I had come to expect the quiet, undercurrent of workers who care for this place. I was grateful for them; grateful for their attention and provision that allowed me and others to retreat without worry or care. Maintaining a beautiful, peaceful place like Bon Secours is always a work in progress.

As I made my way downstairs, I was excited to head outside – to greet the pond that always refreshes me. Yes, the pond was there – and yet, it was somehow different.

pond1On one side of the pond, I observed two large round tubs, bright blue plastic, like small swimming pools, full of water and leaves. On the other side of the pond, yellow caution tape festooned the walkway and a large black hose emerged from the pond, snaking over the walk and emptying out onto the grass. I looked across the pond to the footbridge – a beloved place to walk and reflect. Something like a ladder was suspended below the bridge across its entire length. More of the yellow caution tape was draped over either end of the bridge, barring entry.

I walked around to the far end of the pond. The cattails and other grasses had been leveled. The droning hum, now loud and its source clear, came from the engine of a pump. The scene began to make sense. They were draining the pond.

Confident the work would soon be over, I returned inside. The gathering room was full of loving faces and expectant energy. Greeting friends, I knew great joy and peace at this homecoming. Several days of quiet, in deeply contemplative community, awaited me and I was eager to settle into the now-familiar practice.

pond2As we moved into the second day of retreat and began the Great Silence, I headed outdoors to the pond determined to enjoy this sacred place. I found a bench facing the woods with my back to the pond and equipment. I tried to imagine the continuous, loud drone of the pump as a kind of white-noise. Only later when the pump ran out of fuel and stopped did I realize how much I missed the pure quiet of silence.

Draining the pond. Moving into a time of reflection, the image teased my spirit.

In draining the pond, the clouded water was being poured out. Fallen leaves that had clogged the pump were being cleared away. The underground systems could be viewed and checked for leaks or needed repairs. The bridge was being shored up so it could once again bear the weight of travelers.

Silent retreat is a form of draining the pond for me. I experience a clearing out of my heart space. All that has clouded, cluttered and clogged my spirit can be swept away leaving a spaciousness to consider my own underground systems. Where are the leaks that need tending? What are the broken places or areas needing reinforcement? I undergo a deep and cleansing emptying, exposing myself, broken and bare, safe and open to the tender care of Spirit and loving community.

fish_pondThe next day, the water in the pond was very low. Now attuned to the changes and process, I noticed there were fish in the pond. The large, easily seen ones had been moved but, with the pond almost empty, I could see baby fish – small orange treasures huddling together looking for safe waters. I appreciated that the workmen spent a great deal of time to safely gather these baby fish and move them to a holding pond while the base pond was repaired. I wondered what infant gifts were waiting to be noticed or discovered in me?

As I continued each day to watch the water recede, I began to see the rocks and sediment – the bedrock of the pond. Yes, there were places that needed repair, some shoring up of weak spots, but I could also see the strength of a solid and well-built foundation.

pond3Refilled with fresh water, the pond would once again be refreshing, peaceful, a place of great beauty, reflecting all of creation around it, offering itself as a place of rest.

I imagine myself cleared, unclogged and repaired. I cherish the infant possibilities I will discover. I see myself filled again with new life, Living Water. Refreshed in body and Spirit, knowing the peace that surpasses understanding, I am once again a source of love and refreshment for the world. I resurface grateful — full and free to reflect God’s unending beauty.


rsz_susanethertonSusan Robbins Etherton is a graduate of Nurturing the Call: Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program.  A member of Spiritual Directors International, Susan has actively engaged in the ministry of spiritual direction since 2007. She is married and the mother of two children.  Susan says, “I love God, my family, singing and nature. For fun I play around with a camera.” She is a member of the board of Shalem Institute, and be sure to look for her photographic contributions to Shalem’s daily Facebook postings.

Responsibility & Bliss

Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey.

Winsome One,
You, whose very desire is the crucible of creation,
You, who speaks the invitation so alluring,
Let there be-
You, vulnerable and open, enticing yet restrained,
awaiting a response.
I can almost see the gleam in your eye.
We all say, Yes.
Trembling and ablaze,
rising to life.

We are more than friends, you and I.
More than companions,
more than master and humble servant, grateful for your generosity.
We are divine conspirators,
breathing together new life.
You, the beginning and end of all my longing.

This night, as I rise again and again to the cries of my son,
may I know the satisfaction of this liturgy,
The call and response of your hungry love.

May the sun find me with a weary smile upon my face,
drenched in the dew of your desire. 

silhouette-of-carefree-mother-and-daughterI wrote this poem when my son was an infant and the nights felt endless. I originally titled it, “One mother’s prayer at 3:43 am.” It was just the two of us in the house and on that particular night I traipsed repeatedly between the rocker in the nursery and my empty bed. I distinctly remember the conflict within me. I was exhausted and yet wanted to be responsive to this new life entrusted to my care. Somehow in the alchemy of writing, bleary-eyed at that early hour, my feelings found meaning and form. As dawn began to break, I felt renewed warmth in my heart for all that was asked of me. It was the Divine Lover’s voice underneath my son’s cries, longing for my tenderness.

Now, almost seven years later, I realize how often I respond to the people and tasks of my life begrudgingly, as if life itself is an unwelcome imposition on my interior world. I long to bring my contemplation and action into renewed union. I need so keenly to give of my deepest myself, to birth the inner love into form and expression.

Charles de Foucauld, the French Catholic priest and martyr, lived in the desert of Algeria among the nomadic Tuareg people. In 1916 he was assassinated outside the fort he built for their protection. Before his death, he penned this prayer, “Into your hands I commend my soul; I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you…and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands, without reserve, and with boundless confidence….” (Italics mine)

There can be no greater bliss than to bring delight to the Beloved’s heart. Oh, the joy of receiving and responding in love. In the topsy-turvy beauty of the spiritual life maybe we are given many responsibilities, not as tests of our endurance, but as the natural outcome of God’s yearning within. Maybe there is, woven into our spirits, a divine urgency to give of our deepest selves generously and often. May I be given grace to see each task as an opportunity to surrender into love, boundlessly confident that beneath the immediacy of needs clamoring for my attention there are the gleaming eyes of One who longs for my touch and awaits my response.

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.