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


Fresh Bread






Trust in God’s Grace





  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.


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:

Seeing When It’s Not Pretty

Today’s post is by Trish Stefanik

It is his feet I notice first. My mind right away says, homeless. It is uncomfortable to see, but something in me says don’t turn away, stay with your feelings, don’t opt out.

I am on the Metro early this November morning on my way to catch an Amtrak train from DC to NC to lead a retreat. The train is business day pack-full. I am standing and practically hovering over a slumped, trying-to-slumber figure—a man or woman, I can’t immediately tell.

The feet and ankles are unrecognizable, so grossly swollen and riddled with marks resembling rotten wood. I think these must be crazy tights, but no, the toenails tell otherwise.

This is not easy to write and I imagine for you not easy to read. But please stay with me.

From the feet my eyes slowly pan up. The figure’s hair is about chin length, brunette and a bit wild with hints of gray, like mine. The head is bowed down low and bounces with the train’s fits and starts. With one particular jolt, a man’s face appears; I catch a glimmer of eyes before the head drops again.

I am grateful to see the man attired in a jacket appropriate to the morning’s chill. But then there are the sandals, and no socks. It is achingly ironic that the shoes sport a logo of an adept jumping athlete.

At the man’s feet are two worn bags. I conjecture that what fills them are everything he owns. I glance at my carry-on and backpack. These hold just a weekend’s worth of clothes and other items, not including home goods, a well-stocked kitchen and refrigerator, a linen closet, bath accessories, hobby and recreational stuff – I think you know what I mean.

I notice my breath catching a bit. My gaze turns to the other passengers on the train – all shapes and sizes and colors of humanity – all on the way to somewhere. I wonder where this homeless man is going. Please, I pray, I want him to find a way to Christ House, a residential medical facility for homeless men and women, in my neighborhood. I know they wash feet there, as Jesus did. Please.

With each stop of the train, the crowd disperses a little more. All this is happening in a matter of minutes. At some point I briefly take an open seat across from the slumped man with the swollen feet and hair like mine. I resist the urge to look away or judge or dismiss. I continue to pray. I feel the discomfort, the fear, the sense of helplessness and hopelessness. I look down at my feet, and for a brief moment I see myself in his shoes. I feel tears behind my eyes. The train is at my stop, and I get off.

In my city I see homelessness and encounter some degree of social vulnerability or suffering every day on the streets. Every day. And even if I did not see it, there is no denying such reality right around the corner or in the town just over, as well as from country to country across the globe.

I do not like that this is the way of the world. Most of the time I don’t know what to do. But I trust that there is something good that comes with being present to what is. Even when that within or before me is not pretty, a contemplative reception is leaven for hope. Transformation of self – and, yes, the world – begins with one willing look of compassion. It opens me to see ourselves in God. Surely it is this kind of love that propels and animates creative action for healing and wholeness.

I am onboard Amtrak now, gliding into Virginia. I look at the passengers around me, the fall color out the window. Everything appears sharper. As the train moves, I am aware that something has been stirred, hope-filled, in me. I breathe a prayer of thanksgiving. And I pray that in the now and the next thing, I will do what is called forth out of love.

FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION: Take a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. What comes up in you? Stay with that. Offer a prayer for yourself and the other. Listen for an action you might take or join in for good.

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.

(Photo Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

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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.

Contemplative loss

Dad croppedBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading 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.

I realize I am lucky. I have a great relationship with my dad. He is a loving, supportive man. He is very much a part of my life even though he died three and a half years ago of a stroke, a brain hemorrhage.

His loving presence, his laughter, his feisty passion crop up in my life on a regular basis. At times I’m brought to tears, at others laughter, and consistently gratitude.

There is a contemplative air about this loss. Although he is not physically here anymore, he is very present emotionally and spiritually and that presence evokes the prayer, “Thank you.”

Now, my dad was no saint and there were plenty of trying times but when I see a man of his build, try a new food, do something adventurous, or hear someone say, “Ray,” I am grateful. Thankful for these memories, the characteristics he passed on to me, the loving relationship we had, the laughs and it is a reminder of that of God in my life.

It is another way for God to remind me, “I’m here with you.”

We all have different ways that God speaks to us, makes the Holy clearly present in our daily lives. Sometimes it depends on how open and aware I am being, but at other times, God bops me on the head with it and I, thankfully, can’t help but be aware.

Sometimes it’s a beautiful view, a full moon, music by Hildegard of Bingen, the children I saw playing in the fountain last night in the summer heat, at others it’s the memories of a loved one, lines of a poem, the tone of a singing bowl.

It’s all evidence of the Grace of living, the Grace in death, and how God shows up in many ways in life.

What is your experience?


2 pines w moon w cBy 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.

What thoughts or feelings come to you when you hear this word? Surrender.
It has a lot of mixed feelings, at least in spiritual groups. I have heard more than once from ministers, priests, colleagues, neighbors, young, old, male, female, “I have trouble with that word.” But at the same time we hear we should surrender to God.
What bothers some of us about this word, this concept? Is it our pride, our fear of seeming not to be in control, not wanting to give up, too big a leap of faith?
Often, when there is some sort of resistance, there is our growing edge.  What we resist, what repels us is what we are being called to look at.
I became friends with surrender many years ago, when I was going through a very dark time in my life. Marriage, career, money…lots of pain. I got to a place where I just couldn’t fight it anymore. All the coping mechanisms, all the alternatives I knew were not working. I did not know where to turn or what to do. There was nothing anyone could do for me. It was all raw me and I had no more ideas on how to move forward.
I have always been very independent, which is a double-edged sword. A great weight was lifted from me when I realized that not only could I not figure it all out and do it myself, but I didn’t have to try to. I didn’t need to keep hitting my head against the wall.
When I hear the word surrender now, I feel free. The weight of me trying to figure it out on my own is gone. It’s about giving over my burdens, not giving up. It’s about letting go and letting God. It’s about trusting that God is taking care of it.

What is your experience?

Doing better next time

2 chestnuts w cby Gerald May*
*Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here.
Jerry May wrote an article about being more prayerful in the workplace and we have excerpted parts of that article here before. He concludes his article saying:
And remember that we all have our thresholds. There are kinds and amounts of work, degrees of stress and conflict beyond which we simply cannot remain centered and open-at least not on our own. Because of this, we need to be especially gentle and compassionate with ourselves. Do not consider prayerfulness as something you succeed or fail at achieving. It is a gift, and all we can really do is claim our desire for it, pray for it, and seek to be as open as we can to the gift as it may be given. And when we do get caught up, realizing how far away we are from the way we desire to be, it’s time for a prayer like Thomas Kelly’s: “God, see, this is just how I am except it be for your grace.”
What is your experience? We can be so hard on ourselves, berating ourselves for not living up to the gold standard we set. We know we are works in progress and striving to improve oneself is wonderful. It’s the self-flagellation that we could do without. Going down that road causes us to spend all kinds of energy on what went wrong instead of seeing it as a missed opportunity and moving onward and upward. A prayer to do better next time.
Thank you, Jerry for your loving reminder.

Self Compassion as Spiritual Discipline

appletree by riverBy 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.

As the saying goes, we are all human. And,  suspect we all can be less than generous occasionally to those around us. But, how do we treat ourselves? At times it’s way easier to love my neighbor and be understanding, realizing “there but for the grace of God go I.”

When my spiritual director at the time talked to me about the quote, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” I had no problem with the “love your neighbor” part. But wait, I am supposed to love myself like I love others? Wow!

I’m sure there are some of you out there who suffer, like me, from the tendency to be hard on yourself.

“I should have done …; I know better; why didn’t I remember to …; I am working on being more….”  So, this loving myself piece, knowing I am worthy of the love God gives me simply because I live and treating myself to that appreciation was a revelation.

A new prayer was given to me recently, “Dear God, please help me to give myself the compassion that you give me. Help me to love myself as you love me.” I’m using it as my mantra: compassion in, compassion out.

When I don’t do it perfectly, as I know I can’t simply because humans are not meant to be perfect, I try to allow myself the space and grace for it to be okay. And when I am able to let go of that need to try so hard, I surrender to God. I give over all that energy and just “am” in and of myself and allow God to do the rest.

What is your experience?

Prayerfulness at Work

by Gerald May*

*Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here.

Rublev Trinity Icon

Rublev Trinity Icon

Recently several people have asked me for suggestions about cultivating prayerfulness in the workplace. Here is a collection of suggestions from my previous writings and current inspirations:

I think people have two main reasons for wanting to enhance their prayer in the workplace. First, they desire their work, and everything else in life, to be inspired and guided by God. They do not want to take things into their own hands and forget the Living Presence of the Holy. Trusting that there is no place from which God is absent, they long to join God’s dance in the workplace as well as in all the other places of their lives.

Second, sooner or later, people often become aware of a desire to nurture a contemplative attitude in work and in life. True contemplative presence always comes as a gift; there are no techniques or methods we can use to make it happen. But cultivating a contemplative attitude can enhance our appreciation of the gift-and perhaps even our receptivity for it. A contemplative attitude is an open, receptive kind of prayerfulness that is willing to be present and responsive to things just as they are in the immediate moment-seeing and accepting the situation fully without blinders or prejudice. It includes a willingness-even a longing-to be in mystery, trusting and praying for God to guide one’s action even if there is no understanding or sense of direction. And it involves a deep radical trust that allows people to refrain from acting on their own initiative. It is like joining God’s dance without having to know what the next step is.

Your desire may be something like what I have described, or you may experience it quite differently. Regardless, I think the most important thing you can do is to identify your desire, claim it, and make it your prayer. In other words, if you want to be more prayerful in your work, pray for it.

Do you desire to be more spiritual at work? How do you bring your spirituality to your job? Is it a challenge or comfortable? 

To West and Boston with Love

candle darkBy 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.

I’ve been listening to the news this morning, my heart heavy from the events in Boston and West, Texas. So much loss and suffering. So many lives forever altered.

This country has been so lucky when compared to other places all around the globe where the level of violence and fear that we are experiencing in the Boston area is the norm: explosions, bombs, guns, deadly violence.

I think about the children and how they are trying to make sense of being on lock down in their homes where they can’t go outside or even answer the door for anyone. What trauma, what pain.

And yet, as I parked the car in the driveway this morning and went to turn off the radio, a person from West was talking about how, miraculously he said, the signs of hope were already happening. The town was coming together and starting to rebuild.

On Tuesday when I was reading about the Boston Marathon bombs I also read about all the people who gave so freely for others, for complete strangers. They opened their homes, fed, and cared for people they had not known before.

Amidst all this hurt, hope and love are evident.

May the people in these towns and their loved ones feel the love, support and comfort we are all sending them.

This world is in deep trouble, from top to bottom.
But it can be swiftly healed by the balm of love–Rumi