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.

“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!


Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

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 retreat for Shalem staff, we were pondering the phrase: going deeper. This phrase emerged in conversations during the year 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, a 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.


Patience Profile PicPatience Robbins is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and has been a spiritual director for over 20 years. She was the Director of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening Program from 2003-08 and has recently been Director of Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative. Patience is the author of Parenting: A Sacred Path.

This reflection first appeared in the Shalem News, Winter 2003.

BannerSquareLWLWAs we head into summertime, and schedules shift and perhaps open, we invite you to join Patience for a 6-week eCourse: Living Word, Living Way. Allow Patience to guide you through the use of lectio divina, walking meditation, the practice of gratitude and intercessory prayers—practices that will deepen your inner life wherever you are on your spiritual journey. Course begins June 21. Sign up today!

Joy Unspeakable

Today’s post is by Tanya Radford

Black History month for me comes with great joy and great dread. Dread because the month typically consists of the same history and politically correct acknowledgements. No new enlightenment. But great joy as it gives me the opportunity to present something of more depth for conversation, for consideration about my culture, about who I am.

So, it is with this joy that I muse about what it means to be contemplative and African American. I’ve been thinking, praying, and studying this seeming contradiction for some time—only to conclude that there is no contradiction. For people of color, the contemplative is embedded in our DNA.

Before I began my journey at Shalem, it was recommended that I read a book titled Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. I began reading this beautiful study, and it was like a salve to my yearning soul. The author, Barbara Holmes, filled in the blanks and answered many questions. She discusses the communal nature of worship for African descendent peoples and explains why for me being contemplative is not all about silence but about community, spirited worship in community and silence.

Barbara Holmes begins her study in the church—the center of our community, the place we gather to give strength to each other as we receive strength from one another. The worship experience in the Black church is spiritual nirvana! It is the height of oneness: the prayers, the music, the preached word, the swaying, the shouting, everyone in one accord. There is nothing more powerful than when a people come together to praise and worship God, pray together and experience the supernatural power of the all mighty God! This communal worship informs our silent times, gives a place to bare our souls, reconnects us to the ancestral memory of wholeness, oneness. It is no wonder that the greatest movements in our history are borne out of the church. We need this experience. The goal therefore becomes carrying this experience of God’s presence into the everyday, to tap into that power for clarity and direction.

For me this also begs another look at the icons of our faith. For just as Howard Thurman is recognized as a contemplative, I would suggest that many others should also be named, among them Martin Luther King, Jr., who penned some of his greatest writings out of the solitude of seeking God to find a way to bring the peace of God into unimaginable situations. King then brought his experience of God back to the community to galvanize a people and give them the tools to tap into that strength to face the challenges of each day. He found strength in community and in the silence.

This suggests to me that maybe the definition for being contemplative shouldn’t be too narrow, too exclusive, too restrictive. This way of life is not so much about a practice but more about the approach to all of life. For African descendent people, the oneness of worship in all of its joyful celebration is a necessary part of the solitude of silence. It is a way, one way, our way to the contemplative mind. No contradiction, and certainly just as powerful.

Would you like to read more? Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color explores the unique concerns, issues and experiences of people of color. The essays, told from the viewpoint of the spiritual director, inspire us to explore our own traditions and encourage us to embrace culturally relevant approaches to spiritual direction.


Tanya-RadfordTanya Radford, Shalem’s Special Assistant/Program Administrator, works with Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and assists with all other programs at Shalem. In addition, she helped produce Shalem’s 40th anniversary video and managed the creation of Shalem’s new web site and database. She has a degree in Media Arts and is a writer, vocalist and student of the word of God.

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.

Pause, Wash, Rinse and Drain

Today’s post is by Christine Berghoef.

Growing up in an old farm house with limited kitchen upgrades, I used to question my mom and dad’s sanity in their choice to not install a dishwasher. Between my parents, me, and my three growing brothers who seemed to put down several meals between meals throughout any given day, it seemed an unnecessary extra chore for my mom to have to conquer the messy stacks of dishes scattered haphazardly in piles across the counters, with crusty food stuck on every which way. She rarely asked us kids to do the washing, which I always thought peculiar. Why not assign the culprits of a disheveled kitchen the task of cleaning it up?

dishes_in_the_sinkOur current house does not have a dishwasher. I was anticipating a frustrating bother to have to do the dishes at the end of each exhausting day. But peculiarly, after the noise and energy of my four children subsides each night, after the juggling of the day’s many schedules, after running here and there and to the moon and back, I have come to anticipate my sweet silent serenity at the end of the day in the company of dirty dishes bathing in a sink brimming with hot sudsy water.

In the predictable rhythm of liquid warmth swirling through my washcloth as I swab away remnants of the day’s nourishment, the liltingly light splash of the faucet rinsing the suds, and the movement from rinse to dry rack, I am soothed. Unwound. Almost tranquilized. It forces me to pause, to ruminate over the events of the day, to be still. The sequential rhythm invites movement of the day’s gathered prayers from nebulous sentiment to thoughtful, tangible release. “God, forgive me for my impatience today…God, I bless you for providing outdoor space for my children to run unhindered…God, give me courage to live into your way.” On and on the mingled prayers disentangle, line up and parade from my heart through the cleansing of these dishes.

There is an additional connectedness that I experience to the women of the generations that came before me. They too faithfully washed, rinsed and laid to dry the dishes at the end of each long day. As I currently live in the house my grandparents formerly lived in, there is a deeper nostalgia that overwhelms me knowing my grandma was bent over with the same daily task in this very sink, looking out this very window, across the stillness of this same field and forest. Yes, with all the changes from one generation to the next, dish washing has been a constant in my family. An unbroken chain of daily routine. A task whose worth I have only recently come to slowly understand and increasingly appreciate in the context of a busy life.

Last year my parents did some kitchen remodeling on their aged farmhouse. Among other modern upgrades, they installed a dishwasher. My first thought was, “Why now? Why get one now…when your kids are grown and all but one are out of the house? You’re retired now and your life has slowed down a bit. You no longer face the constant overcrowded counters, and the rambunctious kids swarming the house with clutter, noise and spirited energy. Now you actually have the time to do the dishes, and less dishes to do!”

But lately as I’ve begun to reflect on my own need of washing the dishes, seemingly antithetical realities have been realized. The busy days… the crazy days… the days when I’m most at my wits end…these are the days I especially need the space to pause, to wash, to rinse, and drain. And with it go my prayers. And with the imparting of my daily prayers, my soul too seems cleansed.

The seasons of life when we most lack the time for pause, tend to also be the seasons that we most need to pause. The necessary chore of doing dishes forces me to take that time when I otherwise might not.

Someday my life might slow down a bit, and similar to the season my mother is now in, I may be ready for the convenience of a dishwasher. But in this season – a season of juggling the needs of family, and work, and seemingly constant activity, I’ll celebrate the mandatory space carved out just for me at the end of each day to pause, wash, rinse and drain.


Christine Berghoef is a published author, (Cracking the Pot: Releasing God from the Theologies That Bind Him, Wipf and Stock Publishers), mother of four, church planter, photographer, and musician. She currently lives in Holland, MI, and works for the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington DC. You can follow Christine’s writing and photography on Facebook.

Dishes photo by Hey, Lady Grey.

Children, Chaos, and Contemplation

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

There is never a dull moment at our house. My wife and I have four children—amid the flurry of homework assignments, birthday parties, sibling spats, and dinnertime squabbles—there’s a lot of constant noise and movement.

beach-jumpingOne of the delightful things about having young children is their unbridled enthusiasm and overwhelming energy. They are fully present, without a sense that there is anything else to be. They are fully in the moment. This is a gift of being a child, not being weighed down by thoughts of the future, or by a sense of responsibility, or worry. They are right here, right now.

The downside is that everything is so important, and when something doesn’t go their way, right now, it’s reason for complaining, crying, sometimes even—panic. Spilling milk really is something to cry over. A favorite toy breaking feels like the apocalypse. Even as I write this there is fighting in the sandbox. (Don’t worry – we have plenty of moments of calm and laughter as well in our household!)

I long as a parent to be able to maintain an inner calm amid all this outer chaos and confusion. I find that I am very seldom able to cultivate that on the spot. It is something I need to consciously develop in other moments, so that when the chaos comes, I have a reserve of calm from which to draw. It might be a daily time of prayer and silence, a quiet walk outside, Scripture reading, or some other practice. Daily I drive our children to school, about 15 or so minutes through a beautiful, rural landscape. I find this to be a very calming time—at least, the quiet drive home after dropping them off! Soaking in the scenery, I give thanks for the children I have, I look forward to what the day brings, and I have time to connect, in quiet, with God.

Of course the chaos doesn’t wait for me to be contemplatively grounded to begin! As any parent knows—these scenes erupt without a moment’s notice. When this happens, there are times when I haven’t centered myself, and it is only too easy to be caught up in the noise, and even add to it.

“She ate my last French fry!”  

“He always gets to go first!”

“I never get to do anything fun.”

“But I’m not tired!”

At times I’ve given in to the chaos, or even added to it. This not only exacerbates the situation, but it models to the kids that such behavior is OK—not only for them, but even for adults. Here’s where being centered is so crucial. When I’m calm within—I can sense what is happening and allow myself to pull back a moment to seek clarity above the fray. In these moments, the one thing that helps me more than anything is perspective. I try to see the situation from outside it. When I’m able to seek that bit of detachment, things seem to quickly scale to their appropriate place in the scheme of things. Sometimes I just need to remember to breathe, or hold onto a phrase such as “they’re just kids, after all.” Or: “this too shall pass.” Other times I tap into contemplative moments I enjoyed earlier.

Naturally I try to help the child see the larger perspective I’m trying to hold on to. “No more French fries? Well, they’re not that healthy anyway, and maybe we can have a yummy snack later.” But this often only goes so far. “But Dad…!” I can’t remove my child’s sense of imminent frustration, disappointment, or anger. I can’t remove them from the situation. It is a natural desire to help the child see what I see. To help him ‘figure it out.’

Yet what has the most impact, I think, is to simply be that presence of peace. Even if my children don’t understand it, they’ll experience it, and it will register somewhere for them, even if subconsciously. When I remain calm, the equation changes. There is now a presence of peace absorbing the cacophony. There’s a word of encouragement. A hand to hold. A hug to receive. A smile. Peace.

I’m a long, long ways from being a perfect parent, but I love it. I’m grateful for the daily gifts my children bring me—and my prayer is that my presence is also a gift to them.


Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer (and parent of four!) who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @bryberg.

Running Water Is a Holy Thing

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef.

As everyone knows, meditation and water are wedded forever. ~Herman Melville

Drip, drip drip… Drip, drip, drip…

Getting water is something many of us don’t normally think about. It’s something many of us take for granted. We turn on the tap, and there it is. For a lot of us, this water has been treated already and is drinkable. Perhaps we’ll run it through a Brita pitcher or some other filter, but we don’t have to wait long, or at all, to get a tall, cool glass of refreshing water.

Our recent move from Washington, DC to a rural setting in Michigan has led to a number of changes, including how we get our water.

drinking03-water-tap-ethiopia_13109_600x450Instead of municipal city water coming out of the tap ready to go, with its treatment of chlorine and fluoride, we depend on well water. Well water can notoriously come with the lovely scent of rotten eggs, due to the presence of hydrogen sulfide and other minerals. To counteract this, our home has a water softener in the basement. A water softener replaces some of the hard minerals through a cycling process involving sodium ions. After this the water has a higher sodium content and a “silky” feel which isn’t bad, but it’s not that great for drinking.

So our water goes through a second process: an under the counter filtration system that runs the water through several filters and comes out through a special drinking tap. Due to all the processes the water goes through, by the time it comes through the tap for drinking, the pressure is low and it comes out in a slow stream—at times it only drips. Just to be on the safe side (water can’t be too pure, can it?), we add a third step and run the water through a Brita filter. Maybe this is just a habit.

As perhaps happens at your house, we don’t always remember to keep the Brita pitcher filled. Sometimes I run to the fridge thirsty and ready for a cool glass of water. But the water pitcher is empty! As I sit there and wait for the pitcher to fill, a process that sometimes takes fifteen minutes or more, I am tempted to complain. To pout. “I’m thirsty, where’s my water?!” “Who forgot to keep the pitcher filled?”

But in my better moments, I see that I have been gifted with a perfect moment to practice contemplation. I can focus on that water flowing slowly(!) out of the faucet and be grateful. I have drinkable water. Right out of the tap. In my own house.

In many places in the world, that is a luxury. And so I take a moment to be mindful of and in solidarity with those for whom water is a major need. I think of those in Gaza whose water supply is now in question after a major power plant was recently struck by a missile. I think of the nearly 800 million people in the world who lack access to an adequate water source. I think of the children who suffer every day due to lack of access to water and proper sanitation. I think of the way we are treating our fresh water sources, which all of life depends on.

I have attempted to use this pause in my day to savor with anticipation the water that will come, to give thanks to the One whose presence is with us each moment, and to consider how I might help or raise awareness for those who need clean water desperately. Water, however we get it, is a needed gift that can invoke wonder and gratitude. After all, it keeps us alive.

As the English proverb puts it: “Running water is a holy thing.”

For more information on where fresh water is needed or needs protection, and how you can help, check out the resources recommended by National Geographic.


Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com. Photo by Peter Essick, National Geographic.

Contemplative Living and Fallow Time

By 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 time of fallowness is a time of rest, restoration, of filling up and replenishing. It is the moment when the meaning of all things can be searched out, tracked down, made to yield the secret of living. Thank God for the fallow time!”—Howard Thurman

I was at a silent retreat recently. Several people, when asked, said they were here because they felt fractured, exhausted, pulled in so many directions. I’m not sure how far this depleted fragmenting has spread around the world, but I know it is an epidemic in this area.

I went to the retreat that weekend because I have a call to listen to my heart in a new and deeper way. After years of rampant busyness, my heart’s voice is sometimes so soft it can be a struggle to hear it clearly.

What I hear in myself and the other retreatants is a true need for more fallow time. Time to rest, restore, fill up, quiet down, a time to listen deeply. The word retreat comes from the Latin word meaning to ‘pull back.’

Instead of pushing forward, don’t keep at it, pull back, ease up.

I have had to work hard over the years, as I’m sure many of you can relate, to be comfortable and able to do “nothing.” On the retreat my spiritual discipline was to allow the fallow time. I

absorbed each word of a poem

became entranced by the beauty of a milkweed seed

watched ripples on a pond

napped

walked slowly

breathed deeply

replenished

When I came home, I found that I could more easily recall those still spaces. I took 30 seconds and sat and watched the gray November morning make the fall colors pop in the woods as the rain fell.

I stood and watched leaves glide by in a small crook of the Patuxent River.

These fallow moments only took half a minute, but they connected me to the Great Silence and restored me for a day.

Blessed be the fallow time. May it restore you and may you carry a piece of it with you.

What is your experience?

Waves in a sea of being

Mark NepoGuest blog by Mark Nepo, excerpted from The Magic of Peace in The Endless Practice, a new book in progress. Mark is a poet, philosopher, and a New York Times bestselling author whose many books have been translated into more than twenty languages. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Prayer Vigil and will be Shalem’s 2014 Gerald May Seminar speaker March 21-22. For more on Mark and his work, visit  www.MarkNepo.com and http://threeintentions.com.

After all these years, I’m beginning to see that tranquility is the depth of being that holds what we think and feel, not the still point after we’ve silenced what we think and feel. Serenity is the depth of being that holds difficulty, not the resting point after we’ve ended difficulty. And peace is the depth of being that holds suffering and doubt, not the raft we climb on to avoid suffering and doubt. This leads us to joy, which is much deeper and larger than any one feeling. Happiness, fear, anxiety, contentment, doubt, regret, unworthiness, anger, despair—all these and more are the waves that rise and fall in the sea of being. Joy is the ocean that holds all feelings.

This spiritual law reveals the truth that though we can quiet our mind and heart, there is no end to what we think and feel. Though we can solve and lessen the difficulties we face, there is no end to difficulty. And though we can endure suffering and engage our doubt, there is no end to suffering and doubt. This would be devastating if not for the living truth of Wholeness. For neither is there an end to tranquility, serenity, and peace. It is important to accept these fundamental notions of reality. Otherwise, we can waste our energy trying to bring an end to things that have no end, rather than develop the inner skills to navigate these timeless currents.