Grounded in Gratitude

 Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey

“Whatever comes, the great sacrament of life will remain faithful to us, blessing us always with visible signs of invisible grace.”

~John O’Donohue
The Bless the Space between Us

The days of 2014 are waning and I am venturing a guess that we all began this year somewhere else, whether in our inner lives or outer circumstances. Maybe we have physically relocated from one place to another. Maybe grief has changed us in its unwelcome and particular way. Maybe adventure has offered its hand for our enjoyment. Maybe the hours have called for quiet endurance, newfound courage, or a depth of trust we did not anticipate. Maybe love, belonging, welcome, and delicious satisfaction have surprised us as the full moon sometimes does at harvest, rising just above the horizon, golden and breathtaking. Maybe our initial resolutions for the year have been forgotten, but maybe we have pursued those intentions, evolving together through the long months.

Life has likely touched us in ways that have yet to reveal their true significance. Thanksgiving invites us to pause, consider our days, and offer a prayer of gratitude before the remaining weeks slip through our fingers in the headlong rush to January 1st–that shiny, symbolic day of beginning anew.

In my work as a hospital chaplain I see the full spectrum of human experience–birth and death, grief and celebration, days of waiting and moments of relief, heartbreak and healing. I recently had the tremendous privilege of being present with a young couple who brought their sick baby into the emergency room. What they assumed was a simple stomach virus revealed itself to be liver cancer. Their beloved son is not expected to live beyond his second birthday. Our moments together were filled with desolation, terror, and heartbreak. To my surprise they were also brimming with profound love. I will never forget the angelic boy with blonde curls sleeping peacefully upon his mother’s chest as she choked on her tears and grief. Buried beneath the pain was the pulsating presence of a mother’s indestructible love for her child, a love so real that her son could rest in her embrace. I found myself in a moment of strange and unexpected thanksgiving for the love that does not die.

What does it mean to be grateful in the midst of this untamed life? I wonder if practicing gratitude is a discipline of stability. Gratitude grounds us firmly wherever we find our feet at the moment, rooted in all the joy and disappointment of our very human lives. In expressing gratitude we say yes to life, choosing to accept again and again this gift of existence in all its beauty and terror. Gratitude is costly faithfulness, an offering of our commitment to both the gift and the Giver. In living gratefully we forgo our restless tendencies, choosing not to dissolve into our many distractions. In thanksgiving we offer ourselves as we truly are, taking our place once again at the table of life.

Gratitude leads us, through laughter and tears, to the solid ground beneath our shifting experience. May we rest there, embraced in the indestructible, pulsating heart of love.


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.

Photo by Leah Rampy


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Ever Present Holy Lessons

2013-09-20 08.55.56By 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 is it about the change of seasons that makes us pause? Is it the awareness of the passage of time?
August in Maryland can often be a hot, sticky, dry time where the grass looks and feels like quills. It is just mid-September and we have been blessed with a string of cool nights and warm, pleasant days. Humidity is low and, without the stickiness, the sky is crystal clear blue.
Is it the beauty that makes me pause, the welcome coolness? I’m not sure, but it brings me to a new awareness of being.
I see the first leaves turning yellow and as I sit on the porch and write a breeze sweeps through the woods and I am shocked by the amount of leaves that release their grip.
Ahh…letting go. A perennial lesson. Release, let go of the things and ways of being that I no longer need, that no longer serves me.
I realize it is not necessarily something I can think my way through. I can’t think my way to letting go, pausing at every action, “Does this serve me?” “Can I release this?” Release is a place of not needing to collect. It is a place of dayenu: even this is enough. A place of realizing the bounty in the moment.
How little energy it takes when we remember we have all we need and we can just be.
Isn’t it truly awesome that the Holy One lays all these reminder lessons all around us for us to access at any time? Ever present, ever supportive.
What makes you pause? What is your experience?

The Spiritual Perspective

woods scene dayspring 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.

If you’ve read other blogs here you may have seen the one called The Spiritual Practice of Saying “No.” 

It talks about how the sense of not having enough time can get in the way of one’s spiritual life. It has/does with mine. But I realized it’s all in my perspective.

At this point in my life, I’m pretty good about setting aside time and meditating just about every day. Most days I take a walk and meditate for at least part of that time. I consciously bring God into my large and small decisions, and do a decent job of living contemplatively. But, I still realized I was always feeling like I just didn’t have enough time: rush, rush, rush.

I recently met with my spiritual director and we talked about this sense I have of life being ever so full: two jobs, kids, fiancé, family, friends, etc. It’s all great, wonderful stuff that fills my life. It’s not like I would give any of it up. So how do I get rid of this sense of needing to do something, to stop doing something so I have more space and time?

After one of our silent periods of prayer with my spiritual director it came to me. It’s not about doing or not doing something. It’s about being differently. I DO have enough time with God. I DO have everything I want. I just need to see it differently. I’ve got it all already and I AM being fed by it.

I led a retreat at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center recently, and as I was introducing the theme for the weekend, I said that the silence was a time of abundance, not lack and that I knew that might be a different perspective, but to try it. We could focus on this being a time of deep listening instead of not talking. Funny how some form of the advice we give is meant for ourselves. I love the silence and the listening it holds, but I too needed to take a look at my general spiritual perspective.

A simple shift in how I see things and suddenly I feel better. Okay, so I’m still tired, but I am coming from a place of abundance, not lack and that makes all the difference.

What is your experience?

Taking a Walk with God

2013-04-26 09.33.31By 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.

When I was a child, I remember walking with my mom and my grandmother. I use the term “walking” loosely here since they were power walkers before I think that term had been invented. They were determined and I had to practically run to keep up.

I grew up to be a power walker too, and my children can keep up the pace. My son felt quite accomplished when he could finally outpace me with his long-legged stride. Power walking gives me joy in many ways: I love being outside, the exercise feels great, and I admit I enjoy being able to multitask at times and walk to the grocery store (chore and exercise accomplished).

But what I didn’t realize initially was that I was also clearing my head and heart. As I walked, the debris of life would drop away. More and more often I slowed down and allowed the walk to take me.

The rhythm of my walking falls into place with my breathing and I am in simple presence, just being. At times I find I am repeating a mantra without even trying, the rhythm calls it out of me.

I am aware of my breath, my body, my connection to earth and sky, my feet pressing the earth, and the Holy Spirit in all of it.

As I round the last corner and see home I realize that effortlessly, my heart is full and warm, everything that was jumbled is now clearer. This is meditation in action, a body prayer.

One nice thing about walking meditation is that you can take it just about anywhere. Sneakers are a plus, but I have walked in all manner of shoes as well as barefoot because when the need is there, you can just go. It can be short or long. To the mailbox and back or around the block. If thoughts start to crowd in, you can let them drop by the wayside.

This is spiritual simplicity.

When I Am Among the Trees
When I am among the trees,
Especially the willows and the honey locust,
Equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
They give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
In which I have goodness, and discernment,
And never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
And call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”–Mary Oliver

When’s the last time you took God for a walk? We know breathing can be a spiritual discipline, why not walking too? What has been your experience with body prayer?

The Spiritual Practice of Saying “No”

Blue flower in strawBy 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.

Since “time,” or lack thereof, seems to be the nemesis of spiritual deepening, wrestling with it for another blog seemed like a good idea.

With our busy lives, and I hear people of all ages, stages, and locations talk about how busy they are. I often hear, “I felt so good when I was taking time to meditate, but then I just didn’t have time to keep it up.” Or “How do I find time to pray?”

I’ve asked myself these questions scores of times.

About 15 years ago I realized I was sick of hearing myself say I didn’t have time. I was tired of knowing I was a better me when I meditated and made space for the Spirit, but I often ran around my day without pause or time to deepen my spiritual practice. I didn’t have any empty pockets in my day.

I knew I wanted to change this, but I was so busy with young children, a full-time job, volunteering, a spouse, friends, family, a house, etc.!

I finally realized I needed to start the spiritual practice of saying, “no.” I needed to be proactive. So, I took it on like a spiritual discipline.

It was hard! How could I say no to volunteering with the county in the anti child abuse program? How could I say no to hosting Thanksgiving? How could I say no to being on that school committee?

It took years of practice and discipline, but I am finally able to (usually) take an opportunity into prayer and if the answer is no, I can now say no.

I don’t just say no to everything. It’s about discernment. I listen to what I’m called to do as opposed to doing something just because it is a good cause.

Saying no allows me to have quiet, empty places in my life, in my day, where I can sit with God.  It allows me to not just bowl through my to-do list, but savor moments and quench my thirst with the quiet.

How do you make space for the Spirit in your day? Do you yearn for it?

The Big Rocks

2012-01-20 12.24.29

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.

Time. It seems to be the bane of a deepening spiritual life.

I have spoken with people who have been in various spiritual classes, retreats, pilgrimages I’ve participated in and so many say something like, “I know I feel better when I do it, but I just don’t have time to meditate or pray every day.”

Time is also my story. You know how we tell ourselves or others we can’t so something because of x,y, or z (fill in the specifics with whatever your story is). Well my story is, “I don’t have time.”

It is true to a certain extent. It’s probably safe to say that most of us are busy and don’t have time— work, volunteering, family, kids, spouse, friends, classes…

It’s all good stuff, which makes it harder to cut something out.

So how do I find time to pray? How do I leave more space for God?

Not only are these questions I have asked myself, but when I have led retreats, classes, or PSDP (Shalem’s Personal Spiritual Deepening Program) it invariably comes up. How do I fit this spiritual practice in around all the other things I do?

People, including me, know they are better for sticking to a spiritual practice. I know that this is my anchor and if I don’t do it for a few days, I am not as kind and loving to my family (and world) as I would like to be. I just feel out of sorts. So, it’s for my loved ones’ benefit and mine that I start my day reigniting that connection to the divine. If I leave it for later in the day, it keeps getting bumped, and I’m not as grounded and as steady as I would be had I started the day off with some stillness.

I am reminded of the story of the rocks and a jar. I’m not sure if you’ve ever tried it, but if you have a large jar, sand, pebbles, stones, and a few big rocks you will find that if you put the small stuff in first, you don’t have room for the big things.

But, if you put the big things first, you have plenty of room for the smaller ones.

Ah, yes. If I put what is most important first, I’m able to fit all the other things in around my priorities.

So, I start my day with meditating, I get God in first.

What do you do? Have you wrestled with sticking to a spiritual practice? What works for you?

Resting in God

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.

I was recently at a Quaker women’s retreat titled Play, Nap, Feast, which centered on how we nurture and feed ourselves spiritually. With a title like that, how can you lose?

During the retreat we were asked to move into small clusters called worship sharing groups. In these groups we were asked three queries that we took into silence and prayer. Each woman answered these questions as moved by the Spirit from the silence.

On one of the evenings the groups were asked these queries:

– What do you do for spiritual self-care?

– How do you make sure you’re cared for?

– How do you rest in the Spirit?

The group wrestled with that third question more than any other question during the whole retreat. So profound was the question that one woman in my group said she felt she needed to take that query into meditation for the year.

We can talk about how we open to God as we are meditating, singing, driving, washing dishes, working, being with our family, but how do you rest in God?

It doesn’t seem to be something we easily fall into as adults. I talked with others and the response was more wrest than rest.

All of these queries are questions for the heart, but how do you rest in God?