Changes

IMG_0560By 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. You can see more of her writing atblessedjourneyblog.com. Photo by Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin.

We’ve all heard the saying, when one door shuts God opens a window.

When my job was outsourced at the beginning of the year I was not clear what I was to do next. Where was God leading me? I had a sense that I was supposed to just be, do what I was already doing (writing blogs, working on our plumbing company, etc.). And, I also knew it was not forever, that something was waiting in the wings, but I couldn’t make out what that was.

At the beginning of July, Bryan Berghoef from the Shalem staff will start managing this blog. With this chapter of life closing I am better able to hear what the next step is for me. “Show me” what to do next has been a prayer of mine for months and it’s funny, but I got clear on the next step once I knew I would no longer be managing this blog.

I’ll still write a blog . Please join me at Blessed Journeys Blog where I’ll continue this walk. I’ll also write the occasional blog here. What’s new is that I’ll be completing my coursework as a spiritual director as well as planning more retreats and programs. I want to run and rush into it all, but again, Spirit is cautioning me to go slowly, breathe, take time.

It has been such a blessing to be a part of Shalem’s foray into the world of spiritual blogging (it’s always a blessing to be part of what Shalem is doing!). I thank you all for being on this journey with us and I look forward to our paths crossing again!

Grace for the New Year

2014-01-02 20.25.03By Savannah Kate Coffey. Kate 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.

It’s that time of year when many of us look at the 12 fresh months stretching out before us and we resolve to do more, do less, be better, grow, accept, or improve in some way. There is something inspiring about the turning of the page. Maybe this year will be different. This is the year we will finally get it right. Each new year seems to offer an enticing combination of motivation, vision, and hope, true conviction that we can change. Embracing change with commitment and zest is essential to the spiritual life, but I sometimes wonder if we walk a fine line in our zeal for improvement, often berating ourselves, others, and life itself for our unmet expectations.

For some of us New Year’s resolutions come every five minutes, never feeling at peace with the works-in-progress that we are. Surely, it is good to improve and there are always things that need to be changed. Culturally, our endless self-evaluations are reinforced by the equally endless number of self-help books offering a formula to overcome every flaw.

I wonder if preoccupation with self-improvement is the flip-side of pride. All this focus on my perceived flaws keeps me turned inward, anxious and immobilized. I am unable to simply live in freedom and joy as a child of God. I miss opportunities to offer whatever I can to the best of my ability. It also places me in Eden right next to Adam and Eve. If I could only grasp this oh-so-elusive “fruit” I would be whole, complete, like God, beautiful, free from all the messy complications of being human. I would transcend the clay of which I am made.

One very wise woman I know has a mantra for navigating life well. In any given situation, she resolves to:

  1. Show up (nothing is ever really possible without presence).
  2. Pay attention (paying attention is necessary to grasp the invitation of each moment).
  3. Speak the truth (choosing right speech and action to the best of one’s understanding).
  4. Don’t be attached to the outcome.

Don’t be attached to the outcome. It is a curious thing to give your very best efforts while being unattached to the outcome, but this advice calls us to act from the motivation of integrity rather than result. It is also a path toward peace since we often can’t control the outcomes of our efforts anyway. When we release right actions into the universe they are free to fly as they will, and others are free to respond as they will. Outcomes are just too unwieldy to control.

I want to add one more piece to my friend’s mantra: Trust grace. Who wants life to be only about their efforts? That’s a scary thing! New Year’s resolutions are about taking stock and resolving to do our very best, but peace comes from trusting that whatever we are able to do, or unable to do, and whether we ever become all we want to be, our lives will be defined by grace–by God’s tenacious determination to bless us. I want my life to be defined by God doing God’s very best for me. May we all embrace the days of 2014 in freedom, and joy–confident that this year will be lived under the authority of grace. May all our resolutions be surpassed by God’s presence to us, truth for us, right action on our behalf, patience with the outcomes, and ever-present favor.

Island Retreat: Contemplative Poetry

Fallow time Tom RyanGuest blog by Tom Ryan. Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located in the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He leads ecumenical retreats and workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. An active contemplative and lover of the outdoors, Tom has authored 14 books on a variety of themes in the spiritual life as well as the DVD Yoga Prayer. www.tomryancsp.org. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for the 40-Hour Contemplative Prayer Vigil.

At the end of every summer, I make an eight-day retreat to my sweet spot on the planet, an island in the middle of Lake George in upstate NY owned by my community, the Paulists, since the early 1860s. There’s a cabin among the trees , and the island is embraced on both sides of the lake by the forested mountains of Adirondack State Park.  When the Jesuit missionary explorer Isaac Jogues first descended the lake in a canoe with native Americans, he was so taken by the transcendent beauty of the 32-mile long lake and mountains that he named it Le Lac du Saint Sacrament  (French for: Lake of the Blessed Sacrament). Here is a poem I wrote on my retreat on the island at the end of August.

Benediction

Sitting at the end of the dock

my first night on the island,

full moon shining like

an elevated host held by

 the fingertips of the mountain

with its burley shoulders wrapped

in a dark forest-green cape.

Crickets chant in soft, adoring chorus

and beavers swim by my feet

slapping their tails in acclamation

as tufts of cloud-like incense float by

before the monstrance of the moonlight

with tree tops bowing their heads

in the Spirit-breath

of the late night breeze

while the stars above

glow like benediction candles

over le Lac du Saint Sacrament.

8-20-13, Thomas Ryan, CSP

 

In Thanks for the Dark and the Light

2013-10-11 20.49.20By 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.

In the northern hemisphere we are living with short days and long nights. It seems to me that we, as humans, are quite taken with the power of light and dark. We often fear the dark and are drawn to the light.

The dark represents the unknown, the unexpected, whether it’s at night in the woods or the uncharted territory of our own interior. And, what we don’t know can make us anxious.

We love the light, whether it’s a single candle flame or the sun, it shows us clearly what is before us.

But perhaps we can see this time of darkness as a time to go within, a time for quiet, a time for contemplation.  What could be gestating in the respite time?

Perhaps it’s the juxtaposition of light and dark that makes them both potent. Without the dark we couldn’t see the stars.

Maybe instead of lamenting the loss of sunshine we can welcome this time and instead of pushing to do more and more, to race from task to task during this advent season, we could pause so our own Light can shine more clearly even through the unknown.

We lost a Light that burned brightly among us when Nelson Mandela passed away yesterday. Although he was fully human, there are few I know of who lived a life based on forgiveness and reconciliation to the extent he did. Through his personal and societal painful times, he became a beacon.

We as humanity need the dark to rest and grow in, but we also need as many Lights, big and small, as possible to help guide us.

Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for the beacon you were to so many of us.

Perhaps they are not stars in the sky, but rather openings where our loved ones shine down to let us know they are happy.—Eskimo Saying

Gliding into Prayer

Gliding into Prayer  by Tom RyanGuest blog by Tom Ryan. Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP, directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located in the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He leads ecumenical retreats and workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. An active contemplative and lover of the outdoors, Tom has authored 14 books on a variety of themes in the spiritual life as well as the DVD Yoga Prayer. www.tomryancsp.org. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for 40-Hour Contemplative Prayer Vigil.

At the end of every summer, I make an eight-day retreat to my sweet spot on the planet, an island in the middle of Lake George in upstate NY owned by my community, the Paulists, since the early 1860s. There’s a cabin  among the trees , and the island is embraced on both sides of the lake by the forested mountains of Adirondack State Park.  When the Jesuit missionary explorer Isaac Jogues  first descended the lake in a canoe with native Americans, he was so taken by the transcendent beauty of the 32 mile long lake and mountains that he named it Le Lac du Saint Sacrament  (French for: Lake of the Blessed Sacrament). Here is a poem I wrote on my retreat on the island at the end of August.

Glide into Prayer

Every sensory portal is open wide,

and the inner spirit folding in gratitude

for the gentle emanations

of the setting sun slowly baking my skin

for the gurgle of water

licking the rocks at my feet

for the silent embrace

of long, forested mountain arms

for the scintillating scent

of red pine needles overhead

for the exploding wet sweetness

of nectarine juice in my mouth

for the blue, true dream of sky

transforming into pink before my eyes.

Could there be a more pleasing glide into prayer

than on this wave of grateful awe within?

Island 8-26-13

Thomas Ryan, CSP

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?

Slowing Down

DSCN1481By Clair Ullmann. The Rev. Clair Ullmann, a Shalem board member, is a priest in the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe. She and her husband received together their Masters in Family Systems and Sexuality from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium and created Marriage: An Adventure in Progress (http://clairullmann.com/).

There are two gears in my body:  fast and stop.  I am trying to find or create some intermediate speeds, but it is very difficult.  I have even tried QiQong to slow me down and to notice the moment.  Even with this, I find I am faster in the movements than everyone else.  I can sit and meditate and get lost in time and space, but once I start moving I get faster and faster.  My son who is about a foot taller than I commented one time, “Mom, for someone with such short legs, how do you walk so fast?”

This past summer I participated in the online prayer sessions that Patience Roberts led in the School of Contemplative Prayer.  One of the sessions was slow walking.  We were supposed to walk slowly, be aware of our breathing, and look intently, see and inhale our surroundings.  I tried and tried and tried.  I continue to try.  There are some things in life that take a long time. Slow walking or slow anything is that for me.

Online prayer is a lifeline for me.  I live in an area where there are not too many people.  In fact, there are more cows than humans.  This means that unless I speak cow language, I don’t have a lot of interaction.  Being a spiritual person and one seeking relationship with others on a spiritual journey, the online prayer courses offered by Shalem are a Godsend.  It is something I can tap into and actively participate.  In this particular course, it was very challenging to stay involved because of all the visitors and activities and travel over the summer. In spite of that I felt this need to reconnect with the course and my fellow pilgrims as we followed Patience’s gentle guidance and support.

I look forward to the next course and all the ones following.  On our pilgrim’s way, we need companions, we need to hear from others, their struggles and wanderings as well as receive support and compassion for ours.  It is so helpful and life-giving to know there are others who also wonder how some people can be so attentive and contemplative.

Each course offers a different aspect of living in the present in contemplation.  Even if you think you know it all and have done it all, go back for a refresher.  I did not think the courses would provide me with new information, but I was wrong.  On a spiritual journey, we are constantly changing, like the ever-flowing river.  We will be different people tomorrow than we are today.  Our emotions are constantly triggered by things of the environment, by things of worldly conflict, whether to get involved or not, by life and death, by sudden illness or accident; the list is never-ending.

For me, my saving grace is to be drawn back into the space of the Divine, back to a space where I can breathe and open my eyes and see the wonder around me.  This helps me remember that I don’t have to be responsible for all that happens in the world.  Slowing down helps me focus more clearly on the things that do matter, like holding my 19-year-old cat or sitting with my husband by the fire and watching the flames, like reading Julian of Norwich or Anne Lamont.  When I take time like this, I realize I really can slow down and just be.  My mind slows down, my heart beat slows down, my breathing slows down.  In fact, my whole body, mind and soul seem to find a place of harmony and rest.

Can I do this while walking? It seems when I stand up my mind is already telling me all these things that need to be done and worried about and looked after.  Yes, I still need practice and practice I will.

I invite you to join me on the next course.  Perhaps we will meet online, perhaps we will find that we have things in common, perhaps we will begin to support one another, perhaps we will be able to laugh at ourselves and one another thereby making our day a day of joy and gratitude.  It is amazing how much can open up from slow walking, slowing down, and opening our senses.


Read more about Shalem’s eCourse offerings here. Currently registering now through Nov. 6 for next courses. Sign up today!

Benediction: Beauty and Contemplative Poetry

ShalemGuest blog by Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP,  who directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located in the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He leads ecumenical retreats and workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. An active contemplative and lover of the outdoors, Tom has authored 14 books on a variety of themes in the spiritual life as well as the DVD Yoga Prayer. www.tomryancsp.org. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for 40-Hour Contemplative Prayer Vigil.

At the end of every summer, I make an eight-day retreat to my sweet spot on the planet, an island in the middle of Lake George in upstate NY owned by my community, the Paulists, since the early 1860s. There’s a cabin among the trees , and the island is embraced on both sides of the lake by the forested mountains of Adirondack State Park.  When the Jesuit missionary explorer Isaac Jogues first descended the lake in a canoe with native Americans, he was so taken by the transcendent beauty of the 32 mile long lake and mountains that he named it Le Lac du Saint Sacrament  (French for: Lake of the Blessed Sacrament). Here is a poem I wrote on my retreat on the island at the end of August.

Benediction

Sitting at the end of the dock
my first night on the island,
full moon shining like
an elevated host held by
the fingertips of the mountain
with its burley shoulders wrapped
in a dark forest-green cape.

Crickets chant in soft, adoring chorus
and beavers swim by my feet
slapping their tails in acclamation
as tufts of cloud-like incense float by
before the monstrance of the moonlight
with tree tops bowing their heads

in the Spirit-breath
of the late night breeze
while the stars above
glow like benediction candles
over le Lac du Saint Sacrament.

8-20-13, Thomas Ryan, CSP

The Paradox of Radical Trust

Carl McColmanGuest blog by Carl McColman who is a Christian contemplative writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader. His books include The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call. He is member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, and lives near Atlanta. Read his blog at www.carlmccolman.com. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Prayer Vigil.

On his live album Precious Friend, Arlo Guthrie cracked a joke: “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” Seekers of holy nonduality recognize the truth of this humorous statement. In the economy of grace, the words of the author of Ecclesiastes ring true as ever: “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven … a time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8) But when I read this list, I’m tempted to fall back into the human desire to control life by managing our experience: “It’s okay to love, but not to hate; peace is better than war” and so forth. And why not? I’m much more interested in loving than in hating, in being a peacemaker than a warmonger.

But you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in. Like it or not, we live in a world where war happens, where hate happens, where abuse and addiction and violence all happen. And while it’s imperative to make moral choices to inform and guide our lives (abuse and violence are not okay), contemplative practice brings us face to face with the reality that we are called to live in, and respond to, and love and forgive, a world where light and dark both exist, both persist, and both impact the course of our lives and the choices we are called to make.

For its fortieth anniversary, Shalem has chosen “Trusting the Spirit” as its theme. I wonder what trusting the Spirit really looks like from a deep contemplative place? I must confess that my capacity to trust is hardly exemplary: I trust, and I mistrust. I have faith, and I doubt. I respond spontaneously to the urging of my heart or intuition, and I second-guess myself. I accept the wisdom of my faith community and my tradition, and I argue against such wisdom.

But you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in. Perhaps we can only trust to the extent that we also can doubt. Perhaps our ability to say yes — to our tradition or our teachers — is shaped by our capacity to say no. Perhaps the key to trust is learning to trust both our trusting and our doubting.

The radical nonduality to which contemplation invites us is not an “everything goes” nihilism, where nothing really matters. Rather, it is an “everything belongs” embrace, where we affirm that which is good, and that which is bad is accepted even as we seek to heal or change it. If we hate the haters, aren’t we just lending energy to their pattern? Only by loving the haters can we ever hope for radical transformation. That is the secret of forgiveness, as well as of unconditional love.

So I’m with Shalem: let’s trust the Spirit, and do so radically. But ironically, that includes even trusting all the ways in which we choose not to trust or even fail to trust. Not to acquiesce to our mistrust, but, paradoxically, to accept it: thereby creating the space where the Spirit may continue to move in, and transform, our lives.

Litany of the Holy Spirit

richard new mug 1 copyGuest blog by Richard Rohr, OFM, Founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation, received Shalem’s 2013 Contemplative Voices Award and is a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Prayer Vigil.

I have become convinced that rediscovering the power, gift, and meaning of the Holy Spirit is the key to the recovery of the contemplative mind and heart.  Instead of writing a long theological article which few might read, I offer you an old style Catholic litany to teach the mystery experientially—which is how the Spirit teaches!  Instead of a verbal response to each title, I recommend that you take a calm breath in and out while reciting each sacred name.  These are metaphors to help describe the Holy Mystery Within, and to begin the constant and conscious breathing called prayer. Many of them are based on images found in John’s Gospel and Paul’s Letters. Hopefully, you will find more metaphors of your own inside this precious realization.

Pure Gift of God
Indwelling Presence
Promise of the Father
Life of Jesus
Pledge and Guarantee
Eternal Praise
Defense Attorney
Inner Anointing
Reminder of the Mystery
Homing Device
Knower of All Things
Stable Witness
Implanted Pacemaker
Overcomer of the Gap
Always Already Awareness
Compassionate Observer
Magnetic Center
God Compass
Inner Breath
Divine DNA
Mutual Yearning Place
Given Glory
Hidden Love of God
Choiceless Awareness
Implanted Hope
Seething Desire
Fire of Life and Love
Sacred Peacemaker
Non Violence of God
Seal of the Incarnation
First Fruit of Everything
Planted Law

Planted Law
Father and Mother of Orphans
Truth Speaker
God’s Secret Plan
Great Bridge Builder
Warmer of Hearts
Space Between Everything
Flowing Stream
Wind of Change
Descended Dove
Cloud of Unknowing
Uncreated Grace
Filled Emptiness
Through-Seer
Deepest Level of our Longing
Attentive Heart
Sacred Wounding
Holy Healing
Softener of our spirit
Will of God
Great Compassion
Generosity of the Creator
Inherent Victory
One Sadness
Our Shared Joy
God’s tears
God’s happiness
The Welcoming Within
Eternal Lasting Covenant
Contract Written on our Hearts
Jealous Lover
Desiring of God

You who pray in us, through us, with us, for us, and in spite of us

Amen! Alleluia!