Gabriel’s Towing Service

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I was rescued by an angel named Gabriel. It was the last day of our retreat and our leader offered some suggestions. She said it was best to not rush off from the retreat to try to catch up on all the things we didn’t get done. She encouraged us to take our time, drive slowly and rest as we eased back into our busy work schedule. Of course, I felt that somehow I was exempt from her instructions.

The minute the retreat was over and we said our goodbyes, I hopped into my car, threw my bags in the backseat and tried to get out of the parking lot before it got jammed up. Not more than 40 seconds later I found my car bucking, jerking, revving, and on the verge of stalling at the next traffic light. I was horrified and immediately filled with dread. I had no time to deal with a problem car.

Lucky for me I made it to the next large building, a spa. I found it interesting to have just left a retreat center and to barely have made it to the parking lot of a spa. I parked the car, gave it a grimacing look, and went to the spa to call Triple A. I growled at myself for not having listened to our retreat leader and wondered if I was being punished for not following the directions.

I was also upset because I had just put $1200 worth of work into my car and this seemed so unfair. While I waited for the towing service I called my family to tell my woeful story. I shared about how I had just ended this retreat and felt peaceful and calm and now here I was, stuck. In addition, I was going to have my car towed all the way home incurring even more expense than I already had.

So, I tried to consider my good fortune of having landed at a spa and waited on the comfortable and spacious couches. I thought to myself, there must be some gift or insight in all of this. I reflected upon the words of a friend of mine who said, “God uses everything. Nothing goes to waste.” I was looking forward to seeing how God planned on using this. I was tired, hungry, broke, and now totally behind on the “To Do” list.

While I was waiting I saw the tow truck pull up to the spa. In bright red letters on the side of the door it said, Gabriel’s Towing Service. “What?” I thought to myself, “Am I being rescued by an angel?” The gentleman driving the tow truck was more than kind to me. He loaded my failing car onto the truck and I hopped in the front seat. I revealed how hungry and disappointed I was and we headed straight to the sandwich shop to get lunch before the long ride home.

On our way home, in between eating sandwiches we had a wonderful conversation and talked a lot about God. We talked about his children, their schooling, the economy, synchronicity, and how many people felt that they too had been rescued by the angel Gabriel. We talked about how we all need to be rescued by angels from time to time and how we never know what God has planned.

It was a ride and lesson that I will not soon forget. I know now that God does use everything and that nothing goes to waste, not car trouble or following instructions. I also know that angels arrive right on time.


kimberlyborin

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: www.TheEncouragingWorks.com.

If you are discerning about Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and its rightness for you, please join us in this conference call with inquirers and program graduates. This is a special, informal opportunity for asking about Shalem’s contemplative leadership program. The program director, Liz Ward, will facilitate the conversation on November 4, from 12:00-1:00 PM EST.

Registration is free, click here to be sent a call in number.  Space is limited.

God Only Knows

Today’s post is from the writings of the late Gerald May.

When I was six years old I prayed, “Dear God, let me do what you want me to do.” By the time I was a young adult the prayer had changed to “Dear God, let me know what you want me to do.” The two prayers may seem similar on the surface, but underneath they are very different. The childlike prayer is intimate and trusting, asking only to be led and leaving the leading to God. In the adult prayer I asked for knowledge of God’s desire, with the implied message that once I knew what God wanted, I would try to carry it out.

I don’t know how many years I spent with that adult prayer. I do know that the more I tried to discern God’s will so I could carry it out, the further away from God I felt. It got to the point where I sometimes acted as if all I needed from God was my marching orders; I’d handle the rest on my own. I thought I understood discernment, but what I had really done was substitute intermittent contact and willful activity for abiding intimacy and trust.

Then, thank God, a time came when my discernment abilities evaporated. In what I now call my “dark night of discernment” I lost all capacity for clarity or understanding of God’s desire for me. All the discernment methods I knew produced nothing, and it seemed somehow absurd to keep working at them. Further, I realized I no longer even understood the concept of discernment. The term seemed to have lost all meaning for me.

To say the least, this was disconcerting at the time. It felt like some kind of brain problem, as if whatever lobe does discernment had simply ceased to function. I talked to friends and colleagues about it. Some nodded wisely and smiled as if they understood. I hate when they do that. Others tried to help me recover my old ways or discover new ways of being discerning, but it was all to no avail.

The effect, as usually happens in dark night experiences, was to lead me to simplicity. In this case I found myself guided back to my childhood prayer: “Dear God, let me do what you want me to do,” under my breath adding, “even if I don’t have a clue what it is.” Since my own capacities had completely failed, I had no choice but to trust God again in each moment, like a little child.

I had been brought to my knees. In that position I felt relief, freedom and an intimacy I’d long forgotten. I still had to deal with certain self-image issues, like competence for example. It doesn’t sound very responsible to answer questions with “I have no idea,” or “God only knows.”

Recently however, I found some Scriptural support for my incompetence. In fact, Scripture says my childhood prayer is a very good prayer indeed; loving trust is a whole lot more important than understanding. There’s the passage about the lilies of the field where Jesus says not to worry about tomorrow because God knows what we need. And there’s Deuteronomy 30:14 that says the Word is already in our hearts so we don’t have to go searching for it.

More powerful for me is Jeremiah 29:11, where God is saying, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for your wellbeing… reserving for you a future full of hope.” In context, those words are a rebuke of false prophets who think they understand God’s thoughts. But they do not; only God does. Some translations even render it, “I alone know…” So maybe it’s true that God only knows.

Here’s what the passage says to me: “I alone know the desires I have for you; the prophets do not know my plans, and neither do you. Nor do you need to, because I have told you my desire is for your wellbeing.”

In this light, the following verses (12-14) become especially beautiful: “Then when you pray to me I will hear you; when you feel your desire for me you will find me; when you want me with all your heart, I will let you find me.” These words say to me that it’s not understanding God’s will that counts, but simple abiding love and trust.

By definition, a dark night experience always leads a person to greater freedom of life and deeper intimacy with God. I think that’s what has happened to me in my journey with discernment; I’m a lot less competent and a lot more grateful.

On your own journey of discernment? Are you asking questions such as: Why am I here?  What is mine to do? Who am I called to be? And what can I contribute and offer to the world? This Lent, journey with Patience Robbins for a 6-session eCourse series: Open Hands, Willing Hearts, February 22 to March 29, 2015.

Click here to register.


ME/May-obGerald May, M.D. (1940-2005), practiced medicine and psychiatry for twenty-five years before becoming a senior fellow in contemplative theology and psychology at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Bethesda, Maryland. He was the author of many books and articles blending spirituality and psychology, including Addiction and GraceCare of Mind/Care of SpiritWill and Spirit, and The Dark Night of the Soul.

Header photo by Susan Robbins Etherton.

Waiting for Peace, Walking for Peace, Listening for Peace

Peace is not something far away, nor is it something that someone else has to make happen. It is already planted in my spiritual heart, a birthright, given as part of my creation in the image of God and awakened through the gift of God’s spirit in Christ.

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley. This excerpted article is part of the Patheos Public Square on Best Practices for Peace in 2015. The full post can be read at Patheos.com.

Peace I leave you. My own peace I give you. ~ Jesus (John 14: 27)

Sitting here in the post-Christmas detritus of boxes, wrapping paper, and ribbon, and with a list of things left undone, it’s hard to be peaceful. Maybe peace will come when I get my house back in order. Or maybe peace will come when I’ve done all my end-of-the-year chores. Or maybe peace will really only come as wars cease, boundaries agreeably negotiated, and all is well in the world. Perhaps when we live in balance and our commitment to Earth is renewed we will know peace. Or, as my sister says, maybe peace will finally come when she has thin thighs. In other words, never!

I yearn for peace, and I’m waiting for peace to come.

Holy scripture, however, insists that peace is here, now, already given. Peace is not something far away, nor is it something that someone else has to make happen. No one has to go and find peace and bring it back to me. It is already planted in my spiritual heart, a birthright, given as part of my creation in the image of God and awakened through the gift of God’s spirit in Christ.

With this understanding, how do I tap into that peace? How, in my own lived experience, can I realize peace? What contemplative practices will support my desire for peace and help me live from that place? Here are a few suggestions.

Sitting Meditation: Going Deeper

We cannot touch that inner quality of peace by skimming along the surface of life. We have to go deeper. One thing that assists our going deeper is a daily, dedicated time of silent prayer/meditation. We bring to this time our intention to open more fully to God’s presence and to let our silent prayer water the seeds of peace already living in our spiritual hearts.

This requires a certain amount of trust, a trust that peace is already there beneath our thoughts, fears, anxieties, and agendas. If your trust is weak, perhaps the first prayer is for an empowered sense of trust that peace is there, living in you. It is yours, a gift to be received, opened, and magnified. A simple “thank you,” or sense of gratitude, acknowledges the gift, honors the Giver and opens the door into that inner chamber of peace.

This unambiguous set-aside time allows for spaciousness to emerge. In that spaciousness, there is a taste, perhaps just a tiny sip of the sweet waters of peace. At other times, it may seem like a waterfall cascading over you or a river of peace welling up and flowing through you. Peace then flows from you out into the world. You are the peace you yearn for.

Read the full article for more.


caroleCarole Crumley, Shalem Institute’s Senior Program Director, is an Episcopal priest and a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences. She designs and leads Shalem’s contemplative pilgrimages and directs Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program.

Cultivating Discernment in Community: Another Chapter

Today’s post is by Lois A. Lindbloom

This is a season of grieving for me and throughout the college town in which I live.  Jennifer, a beloved campus pastor, died at the age of 47.  She was wife, mother of two young children, daughter, sister, friend to neighbors and colleagues, active supporter of children’s activities and concerns for the care of the world in addition to having a listening ear, prophetic voice, and liturgical grace on the campus.  A year and a half ago she learned that an aggressive, cancerous tumor had established itself in her brain.  That is what took her from us.

A few days before her death, I saw a health care provider in our community.  Through her own tears of grief she asked, “Do you know Jennifer?”  “Yes, she and I and two other women have been in a small group together for more than nine years, a spiritual direction group.  We meet for three hours once a month.”  Then the tears rolled for both of us.

Toward the end of her life Jennifer lost her ability to speak.  In our last meeting less than three weeks before she passed, her remaining word was “ya.”  She understood everything we were saying and offered her one word at appropriate times.  Our moments of silence together that day were some of the most profound I have ever experienced.  It seemed as though the rest of us were joining her in the silence that now was the only option available to her.

My grief is mixed with gratitude for these companions on my spiritual journey, each a unique manifestation of the Love of God in the world.  Our purpose together is spiritual discernment:  paying prayerful attention to one’s own life in order to be clearer about and more cooperative with God’s activity.  We each invite one another to listen prayerfully to the part of our lives we want to share; then we hold what we have heard in silence, observing what comes to us — what we notice, appreciate, wonder about — all to underline and encourage that which seems to be of God.  We offer aloud what came to us, and we hold one another in prayer.

We have asked ourselves what makes the group work or what is unique about it?  Gathering with the clear intention of spiritual discernment is one response.  Prayerful listening is another.  Willingness to speak honestly about one’s own life and concerns.  Refraining from advice giving or fixing one another.  Holding one another’s stories in confidence.  Allowing the holy ground of silence to nudge us away from “knee jerk” or “off the top of one’s head” reactions.  Continually honing our perceptions to pay attention to “that of God” in our own and one another’s stories. 

These conversations are confidential; the content is not talked about elsewhere.  Thus, a startling part of this week of grief has been the spontaneous responses about the group experience from others.  For instance, the husbands of my three friends have each referred to the importance of the group as an anchor, a safe place, a place of growth for their wives which in turn has had an influence on  them. 

Early on in our group Jennifer noted that her prayers were being widened.  She began by praying for each of us but found that her concerns were expanded to include all who were dear to us, whatever people and situations we talked about, the needs in the world that touched each of us.  Yes, the group is for us, and not just for us. 

Somehow this all sounds very serious.  In fact, humor, laughter, and birthday cards are important ingredients as we walk together and hold one another’s stories.  For my group, all of that is particularly cultivated during the first movement of each meeting — lunch together, provided in a rotating fashion which we call “lead and feed.”  The person who brings the lunch also brings an opening reading and guides us through the process, step by step.    

I am enormously grateful for the anchor and place of transformation this group is for me.  I am also enormously hopeful that this process, group spiritual direction, can continue to be a transformative container for many other participants and groups.

If you are interested in experiencing group spiritual direction within a prayerful community, Shalem is offering a Group Spiritual Direction Workshop Sept 21-24 in Lexington, Virginia. Deepen your contemplative grounding and expand your capacity to listen to God on behalf of others. Click here for workshop details.

If you are looking for an ongoing opportunity to practice group spiritual direction, consider joining a Sacred Listening Circle. Gather with others to practice deep listening, actively receiving the wisdom and deep stirrings of the Spirit in each person. We do this for ourselves, each other and on behalf of every person and our planet. A Circle is starting this fall, and will meet regularly in the Shalem library in Washington, DC.

Lois Lindbloom first experienced group spiritual direction with Rose Mary Dougherty and others at Shalem (www.shalem.org).  Learn more from Rose Mary’s books, Group Spiritual Direction:  Community for Discernment and The Lived Experience of Group Spiritual Direction and Lois’ booklet Prayerful Listening:  Cultivating Discernment in Community, all available at the Shalem store.  Lois’ booklet is also available via lalindbloom@earthlink.net.