Being Contemplative in the Digital Age: 6 Tips to Nourish Your Prayer Practice

Today’s post is by Carole Crumley (Previously published at Huffington Post Religion)

Prayer is often thought of as speaking to God but prayer doesn’t have to be about speaking. It can be about silence and listening. This practice from the Christian contemplative tradition can serve to help calm the storm of stimuli that is part of living in the digital age.

St. Benedict, a sixth century spiritual leader, advised his monks to “listen with the ear of the heart,” that is, to listen deeply, noticing the many ways God spoke to them in their daily activities as well as through scripture and worship.

There are many ways to pray, many ways to open to God’s living presence and nurture an awareness of the sacred in daily life. Whether you are just beginning on a spiritual path or seeking to deepen your spiritual practice, here are some ways to begin or begin again.

6 Tips on Contemplative Prayer

  1. Establish a daily set-aside time when you can honor your desire to open to God. We recommend 20 minutes of silent prayer time daily. For some that might seem like a long time. For others, it may be way too short. The exact number of minutes is not that important. Start with what is right for you. The important thing is doing it daily.
  2. Create a set-aside place, a space that honors your intent, where you can sit comfortably and uninterrupted for your prayer time. This might be a prayer corner or even a prayer chair. If a chair, just make sure it is different from the one you sit in to watch television, work on your computer or take a nap. A different chair will help you be more alert and attentive in your prayerful listening. You might also place a candle or flower or image in your prayer space, something that helps draw your focus to God’s presence.
  3. Begin with stretching and releasing any physical tensions. We carry the tensions of the day or night in our bodies. Notice the places in your body that are tight or constricted. Stretch into those places, hold for a moment or two, and then relax the tension. Sometimes a gentle body-stretching practice is all that is needed to quiet the mind and prepare the body for opening in prayer.
  4. Notice your breath. Your breath is a spiritual tool that you always have with you. It is your most intimate connection with God. Sense your breath as a living instrument of God’s spirit, ever cleansing and inspiring. At any time or place, you can notice your breath. Is it rapid or slow? Shallow or deep? Just noticing and slowing your breath can quiet the mind and draw you deeper into the heart of God. It is the most fundamental practice in the spiritual life.
  5. Open to God’s living presence, keeping your desire for your own and the world’s fullness in God before you in prayer. No words are needed. Simple, quiet openness and availability are enough. Trust that God’s healing, transforming power is at work whether you know it, you believe it, or not.
  6. Find support for your spiritual life. Support can come in many forms. Listen to music that stirs your soul. Go to a museum and feast your eyes on great art. Walk in nature. Read some of the great classics by contemplative authors. Study the lives of the saints. Find a spiritual director who listens with you to the movement of the Spirit in your life. Attend worship services that nourish your spiritual heart. Seek out others who share a similar desire and join with them for dedicated times of prayer.

We live in a noisy, busy world. Quiet, silent prayer is counter to our culture and yet it offers the missing spiritual resource our souls need. Contemplative prayer is not just for ourselves alone. Eckhart Tolle reminds us that, “To meet everything and everyone through stillness instead of mental noise is the greatest gift you can offer to the universe.”

Contemplative Prayer is a way of being rather than something that we do, a way of being open to God all the time. As you return to your busy day, remember, there are no right ways or wrong ways to pray. You can trust whatever is simplest and feels most natural for you.

How do you sense God is inviting you to pray in the midst of your daily activities? What do you find helpful as you seek to open your mind and awaken your heart to the living Spirit?


caroleCarole Crumley, Shalem’s Director of Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, is an Episcopal priest with experience in three congregations as well as at the Washington National Cathedral. She is a widely respected leader of ecumenical retreats, groups, and conferences, and a seasoned pilgrimage guide to sacred sites throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Wanting to take some beginning steps into contemplative prayer? Or are you a seasoned contemplative who would like support for your daily practice? Join Carole starting this Sunday in Opening to the Spirit, a 6-week eCourse. Registration ends on Monday, October 19. Sign up today!

Sit.

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I was praying and filled to the brim with so many ideas, desires, and hopes. I was looking for a new direction, a calling, next steps, and a road map clarifying the journey ahead. In my earnest prayer, I asked, “Lord, what shall I do next?” I sensed a small whisper of an answer. I heard this:

Sit.”

Surely, I must have missed something. Sit? Was this it? I was hoping for something with at least two syllables, something grander, maybe even life changing! I thought perhaps I must have misheard, so I prayed again and again and then again on another day. The answer was always the same, a gentle loving nudge to do nothing else but “Sit.”

And so it was. I began to sit and more importantly notice when I wasn’t sitting. I still tried to explore and try on different versions of sitting. I thought perhaps I was to: sit there, sit with me, sit down and enjoy the ride, sit still, or even, sit down and eat your vegetables. I even tried; sit, stay!, sit with us, sit in the sun, sit down and put your feet up, and sit down and daydream awhile. While many of those options seemed lovely, nothing fit except to “Sit.”

My brother-in-law had even mentioned that he learned to pray by focusing on a word that was revealed in prayer. He was granted a three-syllable word – filled with transformation, new beginnings, and insight. Later, I shared with him my little three-letter word. With head down, I slowly revealed, “All I got was, ‘Sit.’”

My sacred word and spiritual directive began to take on more meaning. It granted me permission to rest, to wait on a decision, and to hold my emotions in check until clarity was given. It helped me to be present to God, to grace, to mercy and even the sound of the world around me. I learned to sit with mystery, my breath, with time, and the sun. I learned to sit on the floor, on the porch, with friends, with children, with those who were sick and those who needed an ear. The sitting taught me about being fully present.

Later, I shared with my spiritual director my little word, and she silently nodded with a knowing smile. I could tell that she trusted the word was more powerful than I was yet to realize. What was interesting about the timing of this was that I had just recovered from a concussion, where I had already spent a fair amount of time lying down. I had also entered into training to be a contemplative prayer retreat leader and would need to understand the power of sitting and how to nourish others in their ability be in silence too.

I began to see that I was not alone in sitting. Rose Mary Dougherty’s book, Discernment, reminded me of the importance of finding this still place and listening. She quoted Rachel Naomi Remen who wrote about “querencia,” a term used in bullfighting. It was about being able to find our safe and quiet place, to remember who we are, and to gather our strength and wisdom for the next step. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. reminded me to “Trust in the slow work of God” by writing, “Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that God’s own hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.” Rainer Maria Rilke also affirmed this, encouraging us be with and to “live into the questions.” It seems that slowing down, sitting, and surrendering are just what are needed to be available to God and the presence of love.

That little word continues to help me be present and to laugh out loud, especially when I think I have something big to do in the world. I can’t help but smile at my simple directive to sit down, be available to love in the world and breathe. I am still learning to sit and I am still trying to understand the special nudge I received. I find it most helpful when people tell me they are hoping for a big inspirational moment, or a road map of next steps and wonder why they have been given only a simple thing to do.

In those moments, I feel myself nodding silently with a smile on my face. I know that whatever they have been given no matter what size or how many syllables, it will lead to a chance to sit, to be, and to be loved.


kimberlyborin

Dr. Kimberly Borin is a School Counselor, Retreat Leader, and in training to be a Spiritual Director with 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.

Open and Available [audio guided meditation]

Today’s post is an audio guided meditation by Patience Robbins (from the December 10, 2014 Wednesday Noon Prayer session). Feel free to tune in on your iPhone or mobile device, and find a quiet place to listen. Click the orange arrow above to listen.

“It is a great gift to have the time and space for this quiet prayer, open and available for the Holy One within us, among us, and around us. During our time together, we will have a brief centering exercise, some prayer intentions, and a reading that will lead us into a time of silence. We will end with a closing prayer.”

Join Patience each Wednesday at noon, or tune in to past meditations.


Patience-RobbinsPatience Robbins, Director of Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative, 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 is the author of the booklet, Parenting: A Sacred Path.

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.

Soul Assignment

Today’s post is by Susan Rowland. This is a transcript of her audio testimony highlighting her experience in Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program. You may also listen to her tell her story by clicking on the video above. Listen to stories of other graduates here.

My experience with the Shalem program, Leading Contemplative Prayer groups and Retreats, was unique in so many ways.  At the residencies, we were among a circle of talented people, gathered with the intention of deepening their life and leadership in contemplative practice. The breadth and expression of faith was so rich.   Small groups provided a safe opportunity to try out different prayer practices in an open, experiential, supportive space. I will be forever grateful for the emphasis on simple explanations of prayer practices so that the Spirit is “free to move about the cabin” of the gathering.

What made that possible was the Shalem program leadership, modeling something so beautiful and authentic in all that they offered.  I have been to programs where they teach by telling you what to do.  At Shalem, the leaders revealed their personal passion to us through each teaching. Their words and presence were alive – resonating and bouncing off all of our hearts– together, we laughed, we walked, we played with art, we talked a lot over meals.  They truly entered into the community with us.

In the past two years since I graduated from Shalem’s program, those experiences still nourish me. My Shalem book shelf, formed by the rich reading list, is consulted weekly and continues to encourage and inspire me.  I am just finishing my third contemplative group for the year, and I lead a monthly day of silence called Soul Space, I am also on the Board of a rich ministry through The Contemplative Center of Silicon Valley. The mark of Shalem is on each of those endeavors that I am involved in.

Each year, I spend a week of solitude on the coast of Maine.  So many years have been spent there wondering about my “soul assignment.” With such joy, this year was different.  I am amazed to see a dormant dream in my heart for 20 years alive in action and expression.  The balance of clinical life and contemplative ministry is now gratefully present in my daily experience.  Having just finished my group preparation for tomorrow night, the time seemed right to say “Thank You, Shalem” for all you have shared with me that I daily delight in passing on.


susan rowlandSusan Rowland is committed to creating spaces of stillness and quiet for deep listening, and delights in encouraging those interested in developing personal contemplative practices. She has a private practice in Marriage and Family Therapy in San Jose and serves on the board of The Contemplative Center in Silicon Valley.

Is the Spirit drawing you into deeper personal prayer and meditation? Does your experience of this inward deepening enliven your desire for authentic spiritual community? If your answers are yes, then the Spirit may be calling you to create contemplative community by leading groups and retreats. To learn more about Shalem’s 18-month program: Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats, click here.

Photo by Heidi Sandvik

Six Ways to Experience Contemplation Online

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

We live an increasingly virtual existence. We have ongoing conversations with our friends—sitting in our home, or from our office, or while standing on the street waiting for the bus—while they are in a different home, in a different office, or on a different street.

Person-Using-iPhone-4SNews and weather alerts pop up automatically on our phones, keeping us forever in the loop. We update our status so the world can know what we had for dinner, or so that not just family, but every person we’ve ever known can see a picture of our kids on their first day of school. We plug in to our devices to keep up-to-date on the news, choosing a website or newscast of choice. Sometimes, rather than looking out the window or stepping outside, we pull up our favorite weather app to decide if it’s going to be a short-sleeve or long-sleeve day. A number of us even work remotely—something increasingly normal in our ever-connected world.

So how does one maintain and deepen a contemplative stance in such a frenzied, virtual world? One obvious solution is to unplug. Put the phone away. Turn the computer off. Go for a walk. Keep the radio off on the commute to work. Don’t leave a window open with Facebook always tempting you to glance at the latest cat video or Star Trek meme. Even now you’re tempted (don’t do it!).

We all need to unplug from time to time. But I’ve also found that the Internet can be a place to deepen my prayer life and connection to God.

Here are six suggestions:

1) QUIET MUSIC — Find a station on Pandora, iTunes, or your favorite streaming music site, and listen to something that brings you into a contemplative space. I often find myself listening to the yoga, relaxation, or ambient radio channels on Pandora. If you have a favorite channel or artist—feel free to share it in the comments below.

2) PRAYER WEBSITE — For years, I have enjoyed going to Sacred Space, a website run by Irish Jesuits out of Dublin since 1999. It invites one into a quiet, prayerful space online, and leads one through meditative prayer culminating in a Scripture to sit with for as long as one feels led. There are other spaces to explore as well. I’ve even adapted a daily prayer session on Sacred Space for large group use – leading a congregation in a contemplative worship service, and reading the Scripture using lectio divina and silence.

3) MEDITATION TIMER—You might take some more time for silence and meditation if you had some help, right? That’s one of the reason we enjoy silent retreats or yoga sessions – because they provide us structure and give us permission be still. Turns out technology also provides some aids for meditation. The Insight Timer is probably the most famous. A simple app for your phone or iPad, the insight timer creates the sound of beautiful Tibetan singing bowls, gently and peacefully guiding you through your meditation session. With this, your attention can focus inward and with a timer that you set – you don’t need to worry about the clock. There is even an online community around the insight timer – you can check in online or tweet about your meditation session. For those wanting to go deeper – Insight provides guided meditations by teachers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, and Eckhart Tolle. Shalem’s meditation timer is available here: Shalem Timer.

4) AN ONLINE COURSE—There are an increasing number of us who take classes online. Some for college credit. Some for continuing education. Some for personal enjoyment or growth. There are a number of people who offer rich contemplative eCourses. Abbey of the Arts offers an 8-day Monk in the World eCourse, which explores some of the elements essential to a contemplative practice in everyday life. In October, Contemplative Journal is offering an eCourse on Aging as a Spiritual Practice. And Spirituality and Practice is always offering something new. An online course connects you with experienced spiritual teachers while giving you space to practice and experience at your own pace. If you search online, you can find extended, year-long courses, some for a few weeks, and even some one-day retreats. Shalem has several online courses enrolling now: Shalem eCourses.

5) ARTICLES AND BLOG POSTS—There are countless books available that offer rich spiritual wisdom. But sometimes you want just a nugget, an excerpt, maybe a few paragraphs of spiritual insight to feed your soul before you continue on with your day. Well there are a lot of good blogs out there. Where to start? I’ll suggest a few that I enjoy: Richard Rohr provides daily meditations that you can receive via email. Here’s a nugget from today’s meditation:

Contemplation is no fantasy, make-believe, or daydream, but the flowering of patience and steady perseverance. There is a deep relationship between the inner revolution of true prayer and the transformation of social structures and social consciousness. Our hope lies in the fact that meditation is going to change the society that we live in, just as it has changed us. It is that kind of long-term thinking that God seems to be involved in and kindly invites us into the same patient process.

Contemplative Journal also provides a rich source of articles and columns—in fact, recently Shalem contributed a series of articles for Contemplative Leadership Week.

The Contemplative Society provides regular posts from Cynthia Bourgeault, who will be recognized with Shalem’s Contemplative Voices Award for 2014 this November. Cynthia is a modern day mystic, Episcopal priest, writer, and internationally known retreat leader, committed to teaching and spreading the recovery of the Christian contemplative and Wisdom path.

There are many other blogs worth following but these are a few to get you started. Want to share some you enjoy? Please share with us below.

6) SOCIAL MEDIA —A final suggestion would be to find contemplative organizations and individuals you enjoy, and follow them on social media. Social media is a great way to connect with contemplative photography, audio teachings and meditations, blog posts, as well as connect to the ongoing contemplative conversation online. Any of the groups I mentioned above would be great to connect with via Facebook. There are also some regular contemplatives on Twitter such as our friend Carl McColman – follow him on Twitter to catch his latest thoughts, quotes, blogs and teachings. Do you have a favorite contemplative that you follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn? Is there a conversation group that you enjoy? Share with us below!

If you’re reading this post, you’re probably somewhat familiar with what Shalem offers for online contemplative connection. Seeking an online course? Check out our latest here. Shalem is quickly becoming a leader in providing quality online courses led by Shalem’s respected staff and faculty, and we have a 6-week course beginning this fall, as well as two online retreat days.

Looking for some social media connections? Shalem’s daily Facebook posts, comprised of contemplative photography and quotes, are enjoyed by nearly 6,000 people. Why not join them? Did you know that Shalem is also on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter, and LinkedIn? In each space, Shalem aspires to create offerings and moments of contemplative connection that expand awareness of the Spirit’s presence to all who cross our paths.

These are simply six suggestions that have nurtured and assisted my own spiritual practice. Whether you need a quick spiritual lift from a simple photo or quote, or you’re ready to explore contemplative life and practice in-depth, it may be only a click away. If you have something to share that has been particularly meaningful to you, please share below—we’d love to hear about it!


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. Bryan lives with his wife, Christy, and four children in Holland, MI. You can see more of his writing at pubtheologian.com.

Interested in taking an online course with Shalem? We have several enrolling now!

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.

Practicing Contemplation on the Road

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Changing LanesMy hands are locked on the steering wheel as I sit in the mass of vehicles inching down I-395 during morning rush hour.  I look straight ahead, my eyes locked on the truck just ahead of me.  I carefully avoid eye contact with the driver of the car to my right.  I pretend not to see her blinker, not even to be aware that she’s there trying to move her car in front of mine.  Drat!  My peripheral vision is too good; I can see her now beside me, just as I saw her pull out a dozen cars back into the diminishing right hand lane, moving up to the front of the line, trying to bypass all the rest of us who are waiting “patiently” to make our way to work.  I am indignant that she does not follow the rules.

There’s something about righteous indignation that feels so good, so superior— at least for a minute.  And then it all comes crashing down.  What am I doing?!? I started with a spacious morning, I set my intention to bless those along the way, I really want to be gracious to others I meet, and I’m on my way to Shalem for heaven’s sake!  Yet here I am again, hijacked by my amygdala, under the control of my ego, or maybe just caught up in an old habit.  How distressing!

I suppose in some ways it’s a blip on the radar.  And yet I feel sad.  Why is it so difficult for me to live consistently from the spiritual heart?  In this moment, I feel that others have figured out the key.  They pray enough; they hold silence longer, they don’t fail so often in their intent.

And then I smile.  In the course of two minutes, I’ve fallen fully into dualistic thinking.  The other driver is wrong; I’m right.  No, she’s fine; I’m the one who’s not good enough.  My thinking mind is a judgment machine!  It leaves no situation unlabeled!  I open to the possibility of simply being with what is, as it is, in this moment.  I breathe.

Such a small and yet such a frequent occurrence in my life.  I think it’s time for the words of Richard Rohr to be taped to my visor: “Perfection is not the elimination of imperfection, as we think. Divine perfection is, in fact, the ability to recognize, forgive, and include imperfection! —just as God does with all of us. Only in this way can we find the beautiful and hidden wholeness of God underneath the passing human show.  It is the gift of non-dual thinking and seeing, which itself is a gift of love, suffering, and grace. In fact, this is the radical grace that grounds all holy seeing and doing.”

What shows up for you as you as you open to living contemplatively?

Leah Rampy, Shalem’s Executive Director, has a background in corporate management and leadership consulting as well as a deep passion for contemplative living and care of the Earth. She has a PhD in Curriculum from Indiana University and has participated in Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening as well as Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats: Transforming Community.

Shalem’s intention is to open space for you to deepen your own contemplative practice and awareness. We offer online courses, one-day retreats, and extended in-person programs. This fall, Leah Rampy will be leading an online Contemplative Leadership workshop. Read more here.

Dropping all I’ve carried

cropped featherBy 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 at blessedjourneyblog.com.

About a year ago I started to feel restless in my job and knew there was change coming. I could not tell you what direction I was going in, but I knew something different was on my horizon. I was still drawing a regular paycheck so the faith was particularly easy.

Well, on January 1st my job of the past five years was outsourced. I’ve walked that thin line between joy (the opening up to what’s in store for me next) and fear (how will I make my daughter’s last tuition payment?). Over the past month I have done lots of praying about what is next: Holy One, I don’t know what direction you want me to go in. I am willing but have no roadmap here. Do I lead more classes? Do I pick up some more writing/blogging clients? What do I do with these degrees, coursework, and experience?

I’ve been professionally marketing and writing for the past 25+ years and leading classes and programs for the past 15+. So how do I use my gifts now?

This is hard work. Quotes like this one on the Three Intentions website keep showing up, “When all we’ve carried has served its purpose and now we must burn it for warmth and to see what’s next.” I thought, this is where I am.

Then, when I was reading my morning meditation the other day from Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening I again got the message: “Dropping all we carry…Dropping all we have constructed as imperative allows us to be born again into the simplicity of spirit that arises from unencumbered being. It is often overwhelming to imagine changing our entire way of life. Where do we begin? How do we take down a wall that took twenty-five or fifty years to erect? Breath by breath. Little death by little death. Dropping all we carry instant by instant. Trusting that what has done the carrying if freed, will carry us.”

Last summer my fiancé and I started a new plumbing company that is totally focused on service, on taking care of the customer. Well, when my main job went away we talked about me concentrating more on the company. I was thinking more of the same of what I’ve done in life: market, write, blog.

Then he suggested I come help him on a job. I thought, okay, I’ll learn something new and I know it’s a job that’s much easier with two sets of hands. But, I had an appointment later that day to meet with someone who wants me to write a blog for them. Well, the plumbing job was running a little long and I was starting to think about how I could help enough and get to my appointment when the woman called to tell me she couldn’t meet because of a family emergency. As I was talking to her on the phone the feeling that I was just where I need to be washed over me. I never guessed I’d be learning plumbing first hand, but the sense of rightness is palpable. Who knows what my days will look like in six months, a year, two years, but right now, Spirit has surprised me again and I’m “dropping all I’ve carried” for so long, “trusting that what has done the carrying if freed, will carry us.”

As a side note, I hope you can come to see Mark Nepo March 21-22 at Shalem’s Gerald May Seminar in Washington, DC. I’ve never heard him speak in person, but his writings have moved me time and again, and he’ll be sharing from his poetry and writings. I am going and hope to see you there!