Going Deeper Begins With Me

Today’s post is comprised of two audio testimonials from graduates of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program.

Al Keeney, Episcopal priest and pilgrimage & retreat leader, NY

There were days in my parish ministry when I wondered if there was anything “spiritual” happening in our church community. We often seemed to be caught up in preserving the institution, instead of deepening our relationship with the Holy One and each other. In looking back, I am aware of the Spirit’s quiet nudge to enroll in this program whose subtitle said it all: “going deeper.”

In my first residency, I knew I was in the right place. To a person, we were hungry, for true spiritual community, where we could share our hunger with others and our deep desire to be spiritually grounded leaders. Our gatherings were filled with many occasions of powerful spiritual presence in communal silence. There were incredible seminars that opened our minds and awakened our hearts. There was a real sense of our common life together, one built on trust, where we could be vulnerable, practice deep listening and share seriously with light hearts, joy and a sense of humor. We were living in a spiritual community.

There were many lessons I learned from living out of our spiritual hearts. One of them has been the ground of my work back in parish ministry.

Instead of trying to “change” others, I learned something of the wisdom of the Orthodox St. Seraphim who said: “Save yourself and thousands around you will be saved.” I learned that “going deeper” begins with me and then finds its way to others.

Listen to Al Keeney’s testimony here:

Elaine Dent, pastor of an inner city church, PA

Early in my ministry as a Lutheran pastor, I was encouraged by a colleague to participate in Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program.  I thought doing so would be a good idea in order to deepen my relationship to God at the beginning of a new call; what I did not realize was that participating in the clergy program would profoundly shape my life, my spiritual practices and my ministry as a pastor for years to come.  Now, more than a decade later, I am so very, very grateful.

In the clergy program I learned spiritual prayer practices that set free some of my longings to notice God’s presence: attentiveness to the present moment, silence, art, walking, even play—all practices that nurture my soul to this day.  But mostly I learned ways to listen: listen to the Holy One, to my spiritual heart, to others and to the congregation where I serve.  I was challenged to recognize and point out the Spirit’s movement in the life of the congregation, to follow the Spirit’s nudges rather than my own agenda.  I began to recognize times when God’s Spirit calls me and the congregation to take risks.

A wonderful benefit of the clergy program is that it connected me to a community of people who also value contemplative prayer in their lives.  There are many denominational programs and new methods offered to a pastor; it is much, much harder to find people who speak the same language of deep listening to God’s Spirit.

For that reason I continue to participate in Shalem pilgrimages, retreats and clergy days—something that unites me to a worldwide community of many faith traditions, but a community that speaks the same language of listening to the deep peace, love and shalom of God’s Spirit.  I have indeed been blessed and I suspect that my congregation would say the same.

Listen to Elaine Dent’s testimony here:


Are you a clergy member sensing a call to deepen your inner life and bring a contemplative dimension to your congregational setting? Do you know a clergy person who might have such a longing or desire? Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program, Class of 2017, is accepting applications now through April 1st. Learn more.

To hear more testimonials from our graduates, visit the program page, Going Deeper, and click on the ‘Testimonials’ tab

 

Silence, Seeing, Solidarity, Salaam

Today’s post is by Weldon Nisly

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. (Isaiah 62:1)
Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41f)

Isaiah sees injustice and invokes Jerusalem, refusing to keep silent. Jesus sees Jerusalem and laments our refusal to see peace. Jerusalem, a central and symbolic place whose name embraces peace — salaam/shalom – embodies violence.

To see what makes for peace is to know when to break silence and when to be silent in solidarity with suffering people seeking salaam or shalom—peace. Contemplatives know that we see and speak from our heart and head.

Before seeing Selma recently, I “saw” again Martin Luther King’s April 4, 1967, sermon, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” He dared to break silence to help us see that militarism, materialism, and racism reveal a nation “approaching spiritual death” by waging war on “enemies” at home and around the world. “A time comes when silence is betrayal,” he concluded. “We have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Seeing and speaking truth has consequences. A year later King was killed, but his life is not silent if we too see and speak truth.

Jesus, King, and my experience at Shalem give me eyes of the heart to see “what makes for peace.” The eyes of my heart turn to the war in Iraq, where I have been three times: 2003 (beginning war), 2010 (war presumably winding down), and 2014 (war escalating again).

Last fall I was in Iraqi Kurdistan with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). CPT has been a peaceful presence in Iraq since 2002, first from Baghdad and since 2006 from Sulaymaniyah in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, at the invitation of and in solidarity with local people of peace.

Turkey KurdsThe simmering ISIS crisis boiled over in August, with ISIS controlling a third of Iraq and Syria. Once again the U.S. response is to see bombs as the way to “degrade and destroy” ISIS. Our CPT response is to accompany Kurdish human rights groups responding to victims of war.

Being in Iraqi Kurdistan is to have one’s eyes opened to see the people and place, to see their suffering, to see into the past as well as the present, and to hear their cry.

I saw welcoming people in the midst of war. When I arrived at the Sulaymaniyah International Airport, I saw Mohammed’s warm smile and heard his greeting, “Welcome to Kurdistan.” A school teacher and a leader of CPT’s Iraqi Kurdistan Team, Mohammed’s hospitality helped me begin to see the Kurdish people and hear their story. One evening, walking along a busy street, someone on a motorcycle yelled, “Welcome to Suli” (as Sulaymaniyah is known). Later, traveling across Iraqi Kurdistan, a checkpoint guard, hearing we were CPTers, waved us on with, “Welcome to Kurdistan.”

We also saw damage from oil drilling at a village near an oil drilling company. In addition to trucks destroying the roads, the company’s earthshaking drills caused a jagged crack across the wall of the school. We saw the specific danger to schoolchildren and the symbolic damage of our insatiable appetite for oil. Invited home by the village leader, we sat on the floor drinking tea while he and his wife told us about the trembling earth and polluted air and water endangering their children’s lives. Endless empty promises to repair roads and rebuild the school have been made. They weren’t asking to stop drilling, they were asking to be seen and heard.

In a press conference in Suli, we saw Muslims, Ezidis, Christians, and Kurds calling for everyone to work together for peace. With others, I accompanied Zhiyan, a human rights delegation to Duhok, near the Syrian border, where we saw our Zhiyan leader, a Kurdish woman of diplomatic wisdom, speaking passionately with the Governor of the region and compassionately with the displaced Ezidi people in the IDP camps. We saw deep suffering as we documented women and girls abducted by ISIS. We saw lively children flocking round us in the camps. We saw traumatized Ezidis inviting us into tents for tea to tell us about missing family members. We heard countless calls for bombing ISIS as the only effective response under these tragic circumstances.

A contemplative challenge is to sense when to be silent and when to speak with suffering people while being committed to breaking the cycle of violence. It means seeing and listening deeply to those whom we accompany to hear their suffering and solutions for salaam. Out of silence we break silence by our seeing solidarity seeking salaam.


WeldonNislyWeldon Nisly is a Mennonite Pastor who has served with Christian Peacemaker Teams, seeking to bring a peaceful presence to Iraq and the Middle East. He is a graduate of Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program. Weldon, along with Shane Claiborne and others, has sought to tell an alternative story involving Iraqis and Americans working for peace.

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Do you long to lead from your spiritual heart or know a clergy person who does? Shalem’s Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper is for clergy of all denominations and geographic locations who serve on the staffs of local churches or whose ministry involves the local church. This 18-month Program offers a dedicated time for nurturing one’s own soul and for deepening one’s contemplative orientation as a congregational spiritual leader. The deadline for this program is only two weeks away: March 15.
Learn more and apply here.