Create in Me a Clean Heart and a New Blog Post

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

I said “yes” to writing a blog. At the time, writing a blog about something I loved seemed like a piece of cake. I could instantly see all of the prayers I would include, the artwork, the inspirational music videos and more.  I was excited to create the blog until I actually started writing and wondering how I would fill its approximately 50 blog posts.

The topic was Lent and all of the days leading up to the magnificent Easter celebration. In the midst of creating the posts I was thinking about my own Lenten journey. I was praying for perfect words and a clean heart so that the posts would be holy and a blessing.  I was trying to get it just right and was feeling very overwhelmed.

Then, I realized, it made sense that I felt a little frightened. I was writing about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, his resurrection from the dead, and his hope and love for all of humanity.  I wanted to capture the essence of the angels and their message of courage and love, too. I asked myself, “How could I possibly capture any of the hope, joy, suffering, humility, sacrifice, and love in any of my small blog posts?”  I felt defeated and felt afraid to try.

At the same time, I was also excited and decided to just begin. I gave myself permission to be a Child of God, just doing the very best I could with the very best intentions. I humbly started writing, added photos, art, inspirational music videos, and poetry. I had hopes that some of these might capture the glory of God and His love for us. It was a humbling undertaking to say the very least.

While working on the blog I could hear myself say, “Create in me a clean heart and please just one more blog post.”  It was a strange juxtaposition of creativity and spirituality.  I had arrived somewhere between the garden of suffering and learning how to upload just the right photo. I felt inadequate on more than one occasion and prayed that it would offer people the hope or comfort that they needed.

The creation of the blog became a prayer in itself. Offering only what I knew how to do and trusting that God would just fill in the rest. It was (and is) a walk of faith and I am hoping that God will offer whoever reads the blog just what they need on their own Lenten journey.  I trust that the blog is just a simple bridge for love and grace that only God can bring.

And so once again I pray to God, “Create in me a clean heart and please just take care of the rest.”  If you’d like to check out the blog posts, they began on February 10, 2016 (https://becomingthestorywetell.blogspot.com ). This is a part of the ministry of my church, The Church of the Holy Spirit, Episcopal Church. I am wishing you and all those you love a most magnificent Lenten journey and the abundant joy and peace during the Easter Season.


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.

Are you a clergy person who would like to deepen your inner life, as well as bring a contemplative dimension to your congregational life? Shalem’s Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership Program is taking applications right now! Early bird registration deadline is March 1, and final application deadline is April 1. Learn more about this respected program here: Going Deeper.

Prayer Circles for Peace

Today’s post is by Patience Robbins

Right now there are about two billion Christians on the planet. If a significant portion of them were to embrace the contemplative dimension of the Gospel, the emerging global society would experience a powerful surge toward enduring peace.
-Thomas Keating

“I am a cosmic citizen, a planetary being who lives in the Americas in the United States.” This was a line shared by a teacher I had one summer. It sure blows open any narrow attachment to a certain country or geographical place and calls forth a whole new perspective on who I am related to and where I belong. This ties in so well with what I have been learning (and thus teaching) in my own life–the interconnectedness of all.

For years I have been quoting a line from Thomas Merton: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” As I grow in the contemplative life, I continue to notice and experience the truth of these words–unity with others and the earth. In fact, now I am praying the question: How do we live out of this interconnectedness, especially as I notice that I often act, think and live as though I am separate, independent and self-sufficient?

One of my favorite people is Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in a redwood tree in California for two years in order to bring attention to the destruction of the forest. In her book, The Legacy of Luna (which is about her tree-sit at the age of 25), she records a very inspiring transformational experience in which she gave over her life to God. She was willing to surrender her life, for good, for Love, for this deeper call she knew within her being. During this transformative time, she started noticing and experiencing her oneness with the tree, the ants, the birds, the people who were attempting to force her to leave the tree so they could chop it down as well as all the people who were supporting her. It is a very moving story of what can happen when we live out of our deepest self, available to God and experiencing ourselves as part of one living organism.

It is out of this conviction and reflection on this oneness that I woke up one morning with an image of “prayer circles for peace.” These would be opportunities to gather in community, recognizing our interconnectedness, intentionally praying for peace, and encouraging one another to claim and live out this vision of peace in our hearts, our communities and our world. I was reminded of Gandhi’s line: “My greatest weapon is mute prayer.” Thus our deep desire and longing to embrace the gift of peace is what creates that possibility for ourselves and our world.

I have begun a variety of these circles over the years. As we gather to sit in silent prayer, it may not feel or look like we are doing anything to aid the suffering and ease the hatred, violence, and destruction in our world, but there is a profound sense of holding the world and each other in a loving and compassionate way, of BEING love and peace for all that is.

So I continue to have hope and an ever deeper commitment to world peace along with a bubbling joy. I invite you to join me in acknowledging our oneness, being a loving presence for our world, and claiming and living into this vision of peace. Perhaps you, too, would like to start a “prayer circle for peace” in your neighborhood?

Article from Shalem News, Fall 2006 issue.

openhands_image1This New Year, journey with Patience Robbins for Open Hands, Willing Hearts, a  6-session eCourse series, beginning January 10. In this course, we will explore with the questions: 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? Register here.


Patience Profile PicPatience Robbins is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and has been a spiritual director for 30 years. She was the Director of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening Program from 2003-08 and the Director of the Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative from 2013-2015.  She is the author of the booklet, Parenting: A Sacred Path.

Banner photo by Susan Etherton

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.

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!

Gravy, Not Soup

Today’s post is by Kimberly Borin

Recently, I had the good fortune of being on retreat with the Shalem Institute at the Bon Secours Retreat Center.  During our retreat we were blessed with beautiful, delicious meals, which often included soup!  One day, in the midst of our silent retreat all I could think about was soup.  As I got closer to the soup pot, I could see that there was very little soup.  In addition, there were no more soup bowls or soup spoons.

I felt defeated but I was determined to have soup! I found one of the caterers and asked for a bowl, and pointed to the soup.  She looked at me in an odd way but gladly handed me a bowl.  I went back to the line and started ladling bit by bit whatever soup was left in the pot.  The ladle made quite a bit of noise scraping the bottom and sides of the pot as I determinedly filled my bowl.  I was desperate to get whatever was left.

The person, behind me was quite patient, despite my constant dips of the ladle into the fairly empty pot.  She remained serene even with all of the clanking of my soup seeking gestures.  After I was done I noticed that she put some of this soup all over her turkey.  “Hmmmm, That’s a nice idea,” I thought to myself.

I went back to my table and started eating my salad, eager to eat my soup next.  All of a sudden, it occurred to me that perhaps I had desperately ladled myself a whole bowl of gravy, not soup.  I quickly dismissed the thought, with a silent “That’s ridiculous,” and a shake of the head.  Although I knew that the minute I tried the soup I would realize it was indeed – gravy.

I did try the soup… it was gravy.  I was left to eat the remainder of my salad, in silence, while staring at my bowl of gravy.  I was on the edge of bursting out laughing and knowing that my friends who had watched me loudly excavate for the soup probably felt the same way.

Current class of Shalem's Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats

Current class of Shalem’s Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program

The next day, when we came out of silence, I went to my friend who had been standing next to me in line.  I said, “Oh, I have to tell you something.”  Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, the story about taking a whole bowl of gravy?”  “Yes!”  I replied.  Together we laughed out loud and so did everyone else.  From that day forward everyone in line would point out to me, what was gravy and what was soup.

This little bit of mistaken identity struck me in such a way that I could not forget about the incident.  In between making me laugh, the metaphor helped me see a deeper lesson.

Were there other things in my life that were only gravy and not nourishing like soup?  Were there people, places, things in my life that I was desperately hoping would nourish me, but would not provide what I needed, or what God intended for me?

This beautiful metaphor of gravy not soup, has been nourishing me ever since.  In my contemplative practices I have been noticing moments of consolation and desolation.  I have also been noticing moments of gravy, not soup.  These simple labels have been helping me to see the places that provide the nourishment I need – places God would have me go.  I feel so grateful to have this little moment of soup, of silliness, and of story that helps me to choose nourishment on every level in my life.


kimberlyborinDr. 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.

Going Deeper

Today’s post is by Patience Robbins

“Holiness is not in what you do, but what you allow to be done
to you by the circumstances of your life.”
~Richard Rohr

At a retreat for Shalem staff, we were pondering the phrase: going deeper. This phrase emerged in conversations during the year about our desire for God and growing in our relationship with God. These are some of my reflections on this theme.

When I hear “going deeper,” my first response is to think of some profound mystical experience — something dramatic, extraordinary, a striking revelation of God in my life. I usually associate this with something special that I do: a retreat, time of prayer, a visit to a sacred place, attending a church service. But as I listen to others and reflect on my experience, I realize that going deeper into God happens in the very ordinary, nitty-gritty of my life. It is usually an ongoing process and does not occur with flashing lights or strong winds.

A symbol that emerges is a tree. A tree is solid, steady, rooted and true to its being. A tree lives through various seasons and time. Occasionally there are some spectacular happenings like a storm with heavy winds, lightning and hail, but usually, life is flowing: light, darkness, rain, sun, wind, snow — the ongoing, ordinary passage of time and seasons. The tree continues to grow, fed and nourished through its roots, true to its being and bearing fruit.

And so it is with us. Life is usually very mundane. But as we seek God and allow ourselves to be rooted in God, we grow and expand in the very ordinary circumstances of life. This rootedness in God is hidden and imperceptible — we are not necessarily aware of all that happens in the dark. As we continue to seek God, we too bear fruit and become more of our true self.

This “being” or rootedness in God implies a choice, however. It requires a deep acceptance of the circumstances of our lives, which are unique for each of us. It requires that we trust that God is present in our lives and companioning us in our reality. The surprise may be that the painful, difficult or unwanted circumstances of life could be the very ones that enable the roots to go deeper into God and let us stand more firmly in who we are.

A story that comes to mind is the one from the Gospel of Luke in which two disciples were walking with Jesus to Emmaus. As they were walking, they recounted their disappointment with all that had happened the past few days using the words: “we had hoped….” Everything seemed to have gone wrong. The man Jesus whom they followed had been crucified as a common criminal. Their hopes were dashed — now what? And as they walked and ate with Jesus, he revealed another way of looking at all of this so they saw it in a new way. What a twist — a surprise — to view these events in a different way so that God was there but not in the way they expected.

And so it with us. The way of deepening our relationship with God may not be what we had in mind or the way we had hoped. Instead, going deeper may be about our openness to God’s presence in all of the ordinary circumstances of life and saying yes to what is given — with joy.


Patience Profile PicPatience Robbins 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 has recently been Director of Shalem’s Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative. Patience is the author of Parenting: A Sacred Path.

This reflection first appeared in the Shalem News, Winter 2003.

BannerSquareLWLWAs we head into summertime, and schedules shift and perhaps open, we invite you to join Patience for a 6-week eCourse: Living Word, Living Way. Allow Patience to guide you through the use of lectio divina, walking meditation, the practice of gratitude and intercessory prayers—practices that will deepen your inner life wherever you are on your spiritual journey. Course begins June 21. Sign up today!

Music as a Doorway to Prayer


Today’s post is by the late Ann Kulp

Music has called us to prayer through the ages: the shofar, psalm, pipes, harp, trumpet, the peal of bells, the carillon, and symphony. Some of us have been stilled and called through Tibetan bowls, whose sound lingers and leads us into the silence of waiting. There is the music of the gurgling brook, wind in the rustling trees, the chirping of cicadas and other natural sounds. There is the music of Native American flute, a jazz band, a Gregorian chant. It matters not what kind. Each is an echo of some sound heard eons ago, and perhaps remembered. At different times in our lives we may hear sounds that become moments of such recollection, drawing us more deeply into the attitude called prayer.

As I ponder the meaning of music for me, I have a sense of being touched deeply, as though certain melodies come from elsewhere, as though they resonate with a part of me with which I have little knowledge. The melodies seem to possess a power to unlock a part of my emotions through a rhythm or sequence of tones that sounds simply sublime. I feel in tune with a different kind of reality, different from my everyday routine. I may experience solace, release, a “lift” or sheer exhilaration. Music becomes a pathway from my head to my heart. My attention is diverted from ordinary distractions to a language that has direct access to my spirit. Music engages me, stills me, inspires me, and sometimes connects me to the Source of all sound and silence. It becomes a holy moment. It opens me to prayer, sheer attentiveness. My heart is open. Music has become the doorway.

Is there a special kind of music that possesses this power? Perhaps, but I rather think it is an individual matter of preference, timing and environment. What might leave me cold at a concert may move me deeply in a quiet place, or vice versa. One can’t predict when that special doorway will present itself. But it does. I like to think that just as the composer was moved to pen the notes, so the listener can be moved to respond to them. If in the divine economy nothing is wasted, then someone will undoubtedly transmit the inspiration of sound to another who is waiting to hear it.

Music, as a form of creative expression, seems to be a doorway for the composer as well as the listener. Both experience its power to touch places not normally available to the conscious mind. Beethoven wrote his Sixth Symphony (the “Pastoral”) after the onset of deafness, when he found greatest solace in nature. Paul Winter was inspired to write “Return to Gaia” (from Earth Mass) after reading a letter from astronaut Rusty Schweickart who spoke convincingly of his deep longing within for Earth/Home. Mahler’s Third Symphony reveals the composer’s spiritual struggle as he presents a cosmological ascent culminating in a triumph both contemplative and explosive, proclaiming, “Love God alone all your life.”

As Westerners, we tend to choose activities that engage the conscious mind. But with music we can be opened to appreciate the raw material of creativity and opened to something deeper in ourselves. Receptivity to the Eternal Sound, as expressed in music, can lead us into the Eternal Silence, to God, with opened hearts.


AnnKulpAnn Kulp was an associate staff member with Shalem for 17 years, leading quiet days, contemplative prayer groups, workshops with Tibetan singing bowls, adult education classes, series on the mystics, and other miscellaneous topics related to spirituality. Ann was a graduate of The College of William and Mary and Northwestern University. This article originally appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 1996.

Shalem is grateful to offer two contributions that Ann worked on during the last year of her life:


spiritwindowsSpirit Windows
is a unique and valuable handbook written specifically to assist leaders in planning experiences such as retreats, prayer groups, church school classes, Bible study groups, and more. This handbook is filled with sample prayers, suggestions for music, meditations, inspirational quotations, retreat ideas and a wide array of other resources. It was revised by Ann and is now offered as an updated edition. Purchase your copy here.

1SquareIcon_Holy_InterruptionsHoly Interruptions: An Online Retreat Day to Cultivate Deeper Divine Awareness. Are you ready for a retreat? Busy schedule keeping you from getting away? With Holy Interruptions, you can take a quiet day wherever you are, and be led by a contemplative teacher to a greater awareness of the holiness found in each moment. Gain a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the mundane, daily realities of your life. Find practices and support you can take with you beyond this online encounter. Through teaching audio and guided meditations, reflection questions, art, and intentional silence, Ann Kulp leads you into holy connections in this virtual retreat space. Materials available now through mid-June. Register here.

Heart, Mind & Prayer

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

Sometimes, instead of praying, I find myself thinking about praying; evaluating how I’m praying, figuring out what is proper or most effective. While these mental gymnastics may be well intentioned, and in fact have some real value as reflections before or after prayer, their effect during prayer is to keep me from really praying. They keep me in the mind and out of the heart.

As long as attention resides solely in the mind, we may spend our time producing scenes in which images of ourselves pray to images of God. This can become very effortful and can lead to a kind of “pretending” at prayer. Real prayer requires at least an attempt to leave such mental struggles and allow our attention to sink deeply, simply, and nakedly into the heart. Bringing attention to the heart is not a complicated process, but it does take real intention and courage. It involves a gentle, steady and wakeful willingness to let ourselves be just who we are before God and to let God be just how God will be within us. This demands no special generation of images. Nothing need be contrived or censored. It is a disarmingly simple matter of relaxing and allowing whatever we really feel, perceive, want or fear to surface as it will. It is seldom easy and sometimes impossible to be successful at this, but the attempt needs to be made.

Courage is necessary because what we experience at this heart level may be so painful, boring, frightening, or beautiful we can hardly bear it, and the deeper perceptions of “me” and God that emerge may be threateningly unlike our usual mental images. To remain in the heart and permit such a fierce and simple honesty is the real work of prayer.

In my own heart-experience I often feel childlike, tender and dependent; and the God-presence that meets my heart may be so overwhelmingly loving that I feel I simply must escape. At other times, the hopes and fears of my heart just seem to lie there in emptiness, with no sense at all of God’s response. Then, too, I want to escape, back to mind-images where I can make something happen.

It takes a strong commitment to try to remain in the heart regardless of what may come, but with time and grace, one’s trust in the open mystery of God and self can grow into an ever deepening, heartfelt prayer.

As I reflect upon my own history of prayer and meditation, I can identify two parallel but very different patterns of growth. On the surface are mental concepts and images of self, world and God that have evolved over the years. These are more theologically and psychologically mature than they used to be, and they are valuable. But somewhere nearer my heart, another evolution has been taking place. Here there is a little child, a child without concept; a child who is growing in trust and hope and love, but who in some way will forever remain a child. Here also is a growing sense of God, a God beyond image yet palpable, intimate, and inexpressibly loving. Perhaps in true maturity these growing paths of mind and heart become one. I don’t know. But it does seem that if our hearts can be given attention in prayer, then our minds can find their home.

 


 

ME/May-obGerald May was a member of Shalem’s staff from 1973 until his death in 2005. In this the 10th anniversary of his passing, we are offering a piece by him that first appeared in the Shalem News, Winter 1984, and is part of his collected newsletter articles, Living in Love. To purchase your own copy of Living in Love, click here.

 

In honor of Gerald May’s life, Shalem has created the Gerald May Seminar, featuring a variety of contemplative and spiritual leaders. This year’s speaker is James Finley, a clinical psychologist and renowned leader of retreats and workshops throughout the US and Canada. His Friday lecture topic is Turning to Thomas Merton As Our Guide in Contemplative Living and Saturday’s workshop is on The Spirituality of Healing. Purchase tickets to the event here. If you cannot join us in person, Friday’s lecture is available for live stream, which you can purchase here.

Into Spring and Beyond

Today’s post is by Bryan Berghoef

Pulling in to the monastery, the snow was piled high on the abbey grounds. The walkways were cleared, as the monks had fastidiously kept the paths open for themselves and any guests who would take advantage of their hospitality. I arrived on a chilly day that began less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit—one of several guests seeking a quiet retreat. It had been a long snowy season, and this cold morning was perhaps one last, serious squeeze from old man winter.

I checked into my dormitory-style room in the abbey guesthouse, a very spartan layout, with a simple bed, a desk, and a small rug on the wood floor. Looking out the window, I was greeted with a winter view of a large snow-covered field bordered by leafless branchy trees. A few large icicles hung from the roofline. There was a small walkout balcony accessible to my second-floor room, with an area to sit outside on warmer days.

Arriving on this cold day for a brief retreat at the Benedictine Abbey, I was struck by the ongoing rhythm of the monks who live there. They go about their regular patterns of prayer and work, regardless of the season. Whether summer, fall, winter or spring—they faithfully enter the chapel space for prayers, from early morning matins to evening compline. Joining them, and settling into the rhythm of prayer, work, silence, eating and reflection was a welcome change from my normal busy family life. Sitting in the presence of these monks as they chanted the Psalms, I could feel something inside me warming to it, as a cat stretches and curls up by the fire on a wintry day.

And, as nature would benevolently have it, that kindling of inner warmth was echoed by the March sun, which woke us beautifully the next morning. By mid-afternoon, temperatures soared above 40 degrees for perhaps the first time in 2015. By late afternoon, the large icicles that had slowly formed over the previous months came crashing down. It was even warm enough for me to pull my desk chair out onto the balcony and sit (soak!) in the sunshine. And as the snow on the roof began to melt, creating a chorus of regular drips, I was reminded that every season gives way to another, and that God is with us in each one, even if our perception, or circumstances, or heart stirrings might change.

Newly nourished by these warm moments of sunshine, I walked along the melting snow-lined path to the chapel for evening vespers. I sat down quietly in the space reserved for guests. The monks, wearing their black robes, walked in at the appointed time. I wondered briefly if they had had a chance to enjoy the first glimpse of spring as I had. Either way, they did not blink or change rhythm one bit. They chanted the same Psalms, echoed the same prayers that they had been praying all winter, and would continue well into spring and beyond.


bryan1Bryan Berghoef is a pastor and writer who helps curate Shalem’s social media content and provides technical support for Shalem’s online courses. He is the author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation, and God, and lives with his family in Holland, Michigan. You can follow Bryan on Facebook and Twitter.

Joy Unspeakable

Today’s post is by Tanya Radford

Black History month for me comes with great joy and great dread. Dread because the month typically consists of the same history and politically correct acknowledgements. No new enlightenment. But great joy as it gives me the opportunity to present something of more depth for conversation, for consideration about my culture, about who I am.

So, it is with this joy that I muse about what it means to be contemplative and African American. I’ve been thinking, praying, and studying this seeming contradiction for some time—only to conclude that there is no contradiction. For people of color, the contemplative is embedded in our DNA.

Before I began my journey at Shalem, it was recommended that I read a book titled Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church. I began reading this beautiful study, and it was like a salve to my yearning soul. The author, Barbara Holmes, filled in the blanks and answered many questions. She discusses the communal nature of worship for African descendent peoples and explains why for me being contemplative is not all about silence but about community, spirited worship in community and silence.

Barbara Holmes begins her study in the church—the center of our community, the place we gather to give strength to each other as we receive strength from one another. The worship experience in the Black church is spiritual nirvana! It is the height of oneness: the prayers, the music, the preached word, the swaying, the shouting, everyone in one accord. There is nothing more powerful than when a people come together to praise and worship God, pray together and experience the supernatural power of the all mighty God! This communal worship informs our silent times, gives a place to bare our souls, reconnects us to the ancestral memory of wholeness, oneness. It is no wonder that the greatest movements in our history are borne out of the church. We need this experience. The goal therefore becomes carrying this experience of God’s presence into the everyday, to tap into that power for clarity and direction.

For me this also begs another look at the icons of our faith. For just as Howard Thurman is recognized as a contemplative, I would suggest that many others should also be named, among them Martin Luther King, Jr., who penned some of his greatest writings out of the solitude of seeking God to find a way to bring the peace of God into unimaginable situations. King then brought his experience of God back to the community to galvanize a people and give them the tools to tap into that strength to face the challenges of each day. He found strength in community and in the silence.

This suggests to me that maybe the definition for being contemplative shouldn’t be too narrow, too exclusive, too restrictive. This way of life is not so much about a practice but more about the approach to all of life. For African descendent people, the oneness of worship in all of its joyful celebration is a necessary part of the solitude of silence. It is a way, one way, our way to the contemplative mind. No contradiction, and certainly just as powerful.

Would you like to read more? Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color explores the unique concerns, issues and experiences of people of color. The essays, told from the viewpoint of the spiritual director, inspire us to explore our own traditions and encourage us to embrace culturally relevant approaches to spiritual direction.


Tanya-RadfordTanya Radford, Shalem’s Special Assistant/Program Administrator, works with Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program and assists with all other programs at Shalem. In addition, she helped produce Shalem’s 40th anniversary video and managed the creation of Shalem’s new web site and database. She has a degree in Media Arts and is a writer, vocalist and student of the word of God.