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!

Litany of the Holy Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

Amen! Alleluia!

Undefended Knowing: A Conversation with Richard Rohr and Tilden Edwards*

2013-06-23 09.02.12Two renowned teachers of the Christian contemplative movement discuss the path to “knowing with the spiritual heart.”

By Carole A. Crumley, July 22, 2013

*Excerpted from Patheos Progressive Christian

Two seminal teachers of the Christian contemplative movement—Father Richard Rohr and Tilden Edwards—joined me in conversation at The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation earlier this year to reflect on their spiritual awakening and parallel paths in the Christian contemplative tradition.

What drew you to the contemplative path?

Tilden: Forty years ago, the religious world was different than today. I was part of that way of being in the church, that way of being religious, that way of being prayerful, and something just seemed really deeply missing. And yet, since no one else was talking about that very much, there wasn’t a word for it, or a way for it. As I began to explore the long, deep-contemplative tradition and began some practices, it came to me that this was where the hole was.

My basic underlying hunger was for something that I could not even name, because “contemplative” was not a word that anyone used unless you were in a very marginal place in some contemplative community. It was an alien word to so many people. So I felt that I wanted to go deeper myself. I had many years of experience of going to monasteries and retreats. And yet, even as those were presenting what we would call “contemplative” today, it still seemed like they had lost something of the oral tradition and deep lineage, that heart of what the contemplative revelation is about.

At the suggestion of some Christian leaders, I enrolled in a two-month contemplative program of teaching and practices led by a high Tibetan Lama, which helped to open me to a depth of consciousness that I yearned for, as well as a sense of connection of that consciousness with the Christian contemplative tradition. After that I gathered some people together in Washington, DC, in 1973 and the Shalem Institute grew out of that. There were twenty of us who agreed to stay together every week for a couple of hours and have a retreat together as well. Over time, those people began to see that this was filling the hole that they were feeling too and had no name for. And little by little, so much more began to evolve and develop, not only with us, but in the larger culture, where what was so marginal for so long was becoming re-awakened in ways that we had no idea where it might lead.

At first, this was good private prayer that was really deep. Then we began to see this had revolutionary implications for the whole society, not only the church or other religious communities but for the way every institution is grounded.

Richard, was there anything similar, or different, for you?

Richard: First of all, because I joined the Franciscans young, we always had the word “contemplation,” and from my first day in novitiate, around 1961, we had to start the day with twenty minutes of silence on our knees. Amazingly, it’s what we do now in a sitting position instead of a kneeling position. Those were the first hints that there was another way of knowing, and that it wasn’t come to by discursive logic or reasoning or added perception, but it almost came unmediated. I didn’t have any theological education then, but I knew there was another way of knowing, and you sort of kept it to yourself, because you weren’t sure you weren’t fooling yourself, or you really didn’t know how to talk about it.

Then, as I grew up I got educated in theology, spiritual theology, particularly the discovery of Thomas Merton. He, for so many of us, gave us the vocabulary that this is an alternative consciousness, that it’s not just thinking about God with your reasonable mind, but actually a different mind. And so we started the center in Albuquerque almost twenty-six years ago now with much the same intention.

There’s got to be a way to teach people this mind. We made the sad discovery that so much of the church, as Tilden said, didn’t seem to know about this mind anymore, even though it was our tradition. And so, many of us studied the history: how we had it, how we lost it. Jesus assumed it and practiced it. But he didn’t teach it in a systematic way, although there are some hints that he was trying to teach it. But because it wasn’t systematic, the way theology became, we sort of just missed it.

In short, by my time, contemplation in most Christians’ minds meant being an introverted personality: liking quiet, sometimes not liking people, or not liking noise. So that needed to be unpackaged, and I think we’re twenty-some years into that un-packaging now.