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.

“I’m busy, how are you?”

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy (first featured in April 2015 Shalem eNews)

Lately I’ve noticed how often “I’m busy” is creeping into my conversations and into my thinking. “My family? Oh, everyone’s so busy?” “Yes, we are really busy at work.” Some years ago I vowed to eliminate “busy” from my vocabulary, but when I wasn’t paying attention, it returned. I hate to admit it, but there’s something a little self-important about having a full schedule. Could it be that I am mindlessly falling prey to the requests that come my way as I soothe my ego with a sense of being needed?

When I speak about being busy, it’s a sure sign that my mind is engaged more than my heart. I am leaning forward into all that I must do, lessening the chance that I will be fully present in this conversation with you. How can I be available to a “long, loving look at the real” when I am caught up in a long list of activities and planning what I must do to check them off?

stickynotesBusyness and its cousin, “multitasking,” are diseases of our time. Even though multiple studies have confirmed that our brains simply cannot handle more than one task at a time, we continue under the illusion that we have somehow managed to multitask and thereby have found a way to cheat time. There’s a seduction to this way of working, an adrenaline rush that leaves us feeling powerful and ready for the next round of near-crises over which we will prevail. And so we continue to over-schedule ourselves, trying to fit everything into our calendars, denying the need to make choices about how we use the time we have been given.

Yet paradoxically it’s also draining and stressful to be so over-scheduled. We have no time to let the answers find us, no opening to see beauty in our daily lives, no space to enjoy this moment. Our interactions with others take short shrift; our conversations become primarily transactional as people become a means to support the ends we wish to achieve. We disconnect from the wisdom of our spiritual hearts and miss the Holy moments.

It would be bad enough if we were over scheduling only ourselves; yet our attraction to the “busy” spills over into the various domains of our lives. How are we shaping our children and our families when we need extensive calendars and negotiations about who will drive whom where and when? What does it teach our children about what we consider important when getting to the next activity takes precedence over watching the caterpillar on the sidewalk or sharing about the day?

If we are invited to leadership in any aspect of our lives, I think we must consider what it means to us, to those with whom we work, and to the mission we serve if we are busy leaders. In 2002 Harvard Business Review published an article that caught my eye, the essence of which has remained with me ever since. In “Beware the Busy Manager,” Bruch and Ghoshal share the findings of a study done in a dozen large companies. They write, “Our findings on managerial behavior should frighten you: Fully 90% of managers squander their time in all sorts of ineffective activities. In other words, a mere 10% of managers spend their time in a committed, purposeful, and reflective manner.” The energetic but unfocused practices—the busyness—of the majority of these managers limit their effectiveness.

The purposeful few husband their energy, ensuring that they focus only on the most important priorities. The authors quote one manager as saying, “‘In the busiest times, I slow down and take time off to reflect on what I actually want to achieve and sort what’s important from irrelevant noise,’ he says. ‘Then I focus on doing what is most important.’” The authors go on to report that purposeful managers are also skilled at finding ways to reduce stress and refuel. “They commonly draw on what we call a ‘personal well’—a defined source for positive energy.

It seems to me that the findings of Bruch and Ghoshal actually offer support for contemplatively-oriented leadership! This from-the-spiritual-heart leadership isn’t about busyness, false pride in our work, or frantic action. Contemplative leadership invites us to take the time to listen deeply to the True Leader who works in a timeframe beyond our limitations and understanding.

We have been caught in the web of rushing and multitasking; it’s time to free ourselves. As we seek to live a life where we are ever more open, present and available to the Sacred, I think that we will have to look square into the face of busyness, smile at our gullible nature, and come home to spaciousness. Perhaps when we hear or think the word “busy,” we could imagine it as a bell, calling us back to the present. When we catch ourselves trying to multitask, we might see it as an invitation to a long, slow breath that brings us back to the present. When we notice that we are physically and psychologically leaning forward into the task ahead of us rather than attending to the work at hand, it may be time for extended silence. I’m reminded of the old Zen saying, “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day unless you are too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Wise words.

And so I am recommitting to eliminating “busy” from my vocabulary and from my actions. Certainly I hope that the next time you ask me how I am, I am not even tempted to respond, “I’m busy.” And if I do, I ask you to remind me that perhaps an extended time of silence might be invited!


Leah_FBLeah Rampy leads pilgrimages and programs on contemplative leadership for Shalem. From 2009-2015, she served as Shalem’s executive director. Leah enjoys writing and speaking about contemplative ecology. She has extensive experience as a corporate executive and as a leadership consultant.

Do you yearn to explore a way of leading that is more aligned with your heart? Are you seeking community and support for this heart-led way? Join Leah Rampy for an online Contemplative Leadership Seminar. In the six sessions, we will focus on shifting how you lead in the workplace. Available now through Oct 29. Sign up here.

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.

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.

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.

Learning from the Mountains

Today’s post is by Leah Rampy

Forty-five minutes west of home, I drive over just the next hill and catch sight of them: the gentle layers of the Blue Ridge Mountains rise in the distance. I take a deep breath and “drop down” into the center of my being. The traffic has thinned by now and, captured by the tranquil beauty of this ancient geology, I feel my breathing slow and my shoulders relax.

I did not always love the Blue Ridge. I’m embarrassed to say that the first time a friend pointed out the distant “mountains” to me, I burst out laughing. Growing up in the Midwest, “the mountains” were the Rockies, dramatic and breath-taking! It took time and many visits before I came to appreciate the difference that an additional 320 million years had made to softening the Blue Ridge.

mountains_LeahWhat is it about these time-worn mountains that calms my body and opens my spiritual heart? Perhaps because they are among the oldest mountains on the planet, they instruct me in deep time. How can I fail to stand in awe of mountains that began forming before modern humans walked Earth? The breadth of creation simultaneously stuns me and infuses me with joy.

And yet it’s even more that these mountains offer. It’s almost as if I pause to match my breathing with theirs. I reflect on how easy it is to come into the present during our Shalem staff meetings when we gather in shared silent prayer for 30 minutes.   As a part of a spiritual community, my prayer is strengthened, sustained, and enlarged by the silence and prayer of others. And sometimes are graced to sense that our prayer is one prayer, and we are blessed with an awareness that we are truly one.

So too it is with nature, I believe. In the same way that one heart entrains to the rhythm of another’s heart, our hearts are fashioned to entrain to the rhythm of the natural world. The heartbeat of the mountains, the rivers, and the trees steady us, support our open presence, enlarge our compassion, and remind us of our unity with all of creation.

In my busy life, I too often forget that I am – that all are – woven into the amazing collective of being. I return to the life-giving trees, the verdant valley and the primeval mountains to remember to be present to our oneness. Job 12:8 reminds us: “Speak to the earth, and it will teach you.” May I become an ever-better student.


Leah_FBLeah 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 is a graduate of Shalem’s Living in God: Personal Spiritual Deepening; and Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats Programs. Leah’s 5-day online leadership seminar is registering now.

Top mountain photo by Ana Rampy; inset photo by Leah Rampy

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.

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

Cultivating Discernment in Community: Another Chapter

Today’s post is by Lois A. Lindbloom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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