The Hunger for Hearth Time

2013-10-07 18.35.30By Sharon Daloz Parks. She is a teacher and author. She has taught at Harvard Divinity School, the Weston Jesuit School of Theology, and Seattle University, and she speaks and consults nationally. Her publications include: Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World; Big Questions, Worthy Dreams: Mentoring Emerging Adults in Their Search for Meaning, Purpose, and Faith; and the co-authored, Common Fire: Leading Lives of Commitment in a Complex World. She is a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council.

Away from home, I’ve joined a few friends and colleagues for a Board meeting. We are meeting in a gracious, warm and comfortable guesthouse, built to be a gathering place where emerging adults (twenty-somethings) who are motivated by a sense of faith and calling can reflect on their experience and discern next steps. It is named, “The Hearth.”

Indeed, “hearth places” are places where we gather and are gathered.  Hearth places have the power to draw and hold us because they offer an exquisite balance of stability and motion. Such places encourage us to linger longer than we otherwise might. Indoors or out, they invite us into pause, reflection, and conversation that can deepen into contemplation—“a continual condition of prayerful sensitivity to what is really going on” as the Quaker, Douglas Steere, expressed it. Whether we find ourselves lingering by a fireplace, campfire, or an ocean shore, there Spirit invites us to slow to the pace of contemplation and creativity. A deeper dialogue, in solitude or community, claims our attention.

Because dialogue does not mean two people talking, but rather “talking through,” the ongoing dialogue in which we become practiced in “trusting the Spirit” hungers for sustained practices of place and time. The core dialogue of our souls in which we grapple with trust and fear, power and powerlessness, alienation and belonging, hope and despair is not composed on the run in fleeting texts, tweets, sound bites, (or even blogs!). It requires something more like a hearthside conversation. Hearth conversations begin however and end whenever. They allow for silence; there are no awkward pauses. They find their way to the heart of things.

Contemplative living calls for a practice of hearth—hard to come by in our world gone busy. But the hunger for hearth places, hearth time, and hearth-sized conversation persists, and it can be ignored only at the cost of a malnourished life.

The practice of hearth can be recovered in a variety of forms and throughout a wide range of organizations and communities. Spiritual directors at their best create hearth-space, and we know the difference between classrooms, boardrooms, offices, and homes that are at least sometimes willing to run on hearth time and those that cannot or will not

The life and work of the Shalem Institute has been sustained across forty years because it has steadfastly served as a hearth place, meeting the deepest hungers of souls seeking a place, time, and conversation where trusting the Spirit is learned and practiced. We are grateful.

Contemplative loss

Dad croppedBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of their Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

I realize I am lucky. I have a great relationship with my dad. He is a loving, supportive man. He is very much a part of my life even though he died three and a half years ago of a stroke, a brain hemorrhage.

His loving presence, his laughter, his feisty passion crop up in my life on a regular basis. At times I’m brought to tears, at others laughter, and consistently gratitude.

There is a contemplative air about this loss. Although he is not physically here anymore, he is very present emotionally and spiritually and that presence evokes the prayer, “Thank you.”

Now, my dad was no saint and there were plenty of trying times but when I see a man of his build, try a new food, do something adventurous, or hear someone say, “Ray,” I am grateful. Thankful for these memories, the characteristics he passed on to me, the loving relationship we had, the laughs and it is a reminder of that of God in my life.

It is another way for God to remind me, “I’m here with you.”

We all have different ways that God speaks to us, makes the Holy clearly present in our daily lives. Sometimes it depends on how open and aware I am being, but at other times, God bops me on the head with it and I, thankfully, can’t help but be aware.

Sometimes it’s a beautiful view, a full moon, music by Hildegard of Bingen, the children I saw playing in the fountain last night in the summer heat, at others it’s the memories of a loved one, lines of a poem, the tone of a singing bowl.

It’s all evidence of the Grace of living, the Grace in death, and how God shows up in many ways in life.

What is your experience?

Benediction: Beauty and Contemplative Poetry

ShalemGuest blog by Fr. Thomas Ryan, CSP,  who directs the Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations located in the Hecker Center in Washington, DC. He leads ecumenical retreats and workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe. An active contemplative and lover of the outdoors, Tom has authored 14 books on a variety of themes in the spiritual life as well as the DVD Yoga Prayer. He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for 40-Hour Contemplative Prayer Vigil.

At the end of every summer, I make an eight-day retreat to my sweet spot on the planet, an island in the middle of Lake George in upstate NY owned by my community, the Paulists, since the early 1860s. There’s a cabin among the trees , and the island is embraced on both sides of the lake by the forested mountains of Adirondack State Park.  When the Jesuit missionary explorer Isaac Jogues first descended the lake in a canoe with native Americans, he was so taken by the transcendent beauty of the 32 mile long lake and mountains that he named it Le Lac du Saint Sacrament  (French for: Lake of the Blessed Sacrament). Here is a poem I wrote on my retreat on the island at the end of August.


Sitting at the end of the dock
my first night on the island,
full moon shining like
an elevated host held by
the fingertips of the mountain
with its burley shoulders wrapped
in a dark forest-green cape.

Crickets chant in soft, adoring chorus
and beavers swim by my feet
slapping their tails in acclamation
as tufts of cloud-like incense float by
before the monstrance of the moonlight
with tree tops bowing their heads

in the Spirit-breath
of the late night breeze
while the stars above
glow like benediction candles
over le Lac du Saint Sacrament.

8-20-13, Thomas Ryan, CSP

Ever Present Holy Lessons

2013-09-20 08.55.56By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

What is it about the change of seasons that makes us pause? Is it the awareness of the passage of time?
August in Maryland can often be a hot, sticky, dry time where the grass looks and feels like quills. It is just mid-September and we have been blessed with a string of cool nights and warm, pleasant days. Humidity is low and, without the stickiness, the sky is crystal clear blue.
Is it the beauty that makes me pause, the welcome coolness? I’m not sure, but it brings me to a new awareness of being.
I see the first leaves turning yellow and as I sit on the porch and write a breeze sweeps through the woods and I am shocked by the amount of leaves that release their grip.
Ahh…letting go. A perennial lesson. Release, let go of the things and ways of being that I no longer need, that no longer serves me.
I realize it is not necessarily something I can think my way through. I can’t think my way to letting go, pausing at every action, “Does this serve me?” “Can I release this?” Release is a place of not needing to collect. It is a place of dayenu: even this is enough. A place of realizing the bounty in the moment.
How little energy it takes when we remember we have all we need and we can just be.
Isn’t it truly awesome that the Holy One lays all these reminder lessons all around us for us to access at any time? Ever present, ever supportive.
What makes you pause? What is your experience?

The Paradox of Radical Trust

Carl McColmanGuest blog by Carl McColman who is a Christian contemplative writer, spiritual director, and retreat leader. His books include The Big Book of Christian Mysticism and Answering the Contemplative Call. He is member of the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit, and lives near Atlanta. Read his blog at He is also a member of Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Honorary Council for Shalem’s 40th Anniversary Prayer Vigil.

On his live album Precious Friend, Arlo Guthrie cracked a joke: “You can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in.” Seekers of holy nonduality recognize the truth of this humorous statement. In the economy of grace, the words of the author of Ecclesiastes ring true as ever: “There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven … a time for loving, a time for hating; a time for war, a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8) But when I read this list, I’m tempted to fall back into the human desire to control life by managing our experience: “It’s okay to love, but not to hate; peace is better than war” and so forth. And why not? I’m much more interested in loving than in hating, in being a peacemaker than a warmonger.

But you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in. Like it or not, we live in a world where war happens, where hate happens, where abuse and addiction and violence all happen. And while it’s imperative to make moral choices to inform and guide our lives (abuse and violence are not okay), contemplative practice brings us face to face with the reality that we are called to live in, and respond to, and love and forgive, a world where light and dark both exist, both persist, and both impact the course of our lives and the choices we are called to make.

For its fortieth anniversary, Shalem has chosen “Trusting the Spirit” as its theme. I wonder what trusting the Spirit really looks like from a deep contemplative place? I must confess that my capacity to trust is hardly exemplary: I trust, and I mistrust. I have faith, and I doubt. I respond spontaneously to the urging of my heart or intuition, and I second-guess myself. I accept the wisdom of my faith community and my tradition, and I argue against such wisdom.

But you can’t have a light without a dark to stick it in. Perhaps we can only trust to the extent that we also can doubt. Perhaps our ability to say yes — to our tradition or our teachers — is shaped by our capacity to say no. Perhaps the key to trust is learning to trust both our trusting and our doubting.

The radical nonduality to which contemplation invites us is not an “everything goes” nihilism, where nothing really matters. Rather, it is an “everything belongs” embrace, where we affirm that which is good, and that which is bad is accepted even as we seek to heal or change it. If we hate the haters, aren’t we just lending energy to their pattern? Only by loving the haters can we ever hope for radical transformation. That is the secret of forgiveness, as well as of unconditional love.

So I’m with Shalem: let’s trust the Spirit, and do so radically. But ironically, that includes even trusting all the ways in which we choose not to trust or even fail to trust. Not to acquiesce to our mistrust, but, paradoxically, to accept it: thereby creating the space where the Spirit may continue to move in, and transform, our lives.

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
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.

Abundance and Community in Iona

By 374434_10151553638761262_1520744868_nNancy Corson Carter

I’ve just come in from our North Carolina garden where I tried not to notice the spreading weeds and where I repeated a wonderful practice Carole Crumley led us in as part of each morning’s Simple Presence on Iona.  We faced the directions, each one bearing a specific gift, and brought them to our hearts to carry us through the day.   I loved doing this practice in the St. Columba Hotel’s “quiet garden,” in the midst of lush vegetation and serenading birds, within sight of the Abbey Church, the Sound of Iona, and the hills of the island of Mull and the Scottish mainland beyond.  There was even the rich fragrance of “wild Irish roses” in the hedge.

For our Shalem pilgrimage, each of us was asked to contribute in a certain “area of service to the community.”  Mine was as a “Heart and Body Helper,” an encourager of  “devotion through sacred movement” and occasional leader of group body prayer. In preparing for this role, I’d found this statement, “Pilgrimage is a prayer of the body”—and it became a touchstone for me of this journey. Furthermore, Celtic Christianity, which blossomed on Iona, firmly taught that the physical and the spiritual are inseparably interwoven.

Today I am especially aware of two words from the Simple Presence practice that keeps me connected with our pilgrimage’s ongoing prayer. First, ABUNDANCE—we were showered by both physical and spiritual beauty, by walking in the footsteps of the many saints and pilgrims before us on this sacred island and also by the gifts our pilgrim companions so generously shared. And second, COMMUNITY—we shared in Shalem’s gift of deepening awareness of radiant Presence that extends out to include All!

It’s an interesting challenge to bring such a “mountain-top” (should I say “island-top”?) experience back into ordinary life at home.  I must put my trust in Spirit:  Romans 8:26: But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.

Composting our Lives

wintergreen close up w cby Rose Mary Dougherty*

*Excerpted from her article, “Composting our Lives” from Shalem’s News, Volume 33, No. 1-Winter, 2009. The full issue may be viewed here.

Several years ago, I was participating in a retreat (where)… we were to spend one day outdoors in the surrounding wooded area. Our instructions were to go outdoors, follow a path as far as we thought we should, and then settle ourselves in the place where we stopped, to be taught by nature for the day….

I hadn’t gone far at all until I realized that I had walked into a fenced-in area not too far from the retreat house. “Well,… this is my spot, and I’m sticking to it.” So I sat down on a plot in the corner and began to look at the grass and the weeds, wanting to see what there was to see.

In a very short time, I felt something pecking at my seat. I thought I had sat on a briar, but when I turned to look, it was a chicken on the other side of the fence seemingly letting me know that she wasn’t too happy that I was invading her space…..I began to learn something about the mutuality of respect among created beings and the possibility of peaceful co-existence when none of us considered ourselves superior to the other. I thought that was to be my lesson for the day. And I heaved a sigh of gratitude that my time would not be wasted.

Then I looked to the other side of me and saw the huge compost pile….

I sat for a few minutes laughing at my fate – wedged between a chicken coop and a compost pile! How lucky could one be! But then as I moved closer to the compost pile, I began observing the variety of colors in it, the little spurts of life, its innate beauty, and I was reminded of a line I had read in Ursula Hegi’s book, Stones From The River: “Shards glinted among the moss and weeds that sprouted from the rubble – beauty pressing through debris.” I realized that I wasn’t just seeing waste. I was seeing something rich and beautiful. I was seeing the slow but sure process of the transformation of that which seemed to be but waste. That was my lesson for the day, perhaps for my life.

My experience with the compost pile has stayed with me through the years. In fact, the compost pile itself has become a metaphor for my life/our lives. There is a difference though. The compost of our lives includes not only the debris of seeming failure and discounted experience; it includes the moments of community, love, compassion, service. In short, all of life becomes the fertile ground of transformation. Nothing wasted, nothing lost; all transformable in the alchemy of grace and willingness; buds of the new, of the beautiful showing through it all. We need only wait, trusting that as with the compost pile, all we need for life is right here now, that life is in the waiting as well as the seeing.

The Spiritual Perspective

woods scene dayspring w cBy Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

If you’ve read other blogs here you may have seen the one called The Spiritual Practice of Saying “No.” 

It talks about how the sense of not having enough time can get in the way of one’s spiritual life. It has/does with mine. But I realized it’s all in my perspective.

At this point in my life, I’m pretty good about setting aside time and meditating just about every day. Most days I take a walk and meditate for at least part of that time. I consciously bring God into my large and small decisions, and do a decent job of living contemplatively. But, I still realized I was always feeling like I just didn’t have enough time: rush, rush, rush.

I recently met with my spiritual director and we talked about this sense I have of life being ever so full: two jobs, kids, fiancé, family, friends, etc. It’s all great, wonderful stuff that fills my life. It’s not like I would give any of it up. So how do I get rid of this sense of needing to do something, to stop doing something so I have more space and time?

After one of our silent periods of prayer with my spiritual director it came to me. It’s not about doing or not doing something. It’s about being differently. I DO have enough time with God. I DO have everything I want. I just need to see it differently. I’ve got it all already and I AM being fed by it.

I led a retreat at Dayspring Silent Retreat Center recently, and as I was introducing the theme for the weekend, I said that the silence was a time of abundance, not lack and that I knew that might be a different perspective, but to try it. We could focus on this being a time of deep listening instead of not talking. Funny how some form of the advice we give is meant for ourselves. I love the silence and the listening it holds, but I too needed to take a look at my general spiritual perspective.

A simple shift in how I see things and suddenly I feel better. Okay, so I’m still tired, but I am coming from a place of abundance, not lack and that makes all the difference.

What is your experience?