Going Deeper Begins With Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

Listen to Al Keeney’s testimony here:

Elaine Dent, pastor of an inner city church, PA

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

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

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

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

Listen to Elaine Dent’s testimony here:

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

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


The Gift of Sabbath Time

Today’s post is by Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin.

I didn’t realize it at first, but I was given a gift this evening.

My fiancé was working late, my son’s lacrosse game was cancelled, and the project I thought I had to do evaporated.

Distant thunder called me out to the porch. Dramatic summer storms are so beautiful, exciting, and thrilling.

I sat down to enjoy the show, but found myself mesmerized by the steady rain falling in the woods. It lulled me into awareness. Breathing slowed, muscles relaxed. Then the exhale of gratitude for this moment, for these extended moments, and the slipping into a sense of the Holy.

Then, my breath caught and I realized I’m holding back. What is that about, I wonder? Oh, the to-do list perhaps or the fear that I’m going to go too deep. I’m aware that there are so many things I’d like to do in this quiet, this pause. How laughable! I’m about to fill my quiet time. “So, Holy Spirit, could you hurry up and show me the epiphany of some sort because I don’t get much time to read and I need to finish that book on spiritual direction.”

I shake my head at myself. There are so few moments of downtime. Daily meditation and gratitude time are not chunks of Sabbath. I tend to want to shoehorn in lots of spiritual activities!

Perhaps the call I’m realizing this evening is to schedule in larger chunks of rest time and to prepare for it so there isn’t that panic to get lots of spiritual stuff done during that time.

Instead of seeing Sabbath time as a period to do spiritual activities, perhaps it’s a time to just enjoy God. If during that time there’s a leading to do something contemplative, that may be okay, but only if it’s being done out of love and not a sense of urgency or accomplishment.

You may have gotten this long ago, but I am just realizing this means I need to prepare for this true time off. I believe it means I need to try to move some other things out in order to let in the spiritual relishing.

I see I am wrestling with bigger issues here, ones regarding how to structure life, my whole life. I now understand why my breath caught. What’s being pondered here is how to really live my life. What can I get rid of so Sabbath time can be without structure and the deep desire to do 17 things at once?

Sabbath is a time for rest, not just other kinds of recreation.

The rain continues to pour down hard enough to stop all outside activities. A forced rest of sorts, at least from what we’d do outdoors. And I realize there is an aspect of respect at play here too.

I have a healthy respect for lots of things I love: the ocean and fire to name a couple. And with these things I know there are boundaries, things I need to do in order to enjoy them. The same is true for Sabbath. I need to have a healthy respect for it and do certain things in order to really enjoy that sacred time. I need to not cram it full of to-dos, even if they are spiritual. I need to give myself enough other holy pockets to pursue those other activities. I need to rework my schedule to make sure I block out actual Sabbath chunks and not just an hour here or there.

And then, I need to just relish God during Sabbath and rest in that enjoyment. It seems a little like a tall order now, but I realize I’ve been giving it the short shrift and getting ripped off by my own actions (or inactions). One step at a time. I can take the baby steps of rearranging some time weekly to pursue my other interests and work on the preparation. This will be a work in progress, but then again, so am I!

By giving the preparation and respect it needs, I will be getting so much more out of Sabbath time. And, the end result will be delicious!

By 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. You can see more of her writing at blessedjourneyblog.com.