And It Rained
by Rod Dugliss
Reflections from Shalem’s West Coast Regional Gathering
When I awoke early at Mercy Center to meet with the Shalem staff for the West Coast Regional Gathering final set up, I looked out my window to catch a huge, ivory-bright, full moon setting, briefly visible through a rift in roiling, dark clouds. After breakfast, fellow staff member Ann Dean called us all to another window to see a spectacular double rainbow, birthed by a rising sun that was soon to be obscured by the same clouds. And then it rained. After a beginning with rare moments of arresting beauty, it rained and rained-for our entire time together.
In some cultures, rain on an event or celebration is a sign of blessing. And so it was. We were profoundly blest. Forty-five spiritual leaders, who came from the far west, along with a team that flew in from the Anglican Church of Korea gathered around the single candle that is the sign of a Shalem gathering. Our sacred circle was surrounded by the large reproductions of Robert Lentz’s icons of our contemplative forebears. Images of those who have been the mentors, models, and companions for our personal and collective journeys stood in silent witness to hold our times of chanting, speaking, listening, and being present and aware. There was rich conversation and dense silence.
And it rained.
And blessing flourished.
Before entering into the silence of our retreat time, Shalem’s Founder and Senior Fellow, Tilden Edwards, invited us to be open to a renewed sense and understanding of Radical Presence. Radical Presence of the Holy One is what informs and feeds our willingness to be contemplatively grounded as we engage in compassionate action in and for a broken world. Radical presence is both our strength for and our vision of how we might be in that configuration of relationships that is promised for humanity and the world.
Tilden’s spare and evocative insights, drawn from the thought and writing of his nearly finished next book, caught and held our attention. Radical Presence can break through whatever clouds we encounter, or live in, whether of too much knowing or of unknowing-like the setting moon of the first morning. Vivid and riveting, if only for a time, though always there to ground our deep selves and however it is we are called to lead and be in relationship.
On our second afternoon, Susan Murphy joined Tilden to guide us all in awareness practices drawn from Buddhist teachings. We were invited to experience wordlessly what Tilden was patiently articulating for us. Radical Presence became palpable, which was just the right passage into our time of reflection and practice in silence.
A variety of practices were offered, sparingly. There was praying with icons-the traditional windows into the Real of the Sinai Christ, Our Lady of Vladimir, and Rublev’s Trinity. And there was a practice drawn from the depths of Thomas Merton’s wrestling with call and vocation. Each person came with questions and expectations. Some questions were answered; some expectations were met. All found the engagement with Radical Presence stirred up something in themselves that fed their call to reach out to others. The one person who candidly said in the opening introductions, “I have no idea why I am here?” came to tears of gratitude and affirmation as our time came to a close.
For this precious time Radical Presence was the double rainbow of our beginning. From the days of Noah to now, the rainbow is a sign of promise from the Holy One. The promise is firm and unwavering: I will be with you always, everywhere, and forever. The promise of the rainbow assures us that we are always invited into candid and disarming relationship. The invitation is constant, eternal, unqualified. We just need to show up.
And now and again, in special times like a Shalem regional gathering, the double rainbow of promise blazes into view. It is just given, for a moment and for an eternity. Under its arc our preoccupation and unwillingness melt away.
Radical Presence. What a gift.
Even though it rained and rained.
Rod is Dean of the Episcopal School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA, and a member of Shalem’s regional staff.