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Thank You, Shalem

by Jean Link

As I sit down to write about my experience of leaving the Spiritual Guidance Program staff this year, all that comes to me is to simply say, “Thank You.”

Reflecting back on my 25-year experience with Shalem, I remember when I was first introduced to Shalem. Barbara Osborne, a long-time Shalem staff person, brought me to an open house in the fall of 1983. Barbara’s invitation came after some initial musings and questions from me. The summer before, I’d gone on my first weekend silent retreat and experienced the invitation of Quiet. I began awakening to a connection with the silent place of God within. I was truly amazed that there was such a deep, still, place within me that I’d not known, and that felt like “home.”

In 1985 I applied to the Spiritual Guidance Program. I remember going to my first retreat weekend with the 1985-87 local class. As is usual at Shalem, we sat in a circle and went around the group sharing our God desires about being in the program. As I looked around the circle at a class filled primarily with clergy, religious, and church leaders, I felt like a first grader in a room full of graduate students. What was I doing here? I was a person who primarily had an unchurched childhood and who just started attending church in my late thirties. I’d only been trying to live a conscious spiritual life for a few years. Just being in Shalem’s program was sheer wonder. And so, trustingly and not so trustingly, I embarked on the two-year program and I was never the same again-I let myself be changed.

My favorite times with Shalem were the Simple Contemplative Presence Retreats that Jerry May and Rose Mary Dougherty led in the winter and fall. At these retreats there was no liturgy, no traditional group worship experience, no music, and no spoken prayer. Instead, we simply gathered three times a day and sat silently together with the Presence that is always with us. These retreats were special, grace-filled times, and I miss them still.

When Rose Mary called me in 1998 and asked me to pray about whether there was a call for me to be on staff with the Spiritual Guidance Program, I was amazed and shocked. To be on staff with my spiritual mentors: Jerry, Tilden and Rose Mary? I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But after a time of prayer and discernment, I surprisingly discovered that I did feel called to be on staff. Even after joining the Spiritual Guidance staff, my inner self-doubts never totally went away. I’m not a person who even likes to be in large groups, much less being “up front” in large groups. At the beginning circle of each new residency, where we shared our God nudges in the moment, that “What am I doing here?” thought often reappeared inside me.

Eventually I was even able to smile a little at that recurring question as I continued learning that being called doesn’t necessarily mean it is easy or comfortable. Letting God guide meant just that, to let God lead me even into places where I wasn’t totally at ease. For in the midst of my own personal angst I could clearly see the touch of God healing me, stretching me, nudging me, and inviting me to deeper yielding and trust.

It sometimes baffles me how God is so present at Shalem. Surely we are not perfect-Shalem is a flawed organization with flawed people. And yet God faithfully shows up among us, transforming our lives. Something sacred happens when we gather together. I can’t name it. I saw it happen over and over in my own life, and being on staff gave me the privilege of seeing that happen repeatedly in the lives of the people who came through the Spiritual Guidance Program. It is grace.

A year or so ago, I started to feel some nudges that it might be time for me to leave the Shalem staff. I’m turning 64, I’m still in private practice as a pastoral counselor and spiritual director three days a week, and I have five grandchildren ages six and under who live in the area. And I need more quiet spaces in my life. I practiced what I learned at Shalem and spent several months of prayer, listening, and discernment. As usual, it wasn’t a fast or easy decision-but eventually the “rightness” became clear. When I shared my discernment with Martha Campbell, Bill Dietrich, and the rest of the Spiritual Guidance staff, I felt total support and affirmation. More grace.

So again, in more ways than I can ever say, thank you Shalem. It’s been a gift to have traveled this part of the Path with all of you.

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