Listening From the Heart
Two years ago, Carole Crumley and Leah Rampy invited me to participate in the Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative (YALLI). YALLI was born out of a conviction that there was a crucial need for the development of spiritually-motivated young adult leaders who would help shape a life-giving culture and society for the new century ahead. The program is designed for young adults, ages 25-40, who seek a deeper spiritual foundation for their lives and work and who welcome the companionship of like-minded young adults from across the vocational continuum.
I accepted Carole and Leah’s invitation because I believed this initiative was a shift in a necessary direction for Shalem and I wanted to offer a prayerful and innovative presence to YALLI. I was also enticed by the possibility of working and learning alongside like-minded young adults. I began my two-year spiritual journey in YALLI with three other peers and Patience Robins as our Shalem staff mentor.
I am a post-modern, Afro-Caribbean American female. Professionally, I am an engineer for the Federal Government, a graduate student at Loyola University Maryland, and two-time graduate of Howard University. My diverse background brought a unique flavor to YALLI, and each and every young adult involved in this initiative the same. Our diversity is representative of our post- modern millennia, and this diversity also reflects the need for more contemplative leaders throughout society.
My participation in YALLI taught me that transparency, vulnerability, and incompleteness have become my hallmarks of contemplative spiritual leadership. These characteristics expose the reality of human nature. They reveal humanity’s contusions, fallibility, fearfulness, innocence, and notably our need for God’s guiding love. Other qualities surfacing include; love, trust, authenticity, prayerfulness, courage, and honesty.
I also recognized those areas that challenged me and required attentive care. I saw these challenges as opportunities for growth. One such growing edge was my compulsive desire to be in absolute control. Another growing edge was related to my familiarity with societal norms of leadership. The principles that guide contemplative spiritual leaders are counter cultural to American social norms for successful leadership. As a contemplative spiritual leader, surrender is necessary for change; gentleness promotes action; doubt creates space for Divine guidance; being quiet permits spiritual fullness.
Another paralyzing challenge for me was fear. Fear ensued for different reasons, sometimes it related to disappointing others, failure, or causing harm.
Courage, faith, and consistent prayer were the tools I used to grow through my challenges. Remembering that I could not do everything, and would not do everything perfectly, made me feel liberated from my fears. As time went by, letting go became easier; I was able to accept that there was no required outcome; I was able to allow God’s love to flow freely through me.
I learned that to be an effective listener and mediating agent required consistent prayer, meditation, and a commitment to various spiritual practices. Some specific spiritual practices that were a regular aspect of my prayer life were journaling, meditation, shamata yoga, praying with the Psalms, intercessory prayer, communal worship, and bio-spiritual focusing. However, the form of prayer practiced was of least importance; what mattered more was having a consistent daily time of prayer.
Maintaining a regular prayer life was a great challenge for me. I had to intentionally create space for prayer, as well as commit to praying during times when I did not even want to pray. During seasons of doubt, insignificant awareness of God’s presence, or emotional and psychological strains, albeit difficult, I intentionally chose to maintain a regular practice of prayer.
My participation in YALLI taught me many great lessons. In short, deep listening begins with listening from my heart and not my head; it involves empathy and self-reflection. If I continue working as a spiritual companion, self-care and peer support are essential elements to maintaining healthy boundaries and creating safe spaces for caring. Inner work is done best within community. Finally, prayer does not have to be elaborate, or difficult, simply consistent and routine.