The Hunger for Hearth Time
By 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.