Today’s post is by Susan Rowland. This is a transcript of her audio testimony highlighting her experience in Shalem’s Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program. You may also listen to her tell her story by clicking on the video above.
My experience with the Shalem program “Leading Contemplative Prayer groups and Retreats” was unique in so many ways. At the residencies, we were among a circle of talented people, gathered with the intention of deepening their life and leadership in contemplative practice. The breadth and expression of faith was so rich. Small groups provided a safe opportunity to try out different prayer practices in an open, experiential, supportive space. I will be forever grateful for the emphasis on simple explanations of prayer practices so that the Spirit is “free to move about the cabin” of the gathering.
What made that possible was the Shalem program leadership, modeling something so beautiful and authentic in all that they offered. I have been to programs where they teach by telling you what to do. At Shalem, the leaders revealed their personal passion to us through each teaching. Their words and presence were alive – resonating and bouncing off all of our hearts– together, we laughed, we walked, we played with art, we talked a lot over meals. They truly entered into the community with us.
Today’s post is by Savannah Kate Coffey.
Happiness may be one of the most misunderstood and maligned virtues of our time.
Happiness is, on one hand, exalted as the supreme goal of existence. There is great pressure to be happy. If you are not happy, your life is not worth living and you must be doing something wrong. Shopping, traveling, and self-help are popular solutions to this problem. There are many paths to happiness and though every path is not right for every person there is certainly one for you and you should keep searching until you find it. If you find yourself still unhappy after about– oh, say, 50 years, or maybe just 50 minutes, you probably need professional help. Of course, sex, drugs, and rock and roll are always available to you. Whichever path you choose, your happiness depends on you, is fully within your control, and it is your responsibility to procure it.
On the other hand, our churches rarely have much to say about happiness because happiness completely misses the point. Life is about faithfulness, maturity, service, and perhaps “joy” (the more respectable cousin of happiness). Happiness is simply a fleeting distraction that holds no lasting value. Life is a test requiring great perseverance. God certainly isn’t interested in our happiness because God is much too serious for that. God wants us to grow up and if we aren’t happy, well, so be it. We are at least wise, mature, and orthodox. We have inherited our Puritan ancestors’ fear that if we encourage happiness we tacitly promote the licentious sex, drugs, and rock and roll mentioned earlier.
The pendulum swings back and forth causing so much confusion that even a sweet, Southern girl may resort to swearing in sheer frustration. Both perspectives are distortions of something inherently good. As distortions they are unlivable. Happiness is either pie in the sky, always just out of reach, or it is the dangerous enemy of mature faith, and as such, is illegitimate. We live either as slaves to the seduction of happiness, or as martyrs in the rejection of it.
What would a livable and faithful pursuit of happiness look like?
How does one maintain and deepen a contemplative stance in such a frenzied, virtual world? One obvious solution is to unplug. Put the phone away. Turn the computer off. Go for a walk. Keep the radio off on the commute to work. Don’t leave a window open with Facebook always tempting you to glance at the latest cat video or Star Trek meme. Even now you’re tempted (don’t do it!).
We all need to unplug from time to time. But I’ve also found that the Internet can be a place to deepen my prayer life and connection to God.
Here are six suggestions.
Today’s post is by Leah Rampy
My hands are locked on the steering wheel as I sit in the mass of vehicles inching down I-395 during morning rush hour. I look straight ahead, my eyes locked on the truck just ahead of me. I carefully avoid eye contact with the driver of the car to my right. I pretend not to see her blinker, not even to be aware that she’s there trying to move her car in front of mine. Drat! My peripheral vision is too good; I can see her now beside me, just as I saw her pull out a dozen cars back into the diminishing right hand lane, moving up to the front of the line, trying to bypass all the rest of us who are waiting “patiently” to make our way to work. I am indignant that she does not follow the rules.
There’s something about righteous indignation that feels so good, so superior— at least for a minute. And then it all comes crashing down. What am I doing?!? I started with a spacious morning, I set my intention to bless those along the way, I really want to be gracious to others I meet, and I’m on my way to Shalem for heaven’s sake! Yet here I am again, hijacked by my amygdala, under the control of my ego, or maybe just caught up in an old habit. How distressing!
I suppose in some ways it’s a blip on the radar. And yet I feel sad. Why is it so difficult for me to live consistently from the spiritual heart? In this moment, I feel that others have figured out the key. They pray enough; they hold silence longer, they don’t fail so often in their intent.
By Gerald May* *Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here. There is a rhythm to every workweek, regardless of what the jobs may be and where the workplace is: home, office, farm, construction site, on the road. In all places […]
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. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page. I can […]
By Gerald May* *Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here. http://www.shalem.org/index.php/resources/newsletter/newsletter-archive/winter05 During your personal prayer/meditation times at home, or at other prayer times during the day, try experimenting with letting your eyes be open. If you’re used to closing your […]
by Gerald May* *Excerpted from his article, “Prayerfulness at Work” from Shalem’s News, Volume 29, No. 1-Winter, 2005. The full issue may be viewed here. http://www.shalem.org/index.php/resources/newsletter/newsletter-archive/winter05 Recently several people have asked me for suggestions about cultivating prayerfulness in the workplace. Here is a collection of suggestions from my previous writings and current inspirations: I think […]
By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page. Being contemplative, […]
by June Costa At Shalem I have noticed that my approach to asking for charitable gifts has changed. I now have to view through the prism of the Spirit that motivates the giving, and I have to convey that message to individuals who are experienced with Shalem. At the same time, I need to cultivate new participants and potential […]