Why Shalem Matters
By Shannon Howard
After working at Shalem for the past year, I took the opportunity to reflect on what Shalem has come to mean to me and why I feel that nurturing contemplative living and leadership is so important in our world at this time. I have lived in several countries and have worked with organizations doing international work on the issues of ending hunger and transforming conflict. The following is my personal perspective, informed by many years in public service.
As we move forward into the 21st century, it is clear to me that the issues confronting humanity have reached a point of great urgency – at stake is our existence and that of the planet we inhabit. What underlies these issues, I believe, is a fundamental moral crisis: our inability to recognize ourselves in one another and our lack of empathy. In the face of divisiveness that permeates all levels of the social order, unity, both experiencing and magnifying it, is the most pressing need of our time.
In order to meet these challenges, to realize this unity, we need to reach into the spiritual dimension. Contemplative awareness can enable us to experience the simple truth that we are at one with Spirit, our own being, one another and all living things. When we are grounded in the gift of contemplative awareness, it transforms our inner life and our outer expression in the world. It empowers us to transcend the boundaries that separate us, to transform apathy and human cruelty into compassion. This awareness is the place from which inspired social action arises.
Contemplative orientation is not dependent on knowing a particular spiritual practice or method. While Shalem is deeply grounded in Christian contemplative tradition, it has always embraced a variety of contemplatively-oriented practices that anchor one’s life in living in Spirit, moving us out of our heads and into our spiritual hearts. I believe this grounding is the underlying point of interconnection between all authentic spiritual traditions, and as such can further interfaith understanding at an experiential level.
When I look at Shalem and imagine the future, I can envision the organic unfolding of a supportive network of diverse, contemplative spiritual communities around the globe – indeed, this is already happening. I can imagine partnerships with other like-minded individuals and organizations as part of this process and a growing movement of leaders, secular and non-secular, who share a deep contemplative understanding as expressed through their own faith traditions and practices.
In Shalem, I see an ever-present dedication to supporting individuals and communities in living in contemplative awareness and focusing on the sacred. And I see a continued commitment to providing programs and environments in which all are empowered to work on their inner life and follow their own path of spiritual growth and formation.