Going Deeper

“It is not you who shapes God, but God who shapes you.”

I came to Shalem dried out and dusty-wilderness clay grown hard and stale.  I came parched for living water. I came needing renewal of my heart and soul-to be re-oriented, re-presented, re-purposed, re-shaped by the One who is at work even in me now.

The Shalem Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership: Going Deeper Program was truly an answer to prayer for me.  Coming as I do from a corporate life and experience, my default mode of operating is toward efficiency, administration, organization and management.  Even so, I felt uneasy in this role, knowing in my depths that this is not what the church needs.  The Shalem experience has alerted me to this tendency in myself and others and reminded me that I am called by the congregation to offer spiritual leadership, before any other responsibility.

Now I notice how frequently the church expresses a desire for administrative and managerial leadership, when in truth what is required is an openness to the leading of the Spirit.  It is not easy to be a non-reactionary, listening presence in the midst of an urgency to do.  The temptation is strong to offer up easy answers and quick fixes.  It is not easy to resist the cultural norms that equate action with leadership.

This has been a pivotal year for me at my church, as they have called a new pastor and the retiring pastor has taken his leave.  In this time of transition and change, I felt a heightened sense of my own call to invite the congregation into contemplative experiences of prayer and worship.  Without a doubt, the Spirit is moving in powerful and beautiful ways.  I know that my participation in the Shalem program has enabled me to engage the Spirit from a new center.  Instead of feeling as though I had to grab and control it, I feel blessed by it-a participant with the rest of the congregation in the sweet fresh air it brings.

A central and vital learning for me this year is that what I yearn for is not to become more capable, not to learn more about productive meetings, or growing membership, or enlisting volunteers for mission.  It’s not even to be wiser.  My deepest desire is to grow more deeply into the heart of God; to leave self behind; to “see Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, follow Thee more nearly”…day by day by day by day by day.

I caught a holy glimpse of God’s grace in Shalem’s July residency, when I was invited to share Walter Brueggemann’s poem, “And then you.”  In that brief moment, I knew myself beloved and sustained by something beyond my imagining-bigger, deeper, wider than anything my heart can even yearn for.  A window opened for me:  an invitation to enter the mystery, to trust it, to slip over the threshold and throw myself onto the wings of God’s imagination and enjoy the flight.  In that moment, I knew that I have no reason to be afraid, to hesitate.  All is well.  Lo, I am with you when you leave self behind.  God’s presence and power for me is only limited by my willingness to say yes.

January 01, 2009 by Marjorie Wilhelmi
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