Contemplative Living and Fallow Time

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.

“The time of fallowness is a time of rest, restoration, of filling up and replenishing. It is the moment when the meaning of all things can be searched out, tracked down, made to yield the secret of living. Thank God for the fallow time!”—Howard Thurman

I was at a silent retreat recently. Several people, when asked, said they were here because they felt fractured, exhausted, pulled in so many directions. I’m not sure how far this depleted fragmenting has spread around the world, but I know it is an epidemic in this area.

I went to the retreat that weekend because I have a call to listen to my heart in a new and deeper way. After years of rampant busyness, my heart’s voice is sometimes so soft it can be a struggle to hear it clearly.

What I hear in myself and the other retreatants is a true need for more fallow time. Time to rest, restore, fill up, quiet down, a time to listen deeply. The word retreat comes from the Latin word meaning to ‘pull back.’

Instead of pushing forward, don’t keep at it, pull back, ease up.

I have had to work hard over the years, as I’m sure many of you can relate, to be comfortable and able to do “nothing.” On the retreat my spiritual discipline was to allow the fallow time. I

absorbed each word of a poem

became entranced by the beauty of a milkweed seed

watched ripples on a pond


walked slowly

breathed deeply


When I came home, I found that I could more easily recall those still spaces. I took 30 seconds and sat and watched the gray November morning make the fall colors pop in the woods as the rain fell.

I stood and watched leaves glide by in a small crook of the Patuxent River.

These fallow moments only took half a minute, but they connected me to the Great Silence and restored me for a day.

Blessed be the fallow time. May it restore you and may you carry a piece of it with you.

What is your experience?

November 11, 2013 by Shalem Institute 6 Comments
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Christine Jeffrey
Christine Jeffrey
10 years ago

Thanks for the reminder of the need for the fallow time. Sometimes we get so caught up with the stuff of life and can talk ourselves out of our “retreat” time.

Nancy Lemke
Nancy Lemke
10 years ago

So good to hear you had some time to be fallow. It is such a struggle for me, even without a job, to take time for “nothing.” I can get anxious just sitting for a few minutes even though I know it is what my body and soul crave. I’m just back from 3 nights at Ghost Ranch for a meeting to dream up new directions for Casa del Sol (their spiritual center). It was intense, but used some interesting modalities to get us dreaming and working together. We started with 5 hours of silence to listen for direction and hear our own yearnings. What a gift!! It was a good beginning and an excellent reminder that if I stick with the fallowness or emptiness, which both feel scarey, gifts can arrive.
Marianne says Hi!.
Good article and encouragement.

Shirley Weyrauch
Shirley Weyrauch
10 years ago
Reply to  Nancy Lemke

Hi Nancy! I would so love to return to Ghost Ranch…I recall our time there fondly.

Genny Rossi
Genny Rossi
10 years ago

Beautifully written.

Michael Willett Newheart

Thank you, Stephanie. I too “I have a call to listen to my heart in a new and deeper way,” though I would not have expressed it in that way. Nevertheless, that conceptualization captures my call, or better, thus conceptualized, this call captures me, Michael “Newheart.” Also, the name “Great Silence” speaks to me at a deep level. I will listen for it as I listen more deeply to my (New)heart. Oh, and blessings for the Thurman quotation. He’s a patron saint at Howard Div, where I teach. (Citation for the quotation?) Thanks again. Much peace to you, Stephanie.

Shirley Weyrauch
Shirley Weyrauch
10 years ago

Thank you, Stephanie, for putting this in words so eloquently.


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