Contemplative Grounding in the Midst of Overwhelming Challenges

Article by Margaret Benefiel (in the October eNews)

In the face of bitter political division, environmental degradation, police shooting of black men and shooting of police, the refugee crisis, wars, world hunger, and international political tensions, I sometimes find myself feeling helpless and even hopeless. Over dinner with friends, when the topic turns to such matters, we find ourselves hand-wringing. What can one person do in the face of these impossible challenges?

Well-educated, well-meaning, and well-funded people analyze these problems. They intervene and offer solutions. Sometimes they make progress. At other times, their efforts prove counterproductive. As Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer, co-authors of Leading from the Emerging Future, point out, the rational, analytical mind reaches its limit in the face of complex, intractable problems. Scharmer and Kaufer offer an alternative, “Theory U,” which takes people to a deeper level of knowing, to a place of discernment from which transformation can occur. Other thought leaders like Margaret Wheatley, Ronald Heifetz, and Peter Senge have also discovered the need for this deeper level of knowing out of which transformation emerges.

Seeing thought leaders in the wider world discover contemplative grounding for their work reinforces for me that the gift of contemplative awareness is desperately needed in our time. While education and analytical expertise are important and useful, experts need the larger context of contemplative grounding in order to be effective over the long haul. Rational analysis alone keeps the practitioner living out of ego. Deep contemplative grounding puts gifts and training at the disposal of the greater good. Prayer frees one to give what and where it’s needed. Prayer frees one to let go when the rational mind can’t find a solution, and to let deeper wisdom emerge. Prayer leads to more effective leadership. Indeed, prayer changes history.

In this eNews, Patience Robbins’ series of weekly guided meditations leading up to the U.S. elections speaks to this crucial need for contemplative grounding in the midst of political hostilities. And this year’s Shalem Society gathering will focus on the theme “Keeping Radiant Love at the Center” in these times of social conflict, with Tilden Edwards addressing the theme and leading us through guided prayer focused on various conflicts of our time.

Like Gandhi’s “experiments with truth,” we need to experiment with the power of contemplative prayer. We need to test how prayer and compassion can bring transformation to apparently impossible situations.

When we find ourselves overwhelmed, wringing our hands in despair, may we remember to turn to God. When we let go of depending on the machinations of our minds, we will be surprised, again and again, by what emerges. God’s ways are not our ways. And for that I am exceedingly grateful.

A version of this article will appear in Shalem’s FY16 Annual Report/Journal.

October 10, 2016 by Margaret Benefiel 4 Comments
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Rev. Dr. Patricia Knutson
Rev. Dr. Patricia Knutson
7 years ago

I would love to participate in these prayer meditations but lead a Bible study at noon Wednesdays. Are the meditations being shared in printed form?

Margaret Benefiel
Margaret Benefiel
7 years ago

So glad that you are interested in these meditations, Patricia. They are recorded so that you can listen to them at any time.

Linda Milholen
Linda Milholen
7 years ago

Well said.

Paul Purta
Paul Purta
7 years ago

Shalem is a recognized leader in an experiential approach to spiritual formation. I welcome your addition of an analytical touch.


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