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Beginnings

Article by Jane Sharp – July 2019 eNews

It all began with longings.

A longing to continue learning.

A longing for the community, conversation, and contemplative wisdom I found at Shalem.

A longing to share such connections and deepening with others.

Arriving home having completed Shalem’s long-term program Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups & Retreats, I longed for the inspiration and wisdom of my teachers and for more deep listening and conversation about contemplative living with others who were also seekers.

My faith community, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC, joined me in discerning how I might live into these longings. With their prayers and support, I began offering retreats and classes in contemplative living.

It quickly became apparent that others shared my desire for contemplative teachings and community. As one particular retreat ended, a person I’d known for some time told me that the opportunity to go apart and spend time in silence and guided meditations spoke to a facet of her true self—the interior life—that she hadn’t thought was even a part of who she was.

When some people mentioned that family and responsibilities can make a weekend retreat difficult, we began offering “Sabbath at the Springs,” a Sunday afternoon-Monday silent retreat, and making the option of attending Sunday only available for working folks. We discovered that, with an invitation to be still and open to whatever might be given in the silence, people were profoundly moved even if they were only in that sacred, silent space for a matter of hours.

Several of us began creating and offering various courses focused on contemplative spirituality. We were not “experts” on the subject. Our discernment and preparation took literally dozens of hours in order to offer participants something of substance and meaning. As we struggled to meet the increasing demand for such experiences, we yearned for something of substance that could allow us to expand this contemplative ministry.

Gratefully, e-learning opportunities began to blossom at Shalem. From afar, we could take eCourses taught by Shalem’s gifted instructors in the comfort of our homes, through audio and video recordings online. We could connect with other students from around the world through online journaling.

Since I live away from my home church in the summertime, I enrolled in a July online course and felt wonderfully connected again. I encouraged a couple of other folks back in Greensboro to do the same. At the end of the summer, we met for breakfast to share our experience with the course. All three of us loved the material, yet longed for more opportunities to talk about what we were learning.

Once again, Spirit was at work, and Shalem leadership was listening into new invitations for the online offerings. There was a deep desire to support graduates and contemplative leaders from afar, to explore partnerships to “co-lead” with the eCourse content. Without quite knowing what this partnership would look like, Shalem reached out to program graduates such as myself.

The seed was planted.

Strongly supported by Westminster’s leadership, we promoted and offered Tilden Edwards’ eCourse, “Living from the Spiritual Heart.” Over 25 people registered for the six-session, weekly class. Each Sunday participants received the online course lesson from Shalem to review and live into on their own. On Wednesday nights, we gathered for an hour to spend time in silence, small group conversation, and deep listening around the course content.

The impact of this course and subsequent ones has been profound. We introduced small group listening circles, and those have become integral to all our offerings. Our church library has expanded and featured writings from contemporary and ancient contemplative writers. This experience ultimately led to the formation of a group spiritual direction “sacred circle,” with everyone from the class attending Shalem’s facilitator training.

Since that first “hybrid” offering, Westminster has offered almost every Shalem eCourse, including a Saturday morning “virtual” session on Howard Thurman led by Lerita Coleman-Brown.

Longings emerge in the sacred silence of contemplative prayer. That Shalem offers avenues for those longings to become action is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful.

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