Five Gathered

Reflection on the Experience of a Group Spiritual Direction Workshop at Shalem Institute.

I had the bountiful blessing of making four very close friends at the Group Spiritual Direction workshop on Zoom last June.

It was not your typical friendship. Five individuals gathered together in faith, in silence, in prayer, and in profound empathy. The gathering was not by chance. No, something else, rather someone else, was at work — One I will call the Divine Wind. We sat down together by the river and we wept. We re-membered. Our harps hung on the willows nearby. Could we take our harps down and sing a new song?

Well, that Divine Wind began a slow gesturing of holy orchestration and notes began to play. Notes of lament. Notes of confusion. Notes of sadness. Notes of victories recalled. Notes of joy and notes of hope. Notes of …empathy. Here we sat by the river in our foreign land — our own taste of Babylon, of captivity.

Tongues that tend to cleave to the roof of our mouths unable to speak found release in this inbreaking of divine empathy. And we re-membered. Pieces of our lives, past and present, began to surface, called forth by the Divine Wind blowing in our midst.

As we sat by the river together, Divine Wind blowing all around, I heard a voice and it said, empathy brings healing. That voice cried out with a loud cry, “Do not people hear!?” “Why do they turn a blind eye!? Why so oblivious!?” The voice cried and begged for the presence of another to lament together, to say, “I know what you are feeling and experiencing and I am with you.”

“Let us lament together!” said the voice. “Then… then we might cry out in joy together.”

We re-membered together in our group of five, and now the remembering continues for me — divine empathy is kindled.

May my tongue cling to
the roof of my mouth
If I do not remember you,
If I do not exalt Jerusalem
Above my chief joy.

I am led to the river with the Psalmist. I hear the human heart cry out and I cry out with these friends of yesterday and today. I cry out together in a sacramental empathy. I hear a voice say, “We are not alone… we are not alone.” Over centuries, over millennia, through the sacrament of the Word, we share together in a shattering of time, in an infinite holy expanse. We share a timeless lament that acknowledges and yields to the sharp edges of cultural differences, strange languages and expressions, differences in moral expressions and perceptions of right and wrong. All have strayed in this space and all gone awry — this we share indeed. We share failures, doubts, fears, dashed hopes, broken promises. Knowing this truth engenders my trust amidst the strangeness in the other now present to me. Empathy brings healing.

Five gathered in empathetic embrace, saying no to the slavery of loneliness. Now that, brother, that, sister, that is Church! When I find this, I have found Church. Church, not just something I do on Sunday, not some strange institution, but rather Jesus’ body alive in five gathered. And so, we listen together with the Psalmist across shattered time. We look under the surface into the mysterious pool of our hearts and find connection in the midst of brothers and sisters gathered at the river in the divine rush of wind. Divine empathy.

August 08, 2021 by Craig Hammond 1 Comment
Notify of

1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
2 years ago

Thank you. Your words came to my heart and soul…traveling probably thousands of miles. No coincidence.


Our mission is to nurture contemplative living and leadership.


In 2025, Shalem will be a dynamic and inclusive community, empowered by the Spirit, where seekers engage in transformation of themselves, their communities, and the world through spiritual growth, deep connection, and courageous action.