Thrown Open Like a Window

All my life, I felt like I didn’t fit in. Raised Catholic and then married to a Methodist, I always felt like a square peg forced into a round hole regarding religion. I believed in a Higher Power yet recognized my belief didn’t fit within the established church and would jokingly refer to myself as a recovering Catholic. When the Methodist Church began discussing whether to honor union within the LGBTQ community, my heart broke, for I believe love is love, and Jesus calls us to love all beings. My religion became no religion or “None.” The word “God” turned to dust in my mouth, and I doubted if I was even a Christian.

While I was working with the Pastor on a churchwide Bible Study around inclusion, she told me I had the gift of spiritual discernment and asked if I had ever considered being a Spiritual Director. During what I now know is called my discernment phase, I came across Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program (SGP). It intrigued me, not because I was planning on becoming a Spiritual Director, but because I was curious about what this program might reveal about my spiritual path. How might it influence my spiritual journey? In 2017 I was accepted into the program and ordered every book on the bibliography. I dove in wholeheartedly and was amazed! My heart sang! These books spoke a language my heart understood. And while I cannot say I understood every word I read, something in my soul stirred, and I knew I was on the right path.

When I arrived at Bon Secours Retreat and Conference Center for my first residency, I consciously attempted to listen to the inner stirrings of my heart. I was amazed at how my soul felt thrown open like a window, and the fresh air of contemplation blew out the cobwebs of my heart. SGP explored many religious traditions in loving, experiential ways, where silence and contemplation were the teachers. As I began to experience God, a sense of belonging began to take root. During the second residency, as we formed a circle and chanted a Sufi chant, “There is no God but God,” something broke open in my chest. I had an overwhelming sensation of Oneness. This experience was followed by a reading from the Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-14. During the silence that followed, I heard a voice inside me saying over and over, “This is you. This is you. This is you.” I realized I was one with everyone in the room, with everyone in the world, with every religious tradition and every form of nature. I am Love, and so is all else. As I re-entered home life after the residency, I embraced this experiential awareness and all aspects of my life began to change. Life was different because I was different.

I started to relish the silence. I began to honor my soul’s voice. My relationships moved from “How can I fix this?” to “How can I meet this person where they are and honor the Divine working in their life?” Spiritual guidance moved from being something I did to who I was. Now, I meet every interaction with a grounded, loving, and compassionate presence. The prayer now living in my heart is St. Francis’s: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, but to understand, to be loved as to love….”

The gift of spiritual guidance is particularly evident when life delivers dire circumstances. In July of 2021, my mom was in a terrible car accident. She was T-boned crossing a major intersection and airlifted to the trauma center, where she remained in ICU for two weeks. Whether she was going to live or die was out of our hands. As the rest of the family resisted that reality, I was able to honor this time of unknowing. I asked her what she needed to feel at peace and sat with her, holding her hand, bearing witness, and surrendering to the Great Mystery. I was able to see angels in humans and nature. I could see and feel God everywhere; through it all, I felt held by the Spirit and my Shalem family. My sense of the Divine was unwavering, transforming an unexpected tragedy into a sacred experience. After four months in rehabilitation, miraculously, Mom came home. This past June, we celebrated her 81st birthday.

Before Shalem, I was a fish in the ocean that kept swimming and swimming and swimming in search of the ocean. Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program invites me to see; I don’t fit in because I am already in. I am a fish immersed in the sea of Great Love. Today, when people ask about my religion, I say, “I AM All. “

October 10, 2022 by Laura Neal 12 Comments
Subscribe
Notify of

12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Channing Guvernator
Channing Guvernator
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing your experience! Your words spoke to my soul.

MaryLou
MaryLou
1 month ago

And it speaks to mine also….except I am still swimming . I also live on the eastern shore, and thank you so very for sharing. This could have been written by me–something is similar is in one of my notebooks.

Liz Emrey
1 month ago
Reply to  Laura Neal

Blessings, you write so well. You should be published. Thank you for sharing. I am also a former Catholic, now American Baptist pastor and spiritual director,also a Shalem graduate.

Ceci Duke
Ceci Duke
1 month ago

Your journey is familiar to me, having been raised in the Roman Church and then married a Methodist. Love your observation on fitting in – just read in Thomas Keating (I think) that authenticity encourages belonging. Thank you for sharing your story.

Rodney
Rodney
1 month ago

Thank you Laura! What a rich reflection you have shared with all of us…such a gift. How mysterious this journey is…and thankfully, we find community and companions along the path…

Jane Kniffin
Jane Kniffin
1 month ago

Hi Laura,
Like others, I found your story mirroring my own. I swam in an ocean of longing & exploration for 20 years, then swam into a Quaker program of spiritual nurture (1 of 2 Cradle Episcopalians in the large group of Friends) which allowed me to eventually explore the very unknown, hence scary, world of contemplation. During the past 14 years I have grown comfortable in embracing and then celebrating my contemplative nature. For me it’s all about the journey. So grateful for your sharing. I rarely hear a story that feels so akin to my own.

Mission

Our mission is to nurture contemplative living and leadership.

Vision

Grounded in our understanding of God’s desire for peace, wholeness and well-being, we envision a world transformed by contemplative living and leadership in which all people honor one another and creation, recognize their unity and interconnectedness, and courageously seek to live out of this reality.

Cancel