Nurturing Spiritual Directors as Contemplative Leaders

On November 11, 2022, the Shalem Board approved Vision 2025: Our Ongoing Hope. The Vision offers six guiding principles for attending wholly to one’s spiritual practice while traveling through what might seem like the barren wilderness of ordinary life. As Director of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program, I find that the fifth guiding principle radiates significant energy for me. “As beloved community, we will face our fears and act with compassion and courage to challenge injustice, dismantle systems of inequity, and pursue reconciliation.”

Upon enrolling in the Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program (SGP), associates step into a new season in their spiritual journey and ministry. This is a natural and essential movement as they seek to embrace the mantle of Contemplative Leadership through the ministry of spiritual guidance. Ultimately, they birth a stable, Spirit-led community committed to sharing God’s abundant love. What a delight it is to witness individual and corporate commitments to this contemplative journey, to attending wholly to the mystery of God, to meeting all the reality one can bear! Journeying through the program’s formation period, associates experience significant manifestations of Divine Light illuminating their spiritual paths as they explore companioning spiritual seekers who may be radically different from themselves. Their perceived differences may be cultural, racial, ethnic, socio-economic, political, religious, spiritual, or based on sexual orientation, gender orientation, age, personal trauma history, etc. The list is infinite.

As I share these reflections, it’s not lost on me that we’re in Eastertide – just before Ascension – that point when Jesus must leave, go away. Why? Because the Holy One has big plans for the faithful. They’re not to cling to Jesus, bound to his physical presence. Rather, they’re to be baptized with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and thereby empowered to share the Good News of Christ’s love throughout the world. Similarly, SGP staff nurture associates’ formation as contemplative leaders throughout the program, but like Jesus, they ultimately need to step away as associates approach the program’s completion, enabling them to rely fully upon the Spirit and embrace the Light of Christ Incarnate within the day-to-day relationships the Spirit brings their way.

Upon graduation, this season of Ascension can feel quite lonely because associates are asked to journey alone in the wilderness for a while, outside the cocoon of the Spiritual Guidance Program, to fully embrace their metamorphosis. Yet ironically, the Light is present, as it always has been, although it may be challenging to perceive it refracted in new ways. Now’s the time to reaffirm one’s commitment to contemplative practice. Now’s the time to attend wholly to God.

Through practicing the fifth guiding principle, all of us are invited to gradually journey through loneliness into Solitude – into our authentic selves from whence we can serve as conduits of God’s light and love for all whom we encounter, whatever “-ism” they embody. We can serve authentically as contemplative leaders because we radiate God’s healing love. In short, we’re enabled to lead through example. We embody our practice.

I’m reminded of the period in my own journey right after I returned from three years as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Peace Corps did an excellent job of cross-cultural training as we prepared to enter service. We received in-depth, cross-cultural training in race relations, socioeconomics, politics, religion, spirituality, sexuality, and gender issues. However, upon the completion of our in-country service, our training for re-entry into our culture of origin left much to be desired.

I had the illusion that re-entry into my home culture would be no big deal. After all, I’d grown up there and knew it inside out. Needless to say, I was woefully unprepared to return to the United States. Upon returning, I felt like a stranger in my native land. I was a different person than the one who’d left three years earlier. I was able to see and hear things in my own culture which were profoundly troubling. I frequently found myself wondering, “What was I doing serving in Peace Corps when I should have been doing the work here in the United States?” At first, I thought it was no big deal; the flood of awareness would pass. After about six months, however, I really got concerned. The altered attunement to awareness did not pass but rather became more acute. It was one of the loneliest periods of my life.

Fortunately, I have a dear friend who’d been a Peace Corps volunteer about fifteen years before me. Finally, I confessed to him what I was experiencing. He smiled and responded, “Phillip, I didn’t think you were able to hear what I’m about to say before now. But now, I think you’re ready. The truth is you’ll never readjust, but you will learn to live with being different.” That simple statement enabled me to accept my unique, authentic path and move through my loneliness into solitude. It opened the door for me to welcome and share the creative possibilities my unique gifts and experiences provide for challenging injustice, dismantling systems of inequity, and pursuing reconciliation. In truth, these gifts are not always appreciated, nor do I always practice wisely. Yet, each encounter is an opportunity to participate in the Divine dance.

Similarly, within the beloved community of the Spiritual Guidance Program, associates are invited to face their fears as they embrace the Grace-filled pilgrimage of becoming contemplative leaders through the ministry of spiritual guidance. They’re invited to trust in the assurance of the Spirit’s desire to transform their human frailties into opportunities for the outpouring of God’s infinite, life-giving Love. They’re invited to accept their unique, authentic paths as spiritual guides and move with compassion and courage through their loneliness into solitude while challenging injustice, dismantling systems of inequity, and pursuing reconciliation. Thus, my prayer for all graduates of Shalem’s Spiritual Guidance Program is that they’ll never fit in but learn to live in the creative, Spirit-filled space of being different.

Read Vision 2025: Our Ongoing Hope here.

Learn more about Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program here.

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Helen Spigner
Helen Spigner
9 months ago

Phillip something made me click on this blog post. I admit I don’t click on all emails. I miss you and our class of 2013. We were a close group and connected deeply with all of you, the staff. My heart resonates and shares in all that you shared! True we will never fit in but we are to live and respond from our Spirit filled space.

Karen Crutchfield
9 months ago

Thank you so much. I retired and moved to a new place for family reasons. And to a new church. It takes a long time to get to know a new community, but I’ve gradually realized that I, too, am so different from those around me, especially in spiritual things. I long to find like-minded folks, but your words are an invitation to accept who I am in the midst of those who are different.

Ethel
Ethel
9 months ago

“you’ll never readjust, but you will learn to live with being different” wow. I needed to hear this today!! Thank you Phillip. Beautiful post.

Ruba
Ruba
8 months ago

I really connected with your well written piece. Thanks so much Phillip.

Mission

Our mission is to nurture contemplative living and leadership.

Vision

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.

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