Responding to Divine Initiative

“Those of us who were part of the Vision Coalition and worked on Vision 2025: Our Ongoing Hope have been asked to write reflections on the Guiding Principles of Vision 2025. The Guiding Principles are statements that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming — a place where both the present and our hope for the future reside together. Guiding principles reveal what we need to commit to for our Vision to come about. They guide the way we work, organize ourselves and live our purpose together and in the world.” – Susan Etherton

Guiding Principle #1: Responding to Divine Initiative, we allow the Divine to lead us into shared practices of sacred stillness, deep listening, open-heartedness, and prayer.

The beginning of the year 2020 was a tumultuous sequence of events unlike anything most of us had previously experienced. In March, offices, schools, churches, restaurants, and community gatherings shut down due to the pandemic. In May, protests raged after the brutal killing of George Floyd.

Most of us were impacted on multiple levels by the chaos of these life-changing events. We were shocked and dismayed by what was happening on the news and in our neighborhoods. The rhythm of our lives was significantly altered as we isolated ourselves in our homes and donned masks whenever we ventured out. Many of our friends and family members lost their livelihoods, sense of safety and security, or their lives. Communal celebrations including worship, weddings, and memorial services were canceled or postponed.

As I reflect on this time now, I’m astounded by how I believe the Spirit was preparing Shalem to navigate these waters and chart a new course for the future well before these events unfolded. Shalem was fortunate to have significant organizational capacity including a strong leadership team, solid finances, and a growing awareness and orientation towards justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. The Wider World Capital Campaign was underway to widen the tent by providing resources for a scholarship endowment and new programming. Most importantly, the Shalem leaders and community regularly practiced leaning into God’s loving presence, contemplative grounding, prayer, and a willingness to listen for and trust the movement of the Spirit in all things – even these horrific events.

This contemplative orientation served the organization well in both ordinary and challenging times and seemed like a beacon of light and hope in this extraordinary time. In many ways the events of 2020 felt like a tipping point that invited Shalem to lean into its anchorage while at the same time being swiftly transported to a new shore.

In March 2020, Shalem was faced with not only these external challenges but also the many internal implications for Shalem’s ongoing programming, operations, and spiritual community. In her latest book, Crisis Leadership, Shalem’s Executive Director Margaret Benefiel chronicled this time and the experience of other leaders during times of crisis. The following quote speaks of Shalem’s intention for this time:

“We wanted to explore how our dismay at what was happening… could be turned into productive prayer and action, rather than obsessive anxiety…”

Instead of canceling in-person retreats and programs like so many other organizations, Shalem pivoted to offer many of them on digital platforms like Zoom. The first internal Zoom offering was the March 2020 Board and Staff weekend retreat. Although we were in remote locations, we still connected deeply for prayer, deep listening, and envisioning our future together. We were able to lean into our sense of God’s presence and love and courageously and creatively face the current challenges. Ripples from the retreat spread through each of Shalem’s programs and offerings. Although we hadn’t planned these changes, we were prayerfully discovering and charting a new course as the events of 2020 unfolded.

One of the many fruits that came out of the Board and Staff Retreat was the daily Simple Presence meditation on Zoom. As this group grew and formed as a spiritual community, it became a place of connection and prayer – and for many participants, a lifeline – in a time of great strife and isolation. The Simple Presence community still gathers each morning for inspiration and twenty minutes of shared silence.

After the success of the Board and Staff Retreat, the previously planned April 2020 in-person Group Spiritual Direction (GSD) Workshop was modified to be offered on Zoom. We were surprised by the registrations received from people across the country and around the world. Since then, the program has grown organically in response to what the Spirit is inviting as this work goes out more broadly in the world.

I’ve been in awe of how the Spirit is at work transforming lives through this practice, which is grounded in love, sacred stillness, deep listening, open-heartedness, and prayer. As we continue to listen and discern the future, we return again and again to the prayer that often guides us into our time together in our GSD groups:

“God, what is your prayer, what is your desire?”

These are just a few examples of how the Divine Presence has been stirring and reshaping Shalem in ways that weren’t imagined or planned. Each Shalem staff member and long-term program director can likely share a similar story of how when everything in our society seemed to be shutting down, the Spirit seemed to be inviting Shalem to extend its reach and widen its tent. Vision 2025 is a response and pathway for the movements that are taking us to new places. While I don’t believe that the Divine created any of the events of 2020, I do believe that in listening and responding to those events with a prayerful stance and an open heart, we are responding to the Divine Initiative that is at work transforming Shalem and our world.

August 08, 2023 by Nancy Weir 2 Comments
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Susan Hudson
Susan Hudson
9 months ago

Thank you, Nan, for these reflections! The Spirit invited me into the first total Zoom SGP group to teach me a new language. Although I am an in-person person to the core, who loves to hug people, the divine feminine Spirit immersed me in a language which has taught me intimacy in a global community of God’s love. Dancing with joy that deep contemplative friendships can be formed through Zoom. I loved being able to complete the Group Spiritual Direction Program with YOU in Zoom from Japan where there was a 14-hour time difference.💃

Sharon Sauer
Sharon Sauer
9 months ago

Insightful and inspiring article Nan. Thank you‼️


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.