Going Deeper: A Spiritual Respite When Needed the Most

When a last-minute opportunity to attend the Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life and Leadership program presented itself to me in the summer of 2022, I could only say “Yes, how can I make this work?” I’d known for some time that my spiritual self-care as a pastor needed a boost. In that moment of decision, all I could do was pray that this was that boost and that I could commit fully to the program.

Stepping into that first (virtual) residency was a grace-filled immersion experience. The ebb and flow of time together and time spent alone in holy reflection was vastly different than my daily task-oriented life. Our worship, learning, and explorations together were formulated with a flow that left me yearning for more times like this. And the relationships we developed in that first week together were surprising and blessed.

What I hadn’t expected, and what I look back on with my greatest delight, were the activities between residencies: from the recommended readings, to my parish Listening Group, to my monthly Clergy Peer Group meetings and reports. The brief glimpse into a life with more built-in contemplative space began a yearning, a need. Surprisingly and thankfully, these new practices pushed out some of those habits that were no longer serving me. The practices created more space for quiet time, for listening for the whispers of the Holy.

I’ve never, and still don’t really, find myself easily called to sitting in silent centering prayer. I haven’t given up on that! What I have learned through this program, however, was that there are many ways to be contemplative. That it’s more about the Holy Listening and less about what I may or may not be doing with my body in the moment. Chanting, body prayer, yoga, lection divina, painting, poetry writing, and more became creative endeavors where I found myself being present to the moment, present to the Holy. Through the monthly conversations with my Clergy Peer Group, I found that I was gradually seeing myself more clearly. I unearthed options for ministry and personal devotion time that were not obvious to me previously.

Through the second residency of this program, I rather unexpectedly experienced a spiritual rebirth. Profound shifts happened in my personal life and in my ministry. The blessing of learning and worshiping with these dear clergy leaders was immense. Even after completion of the program, I continue to treasure my monthly Clergy Peer Group Zoom sessions (which we do out of our desire to support each other). I value their friendship, their listening hearts, and the witness they provide to my journey as pastor and beloved follower of Christ.

This program fell into my lap at a time when I desperately needed it, in just the way only the Holy can do such things. And thanks to the learnings and practices from this program, I continue to grow in my contemplative practice, bringing others along with me! I’m even planning a 2025 sabbatical for myself and my congregation focused entirely on contemplative practices. Each week during the sabbatical, a Listening Group from my parish will instruct and encourage the congregation to use a contemplative practice from a pre-established list that I will also be using. Even while separated by time and space, we will each be listening together closely for the Holy in our lives and in our congregation. All of this from one well-timed decision in the Summer of 2022.

I can’t promise you that participation in this program will transform your life like it has mine. I can assure you, however, that quietly listening for God to direct you in life, that spending time in prayer IS always a good thing. And doing it with a gifted group of facilitators with a structure that has demonstrated its success repeatedly is an excellent opportunity to seize. I will always be grateful that I said “yes” to this program. I think you will feel the same IF you dare to say “yes” to the adventure.

January 01, 2024 by Michelle Walker 1 Comment
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Carole Crumley
Carole Crumley
5 months ago

Michelle, what a beautiful testimony to your experience in the Clergy program and its ongoing impact on your life and ministry. I especially appreciate your inspired sabbatical plans and the ways of continuing to deepen contemplative prayerful listening with your congregation while you are away. Your reflections are a joy to read! Thank you.


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