On July 11, I joined ten pastors from up and down the Atlantic seaboard for a 7-day clergy retreat guided by leaders from the Shalem Institute. Thank you, church family, for supporting my participation in the 18-month Shalem program, Going Deeper: Clergy Spiritual Life & Leadership. For seven days my new friends and I “leaned back into our spiritual hearts” as Tilden Edwards puts it (Tilden founded the Shalem Institute in 1973 and has served as a spiritual guide for thousands of men and women). We prayed in silence. We prayed aloud. We walked slowly. We woke early to greet the sun. We payed attention to the sounds of crickets; the sight of deer in the meadow; the steady rhythm of our own heartbeat. All of these felt like gift.
Talk of “deepening our spirituality” often raises this question:
What is spirituality anyway? Aren’t we offering it through our church programs and worship?
Well, in a way, yes. And in a way, no. Spirituality is a about relationship. It’s about having an opportunity to experience God’s presence. Many churches offer opportunities to increase knowledge about God and a better understanding of belief systems, along with programs to support these systems. This is not to say that people can’t experience God’s presence through a study of theology and Scripture. But often these experiences remain in our head without ever making it down to our heart.
Spirituality is not focused on information gathering. Mostly, spirituality is about learning to pay attention. It’s about learning to be fully present, moment by moment, to the God who loves us. We can be present with God in any place at any time.
It’s not so simple to live a simple life. Since the mid-1900s the pace of living has increased exponentially, with an ever-increasing emphasis on speed, rapid delivery, multitasking and constant availability. Our spiritual equilibrium, which depends on our deep, continual grounding in God, is under daily, even hourly, attack. As a result, there seems to be a steady reaching on the part of churched and unchurched people for the things that nurture the spirit.
I would love for you to join me on this pilgrimage. In the months ahead I hope to help us create new opportunities for addressing our individual and collective hunger for God. I can’t wait to see what the Spirit will do.
Peace and grace,