Shalem Society October Gathering: More than Images
by Tony Sayer
Sixty-nine participants joined Shalem staff members at the second annual gathering of Shalem's Society for Contemplative Leadership in October and were revived, inspired and renewed. The two major addresses offered there - Tilden Edwards' "Inspirited Pioneers: Probing the Frontiers of Contemplative Awareness" and Carole Crumley's "The Power of Shared Intent: An Opening for God in the World" - can be read on Shalem's web site.
At the rededication service, each person received a prayer scarf as a sign of mutual belonging and common intent and was asked to offer a first prayer for the Society, which has grown to nearly 200 members. This year we also borrowed large posters of various iconic representations to surround our meeting room and invited participants to bring their own icons, so that we could have a sense of the larger community of contemplative ancestors who inspire us with their witness. We asked Society member Tony Sayer to reflect on the time together and below is his response to the "cloud of witnesses" that surrounded the October gathering.
More than Images
...a desert-like spaciousness... (Gerald May)
A spacious room. A high ceiling. A world.
Candles flickering. Souls kindled.
Around the walls paintings, posters, icons.
But more than images. Presences.
Merton and Bonhoeffer are drinking beer.
Their bottles clink together as they confer.
Saint Francis and the Sultan play chess.
The Sultan always wins - Francis seems not to get the game.
Fiercely he protects his pawns, but gives his bishops up with glee.
Mother Seton, Sojourner Truth, and Hildegard of Bingen
are making a quilt. Hildegard wants to add
more and more green to the pattern.
Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks and Ignatius of Loyola
tread the turns of a labyrinth together.
Inigo's limp slows him down, and
the others keep to his pace.
Elijah and Julian share a barley cake. The raven on his shoulder
and the cat on her lap eye each other with suspicion.
Gandhi and John of the Cross and Martin Luther King are
swapping jailhouse memories. They want Bonhoeffer
to join them, but Merton keeps opening
another cool one.
Rumi and Meister Eckhart have been writing song lyrics.
Teresa of Avila rounds up John Woolman and Black Elk
and Frederick Ozanam and Simone Weil
to start a garage band.
Dorothy Day and Clare of Assisi want to sign up.
They want Howard Thurman to come too.
But he's learning Tibetan chant,
his deep-throated voice
growing ever more
Etty Hillesum looks upward, murmuring contentedly,
"So many stars."
William Blake is teaching an art class, but his students
aren't paying attention. Chuang Tzu and Albert Einstein
have gotten paint all over themselves.
"Angels," says Blake impatiently. "Ranks of angels
He waves his hand in the air. He points at us.
For we too are here. Among these
witnesses, servants, pilgrims, martyrs,
in this patchwork communion of saints-we are here.
Holy One, by what fiery grace have we
come to join this company?
We praise you for the gift of guides and companions.
May we be such to each other.
Show us our walking stick and our narrow way.
Turn us to stillness and to hastening.
Turn us to doing the little righteousness
that is ours to do.
Give us strength to love.
Teach our hearts to break and break.