Shawn Gutshall

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“Without contraries there is no progression.” William Blake

Being asked to write a short piece on my ‘encounter with the Holy’ at the Journey Center had me initially both intrigued and stumped. What have I encountered and what does encountering the Holy mean? Upon reflection I can speak of an experience characterized by a slow undoing over time, an undoing of assumptions, conclusions, attitudes and beliefs established on insufficient grounds long ago and by a gentle cracking open of the heart.

My curiosity was first piqued in early ’08 by notices appearing about the Center in a local paper. With a yearning to be part of a community of depth and shared values trailing me for years, a new spiritual center was inviting. Hesitancy held me at bay, it being Christ-centered, and I not a Christian, until a workshop on journal writing as a spiritual practice reeled me in. And that, I am grateful to say, was the beginning of an on-going relationship of transformation with self, others and God.

The tone and tenor of the dialog encountered that first visit, primarily of hospitality and inclusion, encouraged my engagement and return, again and again. In time, I began to truly feel welcomed. By that I mean, the arising of who I am didn’t feel squelched energetically by judgment or exclusion. I liken this to the analogy Parker Palmer makes in A Hidden Wholeness of the soul being like a wild animal; it remains hidden until it feels safe to emerge. With an insatiable curiosity and a mind full of questions, this welcome feeling was momentous. I could see my probing and prodding, rather than threatening others, invited sincere interest in dialog and an intent to answer.

This relationship developed not without contradiction though; as a participating non-Christian I struggled internally. Mental walls established decades ago out of fear of the proselytizing fundamentalist and ignorance of the vast canon of contemplative Christianity limited my perspective, scope, and lens and held my heart and ears in a fortress of my own making. As I began to learn about alternative orthodoxy and to understand the source of the hospitality around me the drawbridge beckoned.

To piggyback on Merton quoted by Palmer in On the Brink of Everything, I found myself “in contradiction: to realize this is mercy, to accept it is love, and to help others do the same is compassion. Contradictions are engines of creativity. There’d be no divine discontent or the sense of possibility that animates our growth if we got everything right or everything wrong. What we get wrong makes us reach for something better. What we get right reassures us that the ‘better’ is sometimes within our reach.”