Shalom Retreats: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PROCESS AND ITS COMPONENTS

December 19, 2016

Dear Fellow Shalomers,

I am sending this paper as preparation for our celebration of 48 years of Shalom process and 40 years of Shalom Mountain on Memorial Day, May 27-30, 2016. The paper was written for all Shalomers, for the simply curious and for Shalom leaders who in the future will be training new leaders of Shalom. I look forward to seeing you at the celebration. After I receive feedback from you, I will revise the article before placing it in the Shalom archives.

Jerry

SHALOM RETREATS

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE PROCESS AND ITS COMPONENTS

May 2016

Shalom Mountain Retreat and Study Center is located in the Catskill Mountains, Livingston Manor, NY.  On Memorial Day weekend of this year,  (May 27-30, 2016), many people will come to celebrate 48 years of the Shalom Process and the 40th anniversary of the Shalom Mountain Retreat and Study Center. Since its inception, Shalom Mountain has initiated thousands of people into its community. Also, Shalom Retreats have been held for many years in Canada and have been welcomed in Germany, Switzerland and in Africa.

Shalom Retreats were birthed by the Human Potential Movement and it can easily be said that Shalom Mountain is a flowering of that movement.

The Unfolding

In this paper, I will bear witness to how I was used to channel this important process. The story involves my developing consciousness and changing perspectives as I, then, a United Church of Christ executive, wrestled with the radically changing times and the impact on personal lives and institutions.

I was born on May 26, 1919. My father was a priest of the ancient tradition. My family tree includes many theologians. My father died when I was 15 years old. WhIle finishing my second year at Baylor University, I received the call to follow in my father’s footsteps. I answered the call with a prayer, “Make me of some use.” For the next two years, I was the acting pastor of our little church in Riesel, Texas for five dollars a week. Together with my work at Baylor University, I developed a keen interest in many aspects of the spiritual journey, with a special focus on how people grow and change and how they are assimilated in groups. For a year, I trained 28 young people in the history and teachings of the church. My first sermon in that church was entitled  “Thy will be done.”

At McCormick Seminary (1940-1943) while I was being trained as a theologian, I hotly pursued the question of how to be with God and wrote my thesis on assimilation. My sermon to the faculty and student body was on “Thy will be done.” I proceeded to do a doctor of philosophy degree in the Psychology of Religion at Yale University. Assimilation was again the focus of my study. I received my degree in 1950. My dissertation was published by Pilgrim Press and distributed free to all of the Congregational ministers. The United Church of Christ had not yet come into being.

In 1944, I married Esther Stuermer (Bachelor of Divinity from Yale Divinity School) and in 1946, I became pastor of the West Haven Congregational Church — an historic church founded in 1714, with a staff of four assistant pastors. It was a splendid place to try out new ideas in personal development and group work. Esther decided not to be employed professionally but rather to focus as my mate in ministry and as the mother of our children. Four children were born, Carol, John Mark (who died after three days), Daniel and Virginia. Esther was so accomplished and winsome that some of my friends said, “You are successful because of your wonderful wife.” We, as a family, lived happily together. My first sermon and my last sermon in that church was entitled “Thy will be done.”

In 1960, I was asked to head a division of the newly formed United Church of Christ, (a union of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Church. My division called Evangelism and Research was focused on church and culture, social context and how to expand the mission of the five thousand member churches.

On the same day and hour when I was officially voted in by the Synod of the new United Church of Christ, Esther drowned in a sailboat accident in Long Island Sound. I was shattered! My situation included a new job and three young children to care for. Now I saw my context with a new set of eyes — change everywhere. What I was experiencing inside was now seen out there in the world and in the culture — everything nailed down was coming loose. “Once I was blind but now I see.” I became the Paul Revere of the church world, proclaiming, “The greatest change in 300 years is occurring. It will affect our personal perspectives and our institutions.”

I spent fifteen years in traveling the world, looking for signs of renewal in the changed and changing world and consulting with religious leaders about change. I participated fully in the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches and the connection there gave me a broad opportunity to get the perspective of spiritual leaders. What I saw and heard changed long held perspectives on the nature and function of religion and culture. My spiritual journey was powerfully altered.

Toward the end of the time of my wanderings as a church executive, I was asked to address 20 Bishops of the Methodist Church. I called my presentation, The Collapsing Pumpkin, drawing on the analogy that the present form of the church was like a collapsing pumpkin, rotting in the field. I said to the Bishops, “See the rotting pumpkin but with hope, view the seeds.”

One of the Bishops made a summary of my presentation and this quote is a good way to see that someone heard me and at the same time it is a good summary of my perspective.

“It is the position of this paper that church leaders at every level of the church’s life need to face certain realities about the church in our time: that  the church has failed to update fast enough in a radically changing time; that those other than pastors need to have a special care and concern for the welfare of pastors in the profession caught as the walls collapse; that all of us need to hone our skills as midwives to the new; that pastors should become highly skilled change agents, competent in helping the church through a highly conflictual period, assisting in the emergence of those shapes of the church which are able to enflesh and communicate the gospel.

The critique of the local church in the light of the new age is reviewed (in Jud’s paper). Implicit in the critique is the obsolescence of the local church. Unless we let that truth sink in, we will not take the steps necessary to do anything but it.

After he (Jud) looks to the functions which the local church of the future will continue to perform, the author considers the role of the pastor in the new age. Updating the church’s style requires a new along-sided leadership style to emerge.

The author urges a new integrating core for pastoral leadership in a new age and believes that this core should be the set of skills necessary for the pastor to stand  alongside his people and help inform them as they develop and act to achieve their goals as Christians living in this time of maximum threat and maximum hope. The nature of these skills is described.

The last section of the paper deals with the role of staff members and administrators relative to the local church. A major question before the church is how to crack open persons in bureaucracy so that they give the creative energies to facing problems of the local church. The problems are so complex that unless these energies are released, the updating process in local churches will be severely hampered.

As policy makers, the author says, we need to face the fact that despite all of the studies and all of the books and conferences, not much movement has taken place relative to the local church and these changing times. We need to pay attention to the systems approach as we face the malfunctioning of the church system. Particularly, we have to face the severe problems in the pastoral ministry relative to role conflict, support systems, training and re-training.

The author makes a plea for bold, new initiatives taken ecumenically. Both the planning and the training that are necessary need to be done by all who will work together in spirit and in hope.”

The Transmission

In 1970, I headed research on why 947 pastors had either left the ministry or were considering quitting. The impact of the changed and changing world was profound. It affected the personal lives and belief systems of all clergy. The results of this study were published in the book called Ex-Pastors. Thereafter, with deep  compassion, I set out to be present to these people and this situation. The Shalom Retreat process turned out to be my answer. Here is how the transmission occurred.

One evening, full of compassion for my fellow brothers and sisters, I opened myself to be led by the Spirit in developing a retreat form from my theoretical work, my experiences and from my deep compassion. A whole process emerged in one evening. Except for a couple of components, the retreat form and process remains in use today, unchanged after 48 years.

The first retreat was a resounding success — a mystical experience of love and communion, simple and mysterious. I called  Phil Anderson, a professor in the Seminary complex at the University of Chicago with whom I had shared many years of leadership

and I said, “Phil, you have to see this.” At the next retreat, there he was. Afterward, he said, “Jerry, you got a big  fish by the tail.” I said, “I  know it!”

Elisabeth

Before I describe in detail the Shalom process, I wish to acknowledge an important contribution which my wife Elisabeth made in the emerging process.

When Esther died, her mother who was 80, closed down her home in Lincoln, Nebraska to come to take care of us. At length, she said to me that I needed to find a mother for my children. I went in search and I found Elisabeth, a dear friend of Esther’s, a Swiss trained psychologist and an accomplished cellist. I like to brag that Elisabeth was born in Kusnacht, Switzerland, the home of Carl Jung. Elisabeth and I were married on the basis that love is an intention and she agreed not to work professionally until the children were raised. We lived together for 23 years and she gave to me and to my family an incalculable gift.

Together, we did leadership training with Dr. Dan Casriel, the founder of Synanon and a leader in Primal Scream therapy, long before Janoff wrote his book by the same name. We trained at Esalen Institute where we met many leaders in the Human Potential field and we were trained in Sensory Awareness. We joined the Association for Humanistic Psychology and I became one of its leaders as the head of the religious network in the United States. The Human Potential Movement focused on the tension between Freud and Jung. It had a strong bias toward Jung, giving a powerful spiritual strain to the movement — opening to the religions of the east — Hinduism and Buddhism. It called me to see the Judeo-Christian stories in a broad perspective, linking me especially to the Hindu yogic system. I have practiced yoga for well over 50 years.

Elisabeth and I led Shalom Retreats at a retreat and study center called Kirkridge for eight years where for years I was Chairman of the Board. Kirkridge was founded by Professor John Oliver Nelson, at that time teaching at Yale Divinity School. It is still is a very important retreat center, focused on spirituality and social action. Founded in 1942, by Dr. Nelson, as a center for training social action and spiritual life, it became one of the outstanding retreat centers in the nation. It draws theologians and philosophers and radical change leaders from around the world. Shalom Retreats found its first home here at Kirkridge.

The Shalom Process and Its Basic Principles

1. Who Comes?

Anyone who asks to come is welcome. No distinctions are made. We say, “No matter who you are or where you are on your life journey, you are welcome here. The basic entry retreat lasts three half days — beginning Thursday evening with dinner through lunch on Sunday.

2.  Building Community

The focus of Thursday night is the development of the loving community — through dancing, statement of purpose and a covenant made, intending unconditional love for three days. The community is further deepened by a number of verbal and non-venal exercises.

3. Friday Morning

On the morning of the second day, the story telling begins. Each person has seven minutes to share with the group his or her pilgrimage. To tell how one felt at different stages of life and during significant relationships is full of risk and it also provides the great joy of having others listen to your story. It is scary but beautiful. Tears flow and the community life is deepened and prepared for the fuller unfolding of the individual story as each person works on the mat.

4. The First Shalom Retreat

A Shalom retreat has a very significant resemblance to the ancient mystery religions of Greece and the East. It is an initiation into community, dealing with the descent into the darkness and the return into the light. The initiate goes down into the deep darkness of the unconscious and emerges after a time in a new light — having found a way of looking at one’s life and destiny with new eyes. The leader of the experience acts as a spiritual guide — not giving his or her answers but helping to shape the retreatants questions and giving encouragement for the development of the ne vision.

I first dreamed of the process as I watched Fritz Perls do his service at Esalen. Fritz and the client sat face to face on chairs. Fritz was a gifted man and his unique process brought good results, though more left brain, than right brain and more conscious and cerebral than twilight zone unconscious realms. This, despite the fact that we are not stuck in the conscious left brain self but in the twilight zone and the unconscious. If that is so, why not go there as quickly as possible? So, a blindfold, a mattress, a kicking stand and positive community energy pouring into the working retreatant opens a new way to go. Ida Rolf showed us how the human body carries fear, anger, pain and hope and longing. I found a way to use Rolfing principles and breath control to allow a person into an altered state of consciousness in which he/she were able to do their work.

5. How the Mat Trip Proceeds

We meet in a mattress arena. The mat trip now becomes the center of action. The community sits on mattresses around the central mat. Persons work one at a time.

Implicit in this work is our understanding of human growth that we all move naturally toward the unfolding of our potential but that each of us, in his or her growth, reaches impasses through which we are not able to move. We are stuck and our energy backs up behind that stuckness and the flow is impeded. We say, too, that most of us handle our feelings unskillfully, especially fear, anger and pain and even love, joy and hope. These feelings are impacted in our guts. Releasing these feelings is important for our growth and development and for the free flow of energy, giving and receiving love.

When the person lies on the mat wearing a blindfold, the entire community touches (lays hands on) the person and blesses the journey by speaking memories about the person. Then the facilitator has a short conference with the person on the mat around the issues that need to be worked on.

The induction into an altered state may seem unusual to the uninitiated, however, it is very effective. The person on the mat, lies on his or her back with the facilitator lying at their side, embracing them while using pressure on jaw, belly and back muscles when necessary.

The methods used from then on come from Gestalt psychology, primal scream therapy, psychodrama, psychosynthesis, fantasy, role play and some methods made upon the spot. After the person has reached an altered state of consciousness, the facilitator uses metaphor as a way of allowing the person to experience the right side of the brain, the part of the brain responsible for fantasy and dreaming. In the course of a retreat, a person may move from heaven into hell and from hell into heaven. Rarely, does a person experience a mat trip without important growth taking place and without a deep sense of love and involvement with one’s fellow humans. Love and trust in the community enable a person to enter levels of consciousness that have heretofore remained closed.

As the retreat proceeds, the energy gets higher and higher and the love more and more profound. On the last day, the retreat ends in deep thanksgiving, love and celebration. Initiation has taken place. A community has been born and the whole Shalom community has been strengthened.

Love at the Center

The central purpose of a Shalom Retreat is the experience of love as the great sustaining power of the Universe. We do not know what love is. We can finally only bow before it in wonder and in awe. But we know many aspects of how love behaves. Thus the Skills of Love emerged which we can identify and learn how to practice. Here are six principles that are implicit in a Shalom Retreat.

  1. Each of us is capable of growing in his or her powers and skills of giving and receiving love. Despite this truth, many die of thirst in a fresh water lake. All about us are those who are capable of giving us what we need; we must learn to ask and then learn to receive.
  2. Love is an act of will. It can be intended and is not something simply into which we fall.
  3. Love is an attitudinal stance of goodwill which we take toward another person.
  4. Love cannot be earned. It is always a gift. Whatever has to be earned is not the real article.
  5. Love is not time bound. One does not have to be with another person for a long time before love is in place. In some instances, it is immediate.
  6. Love is a response to need. It is only as we lay bare our needs and open ourselves to receive love that we move from dependence to inter-dependence, the basis of true community.

Operational Principles for Loving

SEEING

I See You.

I do not look over you, under you, through you. I see you in your uniqueness.

HEARING

I Hear You.

I listen for the meanings behind your words.

FEELINGS AND IDEAS

I recognize your right to feel and think as you do.  I may not agree with your feelings and ideas but you are entitled to them because you are human. You have a right to your perspective.

GOODWILL

I have Goodwill for You

I will you good and not evil. I care about you.

NEEDS

You have Needs.

If you disclose them to me, within my limitations, I will not run away. 

I will be there for you.

Salvation as Liberation

A great good offered in Shalom Retreats is a picture of salvation as liberation.

Salvation is turning from death to life.

Salvation is liberation, from all that keeps me from fulfilling my potential as a human. This means liberation from that which blocks my flow of energy which is my life.

The primary blocks to that energy flow are suppressed, fear, anger and pain  — all good angels become demons through the process of non- recognition.

Graceful love is liberating and is the kind of love exemplified, praised and historicized by our great spiritual leaders. It is a love that is gift. It cannot be earned.

Because I am loved, I can move from non-meaning to meaning.

Though the power of love, I am unstuck and freed into meaningful, imagining and hoping.

Through the power of love, I am freed from the bondage of possessiveness.

Through the power of love, I am freed from the fear of rejection.

Through the power of love, I am liberated from sin and guilt.

Being saved by graceful love, it can be our intention to move our life energy in such a way that we may be a sign of this graceful and liberating love and work for a world in which all shall have enough and to spare and a full opportunity to unfold their unique selves.

Unity of Body and Spirit

A Shalom Retreat manifests and celebrates that we are body and spirit, form and divinity manifest. The body does not have a soul, but the soul has a body and on this plane, they are inseparable. However, at death, the body returns to the earth and the spirit, God manifest, returns to its source.

In all of our work at Shalom Mountain, this unity is highly honored, both in principle and practice. The work in this arena has much to do with how energy flows in the body. This is manifest in our focus on yoga, the chakra system, the nature and practice of sexuality and the tantric system. This is honored in all of the work that we do in our journey with God.

Self Actualization

A ground principle of Shalom Retreats is self-actualization. Abraham Maslow, one of the fathers of the Human Potential Movement, firmly believed that science should not only study the sick but also the well. We believe that humans should have as their goal, not simply adjustment but transcendence — to be self actualizing and to aspire to peak experiences. Shalom Retreats are committed to Maslow’s perspective.

  1. To help the person experience the group life and his own feelings fully, vividly and with full concentration and total absorption.
  2. To help the person make the growth choice instead of the fear choice.
  3. To encourage one to listen to impulse voices with discernment.
  4. To encourage honesty and integrity.
  5. To help one move toward responsibility for his or her own behavior.
  6. To help one move toward deciding what is right for him or her.
  7. To help people use their intelligence in making their choices and to help them do well the thing that they want to do.
  8. To set up the conditions for peak experience and help people recognize these experiences when they happen.
  9. To help persons identify their defenses and after they have been identified, help people to find the courage to give them up.

Belief as Living in Tents

Shalom Retreats are experience centered, not belief centered. The uniqueness of each person is honored and beliefs are not seen in terms of permanent dwellings (prison houses). They are seen as functional entities to be left as soon as they no longer nourish our energies. There is no imposed belief system in this spiritual community; no sieve through which people are strained. There is no imposed metaphysic, a blender in which all are homogenized. So, in honoring one another, we come to the joy of finding that we have much in common and in this freedom, we also share the beliefs which are energizing us.

Here, life is seen in terms of journey. In my book, Pilgrim’s Process, this is expanded on in detail and journey is seen as the central aspect of the spiritual life.  Each of us must take his or her own journey. No one can take another’s journey, although we can share what we have learned as we have traveled.

Celebration

A Shalom Retreat culminates in a great celebration. During the course of the retreat, we have had mini-celebrations as we have been with each other in the depths but now at the end of the retreat, we bring it all together. On the mattress, where vulnerable persons have lain, we now find a jug of wine and a loaf of bread and many other symbols that have emerged in the course of our time together. A few simple words are spoken about the nature of celebration — it emerges out of our life together. We have become a people, we have been in the world together and we have met in the arena where deep calls to deep. Our experience is three dimensional —

Past — What has happened (what God has done)

Present — What is happening (what God is doing

Future — What will happen (what God will do)

There is no designated leader. Any person may lead as we are all led by Spirit. Beautiful things happen — sometimes ecstatic and hilarious; sometimes very quiet. Gifts are given from the heart. We are naked in the Spirit and we are not ashamed.

Shalom Mountain Beckons

In 1972 -73, I took a sabbatical year and traveled with Elisabeth around the world, visiting centers of different religions, talking with those leaders about the changed and changing new world context and how they were responding. I paid a lot of attention to Hindu culture and early Egyptian religion. We visited Samoa, the Philippines, Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East, Australia, New Zealand, many parts of Africa and most of Europe. At the same time, I was finishing my work with the World Council of Churches on an eight year study on “The Missionary Structure of the Congregation.” At the end of the study, I was the North American chair-person.

When Elisabeth and I returned in 1973, it was very clearly time to get it that I was also an ex-pastor and that it was time for me to head to the egress — which I did in 1975 with many thanks and much appreciation for the privilege of working with my colleagues.

The children were through college and Elisabeth went back to school to catch up on her accreditation. Our home was now our professional center. I posted myself as a spiritual counselor at $25 an hour and we easily made it through the first year without a salary. I had no shortage of clients because of our eight years of retreats at Kirkridge. Then the head of Alcoholics Anonymous in Manhattan who heard about Shalom Retreats, asked if they could come. When I said “yes”, I had the privilege of meeting some of the best people I have ever known.

That year was a time of dreaming the retreat center where we would be able to  continue our work and meet with our many Shalom friends and friends to be. We dreamed and Shalom Mountain was born.

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