Living in the Paschal Mystery: Leading to Ascension

[This message was given at Kairos: Friday Morning Contemplative Gathering on April 29, 2022]

From Mary Pandiani, Selah Executive Director

Easter has come and gone for many. And yet, looking at the church liturgical calendar, we’re still in Eastertide, namely the 40-days before the Ascension of Christ Jesus takes place. These 40-days and Ascension are part of the story called the Paschal Mystery – a living remembrance of Christ Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, the Ascension (the rising from earth to be with God), that culminates with Pentecost (the unleashing of the Holy Spirit). The connection to the celebration of the Old Testament Passover reminds us of the lamb whose blood protects the Israelites who finally leave Egypt, leading them to freedom from slavery.

We’re called into this Paschal Mystery where we’re connected to the story as well. Our lives operate out of a Paschal Mystery – a life, death, and new life rhythm in the everyday and final death of our lives. That means we’re participating, in intentional and unintentional ways, with the 40-days and Ascension. We, like the disciples and followers of Christ Jesus, don’t quite understand the resurrection, yet want to believe in hope, that it brings changes in us and our relationship with God. The stories include walking the road to Emmaus, eating breakfast with the disciples, doubting and believing with Thomas who wants to see the wounds of Jesus. Confusion, joy, despondency, loss of faith, gaining faith, amazed, hope, and deep longing. These are the mundane and miraculous ways Christ Jesus enters into our world, different but the same, as a result of the resurrection. All of these emotions and new realities occur within the 40-days, inviting us to consider the change that has taken place.

Is that not like how change impacts us, especially the one where there is resurrection – a new power of and in life? We are grateful, excited, yet confused and dazed by the reality before us. We hold hope while wondering what’s next. When my youngest daughter left home for the first time at 13 years old (she decided she wanted to go to a boarding school – ask me about that story sometime), I held promise for her in the new experience, yet deep loss in no longer having her around. I was both faith-filled and faith-less. The liminal space of the unknown, yet newness, felt both awkward and comforting. How was I to enter into this change?

It’s in these places that lead to the Ascension where we ask the question of transformation: what do I need to let go of in order to experience new life to its fullest? Jesus tells the disciples that he must leave; he even goes on to say it will be better that he leaves. In his leaving, he offers something more. Or as Ronald Rolheiser suggests, “Ascension is to refuse to cling to what once was, let it go, and let it bless you, so that you can recognize the new life you already have with and within you and receive its spirit.”[1] There is new life in leaving, as counter-intuitive as that may sound, for that’s where new life begins.

As we live in this season of the Paschal Mystery, let us ask ourselves, what do we need to let go of in order that new life may arise? If we desire change and transformation, how we can move towards it, rather than cower away? Can we receive the spirit of life, revealed in these changes, that brings deeper and more meaningful encounters with God, with others, and with ourselves? Let us consider the invitation that the Ascension is asking of us.

The ascension deepens intimacy by giving us precisely a new presence, a deeper, richer one,
but one which can only come about if our former way of being present is taken away.
Ronald Rolheiser[2]



Blessed are You, Oh Lord Our God, Who Heals Us with Forgiveness

With a healed and happy heart,
we proclaim our thanksgiving to You,
God of Compassion and Great Kindness.
We rejoice in Your absolution of our failings
and in the fact that You call us
to forgive each other daily
with the sacrament of understanding,
for in that mutual forgiveness,
we experience Your divine grace.

We are grateful for those persons in our lives
who have allowed us to be reconciled
after we have become separated from them
through selfishness and thoughtlessness.
For the numerous experiences of absolution in our past lives,
for lifting of the burden of guilt,
we are thankful.

We are most grateful as well, Loving God,
for the gift of Your Son, Jesus,
who calls us to lives of compassion,
to forgiveness and understanding.
He, by His life, gave us an example
of how we are to love those who harm us
and forgive those who injure us
when He asked You, His Father,
to forgive those who had led Him to suffer
and die on a cross.

Teach us, Lord,
how to forgive ourselves
and to be patient with the slowness
of our growth in holiness.
Able to forgive ourselves,
we shall be more eager and able to forgive others
according to Your divine pattern.

Blessed are You, Lord our God,
who heals us with forgiveness.


Edward Hays
priest, author, storyteller, artist

I Call You Friend

Sirach is right.  Absolutely right.  A faithful friend is a “sturdy shelter.”  A faithful friend is a “life-saving remedy.”A faithful friend is “beyond price.”  And so, my friend, I say to you today:
I call you friend.  For you are home to me.  Within the shelter of your good company, I safely lay my burdens down.

I call you friend.  For you are healing for me.  You listen to all I have to say and, in so doing, I am made more whole.

I call you friend.  For you are a priceless gift for me, one I do not earn.  But one I receive anew each day with wonder, joy and gratitude.

I call you friend.  For without you I would not be me.  With you, I am more of who I want to be.

I call you friend.  In part, we are alike, sharing deep values we seldom have to articulate.  In part, we are different.  Our differences mark our uniqueness, broaden our perspective, spur our growth, and, at times, hone our patience.

I call you friend.  For you encourage me not merely by your words, but by the example of your own strivings, questionings, and yearnings.

You are my cheerleader, rousing me to stay in the game of life.

You are my ground control, confirming where I am and where I am heading.
God enters our lives in countless creative ways.

One way for me, my friend, is you.

Sr. Melannie Svoboda

About Sister Melannie Svoboda, SND

Sister of Notre Dame, teacher, student, author, speaker, spiritual companion, retreat facilitator, listener, friend, poet, farm girl.

Reflections – A Journey through Lent into Easter

Now Available:   REFLECTIONS – A Journey through Lent into Easter

This book curates a reflective posture through a compilation of poems, words, prayers, songs, questions,

and images that have touched those in the Selah community for the Lenten season that leads to Easter.

A time to remember Jesus Christ’s life, ministry, death, and resurrection,

Lent opens up space to consider our own story as it intersects the Gospel story of “good news.”

Order at  Amazon for $25.00


It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do,
and shudder to know the taint
in our own selves,
that awe cracks the mind’s shell
and enters the heart:
not to a flower,
not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.

– Denise Levertov

To move into 2021 with painstaking awareness of the reality of our world and ourselves, if we’re honest, means that we know something beyond ourselves and our world is needed. Too much makes us shudder, and the flip side, there is too much beauty upon which to wonder. Levertov offers that we’re not alone in this moment. In fact, beckoning us is an invitation by God, emanating from the awe that “cracks” us open for a relationship with God, the one to be trusted. We have the “Word” – the incarnation of God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ – that opens up our hearts, minds, and bodies for the ongoing work and abiding presence of the Spirit.

While we await and enter into the changes of our country and world – vaccines, new US President, changing social engagements, and continued unrest – through all of this and your own personal circumstances, may you know the power of that love expressed in the midst of our world, not in spite of our world.

We at Selah would like to extend our hope for a year filled with new awakenings and new courage to face the worst and the best and everything in between of 2021. 

– Mary Pandiani, Executive Director

Pause – Encounter – Grow Together

The lingering pause hangs in the air. Everything in me wants to follow up with words of comfort and ease, but there is nothing I can say after I ask the question, “So how can we go forward?” The space between my words and the anticipated response stretch on. Nothing more can be done on my end, at least for this conversation at this time. Just when I think I need to walk away, I hear from the other person, “You know, I think there might be a way.”

Have you been able to stay in a pause long enough to hear a deeper response, not only from another person, but also from yourself? I remember the story of Jesus who kneels down to write in the sand after a woman of ill-repute is thrown at him by men who have condemned her, stones ready in hand. “What do you say?” they ask Jesus. He lingers; he pauses; he makes everyone uncomfortable. Then he responds, “Let the first one without sin throw the first stone.” Soon, no one is left except the woman. In his response, Jesus provides a way for the woman, for himself, even a way for the men who can walk away.

Pauses hold possibilities, hope, healing, and perspective. That’s what Selah offers in her unique charism – the gift given to others – the pause that gives space from what is to what can be, a new moment, pregnant with the power of the Spirit who imbues life, abundant life.

Over the last year, the Selah board has taken a considerable amount of time to explore who we are, where we’ve been, and to anticipate for the future. As a result of those conversations and prayer-filled times together, we have landed on an Intention Statement. Rather than getting picky about mission and vision statements, we want it to be known what we intend to be and do, recognizing that all we do is by God’s invitation:

Selah is a welcoming community that pauses,
encounters the Spirit through contemplative practices,
and grows together towards wholeness and loving others.

Each word is chosen with care. First, we state our name – the one birthed out of noticing the value of pausing before responding. From the Hebrew Psalms and Old Testament books, Selah means to lift up within a song of praise, and I would add lament. It gives space between one stanza and another, an offer of breath in the midst of what is given. Thirteen years ago (2007) John Kiemele (Founder) and his wife Marissa had that word confirmed when they were given an unexpected and spontaneous gift of a chalice etched with the name, Selah.

By being a “welcoming community,” we reflect our values[1] of hospitality, welcoming those who want to come to the table of what we offer and who we are. These values reinforce that we believe all belong to God, and as a community we hope to accompany those who want to know God in deeper and more meaningful ways.

For the verbs we choose pauseencounter, and grows together – verbs that sustain our priorities of what it means to be part of Selah. Pausing offers the opportunity to be present to those around us, to ourselves, and to God. Encountering acknowledges that God is already present in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus and the ongoing work of the Spirit who is Divine presence. Through practices, we find necessary scaffolding that prepares our hearts, minds, and bodies for God’s presence. Finally, Growing Together anchors our community by acknowledging that the contemplative life cannot be lived alone. By accompanying one another, we move towards God’s intention for our lives, personally and communally, through shaping that occurs in relationships.

The pausing, the practicing, the awareness that come with contemplation flourish in places where we gather to share in the presence of God. Our hope is that these actions of pausing, encountering and growing together will lead to greater wholeness and loving others. This contemplative life is not meant for us alone. God’s loving embrace makes us able to extend ourselves in uncomfortable and challenging places, knowing that the stretch and the risk lead to healing and wholeness.

In a world of rhetoric and noise, a place of speed that over-speaks and interrupts, a society that wants certainty without its gift of mystery, Selah offers a posture of listening through the pause, encounter, and growth. In that posture, my hope with the one who I asked “How can we go forward?” becomes more about relationship than figuring everything out. That ability to wait in the relationship has come from God’s invitation to stay present, generously listen, and pay attention as we all navigate the way forward.


From these words of old,
consider the pause, the encounter,
and the growing together:

Prayer of Habbakuk to God

-Consider a Pause-

2bI have heard the reports about You,
and I am in awe when I consider all You have done.
O Eternal One, revive Your work in our lifetime;
reveal it among us in our times.
As You unleash Your wrath, remember Your compassion.
3 God is on the move from Teman in the south;
the Holy One is on His way from Mount Paran.
[Selah – pause]

-Consider the Encounter of the Spirit-

Your splendor overtakes the skies;
Your praise fills every corner of the earth.
4 Your radiance is like a bright light,
rays stream down from Your hand,
and there Your power is hidden.
5 Pestilence marches before God;
plagues follow in God’s steps.
6 You stand still and survey the earth;
God looks their way, and the nations jump in fear.
Indeed, the eternal mountains crumble.
The ancient hills are humbled and bow down.
The paths You carved will last forever….
[Selah – pause]

-Consider Growing Together-

17 Even if the fig tree does not blossom
and there are no grapes on the vines,
If the olive trees fail to give fruit
and the fields produce no food,
If the flocks die far from the fold
and there are no cattle in the stalls;
18 Then I will still rejoice in the Eternal!
I will rejoice in the God who saves me!
19 The Eternal Lord is my strength!
God has made my feet like the feet of a deer;
You allow me to walk on high places.
Habbakuk 3:2b-6; 17-19

[1] The Selah community shares a common set of CORE VALUES:
  • We affirm God’s initiating love expressed profoundly in Christ Jesus.
  • We welcome God’s love as the true Source of our being and our becoming.
  • We relate to God with receptive hearts and minds, nurtured in the way of Christ Jesus.
  • We honor the uniqueness of all persons as the recognized presence of Christ Jesus.
  • We encourage an openness toward, sanctuary for, and hospitality to all persons.
  • We value community as shared journey with others who desire contemplative living.
  • We recognize the triune presence of God as the One who fills each moment with us, gives inspiration for vision, births newness and hope, and reconciles all creation.

Remain in My Love

“Remain in my love.” I breathe these words in and out during my Centering Prayer time. I try to dedicate 20-25 minutes of my day to this space and place of letting God shape my heart. While I’m not as consistent as I would like, I know that God receives my intention through the gift of grace.

Today in the quiet I struggle with the words, “Remain in my love.” I desire to receive them, to sit in them, knowing they carry the life of Jesus and the power of the Spirit through the Divine God who holds me, whether I believe them or not. The struggle comes in wrestling with the images of all the things I should be doing or should have done. The people, the actions, the thoughts all sweep across the dark screen of my closed eyes. I’m overwhelmed. I should have, could have, would have done it better if I was a better person; these are the statements that flood my conscious mind.

And then I return to “Remain in my love.” God asks me to stay present in the sweet embrace of God’s love. It’s a posture of remaining, regardless if I’m that “better” person or not. I can’t make myself that better person. Sure, I do things better, perhaps learn a few more tools that will be enable me to live more confidently, more responsively, or more effectively. But at the core, I am molded and shaped by God who created me and continues to create me through the power of love.

That intention of sitting for my allotted time was cut short by the sense of futility in my own failure for being “better” at Centering Prayer. Now I chuckle, finishing this written piece I realize that perhaps those images flashing across my mind and infecting my heart can be seen in a new light. Those people, actions and thoughts are held in God’s love, just as I am held there.

Maybe that’s what it means to “Remain in my love.”

Mary Pandiani, Executive Director, Selah

The Groaning Cry: Being Human


The ballots are out. Voting season. How do we move forward? I find myself ruminating on the state of affairs in our world.

What does it mean to be human in a world that dehumanizes one another? Listening to the news and reading social media, we encounter rifts, strife, and torment that we do to one another as humans, apparent in all that we see around us, and if we’re honest, see within ourselves. Is it possible to be human that humanizes the other?

Origin of the word “human” comes from the Latin humanus, giving us “humane” with the greater attributes of philanthropic, kind, and civilized. Contrast humans to the gods of the day, the definition distinguishes “earthly beings” to “other beings” outside created humanity. Looking earlier to the Hebrew derivative, adam “man” comes from adamah which means ground, dirt, dust and ashes of the earth. Created as human we have great capacity to connect through the very core of who we are, whether in our kindness, dust, or simple being.

Our human-ness means we’re distinguished by our connection with other humans in our humanity, yet in our composite of dust and ashes, we cause great harm to one another. How easily we move from being humane to dehumanizing. Whether we point fingers or not at others who judge too quickly, cause harm through words and actions, or build walls to protect, we are part of this dehumanizing because we are connected.

So what’s the answer? How do we navigate our Covid-Unjust-Divided world as humans created by God? Thomas Merton offers these words: “Be human in this most inhuman age. Guard the image of [humanity] for it is the image of God.” He wrote Raids on the Unspeakable in 1966, over 50 years ago.[1] Even in the 1960s with Vatican II, Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, he asserts that our response to all that surrounds us is to recognize that we ALL are created in God’s image. My call, our call, as a human is to see all as human.

So we’re given this task: to be human. But it’s so difficult with the noises around us, the clamor of pushing the agenda, the heightening of anxiety that exists, presently and inherently in the systems of our culture. Would it not be easier to shut the door to our hearts and small worlds so that we don’t have to address the cry of humanity? The cry for love and connection, for justice and honor, for hope and a future.

Perhaps that’s why Jesus “groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ which means, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”[2] Only through the groaning cry, we first recognize our sense of grief and loss in our world of dehumanization. As we enter into the cry, we then have the capacity to connect with God, returning to the one who has created us and knows our need for help. Through our own cry, we experience God’s remaking of our ashes and dust so that we can lean towards the cry of humanity, willingly enter into the pain of what it takes to love and connect, to bring about justice and honor, and to offer a hope and future.

Let us be humans, fully human, as God intended us to love one another, even in voting season.

Mary Pandiani, Executive Director, Selah

[1] *You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God. You agree? Good. Then go with my blessing. But I warn you, do not expect to make many friends…
–Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (1966)
[2] Matthew 27:46 (The Message)


Dynamic Change and Growth

Ponderings from Mary Pandiani,
Selah Executive Director

We are not people of fear:
We are people of courage.
We are not people who protect our own safety:
We are people who protect our neighbors’ safety.
We are not people of greed:
We are people of generosity.
We are your people God, giving and loving,
wherever we are, whatever it costs for as long as it takes
wherever you call us.
Barbara Glasson, president of the Methodist Conference, Britain

Reeling from the social unrest and injustice we’re facing right now, my heart cries out in lament to do something so that we no longer have to face another death like George Floyd’s, one more African-American recently killed by a police officer. What can be done? Not only do we find ourselves in a place of concern, anxiety, and fear with the pandemic, now we’re seeing the unraveling of the fabric of our society. What kind of response equals the magnitude of anger, sadness, and grief that the present circumstances evoke?

As a practicing contemplative (meaning that I have intention, but don’t always find myself operating with that posture), I struggle in the tension of pausing and responding. Because I don’t want to react out with a knee-jerk gut-wretching action, I slow myself long enough to ask questions about the circumstances, of myself, and for those directly impacted. But I don’t want my final action to end with the questions, nor do I want to allow a paralysis to take over. As Barbara Glasson above in her prayer reminds me, we are God’s people – we are the ones who are called into courage, protection, generosity, giving and loving – all called to action.

So where am I responding with courage? With protecting another? Entering into generosity with the gift of giving and loving? Asking my daughter and her African-American partner, I hear their words where they both agree that it begins with entering into relationship with another, particularly someone who is different than yourself. It’s too easy to be in relationship with those who think like, act like, grew up like I did. Where and how can I enter into the discomfort of hearing someone else’s story that may not be like mine own, and then advocate for them out of love?

If being a contemplative asks us to posture ourselves in receive the unending love of God, does it not follow that we too offer that same kind of love by pausing, acting, and moving towards another? May it be so, that wherever we are, whatever it costs for as long as it takes wherever you [God] call us, we listen and act to be part of bringing reconciliation and peace to our world.

What is Normal?

Ponderings from Mary Pandiani,
Selah Executive Director

Where is the Normal?
We want to return to normal. We hear it everywhere –
when will it be normal again?
Will it ever be normal again?
If we can’t go back to what is normal, then what is the new normal?
Truth is, normal is only a construct we’ve created in our mind.
It’s the place where we’re not afraid when we look back.
Or if our past normal has been living with fear,
at least it’s the “devil we know versus the devil we don’t know.”
Normal never is really normal.

What if we’re created to live outside of normal?
That instead of relying on what we think
we’re supposed to have or do or be,
we listen in a new way from a source
that provides what we really need.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re to live into the abnormal,
not as in bucking the norm,
but in giving up what we’ve come to believe as the normal.
As we start to re-enter a post-shelter-in-place-Covid19 world,
maybe we have a new opportunity to live
by that source that is also our supply?

A French poet, Jean-Claude Renard, writes this about God:

The Well
But how can we affirm it’s already too late
to fulfill the desire-
so patient does the gift remain;
and when always, perhaps,
something or someone says,
from the depth of silence and nakedness,
that an ineffable fire continues to dig in us
beneath wastelands peopled by thorns
a well that nothing exhausts.    

Will we ever return to what has been?
No, even in the best of times, we can never return to our past.
But we do have an opportunity to embrace the one
who is our source and supply, the well that nothing exhausts.

May we all consider what it means to live into the abnormality
of a world we could never manage in the first place,
nor could control in our personal circumstances.
At this time, let’s direct our focus to a new normal/abnormal
upon which we trust the one who offers love
in the place of control and fear.
God, the Divine Presence, whispers in the loss of what has been,
“I am with you, always,”
to lead us to whatever may be before us,
as the well that nothing exhausts.

Facing the Corona Malaise – Cross the Threshold

Ponderings from Mary Pandiani,
Selah Executive Director

“Every day, those caretakers and I cross the threshold,”
says my friend who works at a nursing home,
“going back into the building to provide
what we can to those in need for the day.”

I am struck by her profound gift of intentionally moving back
into a life-threatening environment every time she goes to work.
It’s not unlike what our military does while at war, our police and firefighters perform every day on the job, and our health-care providers give. While I always appreciate the dedication and service, I ponder with new wonderment the intentionality of crossing from one space to another, knowing the risk involved. Such purpose and character by taking a step from one world to another.

I realize, to a lesser degree while carrying the weight of intentionality, we all cross the threshold – it’s called waking up to life each morning, choosing to go forward in whatever form we can. Because a new day is outside out of control, the choice to go forward could seem to be forced. But it is a choice. We have a world behind us in yesterday, and now face a new world in today. While we can’t go backwards, we can stay at the threshold by deciding to not enter, usually reflected through hiding in the fear of what the day holds. The paralysis of our stance robs us of the present day as well as the freedom that comes in risking what a new day will bring.

That’s what I heard in my friend’s voice when she offered those words. When they cross the threshold, the choice of moving forward offers freedom of living as God intended, fully embracing what each day gives, in the risk, the unknown, and the beautiful.

For such a time as this in the crisis, we are being asked to cross the threshold into a life that will never look the same as it has in the past. How do you want to enter into each day? What is the invitation by God for you to walk into the day with intentionality? I know for me, I want to wake each day with the thought, “Here we go again, God, I want to cross the threshold with you.”

Facing the Corona Malaise

Ponderings from Beth Griffith,
a Selah friend and Living From the Heart facilitator

Over the past weeks I have been sitting with friends, soul mates, directees, clients, mentors, therapists, spiritual directors, and other companions as they explore and reflect on their experience of living in social distancing and in a pandemic. I have heard details of their individual stories and listened for the deeper narratives influencing their words, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. If I allow myself to sink deeper, below the details, below the narratives, I hear similar themes:


I would like to invite all of us to sink deeper with one another. As we sink deeper, we begin to connect. We connect with our common experiences (apart from the details, which are unique to each of us), our common humanity, and with our core selves. In this connection, we soothe one another’s bodies and souls. We validate, we see, we hear, we offer compassion and understanding. We are validated, we are seen, we are heard, we experience compassion, and we are understood. These are the best gifts we can give one another, and to ourselves.  They comfort rather than weigh us down. For in the details, we stay in the spinning and the chaos, in the confusion, and in the unknown. In sinking deeper, we rest. We rest in the knowing, “Here I am, right here, right now.” And we let others know, “Here I am with you, right here, right now.” If we welcome this, then we can welcome the next moment, and the next moment, and the next moment, and the one after that. In therapeutic terms from my training as a counselor, when we do these things, we are grounding ourselves in the present, we are soothing our central nervous systems, we are co-regulating, and we are helping ourselves and each other move through this time of uncertainty and trauma.

As a fellow contemplative, when we do these things, we are living out of who we are as a child of God and offering support to our fellow travelers…If we listen deeply for what is beneath the surface, beneath the details, and if we allow this to teach us and transform us, then in time we will come to the other side of this. And we will come to the other side with deeper connection with God, with our own selves, and with those with whom we journey.