Soul Food

Nourishing Essays on Contemplative Living and Leadership

Edited by Westina Matthews, Margaret Benefiel, and Jackson Droney, Foreword by Valerie Brown

Sep/2023, 224 Pages, PAPERBACK, 5½ x 8½ in

ISBN-13: 9781640656345



Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Shalem Institute, this collection of experiential and academic essays offers modern contemplative reflections from new and renowned voices in spiritual leadership.

Founded in 1973 by the Rev. Dr. Tilden H. Edwards, Jr., Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation offers retreats, workshops, and groups centered around contemplative spirituality. The culmination of half a century of charitable ministry, this commemorative anthology features essays written by Shalem graduates, as well as current and former board members and program directors. Its release will coincide with the Shalem Institute’s 50th anniversary.

Co-edited by Shalem graduate and board member Westina Matthews, Shalem’s Executive Director Margaret Benefiel, and Jackson Droney, Shalem’s Director of Operations and Online Learning, Soul Food takes an inclusive and contemporary approach to contemplative living and leadership. Designed in alignment with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives, this vital book spotlights authors of different ethnicities, faith backgrounds, and gender identities, while consistently centering the development of day-to-day practices designed to deepen engagement with the divine.

With essays from notable contributors from Shalem's past and present, such as Tilden Edwards, the institute's founder and former director; Gay Byron, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at Howard University; and Carl McColman, well-known Christian mystic and spiritual director, this collection looks to the future, set to serve as an invaluable resource in spiritual formation for the next 50 years, and beyond.

WESTINA MATTHEWS is a spiritual director, author, professor, and contemplative workshop/retreat leader who served for twelve years as an adjunct professor at General Theological Seminary in the Center for Christian Spirituality. Today, Westina sits on the boards of the Shalem Institute, Spiritual Directors International, and the Gathering of Leaders, and is a trustee of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Her latest book is This Band of SisterhoodBlack Women Bishops on Race, Faith, and the Church. She lives with her husband in Savannah, Georgia.

MARGARET BENEFIEL, Executive Director of the Shalem Institute, has served as Chair of the Academy of Management's Management, Spirituality, and Religion Group, as Co-chair of the Christian Spirituality Program Unit of the American Academy of Religion, and in various leadership roles in Spiritual Directors International. Over 3,000 executives, managers, and other leaders have participated in her seminars and courses. She directs Shalem's Soul of Leadership program and has written extensively on various aspects of contemplative leadership and spirituality at work, including Crisis Leadership, The Soul of Higher Education, The Soul of Supervision, The Soul of a Leader, and Soul at Work. She lives with her husband in Greenbelt, Maryland.

JACKSON DRONEY is the Director of Operations and Online Learning at the Shalem Institute. He is a graduate of Shalem’s Personal Spiritual Deepening Program, Young Adult Life and Leadership Initiative, and Soul of Leadership program. At Shalem, Jackson also serves on the faculty of the Crossing the Threshold program and leads Shalem pilgrimages to Spain. He is an M.Div. student at Luther Seminary and is a candidate for pastoral ministry in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He lives in Washington, D.C.

“An illuminating addition to any spiritual library, Soul Food is a testament to the institute’s rich history and commitment to transformative spiritual growth.”
Fr. Richard Rohr,
author of Falling Upward and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation

"Soul Food is a courageous, liberatory anthology with essential reading for spiritual direction formation and training programs, and for the ongoing personal and professional growth of spiritual companions."
Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction 

“Exploring numerous rich perspectives on contemporary Christianity—from gender identity and theological languaging to issues of recovery, welcome and inclusion, decolonization, and social action, among others—the authors are unafraid to tackle new perspectives, all the while staying firmly rooted in the core of their faith. Anyone interested in immersing themselves in these topics will be well served here.” –Rev. SeiFu Singh-Molares, Executive Director of Spiritual Directors International  

"The feast offered is varied, rich, and engaging—some of it stimulating, some soothing, all providing much-needed nourishment that defies ready categorization, except for its quality. This is a further gift to all who have benefitted from the work of Shalem, and all who should." —The Very Rev. Dr. Andrew McGowan, Dean and President, Berkeley Divinity School, McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies, Yale Divinity School

"With this book, Shalem sets forth a radical agenda for the next fifty years where we must do all we can to bend the arc of the moral universe toward love, truth, and justice. If you have any affinity for the contemplative life, you'll find this book a compelling companion as we work and pray for the Beloved Community." —Parker J. Palmer, author of Let Your Life Speak, The Courage to Teach, and On the Brink of Everything

"These essays will make you pray, think, see, act, and live differently. Their voices are the tongues of fire calling us into a new experience of Pentecost and sacred living." —The Rev. Dr. Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones, Priest and Director of Spiritual Formation at Trinity Retreat Center and author of Absalom Jones and Face Rising to the Rising Sun

"Experiencing awe makes us one. Awe is the magic wand that can transform I-thinking into We-thinking and rescue us from self-destruction. That Soul Food devotes so much space to awe honors Shalem’s finest tradition and makes it a most timely book of hope for the world." —Br. David Steindl-Rast, Benedictine monk, author, and co-founder of Grateful Living

"Soul Food is a worthy guide for those who seek to walk in the light and share that light with others. Thoughtful and engaging on many levels, it is indeed a nourishing book." —Sophronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversation with Thomas Merton

"For an everyday, this-worldly perspective on contemplative life and leadership, read Soul Food. Any one of the essays will be worth the whole book."—Keith Kristich, Meditation Teacher and Founder of the online, interspiritual community Closer Than Breath

"These essays present accessible, embodied paths back to our interconnectedness with the earth, each other, and all creatures—the 'all my relations' of Native American prayers, as one author reminds us. This wise book speaks directly to the very human needs of our times, and it feeds us all, every one." —Dr. Carmen Acevedo Butcher, poet and translator of Br. Lawrence’s Practice of the Presence and The Cloud of Unknowing


Valerie Brown

A Note from the Founder

Tilden Edwards


Westina Matthews, Margaret Benefiel, and Jackson Droney

Led by Starlight Down a Marvelous Road

Winston Breeden Charles

Part 1: Welcoming and Belonging

God's Pronouns: A New Translation of a Mystical Classic Invites Us Into the Beautiful Mystery of Gender

Carl McColman

Listening for the Holy

Sarah Forti

Contemplative Collegiality: Caring for the Souls of Black Biblical Scholars

Gay L. Byron

Toward a Decolonised Spiritual Direction Practice: Weeping, Gnashing Teeth, and Opening to the (Ancient) New

Althea Banda-Hansmann

I Am

Joanne Youn

Tell Me about Mary's Rage

Amanda Lindamood

To Heal What Ails Us: Belonging through Group Spiritual Direction

Melanie Dobson

Part 2: Holy Awe

A Thousand Paths to Contemplation

Westina Matthews

Seeing with the Eyes of the Heart: Social Justice and the Art of Spiritual Guidance

Phillip Stephens

Coming to Our Senses: Embracing Wonder and Gratitude

Leah Moran Rampy

Embodying Contemplative Leadership: Howard Thurman and Feeding the Timeless Hunger of the Human Spirit

Lerita Coleman Brown

Considerations of Recovery, Centering Prayer, and Social Justice Action

Anita-Yvonne (AY) Bryant

What Your Tender Heart Knows

Marcelle Martin

Embodied Contemplation of Deep Time: Resourcing for Spiritual Resilience

Kolya Braun-Greiner

A Contemplative View of Resilient Aging

Elaine Voci

Summer Day of the Owls

DanaLee Simon


Vision Statement 2025


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