Posts Tagged 'prayer'

3 Leadership Lessons from John Woolman

We currently face at least five pandemics in our world:

1) COVID-19

2) Racism

3) Police brutality and militarization of police

4) Climate change

5) Economic inequity

In the face of these pandemics and the related refugee crises, wars, world hunger, bitter political divisions in this country, and international political tensions, I sometimes find myself feeling helpless and even hopeless. What can one person do in the face of these impossible challenges? Where can I find the courage and hope to move forward? And in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, in which I must quarantine, no less?

I find the eighteenth-century American Quaker John Woolman inspiring and instructive for this time.  He faced one of the impossible challenges of his time, slavery, with prayer and action.  Through prayer and discernment, Woolman discerned what was his to do.  He felt called to travel to visit American Quaker slaveholders to challenge them to free the people they had enslaved.  Woolman was both loving and prophetic. He didn’t give into hating the evildoer while denouncing the evil of slavery.  He didn’t water down his prophetic message in order to “love” the slaveholder.  How did he hold this tension?

He held it through prayer and discernment.  After visiting a slaveholder, he would return to worship, holding that person in the Light, reflecting on the pro-slavery arguments with which he had been presented.  Not getting hooked by his ego, he would systematically refute each argument, returning to the slaveholder and presenting his thoughts clearly, with humility and love.  He knew that oppression hurt the oppressor as well as the oppressed.  He met each slaveholder with love, yearning for the slaveholder’s liberation from slaveholding as well as for the enslaved people’s liberation from slavery.

What can I learn from John Woolman in this time in which I find myself?  Can I love Donald Trump, a President I see as dangerous for my country and my world, for example?  When I pray for Donald Trump, I do feel compassion for him.  I see a hurt little boy inside and I long for his liberation from the fear and hatred that imprisons his soul.  Will I be called to speak truth to him?  Is there hope for his transformation?  These are questions that are beyond me.  All I know is that I will continue to pray for him and I will seek to be faithful as I am led.  I also know that I will work to get him out of office, to stop the damage I think he is doing.

Closer to home, how do I love the Trump supporters in my own family?  I know that I can pray for them.  When I pray, I am changed from an oppositional stance toward them to feeling compassion for them as I see the fears and hurts that draw them toward Trump and his rhetoric.  As I am led, I can speak to their fears and hurts, and also speak prophetically to them.  And when the conversations grow tense, I can keep returning to my spiritual grounding, keep praying that I will come from a place of compassion.  When my ego gets hooked and the conflict escalates (which happens more frequently than I like to admit), I know it’s time to take a break and center down.  Loving and speaking prophetically at the same time is a spiritual practice for me.  Will it change others?  I don’t know.  But I do know that it changes me and that it sows seeds of transformation in others that might take root and grow, either now or sometime in the future.  There is no template for loving across differences, no formula that we can follow that will result in transformation of others at the end.  There is the lifetime work of spiritual practice, practice that will change me and, through my actions, sow seeds in the world.  Whether those seeds grow is up to other people and to God.

So, in this time of multiple pandemics, how can we have courage, faith, hope, and love for all, even for those with whom we disagree? First, by staying spiritually grounded through daily spiritual practice. Second, by making the practice of loving across differences one of our regular spiritual practices. Third, by discerning in community “What is mine to do?” and being faithful in carrying out our part.

 

Meditation for Utilitarian Ends?

Last month’s blog focused on the power of meditation to enhance success in life and work, with a particular focus on sports. Numerous studies demonstrate the beneficial effects of meditation on one’s life and work, not only in sports but also in other arenas.

Yet such studies raise further questions: Is the purpose of meditation to increase success? Should meditation be pursued for utilitarian ends?  Does using meditation to achieve one’s personal goals corrupt an ancient spiritual practice?

There is nothing wrong with coming to spirituality because following a spiritual path will make one’s life better.  Members of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, find that relying on a higher power provides the first step necessary for their recovery.  In fact, most seekers come to a spiritual path because of need, believing that through meditation or prayer the need will be met.  And they are right.

At the same time, as sojourners continue on the path, they find the ground shifting under their feet.  They encounter the transition to the second half of the journey, the part of the journey in which they transition from thinking that the spiritual journey is about getting something to realizing it is about their own transformation.  What happens when it becomes difficult to pray or meditate, when the “honeymoon phase” is over? Often people feel they must be doing something wrong and they try harder, only to discover even more dryness and frustration.  They may give up on prayer and meditation altogether, deciding that they’re not cut out for the spiritual path.

Yet spiritual teachers through the ages have taught that this is a normal and predictable part of the spiritual journey.  The spiritual dryness provides an opportunity to be weaned from the expectation that meditation will always result in good feeling, that prayer will always result in the answers one wants.  One learns to listen and let one’s prayers be shaped by the divine presence.  Maturing spirituality involves embracing and letting go, time and again, of ways of meditation, of relationships, of work commitments, of community.

In articulating this transition to the second half of the journey, spiritual teachers help the sojourner understand what is occurring when she experiences it. When the first exhilaration of experiencing the blessings of meditation begins to fade, a deeper foundation can be formed, just as in a marriage when the initial romantic exhilaration begins to fade.

Thus, there is nothing wrong with seeking spirituality for “selfish” reasons.  Anyone who continues on the spiritual path will eventually reach a different place.  He will learn that the spiritual journey is about his own transformation rather than about the success he can procure from it.  He ultimately learns that self-preservation is not the highest good, experiencing the relativization of self to a higher purpose.

Meditation and prayer are good practices, regardless of the reason they are taken up.  May we learn to recognize in ourselves and others the vulnerable transition times, so that we can deepen into the mature spirituality of the second half of the journey.

 

Part of this blog is an excerpt from Soul at Work: Spiritual Leadership in Organizations.  Used with permission of the publisher.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Leadership Lessons of St. Clare

Photo credit: Chris Light

As St. Clare of Assisi’s (1194-1253) feast day approaches on August 11, I’ve been reflecting on her soulful leadership.  Best known as St. Francis’ “little plant,” Clare eventually emerged as a strong leader in her own right in thirteenth-century Italy and beyond.  While St. Francis took center stage with his extroverted charismatic leadership, St. Clare quietly built stronger structures behind the scenes.

As I muse on St. Clare and her contributions, three leadership lessons stand out for me.  Clare teaches me about prayer, community-building, and persistence.

First, Clare knew the power of prayer.  She knew that prayer provided the foundation for all of her leadership.  Without prayer, without her radical trust in God, she could do nothing.  She prayed for strength and guidance when she was called to lead her community of “Poor Ladies” as a young adult.  Later, when an invading army swarmed her vulnerable convent of San Damiano, outside the protection of the city walls, she prayed.  Upon praying, she felt led to stand at the window in front of the army, armed only with the host, the body of Christ, and her trust in God.  Faced with Clare’s shining strength, the army became confused and fled.  Thus, through prayer, Clare saved not only her convent but also the city of Assisi.  Finally, Clare’s prayer undergirded her day-to-day leadership in the convent.  When faced with lack of food, with illness, with cold, she prayed.  People brought turnips, medicine, and blankets, and year after year, all the Sisters’ needs were supplied.

Second, Clare knew how to build community.  Though she lived in an enclosed community at San Damiano her entire life as a Sister, she built community both at home and from afar.  She showed her 50 fellow Sisters how to live together in compassionate service in cramped quarters and difficult conditions.  Beyond San Damiano, she instructed Agnes of Prague, a princess who left behind wealth and status to found a religious community like Clare’s, in building a convent.  While Francis’ communities faced divisive conflicts, Clare taught her communities to work through conflicts in ways that built stronger relationships.  And she also built relationships near and far, with St. Francis and his brothers, with priests, with bishops, and with Popes.

Third, Clare lived perseverance.  Her entire life, she fought for a way of life like Francis’ in which she could be true to the gospel as she understood it.  For her, this meant living in poverty, in total reliance upon God.  She appealed to every Pope in her lifetime to approve the rule she had written to regulate life in her community.  When Pope after Pope said no, she didn’t give up.  Finally, on her deathbed, the Pope sent word that he had heard she was dying and he wondered if there was anything he could do for her.  When she said, “Approve my rule,” he relented, and she received papal approval two days before she died.

Leading with soul is never easy, whether one lives in thirteenth-century Europe or modern times.  The way is often fraught with stresses, discouragements, and obstacles that challenge our commitment to walk our path with faith.  However, we can turn to those who have come before us, those like St. Clare who embody the qualities of a good leader. They show us not only that it is possible to lead with soul but also that we are not alone in the journey.

 

(An earlier version of this blog appeared in April 2016.)

5 Things You Can Do to Become a Soulful Leader for Peace

Photo credit: Margaret Benefiel

In these times of bellicose threats of nuclear war from world leaders, not to mention various wars around the world, how can one work for peace?  What impact can an ordinary person have?  What does soulful leadership for peace look like?

  1. Prayer and reflection. Soulful leadership for peace begins with prayer and reflection. Being spiritually grounded puts the problems of this world in perspective. Furthermore, prayer and reflection help with discernment, answering the question, “What is mine to do?”
  2. Remember. In the words of Gandhi, “Remember that all through history, there have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall.  Always.”
  3. Know what’s effective. Political scientist Erica Chenoweth used to believe that violence was more effective against violence than peaceful protests were. Extensive research convinced her otherwise.
  4. Know the facts about military spending. When people tell you that military spending creates jobs, or that the Pentagon needs more funding, know the truth. Did you know, for example, that military spending is less effective in creating jobs than spending on education, health care, or clean energy? Did you know that the Pentagon itself has identified overspending and misuse of funds within its agency? When it conducted an internal study, it identified $125 billion in potential savings over five years. Furthermore, the Pentagon is the only major federal agency that has not passed a full, clean financial audit. We already spend enough on the military.
  5. Take action. Discern what is yours to do and take action. Perhaps you, like Erica Chenoweth, are a researcher who can discover effective strategies for peace and make them known to the world. Perhaps you are a writer who can write letters to the editor of your local newspaper and speak truth to your community.  Perhaps you are an activist who can join local or national demonstrations.  Perhaps you are an ordinary citizen with little time, who can call your Senator or sign online petitions. Perhaps you can make a financial contribution.  Everyone’s contributions, in whatever form, make a difference.

In these times, the world desperately needs spiritually grounded peacemakers.  What is yours to do?