catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 22 :: 2011.12.09 — 2011.12.22


Ears to hear

O taste and see that the Lord is good;
Happy are those who take refuge in him.

Psalm 34:8

As I mentioned in the last issue’s editorial, we staff members of *culture is not optional have been engaging in a season of reflection this fall.  For me, it’s been a time of organizational conversation, as well as a time of personal contemplation.  The organization has been my life’s work for ten years now and it’s a project my husband and I helped set in motion, so any thought of the institution is necessarily tied to who we ourselves are — our strengths and weaknesses, our passions, our leadership style.

Leadership in particular has emerged as a tangled issue, which has involved reckoning with our Dutch Calvinist roots.  In the subculture that nurtured us from birth through our college years, the archetype of leadership was the entrepreneur.  Whether the business was waste disposal or car sales or supermarkets, the message was the same: do, work, be perfect, and don’t enjoy it too much.  There were many exceptions to the rule of course, but I would guess that even those exceptions could articulate the character of the status quo.

Speaking for myself, my gut reaction to this archetype has not been particularly intentional to this point.  In some ways, I’ve fit the mold — I tend to be organized and value perfection, with an entrepreneurial spirit in the sense that I constantly have ideas for new organizations and projects.  But in other ways, I’ve been reactionary, rejecting the dominant model of leadership from the sub-culture of my youth, while failing to identify an alternative model.  This friction has nearly brought the gears of the organization to a halt.  These days, I strongly identify with Moses standing before the burning bush, confronting an impossibly huge task with a sense of dissonance, fear and failure.

Like Moses, I suppose I need a mystery of the sensual kind to draw me into a new reality. Rather than setting up an intellectual program to solve my crisis of leadership, as is my wont and perhaps also my inheritance, I’ve settled on asking myself what it might mean for me to receive God’s love. Absent a divine voice to argue with or a staff to toss on the ground or flaming shrubbery, I’m simply trying to be present to my senses. 

My efforts are halting, like a pre-schooler learning to read, but I keep discovering the lessons of good teachers.  In spiritual direction sessions with another institution-leading couple, I’m encountering silence again, remembering how to breathe.  In the morning, Richard Rohr sits with me in the new space in our apartment, carved out for just such activities, with a comfortable chair overlooking the river.  Through The Naked Now, he re-teaches me the unspeakable name of God — YHWH, a sound intended to capture the sound of breathing, in and out.  And Neil Douglas-Klotz, with his freshly ancient translations of the Lord’s Prayer from the mystical language of Aramaic, affirms such a holy waste of time as nothing less than addressing the Divine:

Respiration of all worlds
We hear you breathing — in and out —
In silence

Wordless Action, Silent Potency —
Where ears and eyes awaken, there
Heaven comes.

Our Father, who art in heaven, is also present to us here, now.  And that presence isn’t just in the silence.  As I write my notes for this article, it’s in the warmth of the wood stove on my back; it’s in the sweet, bitter warmth of coffee filling my belly; it’s in the painting of poppies next to the gray window looking out on a crabapple tree in late autumn.

I’m reminded now of the time one of our friends picked up the check at a local restaurant when Rob and I were dirt poor.  Out of our genetic sense of self-sufficiency, we started to object, but his response was kind and firm: “The proper response is ‘thank you.’”  Gratitude flows out of receiving well, and my best hope is that learning how to receive God’s love might allow me to stop arguing with the burning bush and simply receive my task with a thankful heart, knowing that what I need is already, always being provided in each moment.  I need only have eyes to see, a nose to smell, ears to hear, a tongue to taste, the skin to feel the gifts that overflow my cup.

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