Monday, March 3, 2008

Lessons Learned

The last three weeks we tertians have been doing seminars on community life, leadership and authority, intimacy, the Spiritual Exercises and St. Ignatius. It’s been very rich and also very provocative. Our presenters and the guys in my group have had some really great ideas and images to share. Thought I'd share a couple humdingers:

Organizational Leadership: Bring People in at the Level of Myth.
A myth is a story that shapes our world and the way we act within it. We're not talking about truth or falsehood here, but rather what is the story that gives our lives meaning. So, for Christians, the stories of Scripture constitute our central myths.

If you had to make a flow chart of how things should proceed in an organization, the process ideally would look like this: myth -> vision -> goals -> objectives -> programs -> operation. Each step flows from the last and gets more concrete, until you're talking about specific actions we're going to do. And the ground is the story. The story has the power and the clarity from which everything else comes.

The problem is, oftentimes in parish or school meetings, we skip myth, skip maybe a lot of the earlier steps, in fact, and move right to programs -- "Here's the problem, now what are we going to do?" "Let's get to the point." But in doing so we keep the group from having access to that which is essential and grounding, the stories that help us make sense of everything.

When we are working in a group setting, we should begin with some kind of evocation of the myth. Our facilitator spoke of starting parish council meetings with prayer: a brief time for scripture, some quiet prayer and some sharing. It’s amazing, he pointed out, how much other issues will dissipate if you start here. Because now the group is proceeding grounded in, reminded of the story that’s at its heart.

Bringing people in at the level of the myth... good stuff.

An Image for Liturgy: Breathing Exercises.
People talk about doing breathing exercises as a way of slowing down or even of praying. And if you’ve ever done them, just sat down and slowed down your breathing, got conscious of each breath, you know that when you do this, you begin to slow down, but also to notice the air going in, going out. You begin to savor and maybe see in a different way.

Catholic mass is our breathing exercises. It’s something we do for just the same purpose – to become aware and savor, not just the air but life, and God.

If you ever chafe against going to mass every day or every Sunday, I thought that’s an interesting way to look at things. It’s not about fulfilling an obligation, it’s not about whether Father has anything good to say to me, though hopefully he does, but probably not always; liturgy is a space meant to allow us to exercise our spirits.

An Image for Planning Your Life: The Glass Jar.
Do you ever find yourself saying, I have no time for the things that are important to me? Well, we were talking about time management as priests, and somebody in the group told us an image he's used to try to deal with that.

Imagine you have a big glass jar, and outside of it you have five big stones, 50 smaller stones, and sand. If you put the sand in first, and then try to put the stones in, you’ll find that not everything can fit.

But strangely, if you put the big rocks in first, and then the smaller stones, and then the sand, the sand very naturally will find all the little crevasses that are left, and everything will fit in that glass jar.

Think of that jar as your life. When we don’t plan ahead – and sometimes we just can’t – we let the busyness and the immediate moment demands (read: the sand) fill the jar. And the more important things (the rocks) may end up getting pushed aside, and if we’re not careful, not just temporarily.

So, if you feel like your life is sort of getting away from you, it’s good to stop and ask yourself – what are my 5 or 6 big rocks? What are the things that mean the most to me? Some might be obvious; but take your time naming them, so you can be confident they’re what you think they are.

Once you have them, look to your schedule. Make sure that in your schedule over the course of each week or each month you’ve set aside time for each of them.

It’s not easy; you’ll have to recommit to them regularly. And maybe the big rocks will sometimes change. Fine. But it’s a process to help you do the things that make you happy.