Telling Stories

Sean Sanford[1]

In the The Storytelling Animal, author Jonathan Gottschall attempts the “first unified theory of storytelling.” His premise is that telling stories is what makes us human. Ancient Irish culture held tribal storytellers, the seanchaidhethe, in the highest regard, second only to chieftains. Jerome Bruner, a leading thinker in a branch of psychology that considers narrativity the lexus of identity, has written seminal articles including “Life as Narrative” and “A Narrative Model of Self-Construction.” Hannah Arendt, Alasdair MacIntyre, Charles Taylor and Paul Ricouer, some of the most influential philosophers of the modern era, have been called narrative theorists, locating personal and collective identity within narrative structures. If stories are not what makes us human, then certainly they are constitutive of our sense of self.

During my time in graduate school my research has principally become focused on the question of identity and how it is informed by narratives. This is not merely an academic exercise. It occurred to me some years ago that we make most of our choices based on stories. Each of us has a set of narratives from which we draw. Consciously or otherwise, we use them to make sense of our past, establish meaning in our present, and, ideally, articulate a vision for our future.  As social beings our stories are the “source material” of human relations. Consider how we teach children to communicate. We start with simple identifications and quickly begin to read them stories. These stories are not simply amusements. They convey moral lessons and imprint on the child a narrative structure which informs cognition for the remainder of their lives.

While all stories are not fiction, they are all created. Our narratives do not emerge from the void, absent context or history. Rather each of us has assimilated countless myths, memories, and anecdotes from families, extended communities, even popular culture. Narratives, while perhaps not fully determinative, are the bedrock of our subjectivity, our sense of self. I could not be me without the stories I have been told and continue to tell.

For some, this may be a perfectly obvious notion. For others, it may be less so (or even wrong-headed). Wherever you stand, it should not be hard for us to agree that stories are in the very least important to who we are and how we live. Jesus clearly thought so. Scripture scholars have written volumes on the purpose, structure, and meaning of the Gospel parables. Seeking to transmit divine truth to our mortal minds, the Son of God told stories. And it worked. While we may fail to live the ethical mandates therein, the parables have infused our cultural imagination. Idioms like “prodigal son”, “good samaritan”, or “lost sheep” are easily used by nonbelievers and believers alike.

I do not wish to imply that all stories are good or should be perpetuated. Postmodernity, that much contested, often reviled, and occasionally celebrated moment in history in which we find ourselves, has been marked by efforts to deconstruct narratives that serve to oppress or dominate. Narratives that perpetuate racism, sexism, greed, violence or homophobia (among others) are rightly exposed and the sins they spawn allowed to whither in the light of day.  Therapeutic processes have evolved to help individuals overcome the destructive stories that imbue the lives of too many of our sisters and brothers. Nonetheless, it has also been suggested that we live in a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to make meaning of our lives. The grand narratives of religion and nation have been undermined by the the revelation that they have been culpable for evil. How many people do you know who have struggled to remain faithful in the age of the sex-abuse scandal? Or have lost faith in the “American dream?”

Yet I truly believe we need to be able tell stories. Philosophers, theologians, psychologists, film-makers, and poets – even the Harvard Business Review – recognizes the necessity of being able to narrate our lives.  Without stories we face a kind of existential despair. Each of us has heard someone say, “I don’t know who I am anymore” or “I have no idea what to do with my life.”  The dilemma, then, is to locate within our traditions, collective histories, and life experiences, stories that bear telling, that need to be told. We cannot simply throw out our past, nor should we. Among the greatest sins of the technology-age is failing to account for the wisdom of those who went before. The work now, as it was when Pope John XXIII called for aggiornamento over fifty years ago, is to tell the stories that affirm the goodness of God, the dignity of all creation and embolden us to be better than we are today. It is not a simple calling but it is vital nonetheless.

The community that comprises the Center for FaithJustice has struggled to tell a kind of story. We have never assumed it was the only story, but we have insisted it is a profoundly important one. While I cannot speak for all the women and men who make up the CFJ family, I believe the basic gist of our story is that God desires of us to seek justice. We tell this story based on our reading of the Scriptures, meditation on the life of Christ, and reflection on the faithful who have come before us. Our narrative is rooted in the wisdom and graces discovered within our tradition and the community into which it initiated us. Though justice can be a tricky idea, it is revealed in the story; a vision of creation, the Kingdom of God, wherein all people regardless of color, creed, gender, sexuality or ability are treated with dignity and given the opportunity to achieve the fullness of life. Our story is not naive. It integrates suffering and death, but holds love and hope as ultimately triumphant. I am convinced that without this vision our faith, our tradition, becomes  a poor imitation of the story told by Jesus of Nazareth.

And lest we fool ourselves to readily, it is a difficult road. CFJ has been through many changes in a short few years. We have contended with a tough economic climate, a culture war that divides our faith community and our nation, and the growing pains that come with being a small organization trying to do what’s right with limited resources and institutional support. We have wrestled with mission statements, program effectiveness, and budgets. We have changed facilities, staffs, and seen friends come and go. Successes have been celebrated and we have tried to learn from our failures.

This blog has sought to tell the faithjustice story in many different voices over the  past year and a half. In an attempt to become more sustainable, CFJ will be scaling back certain initiatives in the coming months, including the blog. It is my sincere hope that in time we will be able to revive it but I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the men and women who have generously supported us by sharing their time and talent writing their version of the faithjustice story. I am most grateful to John Bradley who took an idea and assembled a remarkably talented team of contributors.

Though trials are inevitable, we will continue to work to be faithful to our story.  Those who have spent some time at CFJ know that our tale began as a conversation among friends. Deep down, at least for me, it remains such. Today we are blessed to call so many more people friends and invite them into a community which, though by no means perfect, continues to be marked by love, compassion, and humor. Each experience nuances our narrative, yet the core message remains: we who profess this faith are called to do justice. God demands it of us. It is how we understand our past, discover meaning in our present, and find a vision for our future.

[1] Sean Sanford is the founder of the Center for FaithJustice.

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Practice, Practice, Practice

Martha Dudich

In the opening of her book, TRAVELING MERCIES, Anne Lamott uses a metaphor that truly speaks to my experience.  “My coming to faith did not start with a leap,” she writes, “but rather a series of staggers from what seemed like one safe place to another.  Like lily pads, round and green, these places summoned and then held me up while I grew.  Each prepared me for the next leaf on which I would land, and in this way I moved across the swamp…each bringing me closer to the verdant pad of faith on which I somehow stay afloat today.”

I recalled these words as I began this writing, reflecting in gratitude upon those pads I have been drawn to over the years, some consciously sought after, others serendipitously encountered – recognizing, of course, it’s all grace.  Whether among the weekly Wednesday night Soup and Psalms faithful or observing the occasional Friday afternoon Westminster Choir rehearsal, squeezed around noisy dining room tables or standing alone in the garden at first light, within circles of knitters and prayers, bluestockings and oenophiles,  All grace, indeed.

School has always been a pad of great appeal and significance, most recently this summer.  “I’m teaching a course with your name all over it,” a former grad school professor teased.  Interrupting my job search for a few hours each week to explore the connections between spirituality and poetry was a no-brainer.  One of the assignments: read poetry for an hour a day and pay attention to what happens.  Twist my arm.

Who hasn’t heard the amusing advice on how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice.  As with any practice – ritual, intentional, aspirational – hope for transformation abides.  Marathon trainers, meditators, musicians anticipate some progress, some perfection resulting from their daily discipline.  I would suppose my fellow students of the poem expected no less.  Nor would I imagine any of us were disappointed.  Poetry – reading it, writing it, sharing it – creates clarity, deepens inquiry, cultivates wisdom and compassion, patience and faith.  As with most spiritual practice, the willingness to be open is all that’s required.

I have often included poems in my daily meditation and prayer, more so this year with gifts of daily readings and a literary guide to prayer through the seasons of the liturgical year.  Without question, the experience is intensified. Today, from Rilke:

Full round apple, peach, pear, blackberry.
Each speaks life and death into the mouth.  Look
at the face of a child eating them.
The tastes come from afar and slowly grow nameless on the tongue.
Where there were words, discoveries flow, released from within
. . .so that, in the tasting, sweetness may burst forth
and be known in all its meanings of sun and earth and here.

                                                                      from Sonnets to Orpheus

These words take me in two directions.  First, to the Hebrew scriptures, recalling how those preparing to enter Canaan are called to continued faithfulness, to living intentionally as God’s people.  This day I have set before you life and death. . .Now choose life. (Deut. 30:19)  Yes, my heart beats.  Breath enters and leaves my body.  But this passage suggests there is life (dare I say LIFE) that is more than biology. A life of energy and enthusiasm and spirit.  It is that abundant life Jesus brings to the party (John 10:10), not simply wrapping ourselves in the shelter, the exclusivity of regulations and principles, but going beyond into the adventure that embraces hope and trust, mercy and compassion and joy.  Choose – practice – this life.

Rilke also sends me to another poem.  In From Blossoms, Li-Young Lee writes:

From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands, from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what you love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade, not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing, from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Farm stand peaches dot the Jersey landscape in these August days and, with Lee’s images, invite me to deeper reflection.  Each moment matters.  Whether of delight or sorrow, certainty or confusion.  To be held in our hands, to sink our teeth into, savor and swallow. And while it may not always appear to be true, spiritual practice done over and over bears fruit.  If I think diligently about respect and forgiveness, and about bestowing them on those I know and those I do not know, I will become kinder and more compassionate.  I return to the question put forth in another classroom decades ago by theologian Jack Shea: if you prayed the Prayer of St. Francis every day for a year, what would your life look like?  Weaving words of respect, consolation, mystery, awe, helplessness, longing and beauty into the fabric of my life can prompt joy, allow me to face my fears, remind me of my limitations as well as my blessings – each strengthening the connection to that which is larger than myself.  The practice continues.

 . . .With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.

Pull weeds for peace, turn over in your sleep for peace,
feed the birds, each shiny seed
that spills onto the earth, another second of peace.
Wash your dishes, call your mother, drink wine.

Shovel leaves or snow or trash from your sidewalk.
Make a path. Fold a photo of a dead child
around your VISA card. Scoop your holy water
from the gutter. Mumble along, stumbling
your prayer through the streets.

                                              from PRAY FOR PEACE by Ellen Bass

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Dare to Compare

Michael O’Connor [1]

As humans, we have an innate ability and inalienable right to compare.  We do it all the time, whether we like to admit it or not.  Phillies or Yankees.  Toilet paper over or under.  Spiderman or Batman.  The list goes on.

When I was teaching in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), communities would jokingly tease one another about whose city and community house was most desirable, one (the Mobile house) even going so far as to claim themselves “the BPIA – Best Place in ACE.”  Even service trips and retreats are not excluded from this natural inclination.  Student groups from varying Appalachian service sites return to campus claiming that their trip was “the best” and that their group is “the closest,” daring other students or groups to even try to state otherwise.

And I don’t pretend to be above this.  I have been caught up in the honeymoon phase, as well, swelling with pride for my own Appalachia group or claiming that Birmingham and Philadelphia are “the realest” cities in the country.  While some comparing is harmless, and can actually be a means to drum up support or pride for one’s own team, city, or organization, other forms are not as helpful.

Again, aspects of comparing are not always bad.  Being able to compare is actually a great gift.  It allows for us to reflect back on our experiences and see where grace has entered into our lives through the presence of others and God.  When we take the time to be aware of the goodness brought into our lives by people, places, or experiences, we are better able to grow from them.  When we ponder the challenges that we have faced, we are better able to respond to them in the future.

But problems can occur when comparing leads to a lack of openness and awareness.  We have to be careful when celebration of an experience, brought about by comparing, causes us to prematurely and unfairly critique others or new opportunities.  Equally dangerous, we can essentially set ourselves up to be constantly disappointed in the future.  We enter new experiences – service, social, academic, communal – with high expectations.  We say to ourselves, and sometimes even to individuals we meet in these new circles, “My last group/experience was so incredible.  How can this ever hope to compare?”  Not only does this continue to prevent us from entering more fully into new experiences, it also hurts those around us, letting them know very quickly where they stand and how much they have to live up to.

Boston Downtown Skyline By Nelson48 at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

I will face this challenge again in three short weeks.  At that time, I will move up to Boston, start my life in a new city, at a new university, in a new doctoral program, with new housemates, and with new folks all around me.  I will not only carry my clothes and books in my baggage (lots and lots of books), but also all of my past memories from previous experiences and the expectations that proceed from them.  I will be comparing incessantly.

Here is what I hope and pray for myself, and also what I hope and pray for you, reader, whenever you find yourself in a new situation and ready to compare:  That we may be grateful for the many gifts encountered in previous experiences.  That we may learn from past challenges, stumblings, lessons, and advice.  That we may be open to others and their experiences and celebrate their uniqueness and gifts, as well.  That we may harness the love from our past to embrace our present and to prepare the way for our future.  That we may compare in a way that increases our awareness of love and happiness, instead of setting ourselves up for future disappointment.  And that we may believe that we can find love and hope again in new situations with new people in new places.

Our comparing can be a way to glorify God and others.  We simply have to allow it to do so.

[1] Michael O’Connor recently concluded his time on staff with the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU), a post-graduate teaching fellows program that serves urban Catholic schools in Philadelphia, and is preparing to begin doctoral studies in Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College in Fall 2012.

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The Temptation of the Idle Summer

Michael O’Connor[1]

There is a saying that goes “an idle mind is the devil’s workplace.”

I have a tendency, for better or worse, to question almost every idiom that I encounter.  I know that’s not necessarily the point of them, but I cannot help it when I have seen that, for the better part of my emerging-adult life, lessons rarely fit into a convenient catchall.  Rather, I relish in the intricacies, the multiple perspectives, the balances and compromises required when observing life’s happenings.

I very much enjoyed John Bradley’s recent post on “A Time to Act, A Time to Reflect.” It captures the idea that there is a needed balance between contemplation and action and that both are required in discernment and to better understand our call to live out God’s will in our lives.

Just over one month ago, I left my job with the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU).  I will begin doctoral studies in Education at Boston College in the fall, but I decided to take the summer off and moved home to NEPA to be with my family.  Since then, I have been able to travel, visit family and friends, help take care of my grandmother in the hospital, and do a fair amount of reading, writing, and watching the Phillies further plummet in the NL East.

I am in a time of transition.  Transition periods offer plenty of time for rest, but also the opportunity to search one’s mind, heart and soul.  Additionally, while my mind, body, and spirit have been active, there have certainly been temptations for all three to be idle.  Idle in the “not using my time well and getting sucked into the black hole that is Facebook/ESPN” sense.  To combat this natural and human response, I have tried to be intentional so that my downtime, my reflection time, my “idle” time, does not degenerate into something not necessarily of God.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is by praying with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola.  I have been with a spiritual director, a Jesuit priest in Philadelphia, since last autumn.  I meet with him regularly, typically once a week, preferably and most often in-person, but sometimes via phone when we are not able to be in the same place.  This ongoing experience, along with prayer, conversation with family and friends, and action, whether it be by helping my family, reading for my doctoral program, or preparing to move, has allowed me to be present to my time of transition.

I was not always so well-advised or able to do.  Two years ago when I finished my time teaching with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE), I drove right home and began working for the new ACESJU program.  Though excited to begin this new undertaking, I had barely taken any time at all to reflect on my past two years in Birmingham, what my hopes were for my time with ACESJU, and what graces I would need to ask God for to be my best self as I was starting out.  Looking back, I now know that I should not have been in such a rush and so dismissive of the need to reflect.  Although I do not think it directly impacted my work or ability, it definitely impacted my state of mind, heart, and soul.

This is not to say that reflection has to take the form of a summer off.  Had I been wiser or more aware, I should have taken time during that first summer working for ACESJU to search myself and my experiences to determine the gifts I had been fortunate enough to receive in Birmingham and during ACE, which areas still needed some work in my life, and what gifts I would be hoping to receive in Philadelphia and with my new job.  Ultimately, I wish I had asked myself how I had better learned to love, who I learned to love, and then, going forward, how I could better love others, God, and even myself.

I suppose my point is this:  Reflection is a beautiful necessity.   As John Bradley described, being a “contemplative in action” allows you to “recognize God in all things encountered in an active life.”  We need to take the time to allow grace to enter into our lives so that we can be aware of it in the future.  We can be proactive in creating opportunities to reflect, but we also need to accept the conditions our lives present for us to be present to God.  We cannot always find time for a retreat or a summer off, but we can always find the opportunity for prayer, conversation, and action (big or small) in this beautiful world.  In this way, our reflection is not idle, but blessed, welcoming in the presence of God and love instead of the devil’s work.

[1] Michael O’Connor recently concluded his time on staff with the Alliance for Catholic Education at Saint Joseph’s University (ACESJU), a post-graduate teaching fellows program that serves urban Catholic schools in Philadelphia, and is preparing to begin doctoral studies in Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College in Fall 2012.

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Perspectives from Parenting

Fran Wilcox

Before I became a mother, I thought I understood what my mom had done for me.

I knew nothing.

Now that my daughter is approaching her third birthday and I’m anticipating the birth of a baby boy, it seems like every day has brought at least one new challenge I never anticipated. I think I’ve felt at a total loss on how to proceed more in the past three years than in the 26 years leading up to parenthood.

It has given me a much deeper appreciation for what my parents did, experiencing firsthand the small, daily sacrifices and the struggle of constantly putting a small person’s needs and desires ahead of your own.

And it has given me a new perspective on my faith, especially my respect for Mary’s amazing choice and the almost unfathomable idea of a God who is loving Father to every person. Every. Single. Person.

It’s hard enough being a loving, engaged, just parent every day to one capricious, smart, funny, demanding little creature. Imagine seven billion of them.

Some days – some hours, some minutes – being a mom is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I lose patience. I struggle with decisions. I second-guess myself.

But even in the most difficult moments, the depth of love I feel for this little person I helped create astounds me. During her third tantrum of the hour, I may think my head will explode, but I know in 20 minutes I’ll be wiping her tears while she snuggles into my lap and tells me, “I need mama.”

I would do anything, give anything, to give her a good life. I want so badly for her to be happy, to be content, to be successful. Yet I know in order for that to happen, I will have to watch her struggle. I will have to stand back while she weathers the bad times. I will be there to support her and love her, of course, but there will be times she won’t be able to see through the rain clearly enough to recognize the umbrella I hold. There will be times she can see it but it’s not enough, and all I can do is wait for the storm to subside so I can open my arms and wipe her tears.

This, too, gives me fresh insight into an Abba, a loving father God who has to watch His beloved children struggle and weep and mourn. I can’t protect my daughter from the hard parts of life. God can’t protect us from our own poor decisions, from the vagaries of fate and from the sometimes unpleasant consequences of free will. Yet He stands ready to offer His love and support, if we can only reach out for it, admitting our need as openly as a preschooler.

I can’t save my daughter from life. All I can do is to celebrate the good times with her, and in the bad times, to offer my love and my support and hope that the struggles and sadness she will face make her a better person. If I can teach her how to face adversity without bitterness, how to accept hurts and mistreatment and still turn to others with kindness, then I will be proud of the work I have done as a mother.

And if I can learn those lessons myself and live them out to the best of my ability, then someday I hope, when all my tears are done, I can crawl up into the Father’s lap and say, “I need you,” and be welcomed with open arms.

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God is Faithful and We Are Persistent: Observations from the Front

Mike Laskey

It’s our crazy season here at the Center for FaithJustice. We’re in the fourth of eight weeks of summer ServiceworX and JusticeworX programs, with about 80 students spread out among four different program locations this week alone. Even though I’ve been involved in about 30 week-long sessions since 2005, each summer includes lots of new lessons. Here are five of them from this year.

1) Murphy’s Law is real, but we’ll make it work.

With about 900 student participants running around during the summer, the universe comes up with a bunch of creative ways to make things go wrong. I’m prone to worrying, but luckily, our Business Manager John Miller is not. His motto “We’ll make it work” calms me down, and our team takes on new challenges with creativity and patience. I’ve been praying with the “lilies of the field” scripture passage from Matthew recently, in which Jesus says (I’m paraphrasing), “Worrying doesn’t do anything, you dope.”

Corollary lesson: God is faithful and we are persistent.

When we made it through a particular snag two weeks ago, I turned that “God is faithful…” line into one of those “Keep Calm and Carry On” memes, and emailed it to our team. It seems that our programs survive and flourish due to this sort of divine-human cooperation. We keep plugging away, doing the best we can, and the Spirit enters and does the rest. Thanks, Spirit.

2) Everyone likes to be thanked.

Our Acting Executive Director Rocky Balsamo’s favorite way to start a sentence is some variation of “Let me tell you a story.” Sometimes, it’s not clear at first where he’s heading, but listen carefully, because BAM – a pearl of wisdom will ricochet off your forehead when you least expect it. I had this experience on the phone with Rocky a few weeks ago. The pearl: “I don’t care if you’re a priest, nun, atheist or garbage-truck man. EVERYONE likes to be thanked.” I have gone out of my way to thank our community partners since that conversation, and, as usual, Rocky is right.

3) If you are working with teenagers, your level of cheerfulness must be directly proportional to the number of times they roll their eyes per minute.

In the past, eye-rolling teenagers often got to me. I thought if participants rolled their eyes at me, it meant they were judging me as a person or leader, and I would usually respond with frustration. I am now rethinking this whole equation. Some teenagers seem to roll their eyes no matter what. The best way to combat this is with increased cheerfulness and affirmation. Catch them in the act of doing something good. Affirm them when they show leadership or contribute to an activity. Smile goofily and dance during the theme song, even if you’re exhausted. The eyes will keep rolling, but more often than not, these teenagers will proclaim at the end of the week their intention to return next year. This lesson could have been titled: Teenagers are mysterious.

Corollary lesson: Distributing hand percussion instruments is a good way to get teenagers to participate in the singing of the theme song, but if everyone has a maraca, that is way too loud – keep it to about three.

LeaderworX Participants Tour the United Nations

4) When asked how things are going, don’t say, “Busy!”

This essay by Tim Kreider made the rounds last week, and it’s a good reminder that living frantically isn’t the best idea. I’ve tried to avoid saying “Busy!” when asked how I’m doing, and it’s a major challenge.

5) Luck is the residue of design.

John Milton (not, as commonly believed, baseball executive Branch Rickey) first said this quote a few hundred years ago. I learned this lesson again Friday, on a trip to the United Nations with our LeaderworX community of young adults. After we finished a tour of the UN headquarters, we went outside, and prepared to split up and head in a few different directions. “Wait,” I said, “ we should probably reflect on today before we go.” This decision was a hasty design at best, but TS Eliot’s quote “We had the experience but missed the meaning” lurks in my subconscious. It’s always good to talk about what you just did.

So we stood in a circle on a little island of sidewalk next to a bus in the shadow of the UN skyscraper. After chatting for a few minutes, we had a moment of quiet prayer for the persistent pursuit of global peace, justice, and solidarity that the United Nations represents. Suddenly, serendipitously, church bells began to toll, mixing with the car horns and the chatter of tourists and diplomats. With the bells overhead and the United Nations behind us, we stood at the intersection of the church and the world. This meeting point is where we are meant to reside – the bells call us in to worship and send us out to work, and God’s Kingdom is slowly built.

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A Time to Act, a Time to Reflect

John Bradley

A couple Sundays ago my wife suggested I listen to NPR’s interview of musician Glen Hansard, who, with Marketa Irglova, starred in the wonderful motion picture Once.  They composed and performed all the songs, including the Academy Award-winning Falling Slowly.

Hansard, who just released his first solo album, Rhythm and Repose, was telling Scott Simon that he loved his work, but recognized that there would be times ahead when he would need to take a step back and rest.  Said Hansard, “When the soil goes fallow, you must leave the field for a couple of years.”

The day after I listened to the interview, I happened to meet a Jesuit priest, who mentioned St. Ignatius of Loyola’s emphasis on the dynamic of action and reflection.  The continuing interplay between action and reflection allows a person to become, in Ignatius’s language, a “contemplative in action” – someone who recognizes God in all the things encountered in an active life.

Finally, on Tuesday, while reading the book Managing, I was confronted with this conclusion: “Effective managers figure out how to be reflectively thoughtful in a job that naturally discourages it.”  “Too much reflection and nothing gets done; too much action and things get done thoughtlessly.”

Ever get the feeling that someone is trying to tell you something?

It is difficult to attend to both the need to act and the need to reflect.  Even as I write this piece, the phone is ringing, emails are arriving, instant messages are popping up on my screen and I’m having trouble being reflective enough to give this article thoughtful attention.  And then, of course, there are the times that I would just rather be doing, accomplishing, checking off the to-do list.

But, then, none of this is really new, is it?  Somewhere around 2300 years ago, the Jewish people were told, “There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens…. a time to be silent, and a time to speak.”  In that spirit, I’m going to refrain from continuing to write and instead invite you to spend a few minutes in quiet reflection (I promise to do so as well).  Here’s a website in the Ignatian tradition that can help guide you through: Sacred Space.

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