THE UNBROKEN WORD

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Servant Leadership: Why we need it now more than ever.

As I pen these words, we are either in the beginning or middle of what is known as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. This morning, like several recently, I awoke thinking of some visits needed to important people, cousins in Ireland, connecting with my wife, currently stranded in Massachusetts, my grandchildren, and family in the UK. Within moments of course, I realized that this is not possible. As we are now in a “Stay at Home” order in the state of California, and I remain, with a few essential workers and the Passionist priests behind a locked gate. A gate that protects us from others and others from us.

Usually, we wake in the morning from a dream and then step into reality. Today it felt like the reality was a movie and the dreams were normality. I say this not to complain, but merely to observe the times and challenges we face. Perhaps the most important aspect of this is a call to leadership. A call to be selfless, to be there for others, to separate ourselves from others, and yet still find ways we can support those in need. Their needs have just become more acute because of the crisis. This remembering of a call brought me to a topic which has been much on the lips of many in this situation, the call of a leadership style called Servant Leadership. What is that, and how does that relate to me?

Responding To Christ

“and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.” (Mt. 20:27)

At times like this we have a tendency to surround the wagons, protect those close to us, and in a way, become selfish. So much about our situation today is antheical to a normal response, we cannot gather in the normal way, but we can communicate. We cannot share in a traditional manner, breaking bread together at the table, even receiving the Eucharist has become a visual event, not a physical one.

Yet, we must remember that grace flows from the within as well as from the traditional sources we hunger. God is within us, His grace is there waiting to be tapped into. To be exported to those who need it. In words, prayer and actions.

Servant leadership gives us a clue of how we align our response. We receive love by giving love. We gain happiness by sharing with others. We only truly receive by giving.

Let us remember the call in Matthew 20:27, we can only receive by serving others. If you want to examine yourself, Jesuit style, take a look at the ten principles of Servant Leadership as practiced today, and check out how you are using them in this crisis.

The Ten Principles Of Servant Leadership

• Listening

• Empathy

• Healing

• Awareness

• Persuasion

• Conceptualization

• Foresight

• Stewardship

• Commitment to Growth

• Building Community

Reflection, Poem and Photograph Copyright 2020 by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

THE UNBROKEN WORD

How often do we find ourselves in life tense to the point of frustration? When we really could scream at others for the smallest reason. When we seem to have no patience for anything.

The ability to tolerate difficulties and pressure varies considerably from one person to another. Don’t you get irritated by those folks who never seem to get phased by anything, as if God gave them an unlimited supply of patience and understanding? When was I when that particular form of grace was being doled out. Perhaps I didn’t get the wake-up call, or I showed up at the wrong location?

It seems when we come under pressure, particularly pressures where we are unwilling to communicate it to others; for whatever reason … we let it build up. Like steam in a container, the heat increases with the pressure. On the outside, it looks like all is well, but inside the liquid is turning to vapor.

When I look back on situations when this weight affects me, I liken it to folding up a piece of paper. Not in a good logical way, like perhaps creation of some wonder of origami, but more like a paper grabbed by the hand in scrunched up in a ball. It is still a piece of paper, but it now cannot perform its function as it has all folded in on itself.

While logic can sometimes help to return us to a better place, it is often not the case. We are often so emotionally charged by the frustration which has built up inside us, and are unwilling to submit to whatever realities are facing us. In my own case, the more I try and deal with all these problems without help, the more I found myself folding in on myself.

As the folding and resistance increases, we become less able to see a way out of the situation, until perhaps eventually, events take over to release change the tension. It might be a health scare, stress, depression, financial failure, emotional dryness, the list is long.

So what to do. Well, one place to start is to have that soul unfold again. Many of these problems are based on a spiritual disposition that is not recognized. We are being closed instead of open. Unwilling instead of willing. Resistant rather than compliant.

Prayer, particularly prayer without an agenda can help us here. This is a time to remember St. Augustine’s quote of “my soul is restless, till it rests in thee.” Of us simply allowing ourselves to unfold in the presence of God.

What were, or are the fishing tangles of your life? The screwed up balls of paper? The angry remnants of relationships broken but not repaired?

Contemplation and meditation can be a helping hand which we may be ignoring. After all, silence is the language of God.


An Unfolding Soul

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An Unfolding Soul

Let me out of this fishing line tangle,

Of this knotted gut,

And this un-ironed selfishness which caused me to become this ball of paper;

Now both fragile and tense,

I curl up in my own self-interest.

 

So, let me unfold.

One corner at a time,

Stretching the scrunched up parts until all creases are smooth,

Revealing the parts of me which have become concealed to others,

Even myself.

 

Let me be open once more,

Willing to written on,

Seen,

Directed without agenda.

 

And see the face of God once more,

Merely by unfolding my resistance.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

I recently had some discussions on the topic of adventure. When we say the word adventure, we often consider it as an event or activity that might break us out of our normal pattern of life. Whatever that is!

Adventure conjures up feelings of excitement, change, adrenalin, and activities that might be considered outside the norm for us. In many cases, what we once considered an adventurous activity is now part of the norm for us. For example, if you are not used to public speaking, then those first steps in grade school or high school can be considered adventurous. We put ourselves out there for all to see (and criticize) and rely on our skills and wit to get us through it. It often takes courage to even place ourselves in line for an adventure, such as getting on that roller coaster that the kids want to ride, but you really would prefer to avoid.

So adventure firstly requires a commitment and then the second stage, the follow-through. When I review my own life and this topic I often feel that adventure, or trying something new, can become a part of your journey. A willingness to take a risk, push your skill sets, explore where you don’t have a map or a guaranteed outcome all comprise of how the adventure is perceived and understood. So, this willingness can apply to our vocational and family life as well as our spiritual journey.

Rather like a child who often takes their lead in the taste of food from diets served and eaten by parents, we gradually build up a list of food types we are unwilling to try. Even when we know that food is good for us, tastes pleasant and looks great, we still refuse to try it out. This is a learned trait even in a two-year-old. When we add up our places of “don’t go there,” they become a massive list by the time we are adults.
Over time, this creates a list of places where our tastes, likes and dislikes come to govern our approach to the world based on a limited palate. This does not just affect food, relationships, social interaction but also our spiritual journey. We become judgmental on prayer types, worship venues, even who we are willing to socialize it.

This coming week perhaps we can reexamine our taste for adventure. Are we willing to try our a new prayer form? Engage in a new spiritual group? Listen to a new message? All these are signs that we have opened ourselves up to hearing what God is saying to us on the inside. Christ is with us always, but are we open for His next suggested adventure in our spiritual journey?

After all, this adventure may have been sitting there for a long time in our hearts and minds, but somehow we didn’t dare to say Yes to it. Perhaps the time to say Yes instead of No to God’s next adventure is here, all we need to do is answer it.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

Belonging and the Call to Action

Belonging is a huge topic. It is one studied by historians, psychologists, sociologists, and each and every one of us. While we may not be looking at the tribal character of belonging, or the intrinsic need to “belong” in our lives, we all know about belonging from how it feels.

If we are included, we understand what to be “home” feels like. It is hard to describe, but often that warm feeling we get in our core gives us the assurance that we are loved and attached. This might be very deep, such as in a marriage or family situation, or in the “families” we create in our lives, at work, play and in various groups. Sometimes the relationships with friends and colleagues seem like they go deeper than the ones with our blood relatives; perhaps that has something to do with the ability to chose your friends.

The need for belonging is built into our DNA, we know how important it is to belong, and we can tell the difference between being included and being loved and accepted. The acceptance in any relationship shows our openness to one another. Our ability to be loved is often very much related to our willingness to show love.

Our desire to belong is, therefore, something that binds us all together. Belonging is both a desire and a need. We all want it; otherwise, we would be spending our lives rejecting others, not letting them into the inner circle of our soul, where our heartbeats and where God resides within us. While we all have our moments in rejecting others, sometimes unknowingly, a state of continued rejection is one of exhaustion. It is too much work to spend time being ornery to others, at least all of the time!

So while we want to be on the receiving end of love, acceptance, invitations, and all the “incoming” benefits of belonging, there is more to it than this. To really belong, we have also to take action. We cannot remain inert, sitting there like a sponge waiting for others to invite us to join. Jesus’s mission in teaching had him on the road, explaining, teaching, inviting, disputing and clashing with those who taught hatred and self-promotion, replacing it with the guidelines of loving God and one another in what we now know as the body of Christ. That’s us!

So perhaps this week we can consider those guidelines, clearly delineated in the beatitudes and supported by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit showered on us during Pentecost, we can make the connection ourselves. Are we really using those gifts as well as we could? The Church says, “All are welcome,” am I practicing this in my life? I know for myself, there are always ways where my belonging to a certain group also, in a subtle way, excludes and differentiates me from others. This is not what Jesus intended. Remember what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Christ?

If we remember Christ in our belonging, we will be both grateful and mindful in our treatment of others. This is something I will try and keep on my heart.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

Belonging and the Call to Action

Belonging is a huge topic. It is one studied by historians, psychologists, sociologists, and each and every one of us. While we may not be looking at the tribal character of belonging, or the intrinsic need to “belong” in our lives, we all know about belonging from how it feels.

If we are included, we understand what to be “home” feels like. It is hard to describe, but often that warm feeling we get in our core gives us the assurance that we are loved and attached. This might be very deep, such as in a marriage or family situation, or in the “families” we create in our lives, at work, play and in various groups. Sometimes the relationships with friends and colleagues seem like they go deeper than the ones with our blood relatives; perhaps that has something to do with the ability to chose your friends.

The need for belonging is built into our DNA, we know how important it is to belong, and we can tell the difference between being included and being loved and accepted. The acceptance in any relationship shows our openness to one another. Our ability to be loved is often very much related to our willingness to show love.

Our desire to belong is, therefore, something that binds us all together. Belonging is both a desire and a need. We all want it; otherwise, we would be spending our lives rejecting others, not letting them into the inner circle of our soul, where our heartbeats and where God resides within us. While we all have our moments in rejecting others, sometimes unknowingly, a state of continued rejection is one of exhaustion. It is too much work to spend time being ornery to others, at least all of the time!

So while we want to be on the receiving end of love, acceptance, invitations, and all the “incoming” benefits of belonging, there is more to it than this. To really belong, we have also to take action. We cannot remain inert, sitting there like a sponge waiting for others to invite us to join. Jesus’s mission in teaching had him on the road, explaining, teaching, inviting, disputing and clashing with those who taught hatred and self-promotion, replacing it with the guidelines of loving God and one another in what we now know as the body of Christ. That’s us!

So perhaps this week we can consider those guidelines, clearly delineated in the beatitudes and supported by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit showered on us during Pentecost, we can make the connection ourselves. Are we really using those gifts as well as we could? The Church says, “All are welcome,” am I practicing this in my life? I know for myself, there are always ways where my belonging to a certain group also, in a subtle way, excludes and differentiates me from others. This is not what Jesus intended. Remember what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters, we do to Christ?

If we remember Christ in our belonging, we will be both grateful and mindful in our treatment of others. This is something I will try and keep on my heart.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

We have all returned to those times as a child when all seemed simpler and easier. While this may not be true of all childhoods, I can certainly return to mine and see it was a time that had less distractions than my teenage years.

As someone who has been involved in ministry with children and owning four of my own, and through the grace of God, nine grandchildren, I often look at things through their lens. While there are benefits of being childlike, there are also complications.

You have to follow the guidelines/rules or others; life is fairly structured without much “downtime” included, and of course, we are ALWAYS relying on someone else to get us where we need to go. However, when I look back on my faith life, there was much to be pleased about a child. While I learned about my faith through the strict governance of the Dominican nuns at my elementary school, and an Irish priest who dispensed his own special form of ministry; I was, for the most part, surrounded by love. It was love with strings attached for sure, but it was love. They cared for me, and even more for my soul. I can still hear the words “ for what does it matter if you suffer the loss of your soul …”

This lament, even though I didn’t really know what it meant, did start me out on a journey as a child. A journey to discover this invisible but important part of me, my soul!

I wonder what your experience of this inner search for your soul, its content, character, how it looked affected your faith? How does it affect your faith today? Have you come to terms with what your soul is today? How would you describe its condition? Excellent? Slightly used? Low mileage? Never been wrecked?

Taking a journey back to those early days may help you find some answers. After all we use the words “soul-searching” often. But what does it really mean to us?

This week is a time for some gentle soul-searching. God Bless.

Earlier Times

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

Retelling Our Own Story
When we look carefully to see how God is working in us today, we invariably look to the past for guidance. What did we learn from this experience? Did the suffering help me or alienate me from God? Have I been grateful for the good things in my life?

All of these questions and their answers tell a story which is “our story.” However, sometimes that story is given to us by another and we often do one of two things with it. Firstly, we can accept the story or lesson as given to us by another; perhaps a parent or a friend tells us our own story and what they think we should have learned from it. Or secondly, we can refuse to accept our version of the story and instead play a “what if” game to see how our life might have turned out differently.

In the first case, we may find that someone else is defining our own lives and how we should react to an event based on what they tell us is our story. The dangers of accepting this approach can be obvious, someone tells us we are a failure because of one failure, we lose one battle and therefore, we are always a loser. You get the idea.

The second case is something which also affects many of us, what would have happened if I met this person earlier in my life, married a different person, had another career. We play the “what if” game trying to relive a life that didn’t happen. We only have what did happen to work with and how we interpret its meaning or direction.

When we look today for what God is Doing In Us, we can take another approach in reviewing the past. That is to “retell” our story. In retelling our own story, we don’t change the facts of course, but we can change what we learn from them. For example, telling my own story of self-reliance during my teen years, and how it changed my spiritual disposition, introducing some “lean years” in my relationship with God has had a surprising benefit.
In telling this story first to myself, I saw how I caused myself to induce some distance between God and me. Or at least that is what I thought. However in retelling this story and sharing it with others, it became obvious this was just a movement in my overall spiritual journey; a waypoint if you like, not a final destination.

We can also find our own story is retold by listening to others, their experiences can resonate with our own, giving us pointers to how God is “really” working in us all the time, even when we feel remote and distant.

Our willingness to retell a story, particularly our own story, requires an honesty that keeps the door open, and our heart opens to hear what is really going on. A closed mind precedes a closed heart, an unwillingness to listen, to receive the grace which is often waiting to be poured out.

Let us let the grace pour out this week by examining some of our own stories, and see where God has been working in us all the time. Just as the disciples the road to Emmaus, we just didn’t recognize Him.

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My Footprints 

 


They have been smaller,
And tentative at times.
Tiptoeing,
Stamping,
And held their ground on occasions.

 

But always, they have included You,
Even if I wanted to head in a particular direction for a while,
They returned to a Compass Rose,
Correcting what needed to change.

 

At least when I listened for Your voice.

 

Reflection, Photograph and Poem Copyright 2020 Michael J. Cunningham OFS