2017 in Review
Advent is the first season on the liturgical calendar and it is so named because believers were to prepare for the greatest gift – the gift of a child who would become their savior. Here is an excerpt from a sermon by Augustine, a North African pastor from the 4th century regarding this gift.
“The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born in time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day.
“The Maker of man became man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die.
“To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this, although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake, had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits.”
Most of us receive gifts rather frequently. Perhaps it is wrapped up in a pretty package or it may simply be the holding of a door or a quick smile. The thing is… We all receive things from others. St Augustine wrote of the connections that life has with each of us in the paragraph that spoke of one who is powerful needing nourishment; of one who created all food being hungry; that one who is nothing but truth being the subject of falsehoods, etc. We all need each other for life. We also seldom deserve the gifts we receive.
One of the most precious gifts we can offer someone is to pray for them. Prayer is not something that people of just one faith do. Most spiritualities have some sort of prayer. I began this week participating in a mindfulness meditation group and it occurred to me that this was a gift we all gave to each other – a period of calm and quiet, of coming together for the betterment of each other. Prayer is another form of this, of showing grace and love for one another.
Recently I attended a training of sorts in which everyone participated in a survey of their talents, likes and dislikes, and how they employed such. The purpose of the survey was to discern how we were using those talents and other skills we had developed through our lives in living our faith. Most of us, if backed into a corner and asked, would probably claim we are making good use of that with which we have been given and learned and developed. I say “backed into a corner” because, honestly, nobody really wants to have to make such a personal assessment call, do we? To do so leaves open the chance we might not be using all of our skills, etc. We might be living in a lazy sort of way. We might discover we are living for ourselves instead of for others. We might not be living our faith. We might not be hospitable in our faith.
People who had spent their professional careers in administration were surprised to discover that they did not rate high in their personal assessment in that area. Others were happy they scored high in leadership. The entire group was proud most scored high in hospitality. They began listing the ways in which they invite people into their place of worship and the success of such. Listening to everyone speak, not only a habit of mine but I believe also a talent I possess, it occurred to me I was not defining the terms on the survey the same way everyone else was.
Faith was defined by some present as “being” faithful, not really the active “act of believing”. I was asked my highest score and it was faith. “Really?” was the response I received. “You don’t take part in every activity; how interesting.” If you are a reader of this blog, then you know that Easter of 2014 as well as at other times, my Christian brethren have called me to task for not emphasizing the Christian doctrine enough. Indeed, I call this more a blog involving spiritual and religious concepts rather than a Christian journal of living. Again, I think it comes down to definition.
My definition of a supreme deity is one who is all-encompassing and that means He/She is Christian and Muslim, Jewish and Hindu, Buddhist and Wiccan, etc. I think I can believe in my own Episcopal credo while respecting the right of others to believe in theirs. My God is big enough to be the God of everyone, with different names and worship practices. In my humble opinion, faith is the interaction of belief. It is true that I do not score one hundred percent attendance at every activity at my own place of worship. Sometimes I am out in the community living and practicing my faith; sometimes I am doing other things that most of them might be doing. Is it only faith if it has to happen at one specific address?
Someone in the group was relieved to discover they scored highest on leadership and was not only happy in their relief but expected it. “I like to be out front and get credit” the person explained. This is a person who is very much a hands-on, busy person and not one that simple delegates. This person is down in the trenches so to speak, getting their hands dirty and often covered in sweat. Their comment, then, was a surprise to me. We all like applause, even those that say they do not. Being appreciated is a quality we all share and we share it with others in the animal kingdom. That is why a dog wags his/her tail. There are even some plants that respond well to positive reinforcement. There is nothing wrong with liking appreciation. Still, it is not guaranteed nor is it part of the definition of leadership.
Mindy Gibbins-Klein, the founder of REAL Thought Leaders defines leadership as “having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own.” Nothing is said about getting credit. This definition involves other people getting credit for what they do and while, they should give credit to the person who motivated them, they might not do so. Perhaps the person who wants to get credit should stop thinking about being a leader and spend more time on being a doer who works in fields that use a byline.
Every definition of leadership I found involved guiding others to work in such a way that they were given credit. Kurt Uhlir, CEO and co-founder of Sideqik summed it up best: “Too many people view management as leadership. It’s not. Leadership comes from influence, and influence can come from anyone at any level and in any role. Being open and authentic, helping to lift others up and working toward a common mission [to] build influence. True leadership comes when those around you are influenced by your life in a positive way.”
As I mentioned before, the skillset that most delighted the group was that of hospitality. We think of hospitality as throwing a good party but that is not exactly how it is defined. Hospitality centers more on the relationship between host and guest rather than the event itself. A hospitable person is one who is considered generous, not necessarily a great event planner. To throw a great party or event involves an entirely different set of skills – organization, knowledge of caterers, space planning, decorating sense that accommodates the purpose for the event and not just the combination of colors, meal planning, entertainment, etc. The group at the survey event defined hospitable as opening the doors and wearing a smile…on their faces. No one mentioned how guests felt when they left.
That brings us to prayer. How hospitable are we in our prayers? We pray for our friends and family and the friends of friends and perhaps the acquaintances of friends and our coworkers and their friends and family. Do we pray for those we dislike? Do we pray for those we despise? Or do we just write some people off as being evil and dismiss them from our prayers all together? Should those “evil people” be at the top of our list to pray for or are we right to leave them off?
There is an old Irish blessing that includes those we don’t like…or rather those that don’t like us. “May those who love us, love us; and those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts; and if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles so we’ll know them by their limping.” It takes a great deal of faith to pray for those we consider to be evil and yet, they are the very ones that need our hospitality.
What about leadership in our praying? We have all said a prayer that included the desired outcome. I am not smart enough to tell you if that is correct or not. I try to pray “Thy will be done” but I do admit that at times, I want to know what that will is. It might just be that the best outcome is not what I want. Can I truly be a real leader in my own prayer life to let that happen? Am I really that faithful?
I will leave you to ponder your own skillset when it comes to prayer. In closing, I will give you another Irish blessing. “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going, and the insight to know when you have gone too far.” This is a prayer I can pray for everyone…and feel good about it afterwards – a prayer that is hospitable to other people and myself.
Life needs more hospitality, more relationships than solo acts, and more motivations than condemnations. In our daily living and in our prayers, we need to focus more on how we make people feel than in how we feel, in extending grace to others rather than be concerned with just our own feelings and image.
I close with the most hospitable prayer and gift of written grace that I know: “May God give you…For every storm a rainbow, for every tear a smile, for every care a promise, and a blessing in each trial. For every problem life sends, a faithful friend to share, for every sigh a sweet song, and an answer for each prayer.”