Wendy Miller was sharing her brilliance about guiding people as a spiritual director in her usual quiet way. Her words were thoughtful, considered, reaching for ways to express deep truths with clarity so that even a slow learner like me could begin to grasp what I need to know. The course for me was a little like Contemplative Leadership 101.
She was beginning a new two-year training in The Art of Supervision of Spiritual Directors and Contemplative Communities. Her guidance included times for presentation of information, but her intention was our spiritual formation. So she offered opportunity for bodily knowing, large group discernment, and small group sharing.
At one point in the initial training I was especially humbled. I have spent several years now wondering how to better offer guidance to our unfolding contemplative communities. I think I was imagining some new framework on which to structure our growth, or some format in which to envision our development. We have only been able to see about an inch in front of our faces from the beginning of the birthing of our spiritual communities. So I was kind of hoping something would emerge from the training that could help us see far ahead and sort of begin to know what should come next and how things might unfold.
It turns out God doesn’t do things according to the ways of humans. God doesn’t teach what we think we need to know, and God doesn’t lead as people lead. So in the developing art of spiritual leadership God’s message is clear: “My ways are not your ways,” says the LORD.
Perhaps then I should not have been so surprised when Wendy taught that a first principle of spiritual leadership is that you consider the lives of each group member and hold them in your heart as an act of prayer. That seems so simple a statement, and to some it might seem so obvious, kind of like, “Duhhh.” But I was embarrassed to realize that it had never occurred to me to begin by holding each person in my heart.
Wendy’s guidance, or God’s guidance through Wendy, is stunning in a way. It is so far from what a typical religious consultant or strategist might teach. There was nothing about creating an organization, shaping it, controlling it, or setting goals and intended outcomes. There was nothing about how to get results, i.e. how to subtly manipulate people to fit into our plans.
Leading from the heart is another way altogether. And since there is such a chasm between religious leadership to grow an institution and spiritual leadership to open our hearts, it is no wonder that Wendy started at the beginning like this: “Dude, hold them in your heart.” Okay, she didn’t say it quite that bluntly, but it felt blunt, like a truth I should’ve learned years ago. For a long time I have lifted people in prayer when a need arose, and often I have held others in my heart as our contemplative communities have formed and deepened in our connections. But I had never realized that holding each person in my heart was a first principle of leadership. I had never been that intentional.
So this weekend I began to be more intentional about this new way of “leading.” I began intentionally holding the people who attend the spiritual community known as Parker Memorial United Methodist Church in my heart. I made a list of all the participants in the twelve weekly groups of our School for Contemplative Living and held each one of them. Just now I am remembering that there is a diverse collection of people who attend our monthly workshops, and as I am able to remember names I intend to hold them too.
In one way my new learning is like being a true parent. Where does the art of parenting begin? You hold them in your heart. So to all the newbies out there who are seeking to offer contemplative leadership, (or true parenting), join me at the beginning. Look into the lives of each of your people and hold them in your heart. Perhaps a gate of heaven will open before us all.
For more stories like this see Monks in the World: Seeking God in a Frantic Culture.