When I look at enthusiasts, I marvel at their dedication to their craft. One friend spends time each day running and lifting weights so that he can ski like the wind. Another friend walks and thinks so that she can teach philosophy. One friend spends hours tinkering with recipes and cutting them from publications in his preparation for that evening opening of his restaurant with its new daily menu. Another friend runs and then uses the side of a building to practice lacrosse – dancing around as the ball moves from brick to stick-net – each throw refining hands and eyes, response and intuition. I have a friend who practices chess to prepare for a day of trading futures and another friend who uses yoga to maintain a dancer’s body and a poet’s mind. Hours each day are spent by people working hard to be great at things – to be “successful.”
What also makes me wonder is how little time and effort is set aside for the living of a “best day” while we work to do our “best work.”
What would our society or our diocese or our parish church or our prayer group be like if we all spent time each morning and evening perfecting the work of being great humans? What if I spent an hour here looking at kindness in my life? And then what if another hour were spent asking questions about how I am treating people? What if a half hour were spent reflecting on friendships – which ones need watering – which ones need to be plucked from the garden- which ones have borne recent and bountiful fruit and which ones are starving the other friendships by their narcissism or selfishness? Where have I been a good friend and where have I been reckless in my friendship-making or careless or unkind or neglectful?
What if I were to spend another 20 minutes asking myself about generosity in my life; and another hour with a friend over coffee asking where they see my blindspots – asking that great old question: “What do you see that you think I may not be able to see in my life?” Such a courageous, formative question to ask someone one trusts.
Examination (the traditional Christian, monastic term is “The Examen” is not something we do well in our culture. We race from one thing to the next, using our addictions to anesthetize the slightest pains, regrets or mistakes. We work ourselves to death to make what we think is impressive (and it may be – and it may not be) and then in our utter exhaustion we collapse in front of a box of light and let many shallow, often manipulative people tell us about ourselves through advertising. But very rarely to we keep the kind of Holy Silence which allows for mindfulness to teach us how to be great humans on a planet covered with vulnerable life. Listening to a 12 minute sermon may simply, not be enough.
I suppose, as I age and live out of having come so close to my own death, I am wondering what being a great ballerina or a great grocer, or a great priest or a great artist or a great business person or a great scholar means if time has not been set aside to do the hard work of being a great human.
What would the planet be like if our churches were less impressive, our meals less fantastic, our resumes less sparkling – and instead – every human on the plant spent an hour a day, in silence, in darkness, alone with a lit candle, doing for the day to come, spiritually, what an athlete does for the game ahead, physically? Of what value is a great liturgy or a smooth vestry meeting or an efficient staff meeting or an uneventful family dinner if unkindness, manipulation, posturing, bullying, greed, exaggeration, deception, dismissive arrogance, vapid charm, reckless over-work, mind-numbing prattle, self-obsessed posturing and unresolved repression run around un-checked like over-caffeinated toddlers running on too little sleep and too much chocolate? We are so careful to form children until they are adolescents and yet our own formation of ourselves as adults is left unchecked from day to day.
As I age, I am becoming aware that I do not long for leaders who do great work. I long for leaders who are great humans.