I know that leaders today are faced with enormous challenges, most of them not of their own doing. As times grow more chaotic, as people question the meaning (and meaninglessness) of this life, people are clamouring for their leaders to save and rescue them…. People press their leaders to do anything to end the uncertainty, to make things better, to create stability. Even leaders who would never want to become dictators, those devoted to servant leadership, walk into this trap. They want to help, so they exert more control over the disorder. They try to create safety, to insulate people from the realities of change. They try to give answers to dilemnas that have no answers.
Today is the inauguration of Pope Francis’s papacy. We pray for him. This quote on the temptations and spirituality of leadership in times of chaos (all times) is from Meg Wheatley’s Finding our Way. It struck me as helpful on a day when many will be thinking through issues of leadership.
Thanks to Simon Marsh for posting Sparkling Waters. As he says, “a little pure joy for the eyes and ears.” My own reflection, my play on the water, is filtered through questions of those who feel in the doldrums and those who can’t be still.
Only becalmed to the senseless, the dead.
Gimme a man after midnight. Today we are given such a man as our liturgical calendar encourages us to celebrate and embrace the life of Saint John of the Cross. Through his writings he speaks to us of things we often deny and of which we are so frightened that we don’t even go there. For Thomas Merton, St John of the Cross is the Father of all those whose prayer is an undefined isolation outside the boundary of “spirituality”. His poem Dark Night of the Soul describes the purification of the senses and the spirit on the journey to union with God. The phrase dark night of the soul is used to describe the experience which many know by the name of Depression, in which all that has supported our lives loses its value and meaning, in which we aren’t so much as letting go of things, as things have let go of us and we are left with barely so much as a thread to hold on to. His example is encouragement for us to not be frightened of chaos and the abyss.
Western culture has been frightened of chaos, and anything which isn’t predictable and stable. We have preferred to think that people, information and change should all be managed and controlled. Even the dark night has been no dark night to us as we have controlled even that with our artificial light. I have been joining others in looking at chaos, and with them have been astounded by its order and beauty. Computers have helped us to model chaos’s behaviour, which in real time is, of course, unpredictable and chaotic. But the computer models help us to see that its behaviour is orderly and within boundaries.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice that speaks from the other side of chaos is a powerful voice. That is the voice of leadership, the future beckoning us. St John of the Cross lived through his dark night, and the voice of his experience of that night is a powerful voice. So is the voice of the likes of Nelson Mandela. So is the Word of God which only shines in darkness.
Gimme a man after midnight – one who has had the courage to embrace chaos, to hear its voices and not be afraid of its ambiguities and uncertainty, one who is able to speak from his experience of darkness. With him there is the promise of a new day with its possibilities and potential. Otherwise there is just the tiredness of the old day and our refusals to put our old certainties to bed.
Gimme a man after midnight. The voice of St John of the Cross is a companionable voice to all those who have lost themselves in that awful place of darkness which we call the Abyss or Chaos, and from which there seems no way out.
The striking of a match is every bit as wonderful as the working of a brain; the union of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen in a molecule of water isevery bit as wonderful as the growth of a child. nature does not class her works in order of merit; everything is just as easy to her as everything else: she puts her wholemind into all that she does … she lives through all life, extends throaugh all extent, spreads undivided, operates unspent.