Drawing on the Quakers: Practicing Clearness Committee

Image from UCC: 7 Steps to Discerning Your Vocation

by Melissa Borgmann-KiemdeVisitation Companion

“Many of us are drawn to this way of listening and leading in the midst of complex, diverse settings–and we hunger to do it with more integrity and in more connection with others on this path.” – Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century

It’s a Sunday afternoon in April, and I am with a group of thirty or so other women and men in the Carondelet Center – a retreat space of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Paul. We are convened for a workshop entitled, “Spirit-Led Leadership: Contemplative Leadership for the 21st Century.” I am grateful to be one among many, joined by several Visitation Sisters and Companion friends. We are leaders; we are contemplative-sorts; we aspire to be Spirit-led. We are here to practice and grow in our abilities to tune in and take our next steps, listening to the Divine, for the benefit of our communities.

“There is a way of leading that trusts that an invisible force, much larger than our own will, is seeking to work through us individually and together. This force moves toward wholeness and is actively seeking to be in relationship with us. Through stillness, discernment, and reflective action it is possible to move in close connection with this force–in business, in social change, and personally.” – From Spirit-Led Leadership

On this day, we are led by Margaret Benefiel and Michael Bischoff. It was Sr. Suzanne Homeyer, VHM who circulated the invitation amongst our Companions, and my recent experience under Michael’s leadership at a Social Innovation Lab event, that catalyzed my limbs. Yes! I will go! Yes! This will be helpful!

To this day, I am drawing on the experiences of that afternoon in almost every conscious working, waking, moment.

“How can I listen well? How can I know with a sense of peace and freedom what it means to choose wisely, powerfully, and take my next step?”

Clearness Committee Experience

After introductions, and a grounding in the theory behind this kind of work, our room of thirty plus individuals divided into triads, and Margaret led us through a practice the Quakers call a “Clearness Committee.”

Through quiet and meditation, we identified our root sources, the strength of our being, the Spirit’s presence, and recognized our safety in this circle.

The protocol for this experience was clearly stated and posted. As participants, we simply listened to the instructions, and were free then to tune in, quietly, to all stirring and movement up within ourselves and inside our groups.

  1. We began with a minute of silence, holding the first of our three group members in our hearts, focusing on them, the circumstances they were about to describe for our triad.
  2. We listened intently for three minutes to presenter number one. Without interruption, we tuned into their words and what we felt their heart to be saying.
  3. We had an opportunity to then pose simple, clarifying questions.
  4. We returned to quiet and prayer, holding the focus person and the circumstances in our heart, cherishing the person and the gifts he or she brings to the world.
  5. After another sixty seconds, we took turns giving voice to the information surfacing in our own hearts. We echoed back statements of the speaker. We paraphrased with as much integrity as possible their circumstances. We communicated that they had been heard. We put words to the questions that bubbled up in our hearts and minds — with the goal of helping the focus person get in touch with their own deep wisdom.  The speaker-leader-discerner just listened. During this time, one of us took notes for the presenter to review later.
  6. Before our last movement of the clearness committee, we paused again, bowing our heads, or closing our eyes, to honor the sacredness of this time.
  7. As a closing to the 25 minute clearness committee discernment activity, the speaker was invited to share which form of closing they desired. A prayer? A song? A dance? More silence?

***

I invite you into this experience today. Seek out a circle. Claim the quiet. Recognize the Spirit at work in your life — leading, nudging, loving you.

 

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For more information on Quaker Clearness Committee:
The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach To Discernment
by Parker J. Palmer

Christ: The Social Innovator – A Meditation for this Advent Season

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

Nativity Scene by G Cuffia

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“..and she gave birth to her firstborn son. 3 She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”  Luke 2:7

And Advent is upon us! As I make my way into this first week of the holy season, these images return to me: a teenage Mary who is pregnant; a radiant angel with big news; a baffled bachelor named Joseph;  doors closing at the hands of (perhaps unapologetic) innkeepers; a bright star overhead; and a blanketed olive-skinned babe laying atop a bed of straw. And I marvel on the historic narrative informing this Advent season. This is a tale of woe and wonder. It’s a tale of adversity and mystery. It’s a tale of ache and awesomeness. It’s a tale that at its core, lays bare a God who chooses to come to us in this frail human form: as a child born into poverty, squalor and strife. I think, “This Incarnation is something to behold.”

***

On Tuesday, December 4, 2012, Sr. Katherine and I attended a leadership event at Macalester College sponsored by InCommons – Supporting the Courage to Lead. The “Social Innovation Lab” as this event was referred to, was on “Vulnerability as a Resource for Innovation.” Visitation Companion, director of St. Jane house and northside community leader Brian Mogren invited us to attend this event organized by a former Visitation Neighbor, Michael Bischoff.  It was a perfect sort of Advent experience.

As the room of 120 or so participants convened, we were invited to reflect on a time when we had led from a place of vulnerability.

Q: What do we mean by vulnerability?
A: Uncertainty, risk, transparency, and openness to diverse perspectives.

A goal for our gathering was to help shift the dominant view of “judging vulnerability as weakness to valuing vulnerability as a positive resource that takes strength and courage.”

Okay.

My thoughts went immediately to Christ. To Mary. To Joseph. To the cast of characters that make up the gospel story of Jesus’ birth. I thought, “How many of Jesus’ encounters depicted in scripture are about a person who leads from vulnerability?” I took a breathe and then considered, “What is God inviting us to do today and everyday?”

Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.

There are some very important disclaimers to make about vulnerability. First of all, it’s something we must choose if we are seeking to lead from this place. Discerning a step into uncertainty, taking a risk, being transparent in our motivations and situation, and opening ourselves to diverse perspectives is a radical step — one demonstrated to us continually by God’s human son.  It’s a space of incredible privilege, however, to elect to see vulnerability as a gift and to act on it.  This is my second disclaimer: To have power wielded over us that renders us vulnerable, or to be in deep crisis,  instability or mentally unwell and be invited to lead, is not what the conference leaders meant by their invitation; and I would assert is not what Christ meant through his humble example as servant leader and as the son of God.

***

What is your story of vulnerability? How do you seek to align yourself with the swaddled babe or the teenage mom or the baffled boyfriend-turned-father who are all homeless? How are you choosing uncertainty, risk, transparency and openness this Advent Season?

Blessings as you meditate and respond.