Monday, January 18, 2010

The Business of Spirituality


I can remember days when the simplest thing would set me to praise— sparrows alighting on forsythia, a certain slant of light beyond the roof. Too, I've had those moments when nothing seemed to penetrate; the most spectacular sunset only served to highlight a sinking feeling that had followed me through days or weeks. Worst of all, I've sat and watched the trees swing in the wind, my own spirit plagued by failure or disappointment over the world's tragedies, and I've wondered, "God, are you even there? Or is life just meaningless, something tossed about the way maple, pine and hemlock are just now flipping in the air?"

Most of us would recognize the first state of attentiveness and responsiveness as spiritual, vital. The latter two, we're not so sure.

Last week I started reading The Next Level, by James B. Wood, and I found comfort in the S-curve. Notes Wood, "The point of the S-curve is that growth is cyclical. Each period of growth is inevitably interrupted by a break, causing one curve to end and another to begin. The factors that contributed to a company's ascending the first curve are not the same ones required for it to climb the second curve. The first curve, if continued, will eventually lead to stagnation, deterioration, and ultimately death. Regardless of the amount of effort applied, the path of the original curve eventually peaks and declines. One cannot get from one level to the next by continuing on the same path."

We should not be surprised that when one curve begins to drop, "the growth of the next, and the void in between are focal points for tremendous personal and company stress."

I find this information comforting, because it suggests that conflict and despair can be signs of growth, in the sense that we're about to enter a new level, and thus are experiencing a requisite period of struggle. It also sets into question 1-2-3 formulas for spiritual growth— especially the thought that if you just keep trying, stay faithful to a particular mode of spiritual practice, all will eventually be well.

At least in the arena of business, Wood suggests we get to "the next level" by "generating new actions, adaptations and behaviors. A transformation, or reinvention, is necessary for survival." Perhaps this is true of spiritual life as well.

Lighthouse Window photo, by L.L. Barkat.

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Anonymous Eric said...

Right thing the right time...

I believe that you are correct in saying that this may (in my opinion, is) true in our spiritual lives as well. In reflecting on the past year, 5 years, 10 years, I can see where curves and began and ended as I passed through various stages of life. Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Stephanie Wetzel said...

I think you're onto something. Once in a gathering our worship pastor talked about "digging a new well."

His premise was that our spiritual disciplines are like a well that we dig to reach living water. But it's normal for a well to eventually run dry. So many of us keep trying to get water from the old well, sad that what always worked before no longer does. He said that sometimes digging a new well (like focusing on Scripture reading when worship music doesn't seem to speak to you as much) can be very healthy.

I think this also goes along with God's resistance to being part of a secret formula. We humans crave formulas, but we can end up worshiping the formula more than the God we're trying to connect with.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Kelly Sauer said...

I had a friend who suggested this idea to me years ago. It has been such a comfort. We may not always remember our dust, but He does, and that in itself is reason for praise. Wonderfully expressed.

LOVE the photo. It quite stole the post.

11:54 AM  
Blogger Glynn said...

I'm always wary of applying business principles to faith and church, but I think there's a lot of truth here. In business, what's seldom recognized is that a company's greatest strengths also have a flip side -- and can be the greatest weaknesses as well. Another way to say it -- the factors that lead to success can also lead to failure, especially when a company (like a person) takes all the credit for the success. That can be a "blinding" process -- blinding you to reality. Think Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the banks on subprime mortgages.

This applies far beyond business, of course.

To paraphrase Flannery O'Connor, God sometimes has to shout because we're too hard of hearing or draw huge pictures and caricatures because we can't (or won't) see. The early church faced persecution (after Stephen's speech) -- and it got them out of Jerusalem and allowed the church to grow in totally unexpected ways and directions.

What we think of personal setbacks or failures can also be seen as God teaching us in different ways and/or leading us in different directions. A career upset, for example, might lead someone into reading and writing poetry, or some unrelated endeavor that never would happened otherwise.

12:20 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Good connection, LL.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Bina said...

Perfect timing for such encouragement... Thanks, sweet friend. You brought an upturn to my lips today...


12:46 PM  
Blogger Kathleen Overby said...

When I was a baby, I thought God caught the sparrow when it fell, but everything changed when I read, God the sparrow when it fell. He noticed, he knew, he saw...and cares-deeply.

My faith changed from that screaming DO SOMETHING to deep faith for the ebb and flow of the tide, the curves stopping and starting. Finally, I lost that utter fear. Trusting in a different, better way. Trusting easier what's around the next curve

12:50 PM  
Blogger TAMI said...

I have lived the S-Curve over and over again. I've learned to find comfort within the more difficult seasons because of the dependability of movement ... no matter how slow.

Thanks for sharing.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

love love the photo.
and yes, I agree. It's not always pleasant, but still

and your poetry book arrived a few minutes ago, and I am so looking forward to later this evening when I can begin to turn the pages into my soul.

3:34 PM  
Anonymous Maureen said...

I agree.

I have been spending a lot of time with Joyce Rupp's "Open the Door" (I recommended it to Brad and others a while ago). I think it's a marvelous book.

Rupp uses the image of the door in wonderful ways to help us understand what it means to achieve in anything, but especially what it means to discover one's own "true" self and thus achieve spiritual growth. And now that I've written that, I think I would amend it by saying that understanding one's true self is a constantly rescheduled and remapped journey to achieving anything but, most particularly, spirituality.

The path or the journey to self can be long, even arduous. We can open the door to or shut it against what we learn from experience or what is offered up to us in the form of lessons .

Joan Chittister wrote in her "The Story of Ruth":
"Change points are those moments in life in which we get inside ourselves to find out that we are not, at the end, really one person at all. . . Every stage of life calls on a different dimension of the self. Every stage of life is another grace of being that teaches us something new about ourselves, that demands something sterner of ourselves, that enables us to learn something deeper about our God."

There are so many ways we have to look inside and learn about ourselves. Our work or how we conduct business is just one. And none, I think, is separable from another.

Thank you for beginning a really wonderful conversation, which I think I'm going to consider continuing in a blogpost. I will come back to read new comments.

3:48 PM  
Blogger Far Above Rubies said...

I'm happy you found comfort in reading the book. I love the picture.

Your thoughts are profound and deep, and our Maker knows them all. He is our Peace, breaking down every wall.

A new and fresh anointing is beyond the open door. The door we are all a bit afraid to walk through.

Thank you for sharing. You encouraged me. xox


3:58 PM  
Blogger Dianna Woolley said...

Great points you've brought out here for us. The "S" curve beginning and unending process being ultimately stagnation is an easy concept to picture and hold. Thanks for introducing me to this author and for your review.

6:10 PM  
Blogger Corinne Cunningham said...

I cannot get over that photo. Really, it's just breathtaking.
And the "S" curve is something I can wrap my brain around on this dreary night, and take a little comfort in, like one other commenter said, for the dependability of it. The ebs and flows.

8:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The s-curve, it is rarely yours alone following its path. Your s-curve moves alongside another's, occasionally moving in opposite directions. Or in organizations in transition there are a multiplicity of s-curves.

I look at those and wonder, growth that will move in so many directions, but in this moment feels disconnected and distant from what originally gave meaning. Will it come apart or come together? And how do we give one another what is needed inbetween?

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Bradley J. Moore said...

Good idea with a business application to spiritual life, LL. This S-curve could fit a lot of things in life, including spirituality, business, marriage... anything that grows will go through that innevitable transition period.

6:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

there sure are a lot of curves.

the photo is a wonderful capture of light and place.

2:59 PM  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Amen. Good thought to ponder.

12:12 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

This reminds me of St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul. When we flounder this way, I believe God is pulling us to HIm; saying, "Come closer, get rid of the distractions, and I will be there." It also reminds me of something Gerald May said in the Wisdom of the Wilderness. When he was at his worst in his illness, he said he could not feel God. He then said that sometimes he thinks that God can be so close to us that we cannot tell where we end and He begins.
This comforted me to think.

10:39 PM  
Blogger Michelle DeRusha said...

Just wanted to say hi and tell you I am excited to be the winner of your book, via Glynn's blog. Thank you! And it's nice to "meet" you.

P.S. I really like this metaphor of the S-curve. Definitely speaks to me and fits the ebb and flow of my faith.

10:20 PM  
Blogger Deidra said...

I just came back from lunch with a friend where we discussed the idea of doing things differently. Transformation. Adaptation. And then, I came home and read this. Very timely. Well said. Much needed. Something to consider and ponder.

3:01 PM  

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