We need to be teaching church leaders about self-care, he said.
And part of me was like, well, duh! Because I thought he was stating the obvious. And I think that, because of how I have postured my teaching on leadership, my students would have thought the same.
Except then I realised that perhaps it wasn’t so obvious. Because it hadn’t been part of his education in ecclesial leadership many years ago in the same institution. And because, looking at many of the ecclesial leaders I know, I would have to conclude that in many training institutions it is still not (enough?) part of the syllabus.
We need to be teaching church leaders about self-care, he said. And I realised, too, that it is more than self-care that I want to teach. Self-care, in fact, is only a symptom of the greater reality, a tapestry quietly woven across my teaching and my research when I wasn’t looking.
That tapestry woven unawares has weft of ecclesial leadership upon warp of spirituality. Over and under, under and over these cords are tangled. Spirituality holds in place, tension on my frame, whilst yarn of leadership weaves rhythmically between the threads.
And I knew from age 19 that my weft would be leadership. I saw its spools, startling bright colours, blends and contrasts, just waiting for my hand. It gave me the role of college Christian Union rep, my gender (and possibly some other undisclosed theological reasoning?) precluding any other language. It led me to join in birthing a church aged 25. It buoyed me to receive the charge of its care aged 28. It drew me to the project which nearly killed me, the one involving divine commission and piling up of words until tapestry’s blueprint became alive in my imagination.
Yes, leadership has been my weft and, thanks to the words thing and the years of practice thing, it is allegedly(!) my expertise.
But it is as I have woven, over and under, under and over, that I have learned to appreciate the warp. In practice and in academic, I have seen the same. For tapestry’s strength and beauty depends not only on spools of leadership, movements of influence outward, but also on weight and tension of its warp by which I am held to God and he to me.
What you see in tapestry is the weft, its pretty colours catching the eye. But if warp were to fail under its tension, tapestry would fall apart. And so though I attend to the weaving thread, check its integrity, match its colour to tapestry blueprint, so also I attend to the warp. Now, warp in its frame depends always first on him. His gift, his initiative. His is the loving gaze which holds me and, yes, warp depends on him. But still the demand for my response is real. Paradoxically, perhaps, my enjoyment of the gaze, participation in it, depends also on me.
So I engage in practices of self-care because they clear the obstacles obscuring my view of his gaze upon me. And, too, I engage in more expansive practices of waiting, of attending, of becoming recollected, because they quieten my heart until I can look upwards, see there his eyes upon me. And in that moment, as I see and as I say Yes to his gaze and the return of it, my warp becomes secure again. Fitted for the tension under which the frame must hold it, this warp is once again ready for weaving of ecclesial leadership threads in and out of my life, light and colour in a world of greys.
As you weave your tapestry of leadership, what are the spiritual practices that constitute its warp? How have these changed as the months and years have passed? What should be part of teaching in this area in the context of the theological and practical training of ministers and other Christian leaders?