Retreat: Spiritual Practices for Your Work Life

Retreat: Spiritual Practices for Your Work LifePlease let us know if you are interested in hosting or attending one of a series of retreats we call Spiritual Practices for Your Work Life.  It has been a couple of years since our last series, and we are putting together a new version.

In these retreats we expose the participants to a number of spiritual practices that can help them in their work life.  We also provide some time for small group discussion and individual reflection, and in general help people see how their faith and spirituality can inform and support their daily work.  Participants are provided with a binder describing a large number of practices that can help them in their work, including several very quick practices for difficult situations where there seems to be no time for spiritual practices.

This coming Winter and Spring we plan to launch a new series of these retreats in Southern California and maybe beyond.  If you think your church or organization might be interested in hosting a retreat, or if you would like to be notified of the next retreat so that you can consider participating, please send us an email.

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Business as a Creative, Value Producing Process

business as creative processMost people work in the private sector, and specifically for a business enterprise of some sort. When we think about workplace renewal, we should consider issues pertaining to work within business enterprises.

To be clear, when we speak of business we mean the creative process that is for the purpose of producing and delivering products and services that can be profitably exchanged with others in the marketplace.  This is quite different from, for example, using political or family influence with governments to control resources and capture subsidies, or using social coercion to maintain a privileged economic position. It is business enterprise in the creative, value producing sense that has enabled people to find their way out of poverty and to generally improve their conditions.

We see four key points that need to be made in this regard. Each has at least an indirect impact on the possibility of workplace spiritual renewal in that they effective the vibrancy of the workplace and work culture and the attitude with which we approach our work lives.

1) Appreciating the value of work, especially that done within enterprises.

We believe that it is important for people to develop an appreciation for the work that they are doing, especially from a spiritual or theological perspective. To assist with this, we invite the reader to explore the Your Work as a Calling and the Markets, Enterprise, and Poverty pages.

2) The importance of economic freedom for human flourishing.

We will leave it to others to make the case for economic freedom as a cornerstone for economic well being for most people. We think the issue involves more than prosperity. Economic and other forms of freedom tend to enable people to live fuller, more satisfying lives as they are allowed to pursue their personal goals and let their creative potential flower.

3) The contribution of moral values to collaborative relationships.

Success in business and most other vocations relies heavily on collaboration and on strong collaborative relationships, which in turn depend on strong moral values. People do not want to work with people who they cannot trust; it is hard to form good working relationships if there is not at least some mutual goo will. Moreover, courage, patience, and other hard earned values contribute to the effectiveness of working relationships.

4) Entrepreneurship as a key social justice issue.

One of the tragedies of our time is represented by the restrictions (often well meaning) placed on would be entrepreneurs among the poor and the unemployed. There are many potential businesses that have been placed off limits to the small entrepreneur by regulations and other restrictions. In the face systemic unemployment and economic stagnation,  government policies have made it harder for people to support themselves independently of the state and the corporations. For examples, we refer the reader to the work done by the Institute for Justice.

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A Theology of Entrepreneurship

theology of entrepreneurship lgThe Entrepreneurial Calling: Perspectives from Rahner by the late William J. Toth of Seton Hall is an extraordinary theological reflection on the entrepreneurial vocation and the deeper significance of the entrepreneur’s hope, risk, and service to others. It was originally published as a chapter in Business as a Calling: Interdisciplinary Essays on the Meaning of Business from the Catholic Social Tradition (ed:Michael Naughton and Stephanie Rumpza).

A central concept for Toth was that of “providential love.”  This concept combines the idea of looking forward and anticipating the future with a desire to create something of value for others.  The entrepreneur demonstrates providential love when he or she looks forward, anticipates the future needs of others, and takes risks based on what he or she thinks will be the response of others.  The entrepreneur intends to create part of the future, but at the same time recognizes that success or failure will be determined by others who are free to accept or reject the offer made by the entrepreneur.   The entrepreneurial response to this dependency on the free decisions of others is not to draw back and conserve wealth, but rather to proceed with persistence and a willingness to change, trusting that the world is (or eventually will be) open to the creative change offered by the entrepreneur.

From the perspective of a practicing entrepreneur, an obvious objection is that on most days our work seems more mundane than Toth’s description.   Yes, we try to develop products and services that others will find worthwhile, and often need to invest and sacrifice before we see the response, but in the moment the work itself does not feel especially theological.

But that is beside the point.  A theology of vocation needs to project a vision that identifies the deeper meaning of what we are doing so that we can begin to see the sacred, and its potential realization, in our day-to-day work lives.  There is a deeper reality behind the mundane details of our work; Toth’s article helps us to see this reality and the deeper meaning of our entrepreneurial activities.

Toth’s chapter is available from the publisher for download here; we recommend it.

Also available: C.F.E. Chairman Rob Tribken wrote an article reviewing and commenting on the above chapter by William Toth that was originally published in the online Field Notes Magazine published by the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. (Article)

(Some of this post was borrowed and adapted from the article by Tribken)

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Audio Meditations for the Church

Over the last couple of years, CFE Chairman Rob Tribken and friends have put together audio meditations designed for particular seasons — Advent, Lent, Holy Week, and Pentecost.  Each recording is based on a passage of scripture, and is desiAdvent concept for bloggned to be a starting point for the listeners own meditation and prayer.

Our plan is to expand these to other seasons, eventually covering the entire year, and to make them available to churches for use by their congregations. To this end, we would like to find a handful of churches who would like to experiment with these (for free) and provide us with feedback.  If you think you might be interested, please send us an email so that we can discuss.

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Hank Paulson on Prayer

Henry_Paulson_official_Treasury_photo,_2006Former Secretary of the Treasury Hank Paulson wrote a spell binding memoir of his experience during the financial crisis of 2008.  Much of it deals with the day to day effort to prevent a complete financial system meltdown, but one passage in particular deals with the role of prayer.  After weeks of exhausting work and little sleep, there came a point where Paulson and his colleagues had done everything they could and still faced the possibility of catastrophe triggered by the impending failure of Lehman Brothers.

And then, as told in the middle of a book about the financial system, Paulson telephones his wife and has this exchange:

“What if the system collapses?” I asked her. “Everybody is looking to me, and I don’t have the answer. I am really scared.”

“You needn’t be afraid,” Wendy said. “Your job is to reflect God, infinite  Mind, and you can rely on Him.”

I asked her to pray for me, and for the country, and to help me cope with this sudden onslaught of fear. She immediately quoted from the Second Book of Timothy, verse 1:7—“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”

The verse was a favorite of both of ours. I found it comforting and felt my strength come back with this reassurance. With great gratitude, I was able to return to the business at hand. I called Josh Bolten and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to alert them that Lehman would file for bankruptcy that evening.

(Paulson, Henry M. (2010-01-14). On the Brink: Inside the Race to Stop the Collapse of the Global Financial System (Kindle Locations 3407-3413). Hachette Book Group. Kindle Edition.)

At some point the act of letting go and accepting whatever comes can be liberating and refreshing.

People can agree or disagree with the actions Paulson took to resolve the crisis.  But here we have a lesson that I think transcends the policy issue — at times we have to turn to God for strength, wisdom, and renewal.  It is not so much that God fixes the problem for us, at least in my opinion, but rather that the act of recognizing and perhaps connecting with the greater reality of God can provide us with the renewed strength and resilience needed to do our best.

Reading between the lines, I suspect we should be very grateful for Wendy Paulson’s role as spiritual advisor.


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Spirituality and the State of Flow

As we think about healthy, productive, and fulfilling work, Mihaly Csikszentmihali’s concept of flow comes to mind.  Flow (sometimes referred to as “being in the zone”) is not often thought of as spiritual but there is a potential relationship that is worth exploring, and in any case the concept has a lot to say about human flourishing and growth.

State of Flow -- Sailing Imagery

Csikszentmihali described the concept of flow as:

“. . . a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to absolute absorption in an activity. Everyone experiences flow from time to time and will recognize its characteristics: people typically feel strong, alert, in effortless control, unselfconscious, and at the peak of their abilities. Both a sense of time and emotional problems seem to disappear, and there is an exhilarating feeling of transcendence.”[i]

Characteristics of Flow

When we are in a state of flow, we are fully engaged with the task, working at peak effectiveness, and not coincidentally experiencing something of a feeling of joy.  According to Csikszentmihali such experiences typically involve most, and sometimes all, of the following characteristics:[ii]

  • The individual believes that the task is worth doing (i.e. it has meaning and significance).
  • There is a good fit between the challenges of the task and the skills of the individual; there needs to be enough challenge to require the full attention of the participant and to allow the development of a sense of mastery, but not so much that the person becomes frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • Full attention is given to the task, resulting in a temporary merging of action and awareness; no attention is available for distractions such as anxieties about job performance or security.
  • The task has clear goals and feedback that provide a structure and a basis for knowing whether or not one has succeeded in performing the task.
  • The sense of time can be altered.
  • The subject experiences a sense of joy as self consciousness recedes and he or she becomes absorbed in the task.

Ordered Consciousness

The key to attaining a state of flow is the control of attention:

“They are situations in which attention can be freely invested to achieve a person’s goals, because there is no disorder to straighten out, no threat for the self to defend itself against.”[iii] 

Csikszentmihalyi speaks of disordered versus ordered consciousness.  A disordered consciousness is one in which the mind is pulled involuntarily in unwanted directions, often by fears, anxieties, resentments, and other forms of painful dysphoria.  An ordered consciousness on the other hand involves developing the capability to focus attention on the most appropriate areas while letting go of the various dysfunctional distractions.  Csikszentmihalyi believes that ordered consciousness is more likely to result in human happiness.

Imagine, then, if we could spend much more of our work time in a state of flow.  We would be fully engaged, focused, energized, free of distractions, operating at peak effectiveness, and would probably be experiencing a sense of joy and satisfaction in our work.  We would also be completing our work in less time, giving us extra time for our spiritual practices and other activities.

Is there a spiritual or religious connection?

And so what is the relationship of flow to our faith and spirituality?  As a practical matter I think there are several possible points of contact:

1)   Spiritual practices can help us move in the direction of the state of flow.  Being able to focus on the task at hand, letting go of distractions, and working in a more relaxed state (or at least less tense) are all possible benefits from spiritual practices.  To develop a deeper sense of mission through our prayer and meditation, and then to execute this mission as we move outward into the world – has to enhance our abilities in this regard.

2)   To the extent that our faith helps us develop virtues that apply in the workplace (n particular patience, humility, compassion, equanimity, transparency), we are less likely to be burdened by the distractions of resentment, anger, fear, pride, and excessive self concern, thereby helping us to engage in the task at hand.

3)   Knowing and accepting who we are in a deeper sense also helps us to eliminate the distractions; faith helps provide this meaning.

I wonder also if the state of flow might be inherently spiritual.  It seems to represent a state of being fully engaged, fully conscious.  And it is an engagement that is neither obsessive nor enslaving; Csikszentmihali observes that people who are able to enter a state of flow are also better able to leave their work behind when it is time to stop.  Does this have spiritual implications?  I think maybe it does.

[i]. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. . Global LearningCommunities (2000).

[ii]. Csikszentmihalyi  (2008/1990). Pp. 48ff.

[iii]. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008/1990). P. 40.

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Recorded Meditations for Advent

picture of dawnWe have issued a new set of audio meditations designed to be a springboard for you own meditations. They are available at our sister site: sacred One will be issued for each week of advent. If you would like to receive an email notification when a new recording is posted, please subscribe at that site.

We believe that Advent should be a time of waiting. It is too easy to get caught up in the Christmas celebrations, including those at our churches, in a way that encourages us to miss the significance and spiritual value of the season of Advent waiting. It might not be practical to ignore all the seasonal activity, but we can at least take a few minutes out each day to remind ourselves of the meaning of Advent as a time of preparation. These recordings are designed to help us do this.

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Wednesday Evening Prayer and Meditation Service

If you are in the Pasadena (California), La Canada, and Glendale area, you might be interested in a Prayer and Meditation Service we are conducting on Wednesday evenings, 6:15 to 7:00pm.  If you are not in the area but might be interested in conducting something like this yourself, please send me an email ( and I will be happy to give you more information.

The series is an opportunity for people to turn their attention towards God and perhaps experience a sense of spiritual renewal and refreshment in the middle of the busy work week. It involves some sacred music, the reading of a passage of scripture, and a chance to enjoy the silence of meditative prayer.  There are no sermons, lectures, or theological arguments.  Attendees are not required to speak and can certainly remain anonymous if they choose to do so.

The series will last through November 18, and then be continued next year.  The location is the Cook Prayer Chapel at the south end of La Canada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Canada, CA 91011.  The time is 6:15 to 7:00 pm, but the room is opened and the music begins at 6:00.

Come as you are, when you are able.

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Leaders in Crisis and the Value of Theological Resources

Photo of leader thinkingNo one can predict the future, but we seem to be moving into a period of crisis that will put unusual burdens on leaders.  Cultural and institutional changes (and in many cases failure) will call for leaders grounded in a broader, deeper perspective.  Our institutions of faith and spirituality could play an important role in helping us prepare for this future.

The reader can pick his or her most likely scenarios for the future. Mine reflect the insolvency of major governments and with it sovereign debt default, currency fluctuation, and the painful end of the entitlement state; social strife, both domestic and foreign; the loss of credibility by many of our cultural elites and institutions; and the results of the corruption of our political class and their cronies and enablers. War, technological breakthroughs, or other unforeseen events could easily create new and greater stresses.

Some readers will reject aspects of my scenarios, but most of us can agree on at least one point — that our organizations, whether public or private, will experience a degree of crisis and restructuring not seen in many decades. The challenge of leadership, and the social cost of ineffective leadership (as we are seeing), will be magnified. This could put all aspects of leadership at risk; to be successful, leaders will need to find a way to act with wisdom and courage in the face of fear and uncertainty, maintain and reinforce moral and relational values despite the temptations to do otherwise, and provide hope and meaning to potentially dispirited organizations.

Resources of Faith and Spirituality

The rich resources of our faith and our faith institutions can help us develop the depth of perspective, character, and equanimity necessary to function effectively in the midst of crisis.  I would include in these resources the following:

  • Spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation can help us turn our attention to God and over time develop a deeper sense of mission and purpose.  They can energize and focus our work, help us work with a greater sense of purpose and effectiveness, and in times of crisis calm our anxieties and help us stay focused.   It is important for leaders to develop some sort of regular practice of silence and theological reflection that suits their predispositions and circumstances and helps them connect with the greater reality.
  • Theology can provide a broader, deeper perspective that transcends our current difficulties.  By its nature theology directs our attention towards God and transcendent reality and reminds us of who we really are.  Having a sense that there is indeed a reality beyond the current crisis can play a key role in helping us stay calm and make good decisions.
  • Faith can help us develop what we think of as character.  Contrary to what we might hear sometimes, effectiveness in business and most other fields usually depends heavily on collaboration.  The values usually promoted by the church (and by most other religions) are key to collaborative relationships. Honesty and good will, courage, equanimity and humility are all important in the workplace – especially in times of crisis — and are all virtues promoted and encouraged by our faith and by our faith institutions.
  • Our faith can help us find meaning and purpose in our lives and in the current crisis. Faith and theology are to a large extent a meaning making enterprise; discerning the deeper meaning in a crisis can help us find the strength to persevere and the wisdom to act with clarity.

The Role of Religious Institutions

Churches, seminaries, and other religious entities can obviously help us in this, if they chose to do so.  They can offer opportunities to engage in spiritual practices (especially contemplative practices, in my view) as preparation for action.   They can help us develop a transcendent perspective that supplies meaning to our active work.  And they can help us see the positive, practical value of what we think of as the traditional virtues such as courage, honesty, patience, and compassion.

Religious institutions themselves are not always well led, and religious leaders have certainly offered opinions regarding the direction of society that turned out to be tragically wrong.  Nevertheless, when it comes to their most important function – helping people encounter the sacred, find deeper meaning, act with compassion, and develop character, they can play a uniquely valuable role in developing leaders who act with wisdom and effectiveness.

Lessons from the Bible

Informing and supporting practical leadership is a more natural function for churches and seminaries than might be initially apparent. The Bible after all is full of stories and insights about leadership, many of which were developed during times of extreme crisis. Think of the great Elija in the wilderness finding strength and courage in the face of exhaustion and fear; of the virtuous David becoming a powerful leader, committing great sin, and finally groping his way forward towards redemption; or of Ezra, Nehemiah and the later Isaiah leading their people through the challenges of rebuilding a ruined civilization.

Or think of Jesus facing the ultimate existential crisis and in the process launching his previously fickle followers on a radically new course.

Successfully meeting the oncoming challenges of crisis and uncertainty will require deeply grounded leaders. How our theological institutions respond to this challenge will be important.

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Spiritual Intelligence: Does it exist?

painting of colorful head

spiritual intelligence

I ran across an article written in 2000 by psychologist Robert Emmons that is well worth considering (I wish I had seen it earlier).  Emmons raises the possibility that spirituality might be considered a form of intelligence consisting of five components (I am quoting Emmons):

a)    The capacity for transcendence.

b)   The ability to enter into heightened states of consciousness.

c)    The ability to invest everyday activities, events, and relationships with a sense of the sacred.

d)   The ability to utilize spiritual resources to solve problems in living.

e)    The capacity to engage in virtuous behavior (to show forgiveness, to express gratitude, to be humble, to display compassion).

Emmons makes it clear that he is not implying that spirituality is only for problem solving or for negotiating daily life, or that it can be reduced to nothing more than a “set of cognitive abilities and capacities.”  Nor is he saying that there is not a supernatural or transcendent reality beyond our spiritual intelligence.

Emmons article provoked a debate regarding whether or not spirituality can indeed be considered a form of intelligence (Emmons himself noted that he was proposing the idea for consideration only).  Most of the discussion was technical in nature, revolving around the technical definitions of intelligence and whether Emmons’ spiritual intelligence qualifies.  We can leave that debate for others.

The Value of Spiritual Intelligence

The value of Emmons’ framework, in my view, is that it provides an additional and  very useful lens through which to view spirituality and especially spiritual formation.  There are other useful lenses we can use, of course, but this one might give us a clearer view of the internal changes we would like to bring about as we engage in deliberate spiritual formation activities.  I think the lens can also help us avoid focusing on one aspect spiritual formation to the exclusion of others (virtue as one example, prayer life as another).

Instead of focusing on a program of spiritual formation with very a generalized or abstract goal, Emmons’ list gives us some very specific things to consider.  How might we develop our capacity for transcendence — maybe prayer, worship, contemplative practices? How might we develop our ability to sanctify aspects of our daily life — perhaps scripture combined with small group reflection?   How might we develop our capacity for virtuous behavior?

There is much value in this.  To quote Emmons again:

Spiritual intelligence suggests new domains of intelligent action in the world.  Abilities in the spiritual realm are a significant aspect of what it means to be an intelligent, rational, and purposeful human being, striving to align one’s life with the Ultimate.

I would add that spirituality involves who we are as humans and how we hope to relate to the sacred and to each other.  Emmons’ spiritual intelligence lens has the potential to help us develop our capabilities in both respects.

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