Collaboration as a Quality of Contemplative Leadership

Article by Tilden Edwards

…learn this lesson from lute tambourine and trumpet

learn the harmony of the musicians

if one is playing a wrong note even among twenty

others will stray out of tune

don’t say what is the use of me alone being peaceful

when everyone is fighting

you’re not one

you’re a thousand

just light your lantern

since one live flame

is better than a thousand dead souls


At its heart, contemplative leadership is relational, rooted in prayerful attentiveness and open to the overflowing energies of the Loving Presence, moment by moment. Such relational leadership enlivens the creative and healing possibilities of our world.

This prayerful, open attentiveness, or what I call a “mind-in-heartedness,” is the key for me. Mind-in-heartedness enables listening and speaking from a stance of radical openness-openness to the larger Spirit that is pregnant with the wisdom we need.  That wisdom may not come in the form of a specific answer at a given time; it may come as a capacity for patience, or a need to look deeper and wider at the concern. It also may come in the form of a fresh sense of call, a new way forward, however risky or incomplete the proposal may seem.

Mind-in-heart presence relates to others heart-to-heart and not just conditioned mind and ego to conditioned mind and ego. We need to trust that when we are heart-to-heart the Spirit is collaborating with us together in uncovering a called-for discernment.  In that graced collaboration we find a mutual blending of God’s Spirit and our individual and collective spirits. That collaboration may well lead to a more sympathetic awareness of all those sentient beings who will be affected by our decision, which will help shape our discernment.

If we seek to bring a mind-in-heart way of being present in the various situations of our lives, we will likely manifest an authentically collaborative life and offer authentic collaborative leadership. We will be seeking to live from the heart’s awareness of interwoven human/earth/divine communion.  As we continually let go our identity with narrower forces in and around us, we participate in the ongoing way of kenosis. Kenosis is the compassionate, God-loving emptying of the little self, the way of the cross that Jesus lived and taught.

This self-emptying includes our desire to relinquish the competing forces of our own and others’ fears and idols. Such other forces can lead us to a different kind of collaboration: collaboration with fragmenting and willful powers. They lead us to keep “bad company.”  Because of such willful or confused competing forces, we need our contemplative practices and authentic spiritual community to help us stay in the self-emptying and Spirit-filling way of the spiritual heart. That way gives God’s Spirit room to flow through us for others, and to flow into us from others.

This process of emptying and filling is reflected in Anthony Rublev’s famous icon of the three angelic visitors to Abraham and Sarah.  Rublev follows a tradition of portraying the Biblical visitors to Abraham and Sarah as different modes of God’s being.  Here we see portrayed the divine inner collaboration, where each figure is seen emptying into another, while at the same time each figure is being filled by another. We see a circular, collaborative process of intimate emptying and filling. They are united heart to heart at the deepest level, yet each wears different clothing, a sign of their distinctiveness within the larger unity.  We see an intimate mutual indwelling.  We also see each of them carrying a staff of authority.  Each has a special mode of divine initiative, in collaboration with the others.

This mutual indwelling of God’s nature extends to the creation born of the divine nature.  In our spiritual hearts, we realize that we are part of a larger divine wholeness.  That is the contemplative awareness that grounds all of our callings. We also realize that each of us, being in the image of God, carries a staff of authority.  Each of us is called to be an authority, an “author” of creative love at different times in different situations.  That is, each of us is called to be a “contemplative leader.”  At such times the “leadings” of the Spirit draw us to speak and act in ways that open called-for possibilities of collaborative vision and action.

Contemplative leadership advocates collaborative mind-in-heart presence as the hopeful ground for every movement toward shalom, the kin-dom of God.  We approach such leadership with the realistic knowledge that the free-flowing awareness of the spiritual heart easily loses its free-flowingness once it passes through the sieve of our conceptual minds. Our minds, gifted as they are, operate through the creation of separate, opposing mental categories (“this is not that”), and this divisive process can lose the heart’s inclusive awareness. The free-flowing awareness can be further slowed when it passes through our conditioned ego anxieties and grasping self-centeredness full of attachments, and when it encounters our many kinds of bodily limitations.

God’s mysterious opening and healing energy has a way of lightening these inhibiting forces of our lives though, when we are willing, and it has a way of liberating blocked paths to collaborative living. As with the apartheid days of South Africa, the Spirit will eventually prevail in raising collaborative living to the forefront.

That divine Spirit is a Spirit of collaboration across every line of difference, including that of so-called enemies and sinners, as Jesus insisted.  In our mind-in-heart contemplative awareness we touch the communion that life is in God, a communion in which everything, everyone who is willing to come has a place at the global communion table.  Whenever we encounter any signs of ultimate division and denial of our mutual belonging, we know there is a breakdown of contemplative awareness.

We can’t respond directly to every breakdown, but there are those particular times when it is our turn to step into the breach and take the staff of authority.  The spotlight is on us to speak out and act out whatever is given us to do that will help people see the divine radiance in one another’s faces and collaborate in the shaping of shalom.  We cannot expect “perfection” in that shaping, given our individual and corporate limitations and the often erratic quality of our collaborative spirit, but we can hope for “good enoughness” or “better than nowness.” We can hope that our collaborative initiatives will open fresh breathing room for the Spirit’s gifts in our lives and situations.

Traditional acupuncture assumes that the open energy flow in our bodies will likely close down over time after an acupuncture treatment, and acupuncture then will be needed again.  And so it is in our collaborative endeavors: we can expect we will need to return again and again to the process of opening the clogged channels for the Spirit’s flow through our individual and collective hearts.  What can help keep our hearts and wills available to that liberating divine energy?  We all know at least a three-fold answer:  our deep desire for connection with divine loving wisdom; our contemplative practices; and participation in authentic spiritual community.  These three opening spiritual acupuncture points can help keep us attuned to that liberating divine energy and its relentless hope for the world.

November 11, 2016 by Tilden Edwards 1 Comment
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Rev. Dr. Patricia Knutson
Rev. Dr. Patricia Knutson
7 years ago

Thank you. So many are feeling despair now. May we somehow see opportunity and lead in a new way.


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