What. Just. Happened? 

I’m on my way home from an international 24 – 7 Prayer gathering. The conference is good but it’s the leaders’ training day that leaves me shaking. I don’t remember the bulk of the material we cover but I can’t get over the effect it has on me. I feel alive. Like really, really alive. Activated and catalyzed. It’s like in those car race films when two cars are neck and neck and then, all of a sudden, one of the drivers hits a secret button and his vehicle leaps forward, functioning at a whole new level and leaving the other in the dust. Feeling zoomy,” I look at myself and ask, Who are you, and what have you done to Jill?” It’s an invitation. Something has been activated within and demands response. 

I begin to look around at leadership development programs. Hey Kirk, what do you think? Tyndale has a good Masters of Divinity program. Or what about this one? It’s a training course for Christian Executive Directors?” There are tons of great options, a bewildering array of choices. How to decide? 

Then it hits me. I need to begin with the end in mind. What kind of leader do I want to become? Who are the leaders who inspire me? Who do I want to be when I grow up? Do I want to be a C.S. Lewis, with logic, intellect and killer storytelling skills? Steve Jobs — creative and organizational mastermind? Rosa Parks with courage and dogged determination? 

After some deliberation and soul-searching I make my decision. I want to be Henri Nouwen when I grow up. Or someone very much like him. I want to be a luminous soul. Like Henri, or like Catherine, a woman I meet at a prayer gathering. She carries a curious mixture of vulnerability and strength. Her skin looks almost translucent. Eyes no stranger to sorrow, but also creased with joy. She is slight, even a little fragile. But somehow also solid. Grounded. She is quiet, observant. Attentive and present. You can tell that she is just as aware of the Other in attendance at the table as she is the rest of us. She doesn’t speak much — she chooses her moments carefully. But when she does weigh into the conversation, her words carry heft and substance. I can’t take my eyes off her, and I hang onto every word. This woman has been with Jesus. She has gravitas. 

Craig Barnes, in his book, The Pastor as Minor Poet, describes it this way: 

The old seminary professors used to speak about a necessary trait for pastoral ministry called gravitas. It refers to a soul that has developed enough spiritual mass to be attractive, like gravity. It makes the soul appear old, but gravitas has nothing to do with age. It has everything to do with wounds that have healed well, failures that have been redeemed, sins that have been forgiven, and thorns that have settled into the flesh. These severe experiences with life expand the soul until it appears larger than the body that contains it. Then it is large enough to contain a holy joy, which is what makes the pastor’s soul so attractive. The early church found gravitas through persecution. The desert fathers and monks found it by abandoning comfort and dedicating themselves to a vocation of prayer for the world.1

I long for gravitas, to become someone who carries spiritual weight and substance. Who changes the spiritual atmosphere in a room when they walk into it. My friend Shira says, You don’t always remember what a leader says, but you remember how they make you feel.” I want people to feel loved— fully and unconditionally loved, by both God and by me. I want to learn how to be fully present and fully loving. To quiet my internal noise so that I can be a hospitable space — a place of belonging and rest for people. I want to be people’s Sabbath place, their Sabbath person. But luminosity is elusive — a tricky thing. The journey to the depth of the soul is fraught with peril. These things come with a price. And I’m wondering whether I may not need a school so much as a guide. Someone who knows the territory, the contours of the soul and of the deep places of the heart. 

That quest takes me to a monastery just outside Chicago. It is like something out of a Lord of the Rings film. The lake is still, completely calm. Across the arching surface I can see the stretch of the monastery boathouse, rising out of the water like an Elfin palace. The pathway takes me through the woods, past the lake and over arched stone bridges with carved pillars. I walk through sun-dappled woods, stopping each time I happen across a herd of deer. Used to priests and pilgrims, they stand unafraid and curious. They watch me with calm eyes as they chew and flip their tails. As I sit on by the stone cupola overlooking the lake and watch the sunrise, a school of carp boil in the water at my feet. They splash and thrash at the edge of the pier. Above me, sparrows chatter and scold as they negotiate access to the twiggy bird houses tucked under the cupola eaves. It is calm and quiet. 

No one is awake yet besides me and nature in her various forms, and the guard who patrols the grounds, waving at me and chatting each time our paths cross. 

Are you with the Transforming Center?” he asks. 

Yeah, I’m staying at the monastery till Tuesday.”

Alrightee, just checking,” he waves and drives off. 

I am on a quest for depth, eager to move out of the realm of information into the realms of formation and transformation. My syllabus over the next two years of quarterly retreats? To explore various spiritual practices from the breadth of the Christian tradition. Through reading, spiritual direction and lectures, I hope to find wise guides who understand the topography of the soul and who will point me in the direction where treasure lies. X marks the spot. Here’s a shovel. Now dig. 

God wants to be with you in a particular way,” one teacher says. What is his invitation to you today?” Paul says: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18). The pathway to luminosity? Paul would say the contemplation of God’s glory. British poet William Blake says, We become what we behold.“2

What might happen if I search for God’s glory in all its multiple manifestations around me? In the Scriptures and in a walk around the lake? In the faces and lives of those I love? What if I set my heart on a quest for his beauty and when I find it, stop? Look. Listen. Take it all in. Let it invade the inner chambers of my heart and fill them with light. Might I become luminous? 

The Invitation

Think about the leaders you have encountered that have most influenced you. What was it about them that made them so impactful? What kind of leader do you want to become? What might be the journey towards that becoming? 

Jesus, I’m grateful that I am not shaping myself but rather being formed by you. Not only are you my guide but also my pathway. You are the treasure and you are also the tool that helps me uncover it. Take me deeper.

Related Podcast

[1] Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet: Texts and Subtexts in the Ministerial Life (William. B. Eerdmans, 2009), p.49.

[2] William Blake, Jerusalem, the Emanation of the Giant Albion (Kessinger Publishing, 2010) p.57.

Excepted from Even the Sparrow by Jill Weber, published by Muddy Pearl. Used by permission. Available at muddypearl.com (UK) and kregel.com (US & Canada).

Photo by Gary Meulemans on Unsplash

Text First Published October 2019 · Last Featured on Renovare.org July 2021