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The Princeton Event – Day One

June 4, 2009

That’s right, I am now abbreviating it as simply, “The Princeton Event,” like it’s already become a legend after just one session, and that you should know exactly what I am talking about. That’s how good it was. And, come on, saying “Leadership & Spirituality: Transforming the Workplace” is such a mouthful, isn’t it? Plus it is hard to fit into a Twitter posting. If you were there, you would know exactly what I mean. If you weren’t there, then you, my friend, will soon find yourself with a burning desire to be there next time around so that you too become a Princeton Event Insider.

On Sunday evening, May 31, a fascinating mix of people assembled at the Erdman Center on the Princeton Seminary campus for a day and a half of discussion around integrating their spiritual lives with their work lives. If I had to sum it all up, I would say it was those wonderful souls who were the highlight of the whole thing. There were 35 men and women in attendance, representing a wide diversity of experiences, church affiliations, racial backgrounds, and industries. It was one heck of a cross-section of American business life. There were corporate executives, human resources professionals, Sales VP’s, attorneys, consultants, pastors, entrepreneurs and a couple of folks in the non-profit arena who served the social services/social justice areas. As far as religious affiliations go, there were Catholics, Methodists, Assemblies of God, Baptists, Presbyterians, Unitarians, and a couple of non-church-goers, who are still on the journey, trying to figure out where they belong. I can tell you all of these details because that was the first thing we did upon settling in on Sunday evening. We each told a little piece of our story of what brought us there. By the time the last person had introduced themselves, it was apparent to all that we were in for something special: the caliber of these accomplished, hard-working, thoughtful business people who had chosen to gather together at Princeton that evening practically guaranteed it. And we all had one that one thing in common: an earnest desire to pursue a higher level of spiritual connectivity to our working lives.

We became an instant community.

After the welcome and introductions, we received a message from the Reverend Raymond Bonwell, who is the Director of the Erdman Center. His message centered on the inherent goodness of work, based on Genesis chapter 3. I had never heard this before: God told Adam to till the soil – before the Fall. Before Eve. Before the fruit-eating scene. God had intended for Adam to work in the Garden of Eden as part of the Goodness of enjoying God’s creation. Your work is good, the Reverend was saying. It’s good work. It’s God’s work. How about that.

Then the event’s leader, Dr. Stephen Payne, quietly led the group in a Lectio Divina, which is a meditative scripture reading. I have never done this before, but had heard about this unique meditative practice from others. The passage for tonight was John 13, the familiar story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Instead of rushing through the reading and then listening to an expert’s pre-packaged advice on servant-leadership, we just closed our eyes and listened quietly to the scripture, to see what God had to say to each of us. Here’s how it went. The lights were dimmed slightly, and everyone took a collective deep breath, exhaling into silence. We relaxed and got comfortable in our chairs. One person then read through the entire passage of John, chapter 13. Next, another person read each verse, but just one at a time, pausing for about 15 seconds between each verse. Then, silence. Finally, a third person read the passage again in its entirety. We all remained very still, absorbing the spoken words in the quiet. After a few minutes, Dr. Payne instructed us to break up into pairs to share our experience of this passage.

The thing about the reading that resonated most with me personally was when Jesus goes to wash Peter’s feet, who resists. Jesus says to Peter, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Gosh, I don’t know about you, but that seems to happen to me all the time. I am blindsided by some random event, and I am thinking, “What the heck just happened to me? What is this?” And then I look down and see Jesus, sitting there on the floor with my soaking wet feet in his hands. He’s stripped down to his underwear and a towel wrapped around his waist, and he is looking up at me, straight into my eyes with this intense, loving look, that says, “Brad, I know it seems bizarre – But don’t worry about it. You’ll figure it all out in good time. Now please relax because I need to dry you off.”

Half the time we have no idea what is happening in our lives, or why, but eventually, usually in retrospect, we can see God’s purpose. I’ve got to trust that He knows what He is doing, even when I think He has no business doing it. In the long run, He is teaching me something important, and he knows that I don’t get it. Not yet.

When the reading was finished, it was almost 10:45 pm, so we all said our goodnights and headed off to our rooms. The Holy Spirit was surely with us that evening. We were off to a great start. A meditative walk through Princeton was scheduled at 7:30 the next morning. I had never even heard of such a thing as a group meditative walk before, but I was now feeling spiritually adventurous. Why not? Who knows what else God has to tell me, if I bothered to stop and listen?

To be continued into Day 2

8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 4, 2009 5:00 pm

    Wow, Bradley. That sounds exceptional. Have you ever had someone wash your feet? It is a truly humbling experience. My worship pastor (now my pastor) read that passage and then the worship team took turns washing each other’s feet.

    We were all a big mess – tears flowing, the whole 9 yards. But, wow! What an experience!

    And speaking of humbling experiences, thanks again for the write up on High Calling Blogs. I honestly don’t feel worthy of that, but it is much appreciated.

  2. June 4, 2009 7:09 pm

    thanks for sharing.

  3. June 5, 2009 10:12 am

    I have an fetish about people touching my feet, so please don’t offer to wash mine.

    This is a beautiful post, though. At a small group a few weeks ago, we talked about Genesis 3. I asked them, “What is your image of paradise?”

    Then we got to the fact that paradise… includes work. It’s a wild thought.

  4. Ebby permalink
    June 5, 2009 11:55 am

    Hi Brad,

    Don (Kimrey) emailed me about your Princeton post, so I popped over to have a look. I’m so glad I did. Wow. Reading your experience was the next best thing to being there. Truly. I very nearly “felt” I was there. Thank you for that. And, of course, after finishing your piece, I HAD to re-read John, chapter 13. (smile)

    I’m eager to read Day 2.

    Thanks for sharing, Brad.


  5. Karyn permalink
    June 5, 2009 10:55 pm

    This is a very thoughtful reflection. You use great imagery in your writing and it brings back all the experiences from the conference. Definitely looking forward to the next posting.

  6. June 6, 2009 2:31 pm

    Had to chuckle about the title being a mouthful… and not Twitter-ready. They should definitely take these kinds of things into account now that life is often expressed in bytes, bits, and Tweets.

  7. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    June 7, 2009 9:25 am

    Katdish – yes, I do remember a foot-washing in a college group – sometime LONG ago. It was quite an experience. But no one has offered since.

    Marcus – Paradise includes work — Yes, that is quite provoking. Maybe we should call it something else instead of “work.”

    Ebby – nice to meet you! I do hope you return – maybe even to next year’s “Event”!

    Hey Karyn! Why are other participants not commenting? I know they are all here. Come on out, guys! Thanks for braving the blog commenting.

    LL – I will shorten it even further to “the Event”, at least you will know what I’m talking about!


  1. Three Questions to Ask About Your Spiritual Connection to Leadership « Shrinking the Camel

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