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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On Weakness & Walking at the Pace of Love

Written by: on March 15, 2021

This past week, I had the opportunity to introduce one of my mentors to a cohort of North American faith leaders. This particular group is an ecumenical, multi-ethnic collective from the United States and Canada who are seeking to grow in their capacity for peacemaking and reconciliation. They are women and men who have been educated in some of the most elite academies in the world and possess resumes that boast of international and institutional influence. Success is one of their common denominators. Failure is a foreign concept for most of them. They have been trained to project strength and build power, and believe that they can will social change into being.

I had a sense that these leaders would be familiar with inhabiting learning environments where the consumption of knowledge and the mastery of skills would be the objective. My hunch was that their leading question would be “What do we do?” Thus, I decided to design the journey around the question “Who must we become?” Little did they know, I intended to rebel against the sterile pedagogies that they were familiar with and, instead, invite them into the gritty work of pilgrimage.

With the metaphor of pilgrimage in mind, I invited this particular mentor to be the first presenter of the program. He is a seventy-two-year-old contemplative who, at the age of sixty-five walked the 500-mile Camino de Santigo pilgrimage. He’d hate this, but I describe him as a Yoda figure. He’s quiet and measured. When he speaks, he does so on purpose and reveals the deep well of his soul. He is the opposite of the prototype hero who projects power. Yet when I sit with him, the power of his life and insight have contributed to the reshaping of my heart, mind, and body.

This is the person who I wanted to frame the idea of pilgrimage, help us understand the importance of the journey of becoming, and heighten our awareness to the gifts that pilgrimage offers.

In his time with us, he spoke as one who had become liberated from the pursuit of accomplishment and accumulation of influence. He shared the story of his first Camino and revealed it to be the pilgrimage that finally severed the lines that had tethered him to the misnomer that “I am what I produce.”

And then, rather than waxing thoughtfully on the spiritual dimensions of pilgrimage, he talked about weakness and pace.

For nearly half of his time with us, he shared how his body rebelled against his heart’s desire to walk the pilgrimage. He spoke of his feet and how they ached so badly that he couldn’t help but become fixated on the pain. In periodic telephone conversations with his wife along the way, rather than sharing of spiritual encounters and epiphanies, all he could do was bemoan the reality that his feet hurt…desperately. Because it was an admission of weakness, he felt ashamed to do so.

After five days and nearly one-hundred miles, he observed that his rebellious body finally began to submit. His body realized that his heart was leading and that it had no choice but to get in line.

As his story continued, he revealed one of the gifts that weakness had offered him. Reflecting as he walked, he recognized that much of life was spent at a pace that was unsustainable and that demanded that he ignore pain and rebel against weakness. With miles passing under his feet, he worked to identify the internal and external pressures and expectations that had driven his speed. He wondered about the constructs of success and the thin theologies that undergirded them that he had submitted to throughout his career.

As he walked and reflected, he wondered if he hadn’t spent a good portion of his life out-pacing the restorative work of God. As he lamented, he sensed the invitation to slow down in order to catch up with God.

That invitation was the gift that weakness had offered. Had he continued on with his life-practice of avoiding or ignoring weakness, he likely would have missed the gift. But because he didn’t look away, he received the gift and began to adjust his pace.

In his parting blessing, my mentor shared a reflection on pace that he had learned from Japanese theologian, Kosuke Koyama:

Love has its speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.[1]

We walked away from our encounter with this pilgrim not only with a deepened understanding of the role of pilgrimage in our transformation but also with a corrective in our approach to weakness. Rather than being threatened by weakness, it is a part of what makes us strong.[2]

~~

[1] Kosuke Koyama, Three Mile an Hour God: Biblical Reflections

[2] Simon Walker, The Undefended Leader, 164.

About the Author

mm

Jer Swigart

10 responses to “On Weakness & Walking at the Pace of Love”

  1. mm Dylan Branson says:

    Embracing weakness and slowing down our pacing has been a theme with my small group here. One of the activities the study we’ve been working through focuses on is the idea of the “Daily Office” where we intentionally carve out times of silence and stillness before God. As we’ve begun this journey collectively, it’s show to be a mark of transformation in the moments of silence. Part of it is that, in a sense, it is reclaiming the Sabbath in our daily lives. The rush of our daily lives — which feels exacerbated in a city like Hong Kong — causes us to forget and miss the quiet moments of love around us. We’re blinded by the speed in which we move to where we don’t see God’s work in our weaknesses. We only stop when we succeed and that pause is simply to admire the work we’ve done.

    • mm Jer Swigart says:

      And then, I imagine that few of us are even good at pausing/celebrating after the success. I haven’t been able to shake my mentor’s words: “I needed to slow down in order to catch up with God.” God, give us the courage to slow down!

  2. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    I love how you reframed doing into being and becoming. The truth of pilgrimage is woven into our being. It is the truth I will invite my students to embrace during our summer session of learning. Pilgrimage doesn’t just invite weakness and a different pace, it invites death. Death of self. Death of ambition. Death of control. But in those deaths, life begins to emerge. New possibilities surface as we live within the constraints of our humanity, as we realize we are not God. That is were true freedom is found. And as you’ve discovered, the impact of a leader who leads from a place of freedom- well its a beautiful, transformative, and holy wonder to behold. It’s a sacred space you want to be in. A fountain you want to drink from. The ground where you want to kick off your sandals. It sounds like others in your cohort agree.

    • mm Jer Swigart says:

      And yet, I find that of the mentors in my life that live most regularly at the pace of love are retired. It makes me wonder about the lures and demands of productivity as well as the simple reality of seasons of life that demand more output than others to demand a quickened pace. Just this morning, in my contemplative silence, I couldn’t stop the internal revving as the days ahead are full…in part due to choice, but mostly due to the fact that I’m co-stewarding three young humans. Alas…these are good things to be moving toward.

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    I’ve often thought about a pilgrimage like the Camino, but I’m well aware at how likely I would be to try to walk as fast as possible so as to accomplish the task, rather than be more deliberate. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to think about the kind of transformation that might actually happen by going at a more appropriate pace. It’s like that Martin Sheen movie where he walks with the ashes of his dead son. While it’s a task, the experience is meaningless for him. It’s only after he opens himself up to the experience and to the people he encounters that he begins to grow. Where do you still find yourself tempted by the more easily measured metrics of effectiveness and success?

    • mm Jer Swigart says:

      A practice that has become a weekly rhythm for me is what I refer to as a “Wilderness Wander.” I engage this because I regularly move to quickly. I’ve found that a slow pace requires that I clasp my hands behind my back and take slow, deliberate steps. I’m hoping that this practice prepares me for my Camino pilgrimage after we graduate.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    Jer,
    I had at one time on my bucket list hiking the PCT. I also had on the list the wonderland trail. Neither one of these has been taken off the list but the acknowledgment that my health may be a prohibiting factor is slowing sinking in. Only time will tell.
    I loved your comment on slowing down to catch up with God. Why is it we think God is always in a hurry? He is not limited by time. I wonder if he views humanity through mind set of legacy? I wonder if we adopted a mindset of walking in legacy is we would be so bent on speed instead of keeping pace? What are your thoughts?

    • mm Jer Swigart says:

      Yeah. There’s got to be a theological glitch that we’ve made a doctrine that suggests that God is in a hurry and demands that we are too. I’m growing to imagine a God who exists with love-fueled urgency and intentionality. To walk at 3mph doesn’t suggest that we don’t have urgency, but that we are deliberate. Thanks for churning some thoughts with me.

  5. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks for sharing, Jer!

    Appreciate the gift you offered not only for your students, but for us, further glimpses into it. Weakness.

    Focusing into the possibility that ‘knowing oneself’ entails a pilgrimage into and through weakness…and, beyond?

    How does our weakness determine strength? What comes alive in the context of weakness to beckon grit?

    What is the balance? Where is our faith in the mix?

    Hope the week begins sweetly for you 🙂

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Another example of the power of embodied learning. With working with college students, I found that those students who participated in cross country, swimming, or wrestling had an inner strength that many did not. These sports forced students to push past what they thought physically possible, and this mindset transcended the course, pool, or mat.

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