Building Cathedrals

A friend that I’m working with shared this story recently, one that I’ve heard before, but was glad to hear again.

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working.  He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the person replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard the person humming a tune while working, and asked, “What are you doing?” The person stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”
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With most of the people that I’m working with in participative leadership, I’m encouraging seeing a range of scale. From planning meetings to invoking movements. From trying a training once to apprenticing for three years. From dabbling in an experience to recreating a culture. From laying bricks to building cathedrals.
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My last three weeks have included significant gatherings at which I’ve been glad to see and feel this range. I can feel myself stuffed with good learnings that will continue to unpack over the next days, weeks, months, or even years. That will perhaps build to cathedrals themselves.
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There was the board meeting and retreat for The Circle Way. Because of the quality of people in this group, being together for four days was like advanced circle experience. In meeting each other. In exploring and committing to new initiatives. In decision making. In getting beneath the surface. I could feel a unique excitement as this group of people helped to repurpose a possibility through The Circle Way as a non-profit organization, working with young people, people of color, and people embedding circle in their work and community environments.
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There was the men’s retreat, Soultime. I’ve been able to be a participant at this gathering many times now. It is a unique mix of men, 40 – 70 in age, each thoughtful in their own way. Together, this group reclaims some missing initiatory experience to help grow ourselves differently. That sounds fancy to say it that way. Men welcomed to show up with listening, and dreaming, and wondering, and vulnerability, and song, and shared work (literally chopping wood this time) — that is cathedral building.
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There was The Circle Way Practicum in Tofino, British Columbia that I taught with Amanda Fenton, Kelly Foxcroft Poirier and Dawn Foxcroft. This is people learning skills to help offer and host important containers for difficult and important conversations, including those on reconciliation. This is people in depth of story and depth of questions. This is people committed to offering what they can in their respective communities. It’s so much more than rearranging the chairs. So much more than laying bricks.
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It may not be that the work that any of us are in, is always about cathedrals — even cathedrals, after all, get built by many steps of laying bricks and tending to very non-sexy jobs that are in front of us. But there are some days, when generating the energy of cathedral-building is the only thing that matters. May all of us be so lucky as to find friends and colleagues and surprise strangers with whom we can do this. May all of us be so clear, that we know to lean in to each other with deliberate supportive forms that bring out the whistling in us.

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