IMG_2159Keeping things alive over time.

This week I have been thinking about this again, as I do most weeks. In a certain way this has been the question of my life, threading through the years of work and study, study and work, that have been my life.

Early in the week I was in the Catskills with the Praxis Labs, one more time entering into their very good work. Drawing from all over the world, each year 12 people are invited into a very mentor-intensive pedagogy focused on learning the habits of heart that sustain an entrepreneurial life. Their work is imaginative, even compelling, and is always a gift for me to be part of it.

On Tuesday morning I was asked to speak on keeping alive one’s vocation over a lifetime. I began with a reflection on a film that tells the tale of a pope who is fearful of losing his reason-for-being. Called into the calling of pastor, over time he is made a cardinal, and eventually is part of the college of cardinals which chooses the next pope— him. Surprised but willing, he takes on the responsibility of his new occupation, but as the days become months, and the months become years, sadly he loses his sense of calling. All the pomp and circumstance of the Vatican wearies him and his life become a sigh. Eventually the story takes him away from the Vatican and his role, out into the countryside of Italy where he slowly regains a vision for his vocation. With wit and heart, “Saving Grace” is a wonderful window into a question that belongs to all of us, i.e. “How do I keep my heart alive, deepening my convictions— rather than discarding them —as I live into my loves and longings?”

Then I offered the habits of heart that are true for everyone who keeps at it, whoever we are, wherever we are. Years ago I spent serious time thinking about this, eventually doing my PhD on it, and then wrote a book arguing for it. “The Fabric of Faithfulness” examines why it is so hard to form a coherent life in the modern world— living with the conditions of modern and postmodern consciousness as we do, pressing us to live more fragmented lives. The second half of the book is an argument that there are three markers that are there, always, for people who keep on keeping on: 1) beliefs, 2) mentors, and 3) communities. Not magic or rocket science, instead it is simply a window into the human heart. Those who flourish do so because they develop ways of seeing life and the world that make sense of beliefs and commitments in a pluralizing, secularizing world… because they apprentice themselves to people who show them that words can become flesh, that worldviews can become ways of life… and finally because they choose and keeping choosing communities of kindred spirits, people who are committed to living into the same faith, the same hope, the same love.

The Praxis Labs has chosen this same vision to frame their work, not content for flash-in-the-pan idealism, for their fellows to be visionaries who don’t have staying power. They want their labors to have life— and so their hope has met my thesis, and we have stepped into something together that we want to have consequences, for the world and for their work.

To keep on keeping on— yes, that’s always the challenge, but the heart of a good life, always and everywhere.

(Photo is of the Sustainability Initiative, focused on “prairie grass restoration,” which I saw this morning across the street from my hotel in Leawood, a suburb of Kansas City— and of course I thought about why and how sustainability matters for all of us. To lose touch with the ancient truths, with what has connected us and kept us over time, is a severing of ourselves from history and reality. Yes, we must adapt, breathing new air and finding our way into new places among new people, but what finally matters is keeping our truest and deepest selves alive, and not losing what matters most. That is sustainability, for prairie grass and for human beings.)

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

Meet Steve