I’ve been doing some training in natural horsemanship. Its a gentle and more intuitive method of both being with and riding horses. We learn to read the body language of the horse, to place
gentle pressure on the horse in order to have them do as you require and then quickly release that pressure when it does as you ask so that it doesn’t associate doing the right thing with discomfit. This makes a lot of practical sense because as a result the horses are calmer, more respectful and safer, and ones riding pleasure is enhanced. It also means that we can ride without snaffles and bits and the horses are more assured and confident – without being willful, resentful, unpredictable or resistant. Its not that we give over to the horse and allow it to dominate us, its that our leadership is quieter, less intrusive and the relationship between horse and rider is more about partnership than subjugation.
Being in horsey circles I’ve noticed a number of riders worry a lot about the possible vices of their horses. Without proper attention, sensitivity and intuition, the experience of the rider tends to be from the horses back and sometimes you don’t know what you have under you. Will you be booted, bucked, bolted or bitten? As a result there is a lingering lack of confidence in some riders which invariably calls upon a harsh regime of punishment. If this doesn’t work the horse will often be dispatched in favour of a more pliable one.
I’ve been thinking about this in relation to church and leadership. Because churches usually organise using systems of leadership we are of necessity bound to some form of domination and subjected to an extrinsic will. As a result the church experience is often poised on a knife point between tyranny and ecstasy. I suppose we could all stay at home or go to yoga and enjoy the calm spiritual shaping of the inner sanctum in the privacy of our own thoughts. Private religious worship and ritual is an increasingly preferred option for those wanting some spiritual gains without prescriptive congregational worship and messy relationships. For those of us who are ‘churched’ and step through those doors, week after week, month after month and year after year, we do so with the expectation of a unique kind of ecstasy that comes ONLY in communion with each other as we worship, love and learn about Christ. Whether or not we achieve those spiritual raptures is largely dependent on how our church leaders shape and facilitate that experience but there is nothing like it when it does come. I suppose thats why I stay. All of the pretty words I could craft will never adequately capture the miracle of spiritual transformation, the deep peace, joy, outpourings of love that is the miracle of a community who, in communion with each other, palpably and universally feel the touch of the divine.
Yet, sometimes this can all go awry when some church leaders (and regular members for that matter) throw themselves at others punitively and with recrimination. Where, like the uptight rider, with whip in hand they leap from the horses back and beat their brutes out of frustration and anger. Some, will know the experience of disdain, fear and disappointment that can be meted out in Mormonism. It usually doesn’t take the form of verbal thrashing and vitriol. Its more venomous than that. As Margaret Toscano reflected on the disposition of those attending her church discipline: “There was such, violence in their niceness”. Mormons do social discipline, ostracism, and disapproval par excellence. A good dose of it could set you back years!
But yesterday, I looked around our small Mormon community at the faces of people I have loved for years and felt a deep and restful sense of belonging. As a result of the earthquakes our Stake has had to undergo significant changes both in geographical boundaries and in leadership. Its been a long time coming but to everyone’s relief all of the changes were announced last night. Some of these changes were significant the most controversial being the disbanding of a long standing language unit and the injunction for all of those members who had been together for a generation to quit each others company and scatter to the four winds.
I have been in a Stake where disestablishing a language unit was also done. The Stake President privately lamented to us that ‘those people’ were a huge head ache for him because they were angry, upset, and had threatened to leave the church en masse because their beloved community was to be no more. His announcement was brutal and emphatic and his response to their disappointment was fearful and angry.
Yet as we were asked to sustain these changes last night, miraculously every hand went up. While tears were shed, hugs and goodbyes expressed the general mood was one of genuine willingness, excitement, and love. A little miracle took place last night as we experienced the divinity and ecstasy of a Christian community. Perhaps it might seem a small thing to the outside observer, but to our little congregation it was one of those moments of spiritual bliss.
I’ve reflected on this wee Mormon miracle and can only put it down to one thing. Natural horsemanship. In a private meeting with a church leader beforehand, Nathan and I experienced the love of one who saw us, knew us and cared for us. I’m not the most willing filly in the stable, yet his sensitivity, intuition and kindness were real and palpable, and my resistance was diminished as a result. I saw this replicated in his approach with the entire congregation. Gentle, quiet hands, respect on the ground first, then a slow but gracious mount into the saddle where rider and horse canter off together in the dizzying synergy of brute power, and intuitive leadership.
Perhaps that is why Christ’s message of love and charity needs to be central to everything we do as his disciples. It lubricates relationships with the balm of peace, it emboldens the individual with the power of confidence and it throws hearts together in raptures of Christian togetherness. Last night Christ was the miracle.