Victoria Sweet on Servant Leadership

I’ve loved both of Victoria Sweet’s books so much, that I ordered a copy to keep while the library book was still in my house. (I had to transfer all my dog-ears). I read God’s Hotel first, and I’ve just finished Slow Medicine. One of her stories about being a temporary doctor (filling a gap in a relatively isolated practice) seemed perfect for today’s Solemnity of St. Joseph.

I was sitting cross-legged with my shoes off at the dining room table, reading Harrison’s, when the phone rang. It was the answering service putting a patient’s wife through. I began to put on my shoes. That’s one of the things I’d learned to do that year. The natural instinct is to try to dissolve worry over the phone. to find a reason not to have to leave home and go out into the cold, adversarial universe. But this instinct leads to mistakes, I’d discovered, to misjudgments. So I put my shoes on when I took a call. That way I’d have to be convinced not to go.

(Slow Medicine, page 161)

I wrote a little about cultivating a willingness to be moved when wrote about my experience learning to pray the rosary, in my conversion memoir, Arriving at Amen. I saw the rosary through the lens of my ballroom dance classes, which had me practice the basic rhythms and steps again and again.

The goal was to be able to slip into any of those rhythms as easily as I could my normal gait. If I am following a dance partner with a decent lead, maintaining the basic is my only responsibility. As long as I keep my feet moving in the proper sequence and stay responsive to my partner, I can move through combinations I haven’t learned, steered by my partner into the right place while my feet keep the right time. In fact, as my basic improved, it was sometimes easier to dance sequences I hadn’t learned than to dance the ones that had been broken down and taught to me piece by piece. When I didn’t know what I was doing, I could keep my focus on the basic. When I had a clue, I often tried to anticipate the next move and wound up botching it.
I tried to approach the Rosary with the same spirit I’d brought to my summer of basics. When I picked up my rosary, it wasn’t to rehearse a solo, something depending solely on my own efforts. I was supposed to be God’s partner, and He was to be the lead. […] The Rosary lets me practice cooperation with God who, like my dance partner, asks for only one small, disciplined act on my end.

Sweet putting on her shoes or me picking up my beads are both an effort to say “yes” before quite knowing what we’ll be asked. The hope is to be able to be swept into the kinds of service we wouldn’t seek out—to be invited to go beyond our own ideas of how we can be channels of grace.