• Jamie Bahr

EP 108 Clearness Committee


Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer CH 8

Clearness Committee Youtube Video

Guidelines for Clearness Committee

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I'm Jamie Bahr, and this is Unlocking Christian Spiritual Practices. Join me as we look at the practices that are essential for growing responsibility and expanding leadership in our families, churches, and communities. In this podcast, I'm going to share with you a spiritual practice for making godly decisions through a Clearness Committee. Now, a Clearness Committee is a gathering of wise friends, or coworkers who really care about you. It's a way to seek the wisdom of God through others, for making important decisions, really life-giving decisions. And I mention this practice at this time because it incorporates several of the practices in my previous podcasts, like sustained attention, Holy listening, The Examined, Centering Prayer and Reflection. So let's get started.

Looking back, was there ever a time when you had a really big problem? One in which you felt perhaps very alone, or maybe you were just paralyzed by it, or you just couldn't move forward it was so unclear? So perhaps you were just afraid to take the next step. Should I or shouldn't I? That's the question. Well, Jesus said, "In this world, you will have difficulty." Not, you might have or maybe, but he said, "In this world you will have difficulty, but I have overcome the world." Well, how do we access this promise of Jesus or the Spirit of Christ to make tough decisions in life?

One way to seek godly wisdom for our lives is through the practice of a Clearness Committee. So it's really a practical tool that sheds light on concrete decisions that you have to make, like college, should I go or not? Or a marriage, should I get married or not? Or it can be used for far more critical life decisions, or maybe it's a business decision that keeps you up at night. Well, when forming a Clearness Committee will help you to solve a problem. It can be very simply structured or it can be more formal. Now the practice of a clearness committee was first introduced by the Quakers in the 1700s, but today it's used in many different settings from the corporate world, to making family decisions, to personal challenges that you might face.

When we face difficulties, normally we might seek our friends, we'll ask advice, or maybe we'll even ask them, "What would you do in this situation?" What's different about a Clearness Committee is that here, no one offers you advice, but what they do offer you are some questions, questions that take you deep. These are open questions; questions to help you discover the truth that is deep within you. And by that I mean only you will know when you've moved from anxiety to a sense of trust or wholeness, or really a sense of confidence and assurance within you. So you're moving from one way of thinking or feeling to another way in order to see the way forward. The way forward opens up. Now, I have participated in a few clearness committees and really it is such a blessing to be invited to serve on a panel or on one of these committees. I always learn something new when I serve with others. And we learn from each other and we learn about ourselves.

So it's a wonderful spiritual practice that helps one to find that inner truth that leads to opening a way forward. And really, I'll tell you, it's exciting to see the energy in a room when a person moves from frustration to a sense of confidence and encouragement for their future. Even their body language will change notably during the session if you're observing carefully.

So let's talk about the different roles in a Clearness Committee. Sometimes it is also called Circles of Trust, because of trusted friendships. I've also participated in one called Action Learning, which is a similar adaption of a Clearness Committee, but it's used in the corporate world. It's very effective, the roles are all very similar but the names may change. Basically, there are four essential roles in a Clearness Committee. There's the focus person who has the problem, the clerk, who is kind of like a coach.And then you have a committee which is a panel of individuals, and then there's a support or an oversight person.

So let's start with the focus person. The focus person could be you seeking some clearness on a problem you have to solve. So you might have a problem or decision that has to be made. Of course, it's very important to you that this is clearly communicated. What is the issue that you're trying to solve? Also, you really need to be completely open to options. In other words, you as a focus person should not be leaning one way or the other toward a solution. You cannot freely consider options if you've already made up your mind, or you've already made it by default. And sometimes we call this getting to a point of indifference and this takes prayer.

The second role is a clerk to facilitate this process.And what they do is ; they are actually selected by the focus person and they help the focus person contact people to form a committee. The clerk establishes the criteria of a Clearness Committee, finds the time they're going to meet, a space in which to convene. They are like a coach really, because they do stand to one side and they listen to make sure that open questions are being asked and they keep the time while moving forward from one person on the panel to the next, in order to ask questions. The third role is the committee or the panel. So that's a group of individuals that gathers for a specific purpose. And it's important to note that it's grounded in listening, not in fixing. I mean, today we have a culture that's about fixing, I can fix your problem, but that's not this. This time a person on a clearness committee is listening, not fixing. Listening as a spiritual practice is a key component of those who participate on this committee.

It also is a very sacred part that they hold because this person's life is really in their hands. So I'd like you to think about it as a sacred space. Another word I might use is, it's really the conscious care of this person's soul. It's very important. It's not casual, but it needs to be taken seriously and really responsibly. Then finally, there's an oversight person and this person, I like to think of them as a "Barnabas." They're the kind of person that encourages when everything is finished. When you finish the session, the oversight person will hold the focus person accountable to follow through with the decisions they've made. So it's a person who nurtures and seeks transformation of the situation. So nurture and transformation are kind of key words for this support person. One more aspect of the panel or the committee is learning to ask open questions.

Members on the panel cannot ask leading questions. And by that, I mean, a question must help the focus person discover a way forward on their own without leading them to a conclusion that might be suggested through a question. A leading question moves the attention from a focus person with a problem to the person on the panel asking the question. It really interrupts the seriousness or the thought process that's really imperative to this gathering. So for example, if you ask a leading question you might say, "Have you thought of a therapist?" Well, these kinds of questions you don't want to be asking. I was part of a clearness committee one time, and there was a question asked that I felt the clerk should have called out and stopped. I spoke up and I asked, "What was the point of that question?"

And she admitted the question asked was a leading question and it should be eliminated. Honestly, we all have unconscious biases that we are unaware of, so committee members must be open to all possible outcomes of the discernment process and be able to listen deeply and then wait patiently.

Now, there are a couple of definitions that I might mention that are really important during this process. So the two words that I'm thinking of are 'discernment' and 'unity'. So discernment is the process of sifting through and listening, weighing options and seeking Godly guidance or movements of the soul. Now, when we follow a path to God, things seem right. Things feel in sync because they are in sync with the Holy Spirit. Our hearts will gradually tell us which choices are moving us closer to God. And God will draw you to good life-giving solutions with the help of the community.

The second word is unity. Well, this unity is really the sense that everyone gathered has discerned some way forward. And this does not mean that we're all in agreement, but unity is kind of what we're hoping for, that together through questions and reflection, along with silent waiting, God will reveal a way forward for the focus person. Besides coming up with a solution to your problem, a clearness committee also offers three additional bonuses that I would like you to consider. The first one is called inner reassurance. And I say that because it's important that we all want to make decisions that we won't regret later on. Second is to feel released from an emotional decision. And these emotions are the things that keep you up at night. So a Clearness Committee can really help you, I would say, sleep soundly at night and let it go. Third is to give a sense of strength to persevere through a challenge, to really carry through to completion.

When I'm serving on a committee, you hear responses from the focus person like, "I never would have thought of that. I didn't even think that could be possible." You can actually visibly see a person released from emotional stress. They gain assurance and strength and resolve for the next step. So if you have a problem, the first thing I'm going to suggest to you is to really resist the temptation toward isolation in confusing times, although that is all so often our very first step is to think we're going to go into isolation and think about this. Really, all it does is lengthen the time of the struggle. It really doesn't solve anything. I like Parker Palmer in a statement that he says, "When a person seeks corporate wisdom and insight, it reveals dimensions of a decision that are not visible when contemplated in isolation. So now I'd like to look over the process of setting up a Clearness Committee now that we know the roles.

If you decide you need help in finding clarity to a problem, then you are the focus person. So I'm going to be speaking to you as the focus person. First of all, you need to do a lot of self reflection in prayer. What is your problem? Oftentimes, I'll go into this with a person and you go, "Well, that's not really the problem." And they'll start talking about it and you go, "But that's not the real problem. Maybe it's this or this." And so taking some time to write it out, to state it clearly, it takes practice. And then coming to a point of, “I'm really comfortable with this.” You'll know when you find that key problem or you get what is really motivating you. So in the context of prayer, you want to clarify and winnow down your issue or questions so that you can state it clearly.

Write it out so others can really understand the details. Second, you as a focus person, you're the one who selects the clerk, because you're going to be asking them to help you try to solve this problem. By stating clearly what you've said, they'll go over and over what you've written, because now this clerk is going to be communicating this to the committee. You as a focus person also select the committee participants. So you're looking for people you trust or have wisdom grounded in life experiences. Then you invite them to serve on a panel and then clearly communicate the problem you're trying to solve. Finally, you ask the clerk, "Okay, call the committee that I've chosen together." The clerk sends out invitations in a formal setting. The clerk arrives early in a place that they've put aside or a time that's been selected. And then he prepares himself in centering prayer to lead the process, then introduce committee members, and then clarify the process with everyone in the room.

Then everyone opens in silence, giving you as the focus person time to best articulate your problem. And this is usually about 10 minutes. Then the committee asks a few clarifying questions of a factual nature. Now this is important that it's about the facts that they've been given and that should only take five minutes. So this is then followed by a time of real silent reflection. And the purpose of this silent reflection is so members of the committee can really consider what the focus person has said, which is about five more minutes. And then this gives them time to begin to form their open questions.

Speaking of questions, there are different levels of inquiry that can lead us to a place of deeper reflection. We spend a lot of time today really about who did what, and these are usually more shallow questions.So it's how and why questions that take more time to answer, more reflection is needed. How and why questions cause us to pause, reconsider, or wait for, I guess a kind of transformation or clarity in our thinking process. Try to ask more how and why questions just as you go about your day. Just consider, am I asking people how and why questions to help them to think deeply? You'll see that it takes a little more thought and practice to form these kinds of questions. It could be something like, "Oh, I noticed this about you and I wonder, why did you do such and such?" Or, "How can I better understand your situation?" So those are how and why questions that help give the person time to respond by thinking more deeply. But another thing too is it really shows greater interest in learning more about a person and their situation.

Now the rest of the time in this session is really spent in an atmosphere of inner listening. What is inner listening? Wow. You're kind of listening to the movement of your soul. What seems to be surfacing? What additional questions need to be asked? The kind of questions can lead a person to consider a new point of view. Here, no explanation is needed behind the questions being asked at this time. These should be kept really simple and clear. And remember, don't influence the focus person one way or the other. Finally, as this session comes to a close, how do you know when clearness has been reached? Well, really there's a shift in energy that is really felt as a resolution settles in. This is a special time and personally I find this so gratifying. When the questions kind of fall away and the group becomes silent and more deeply quiet so there's a sense of peace, I just love this movement because it can really be filled with anticipation and excitement for the focus person.

And also you're receiving a sense of excitement from the focus person, because they've discovered the energy to move forward with a plan along with encouragement from the oversight person. This whole process is about the nurture of a person on a pathway toward finding life-giving choices. At the end of the session also, I've had where the focus person may share any clarity that they've reached, or sometimes the clerk might ask, "What are three steps you plan to take? Or, "What is the first thing that you want to do tomorrow?" And this helps the oversight person to follow up for nurture and transformation.

Now, one more thing I might add, there can sometimes be an audience observing this whole process for learning purposes. I participated in this also. So in a corporate setting, this is a great way to find new solutions to problems. You'll learn how to ask good questions that open the way to solving problems. In one occasion that I participated in using a similar format, the audience, which was about 30 people, contributed to the learning process by observing individuals on the committee. And in the end, the audience was asked "Who on the panel did you come to respect and why?" Or, "What committee member stood out to you as a godly example of care and nurture?" This was so great. It was a great way to learn to listen, ask good questions. And this was a good experience for me to learn with others. We kind of nurture each other in our spiritual practices. So several key practices again, come together when we participate in this Clearness Committee; Centering prayer, Holy listen, it's a great way to use your spiritual practices to help others.

One of my favorite authors, again, Parker Palmer, he's just great. He states that each of us has an inner teacher, a voice of truth that offers the guidance and power we need to deal with our problems. The only answer that counts is the one that arises from your own inner truth. I find that in his book, Hidden Wholeness, he devotes a complete chapter on the practice of a clearness committee. And I would highly suggest getting his book. In our uncertain times today with the COVID-19 and the structural changes that are taking place, this practice, I feel, should be offered more often as a means for individuals to find their way in confusing and continuously changing situations. Even casually with friends, you can pull up this practice and say, "Hey, does anybody have a problem? Let's practice what it takes to be on a Clearness Committee." Jeremiah 29:11 says, "For I know the plans I have for you, to give you hope and a future." Its wonderful to go on this journey with friends and seek answers to the questions or the current problems that we're dealing with.

Online you can find guidelines and resources to get started on forming a Clearness Committee. And I would really encourage you to begin the process by looking at the current situation you find yourself in today. Would a Clearness Committee be of help to you? If you'd like access to the show notes or resources, go to my webpage at Next time we will be looking at the practice of praying the Psalms, the prayer book of the Bible.

Thank you for listening and blessings on your journey.

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