Say there were a holy spirit, or a force of life, that wants to live in and through us, and that is suffering with our world, and the creatures in it, including us. How would that spirit express itself in the financial and estate planning process as the world's wealthiest, and the rest of us too, arrange our affairs, including what we pass on at death?
The voice of that spirit has been likened to a coal covered in ash, to a faint breeze, to a rising sea, to magma within what becomes a volcano. As a teacher or parent there is a stillness of listening, and waiting, when a larger question is asked, like a penny dropped down a well, waiting as the listener for the splash, if there is water down there, rather than just stones and dirt. Or it is like drilling an artesian well. The drill bit turns and turns through dirt and rock. Dry hole. Dry hole. But every so often, when the drill punches through, water erupts in a geyser, having traveled down from the mountains, and the melting snow, under the ledge, under dry sand, into the dessert. When the drill punches through, the living water rises, and there can be life amidst the sand. Or, if can be likened (H. Peter Karoff did, echoing the title of a book about Germany in the 1930's) to sleepwalkers. We wish to sleep through this time, as the earth and all living things struggle. And we do, turning in our sleep, groaning and awakening with night thoughts, sometimes night terrors, helpless. In the image from Karoff, as I remember it, the sleepwalkers are assembling in the town square, still asleep.
As front line advisors, instigators of the conversation about identity, tradition, purpose, family, love, dynasty, community, control, we determine by our demeanor, by our own bandwidth, what is open for discussion and what is not. We determine whether conversation about the capitals, what we carry as virtues and capacities other than money, is narrow in it is definition - oriented to the survival of the family and the money, one for the other, in a virtuous circle, pivoting on a blood line. Or whether that family sees itself as part of larger community, whose fate will mesh with that of the family. We cannot bring living water from dead wells. We cannot raise the dead, heal the sick, or make the blind sighted. That would take a legitimate miracle. We are more like the dead burying the dead. But at our best we can hold open a space, a hope, a momentary pause, where the spirit like a faint breeze can stir the curtains, or ruffle the papers on the table, or make the candle flame quiver. We cannot make the spirit come, but how often, in how many ways, have we shut her out, in our clients and in ourselves?
When we hold open a space for the holy, or the humane, or the spirit, or inspiration, what comes through that space is almost always the energies from below, at least they are mixed in with it, because we are fallible, flawed, broken creatures animated by fear, greed, lust, longing for control, paranoia, ego-intoxication, petty vanities, sentimentality, rancor, resentment, revenge, denial of death, and all the screens and defenses with which we protect ourselves from what we are called to do, perhaps at some sacrifice. The holy spirit is profligate and careless of any one life. Many seeds die on dry ground; only one here and there may survive to bear fruit. And that one or two may be all that is needed, each producing countless seeds. So, many are called and few chosen. The rest of us like Milton, in the sonnet on his blindness, serve by waiting, open to suggestion. Wait all our lives, some of us; die with what is best in us still unborn. And leave a leave legacy that repeats the pattern of our own sterility.
Epiphany, or hearing "the long distance call" (as Peter Karoff calls it, following a song by Simon and Garfunkle), or "the discernment of spirits," as taught by St. Ignatius Loyala, or the Quaker silence, or a time to think (Nancy Kline's phrase), or a generative moment (as Otto Sharmer calls it), or inspiration (as Tracy Gary calls it), or "whale spotting" (as David Solie calls it), or a clarity circle (as Parker Palmer calls it), or nondirective listening in the practice of Carl Rogers, all of these point toward what you could also celebrate as Pentecost. But for every ephipany there are endless apohenies, the seeing of pattern where there is none, the finding of revelation in nothing at all, the feeling of being called or chosen when it is only narcissism, or indigestion. We are imperfect vehicles for anything remotely holy. It is amazing that even the devil has time for us.
In the poem he always put first in his anthologies, and headed his first volume, Robert Frost, a New Hampshire hardscrabble farmer, trained for a time, at Harvard in Classics, invites the reader to go with him to clear the pasture spring, as the ice melts in mud-time. When the dead leaves, caked with ice, are raked away, the spring runs muddy before it runs clear. Sometimes you just have to let it run before you drink from the spring, much less bottle it. The structures created by our disciplines (law, accounting, financial services, legacy planning, gift planning, family governance) are bottling what water there is. A lot of it has not yet run clear. And we bottle it, for the wealthiest families, in structures designed to last one hundred years or more. We interpose our bottles between the spring and those who drink generations later. Goes in dirty. And must be drunk that way.
Could we simply hold that pause, as if palms up in the starlight, until the spirit (holy or unclean) speaks through our clients? Then, as faithful advisors, we do as directed. On balance, perhaps the holier spirit in our clients will make itself heard, if we listen, until the living water runs clear.