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The Woodcarver: A Leadership Team Experience

Posted on October 29th, 2014

When we do staff retreats at New Life, we create “being” experiences before our “doing” of the actual work. We began, for example, one staff retreat by reviewing Jesus’ rhythms of solitude and ministry (Luke 4:1,11; Lk.4:42-43; 5:12-13; 6:12-18) followed by a discussion on an ancient, Chinese story called “The Woodcarver.” This truth of doing out of our being is so profound that I look for as many creative ways as possible to keep it before us through a wide assortment of mediums.

Feel free to use this with your leadership team.

Slowly read the poem twice, underlining and taking notes on what speaks to you. Afterwards, answer the questions that follow.


Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand
of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be
The work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”

Khing replied: “I am only a workman:
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit, did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to set
My heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days
I had forgotten praise or criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.

“By this time all thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
All that might distract me from the work
Had vanished.
I was collected in the single thought
Of the bell stand.

“Then I went to the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

-The Way of Chung Tzu

We asked the entire group: What words or phrases call out to you from this poem? (5-10 minutes)

We then gave them time alone for personal reflection around these questions: (25 minutes)

  1. From what do you need to do to guard your spirit?
  2. From what do you need to fast?

What do you need to forget?

  1. What practices or ways might you use that parallels Khing’s fasting and forgetting to arrive at a place of inner freedom?
  2. Consider the work that is before you. What difference does it make when you approach your work from Khing’s place: “I was collected”?

They then met in groups of three and shared together (25 minutes)


As a result of doing this exercise multiple times alone and with others, I have written in the jacket of my journal: “Guard your spirit from trifles. Fast from over-consuming. Forget others. Be a Woodcarver.”

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