Unfinished Business 

Our daily lives are smothered with tasks, activities, and deadlines. Some of these are what we might call “soft deadlines” and others are less so. The ones we must make happen. Depending on your role in a family, your place of work and responsibility, or your disposition in your spiritual life, you may be more affected and distracted by these deadlines or what we might call unfinished business. 

Most of us, in some way or another, would most likely like to be achieving more than we can make happen in a 24-hour period. We have sliced up the day and night into periods when certain things are supposed to happen, and we (or someone else) allocate the time in which it is supposed to occur. For example, if you want to have lunch at the San Damiano Retreat where I work, the bell will ring at noon, and you better show up in the next 20 minutes or so if you want you receive some hot and nicely prepared food. Showing up at 1:30 pm might find a kitchen empty of staff and bereft of a savory repast. 

However, it is not just the deadlines for tasks and activities I am talking about here, but rather whether something is finished or not. The poem that follows this reflection, perhaps says this better than my words here, but there is beauty in something not being finished. Not everything, but in many things. 

When you are reading a poem, or gazing at a scene or painting, you enter the creative world of the writer or artist. If you are sitting in a garden on a summer’s day, you find yourself daydreaming, at one with the plants and small animals scurrying around, the birds and insects visiting their favorite plants. You become a part of this unfinished scene that you are living in, you enter the poem or book you are reading, perhaps as an observer, perhaps as a participant. 

All of this requires us to be willing to see things as unfinished. Even the simplest exchanges, such as a conversation with someone should not be hurried just so you can have your point of view established and agreed. Most successful salespeople know that the relationship with the client is what is important, as that is likely to last longer than just an individual purchase, as trust, openness, and dialog become a part of the exchange. 

Our unwillingness to see the world or issues in this continuum of change (or unfinishedness) has a spiritual element to it. If we are open, our hearts and minds can participate in something that perhaps was thought to be finished but turns out was only started. We see this in many aspects of life. 

How do you view see yourself? Are you willing to leave something unfinished, or do you have to complete everything regardless of the outcome? How do others perceive you? As a listener, a doer, a companion? Perhaps all three? 

The Beauty of Unfinished Work 

The Beauty of Unfinished Work. 

Many feel this is the opposite, 

It is the feeling of failure,

Of tasks incomplete,

Of projects that define needs, 

But have a force within them that makes them.

Well … unfinished. 

It is the body of work without all its parts,

The building without a roof,

Not because it never had one, 

But something stopped it from getting topped. 

The grass that will not stop growing, 

Despite incessant mowing, 

It persists, as we irrigate and feed it,

With fertiliser, so it will grow faster …

Only to see the need to cut it again. 

It is the task list which never ends, 

The text messages and emails without a filter,

Or limit.

That make us feel like a failure.

Even though we are not. 

So, why is unfinished beautiful? 

How can the untended garden be lovely,

The child’s unruly hair, gorgeous? 

An untamed sea. 

I can’t tell, why, yet it is so.

When the poem is not complete,

When the movies ending is unsure,

When the lecture ends with a question not an answer. 

It is because, we are there.

We are in the room,

On the boat, 

In the movie, 

Without our eyes, and pens and paint brushes,

Crazily drawing and thinking, and drawing some more,

So we can finish the work.

Or if not finishing, then participating. 

In a real life, worth living, with the door of unfinishedness inviting us in.

Reflection and poem Copyright 2023 Michael J. Cunningham

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4 thoughts on “Unfinished business

  1. Coming to appreciate “A Spiritual Break” as a form of spiritual direction. Seems like I’m in a continual training phase for an undisclosed, not yet ready for mission. Maybe the training is not supposed to ever be finished.

    1. Tim, I think you are right. Once we think we have arrived, we have stopped the journey. It’s certainly true for me, there is always more to see and explore.

  2. Eileen (cousin in CT) likes A Spiritual Break!

    Thank you for sending this. I just got a chance to read it and the irony is I spent most of today doing errands and what must be done. This was a great reality check and I like the approach and message ❤️

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