Chef d’œuvre

A crisis is there to be managed or waited out. The goal of each day is to simply get through it. Until things are back to normal. But sometimes we’re dealing with a slog. […] During a slog, we have a chance to accept a new normal, even if it’s temporary, and to figure out how to make something of it. […] When we get to the other side of the slog and look back, what will we have contributed, learned and created?*
(Seth Godin)

We may be disappointed if we think this is going to be over soon.

The chef d’œuvre was the name given to a piece of work produced at the completion of a medieval apprenticeship. Seven years of training and this piece would determine whether the apprentice would move on to become a journeyman or have to try again. They were not allowed to explain their work, understanding the things they crafted to be alive and able to speak for themselves The question for those judging was whether this piece was lively enough to pass:

The event exemplifies the classic rite of passage ritual: a young person is taken outside of himself, exposed to danger, then reconfirmed as a valued member of the community. In medieval craftsmanship, the maker’s things took the journey for him.**

If you look up the meaning of chef d’œuvre now, you’ll probably come upon a definition alike this:


  1. a masterpiece.”the painting was made after a number of preliminary studies as a self-conscious chef d’oeuvre”

Some of our most important work – within and through our lives – can take a lifetime, following multiple experiences we may consider to be “preliminary studies.”

In the movement of Methodism that I belong to, a minister may retire when they have either “travelled” (it’s an itinerant ministry) for forty years or reach retirement age. At this point they ask permission of their local colleagues to “sit down,” offering a testimony of their work within this process.

The term chef d’œuvre caught my eye because next year it’s my turn. I’ll have completed forty years of travelling and wonder what I’ll say. There have been a lot of slogs along the way and yet I hope these have been embraced as important studies with their own value that eventually led me to the work that I love most of all – which is helping people to discover how amazing they are: fearfully and wonderfully made, “a mystery, wrapped in a question” as my friend Alex^ would say.

If you were to us this term of chef d’œuvre to reflect on what’s happening right now, how are things going, what’s coming into view, what’s the most important thing that you keep moving towards using everything as a means of contributing, learning, creating?

(*From Seth Godin’s blog: A situation vs a slog.)
(**From Richard Sennett’s Together.)
(^Alex McManus.)

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