The Purpose Quotient (PQ)
God on Monday
‘Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches...
who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp’ (Amos 6.4).
What on earth am I here for? That is the question behind this God on Monday series on ‘purpose’. Welcome to the tenth instalment!
Living without a clear sense of purpose breeds emptiness, complacency, and an indifference towards the needy. This was the state of rich people in Amos’ time. Lounging on their luxurious couches, they strummed meaningless songs on their harps, neglecting the poor. This narcissism and hedonism were leading - as they often do - to social injustice.
It is a very different scene in the Psalms. There we find the harpist singing songs with a purpose - the exultation and praise of God: ‘Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, Lord, among the nations’ (Ps 57.8-9; 108.2-3); ‘Praise his name with…timbrel and harp’ (Ps 149.3).
The contrast between these two types of harpist reveals something important about purpose: people engaged in the same activity can have widely divergent visions of that activity’s aim. A traveller passing by a medieval building site asked three stonemasons engaged in the same task what they were doing. The first said, ‘Laying stones’, the second said, ‘Building a wall’. The third, by far the most productive of the three, said ‘I am raising a great cathedral.’
However limited or expansive their sense of purpose, no medieval mason could have imagined to which purpose their labours would be put in 2021, as cathedrals became mass Covid-19 vaccination hubs. Yet the vision for cathedrals functioning as centres of physical (as well as spiritual) healing goes back to their foundations. The pillars and the ceiling stonework were built to resemble the trunks and branches of trees with leaves ‘for the healing of the nations’ (Rev 22.2).
The organization structure of a contemporary workplace reflects, like the architectural structure a gothic cathedral, its corporate purpose. The extent to which that purpose is grasped by its members often distinguishes employees focused on their time sheets from those so passionate about that purpose they hardly notice the clock. In that way, employees today are no different from ancient harpists and stonemasons; their sense of purpose, or lack of it, impacts their work. Whatever their intelligence quotient (IQ), they will also have a purpose quotient (PQ).
In Salisbury Cathedral, the organist found fresh purpose as he played soothing background music for those receiving their jabs, many of whom had no prior affinity with ‘sacred music’. His repertoire included J.S. Bach’s magnificent and passionate ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’. The work of a purpose-driven composer and organist combined with the work of purpose-driven stonemasons and healthcare workers to provide the vulnerable with a shot in the arm.
Peter Heslam, Director, Faith in Business