October 26, 2010

I do my filing once a year whether I need to or not....

I just booked the cottage at our diocesan retreat center on the Olympic Peninsula for my annual Advent filing marathon retreat. In a 36-hour period in a beautiful relaxed setting accompanied by French-roast coffee in the morning and a good red wine at night I plow through an entire year of papers, correspondence, flyers, reminders, memos, planning documents and whatever else makes up the flotsam and jetsam of a year in ministry.

I know this goes against all the rules of time managers about only handling a piece of paper once, but efficiency is not my only goal. This time away offers a big picture approach for some critical reflection that brings the church year just ended into sharper focus. I always leave with a deep appreciation for the year past and excitement for the year ahead.

Here is how it works. My lower desk drawer holds about as much as the crate a case of copy paper comes in. I put everything I even remotely think I might want to save in that drawer. Almost like clockwork that drawer fills up once a quarter and the contents go into a paper crate marked “1st Quarter, 2nd Quarter, etc.” I find that if I really need something in the meantime rifling through one file box is not too onerous a task.

Then when the days grow short in December, I load the four boxes into my pick-up and head for paradise. Our retreat center is one of my most treasured spiritual destinations.

Once there I go through each box, holding each item, considering why I thought it might be important, perhaps making a note in my field notebook of a lesson learned. Over 75% ends up in the recycling. Then with the stack that remains I pull out a nice crisp new manila folder, label it by hand, and put it in the one box that will go home with me, a year’s filing done in a day.

For a people whose central act of worship is remembrance, filing can be a holy act. This collection of memories and lessons learned packed into a box becomes an outward and visible sign of a year well lived. Even the large stack sent to the recycler contains a wealth of thanksgivings. I actually look forward to filing when it provides a retreat for remembering.