New Hampshire Enlightenment: Bretton Woods, Bethlehem and Predictable Miracles

A musing I had last October but had not yet had a chance to publish...

I recently read the epilogue to Joseph Jaworski’s extraordinary book Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership. This is not a religious work and would be regarded by most as a “leadership and management text.” Notwithstanding such labels it certainly has a strong spiritual dimension. It’s said in management circles that “what gets measured gets done.” This may mean that what cannot be measured often gets neglected. One of Jaworski’s key themes would be that the “immeasurables” always deserve more attention than they get and that through such immeasurables we get access to “predictable miracles.”

The epilogue concerns a profound meeting that Jaworski attended in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. This was a meeting where the importance of the immeasurables – the “numinous” is the term used in the book – became clearly evident to all attendees and a range of predictable miracles occurred. That meeting occurred exactly fifty years after the famous Bretton Woods convention of 1944. That 1944 conference was scene-setter for modern monetary policy, and it’s probably best known for that connection to orthodox economics. But it was also a meeting where a profound, collective shift occurred in human consciousness.

It'swidely thought that, after World War I, the reparations agreements of Versailles had created a culture of blame that fuelled the growth of German Nazism. At Bretton Woods there was a recognition that “the whole world” had been part of the downfall in “one of the parts.” So the language of Bretton Woods was suddenly about getting every player “back on its feet” regardless of any victim and perpetrator labels.


Almost seven-years-to-the-day prior to reading the epilogue (which I did last week) I found myself, with my wife and parents-in-law, in the neighbourhood of Bretton Woods. It was a comic couple of days. A long weekend holiday meant that our preferred accommodation in Littleton, New Hampshire, was booked out. But while there was no room at the inn in Littleton, there was room, just up the road, in the village of Bethlehem. Just two rooms were left at a most questionable establishment. We elected to stay together in one of the rooms, uncertain of the shady characters lurking about outside.

Other “humour” ensued: a tasteless, fatty American dinner; an impromptu, mid-bath dance with a slimy shower curtain; shared sleep apnoea and the near destruction of a breakfast bread bin (for want of decent instructions on how to get it open). Heading out of Bethlehem after our stay, I knew we were heading towards Bretton Woods, and I knew of its significance from my economics studies. I was keen to see it but I judged that no on else would be terribly interested and it would upset our arrival plans in Quebec. So, without saying anything, we turned off the highway just ten miles from Bretton Woods and went – cross-country – towards Canada.

The comedy of our Bethlehem stay has kept it present in our anecdote-sharing from time to time. But, quite naturally, nothing was ever said of Bretton Woods. Then suddenly, just two months ago and nearly seven years after our visit my Father-in-law said to me,

“Why didn’t we go to Bretton Woods?”

“Do you know we were only a short distance from Bretton Woods?”


Do we ever really know when we are a short distance from Bretton Woods?


In our clinical western ways, we’ve learnt a great deal about the factuality of Bible stories. Take the Jesus birth narratives for example. We’re fairly sure that Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem. That seemed to be a literary device to connect with Jewish understandings of messianic succession. We suspect that a nearly-nine-months-pregnant woman couldn’t have possibly made the journey that Mary made in the stories. And, by our clever reckoning, it doesn’t make much sense that a census would have occurred around the time of Jesus birth.

But fact and truth are different matters all together. For all the question marks about facts there is still a good deal of truth in these stories. The writings of Thomas Merton – twentieth century mystic – revealed one such poignant truth to me.

In Jesus’ brief “career” he put forward an alternative political manifesto, which came to be known as “The Kingdom of God.” Jesus wanted people to understand “the divine” in the best Hebraic tradition, which meant that divinity is made evident in the relationship of all things. This understanding of a relational God was a contra-understanding to the many of the legalistic religious understandings that Jesus encountered. It was also contra to the judgemental, “measurement oriented” (who is in and who is out) politics and philosophy of Greco-Roman traditions.

Merton argued that if you are going to tell a birth story about this man, what better way to “set it up” than to have a census (that is a “measurement” of the people, a “sorting” of people into demographic distinctions that might be helpful for “managing” people but is not the stuff of relationship). Of course everybody at the inn is there for the counting, so to speak. But not Jesus. It’s important that the story shows he is born outside of the counting house. He stood for something beyond measurement. That’s a profound truth.


Putting all of these snippets together, it was highly appropriate that there WAS room for me at the Inn in Bethlehem back in 2002. It was also highly appropriate that I turned off BEFORE I reached Bretton Woods. I was comfortable in my measured orld back then and those were the predictably miraculous responses to the possibilities that presented themselves. Equally, my Father-in-law’s question – seven years later – was predictably miraculous.

“Do you know we were only a short distance from Bretton Woods?”

A short distance maybe but I didn’t really know how far away I was, metaphorically speaking. Whether I’m ever “ready” to step outside my “inn” and into my “Bretton Woods” in 2010, I don’t know. I sense I step out and in quite often. What I am now aware of however is the possibility for that “in and out” to happen, and that may be the biggest predictable miracle of all.

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