Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections on Community


The other day I was able to put language to something I had been experiencing for some time without realizing it: loneliness.

To be sure, I have several people with whom I regularly have deep spiritual dialogue, which is more than many people have. But mostly I am alone. Teaching is a lonely profession. Even when I am constantly with my students, I am only sometimes really with them--only sometimes do we break through into human connection--and even if that happens often, it only happens for a short time. Also, my marriage does not provide me with the sense of community that, before I was married, I thought it would. Much of the time my wife and I are more doing life near each other than with each other. This is not unusual, of course. Also, Living Stones has provided an important sense of community. We've been together now for more than three years! But we a community in a limited sense, in a real but small way. 

Now, I want to be careful to emphasize that none of what I'm saying is fault finding. I love my close spiritual friends, my work, my wife, and Living Stones! I'm just sharing and reflecting on this condition of loneliness. My reflections are not even evaluative but descriptive.

Also, I'm not asking for sympathy or commiseration for myself. I'm just using myself as an example. Most people are lonely, probably. Billy Joel conveys this when he sings in "Piano Man" that "Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness / But it's better than drinking alone".

Moreover, I'm also not talking about loneliness in order to talk about loneliness--but rather to talk about community.


People are designed to be in mutually edifying relationships. Spiritual friendships within the body of Christ are essential for the spiritual journey. Members of a spiritual community support each other in their spiritual walk through accepting each other as they are, through being mutually committed towards growing together, and through praying together. Communities with God at the center can serve as positive presences within the broader culture and can slowly transform the world. Community—in the highest, most human, and most spiritual sense of the term—is the end purpose of the spiritual life. Our aim is never to become more like Jesus for our own sake, but always in order to love and be loved more deeply, more purely, and more wholly.


Here are some poignant statements by Thomas Keating on community, taken from the end of Open Mind, Open Heart:

  • Progress in the spiritual journey is manifested by the unconditional acceptance of other people, beginning with those with whom we live.

  • A community of faith offers the support of example, correction, and mutual concern in the spiritual journey. Above all, participating in the mystery of Christ through the celebration of the liturgy, Eucharist, and silent prayer bind the community in a common search for transformation and union with God. The presence of Christ is ministered to each other and becomes tangible in the community, especially when it is gathered for worship or engaged in some work of service to those in need.

  • The moderations of the instinctual drives of the developing human organism for survival and security, affection and esteem, control and power allows true human needs to come into proper focus. Primary among these needs is intimacy with another or several human persons. By intimacy is meant the mutual sharing of thoughts, feelings, problems, and spiritual aspirations which gradually develops into spiritual friendship.

  • Spiritual friendship involving genuine self-disclosure is an essential ingredient for happiness both in marriage and in the celibate lifestyle. The experience of intimacy with another or several persons expands and deepens our capacity to relate to God and to everyone else. Under the influence of Divine Love the sexual energy is gradually transformed into universal compassion.

  • The spiritual radiation of a community depends on the commitment of its members to the inward journey and to each other. To offer one another space in which to grow as persons is an integral part of this commitment.

I'm grateful that I know enough of true community to feel lonely. I am grateful for the sense of community we've had through Living Stones for over three years now. It's been small, real, good thing. I have no expectations to put on this community for its future. We may grow into something more than we are. We may continue as we are. Either would be a blessing. We may become less of a community. If that is the spirit's leading, that would be okay as well. But I pray that God will guide us all more and more into community in those places where God calls us to be.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Introduction to Centering Prayer

Our small centering prayer group has been meeting for most of four years now. Our circle sometimes expands, sometimes contracts -- we may have three or four who pray on a Monday night to or perhaps eight or ten. This Lent, our priest, who has tried very hard for all of four years to avoid centering, has been led to join our group as a discipline for this season.

As might be expected, this has generated quite an interest in the group throughout the church, and we have had various visitors over the last several weeks. Some have merely appeared for one week, and some have returned to sit again. We are glad for the new life, but an unintended consequence has been that our leader, Gus, has given the "Intro to Centering Prayer" speech every single week since the first Monday of Lent!

Of course, it is a bit awkward to those of us who have heard said speech many times before, particularly to sit through it multiple weeks in a row. But, in the spirit of the centering prayer group, I have been trying to be more present, more aware, and find what the Spirit would have for me in this time.

I realized, as I listened, how deeply centering has become woven into my life. I remember those first hesitant days as I tried to center my first five minutes after reading Fr. Arico's (I think that is the correct name) description of the prayer. Something tugged at me.

And I remember thinking that perhaps the somewhat fundamentalist-leaning people at my (former) church would find out what I was doing and condemn me to whatever happens to people who become involved with deeper spirituality. And perhaps, I thought, I would just stop (and avoid that danger). But somehow, I could not.

I think about my on-and-off experience with centering for (can it be?) 6 years and how much of an unpracticed seeker I still consider myself; how I was drawn to the silence for the first time during RC's seminar on Lectio Divina.

I never thought this thread would be woven over and under so many pieces of my life. I did not see the windings on which this path would lead me. I do not know how I came from there to here. I only know I cannot but reach deeper into the silence of His presence.

I think, after all, it is good to review.


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