Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Reflections on Community

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.
4.

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.

6 comments:

RC said...

Wow! What a powerful reflection. Thank you for sharing this with us, Paul. And thank you for your care for us and for your vulnerability in sharing. This is very encouraging to me. I commit to pray with you "that God will guide us all more and more into community in those places where God calls us to be," as you said. This helps and strengthens me in my commitment to invest in community in concrete ways and to seeking the Spirit's leading in living out my commitment. Thank you so much for sharing this--
--Rickey

living stones said...

Paul, thanks so much for giving voice to what is stirring inside you. I particularly appreciate your focus--"I'm also not talking about loneliness in order to talk about loneliness--but rather to talk about community."

I’m grateful for the present moment and the commitment to community we are sharing together, offering each other, as Keating says, “…space in which to grow as persons....” And I think we are growing. Amen!
--Anna

Vivian said...

"I'm grateful that I know enough of true community to feel lonely."

Such an interesting way to put it, and what relief! I have recently moved (again... I'm beginning to think of myself as a nomad :) ) and loneliness as a stay-at-home-mom, homeschooling in a new city with no church home or other groups yet. I'm grateful Christine passed this site on to me so I could read your post, Paul! What a nice reminder to embrace the sometimes lonely counterpart to knowing true community.

A Pilgrim said...

Thought provoking reflection. Thanks for sharing! Blessed Easter!

Daniel said...

Paul, thank you for sharing from such a deep place. I get the sense that you're really baring your soul here, and I can relate. That an awareness of our loneliness leads us to a deeper understanding of true community is a profound message. May we continue to grow together in the unity of the Spirit.

John Orzechowski said...

Paul, Forgive me for writing a comment so long after you posted. As others have expressed, this is an insightful reflection on community and loneliness. I have been blessed to be a part of this community. I was especially struck by your statement: "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."

Blog Archive