Thursday, July 16, 2009

In community…

To open ourselves to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit is to enter a new relationship with God.

It is a relationship not just with the Father but also with Jesus and with His Spirit. It is a relationship not just between us and God, but between us and everyone else who surrenders to the Father, acknowledges Jesus as Lord, and receives the power of the Holy Spirit.

It is the relationship which we find in community. It is the igniting of the explosion which goes on to this day.

Richard Rohr, from Great Themes of Scripture: New Testament, p. 91

Community. Even if God calls us to a life of prayer in solitude, community—the condition of being part of the Body of Christ, caught up in the holy and terrible life of the Trinity—is essentially who we are as Christians. The Desert Fathers and Mothers lived in loose communities or sketes; the medieval anchoress or anchorite, like Julian of Norwich, lived in a cell or “anchorhold” built against the wall of their local church, with a window into the church and another onto the street; the Orthodox poustiniks of Russia were attached to the village and its church near which they lived.

I pray that in these troubled times, especially in the worldwide Anglican Communion, none of us will ever forget this. We cannot live alone; members of any living body, if severed, do not live a wild and fruitful life: they die and rot. I cannot bear to think of my sisters and brothers like that. We must remain in community even when it hurts, even when we cannot for the life of us think what we’re doing there—only as part of a Eucharistic community can the life-blood of Christ, bearing the oxygen of the Spirit, flow freely in our veins.


Ken Eck said...

Thanks Mike. I think many people involved in these disputes need to step outside and take a big lungful of 'the oxygen of the Spirit' and let to it flow freely in their veins. Then they need to go and visit the poor, the hungry, and the sick. Haven't we heard that somewhere before?

Sue said...

My only real community for the past 10 years has been online. I want this to change and have been praying for it to change, but everything has been such a mess for me in so many ways that to enter into a community has been far too overwhelming a thought.

My consolation in these years has been my online friends who have shared the same road, and also the fact that despite what you say here, which I heartily, wholeheartedly, beating-heartedly agree with, there are times in our lives where we are out in the backside of the desert, and those times serve their purpose also in enabling us to better live in community once we return.

I was looking the other day at info online about an intentional community about an hour from where I live. They all live separately in their houses, but have common shared spaces - communal kitchen and hall. Art and craft is one of the focuses of their lives shared together. It sounds absolutely blissful :)

I do believe God is behind the giant mass of people who have departed out of Sunday morning meetings. I believe it is part of a new wineskin type situation. I think many people have needed to move away from Christian church buildings to begin to learn what community really means. I also agree with you that in troubled times, we can't forget that we all need each other, we are all connected in the one Body. I do believe we shall see greater evidences of this as the days go on, Mike. I really do. It is a faint hope but it has not died in the whole 10 years I have been relatively alone.

Mike Farley said...

I wondered if you'd have any interesting thoughts, Sue, when I posted this! Needn't have worried ;-)

The online community is so important. I'm sure there are ways of being a Christian, ways of doing church, that we haven't yet begun to imagine, and that are only possible in the age of the www.

What concerns me - just as it did in the days before the Internet, when isolated people, often housebound people, would depend on the BBC's Morning Service, and Songs of Praise, for their church - is the absence of sacrament, the absence of being part of a Eucharistic community. Not just Holy Communion, but being together physically. The hugs and the handshakes. But then I'm a very sacramental animal, and so it would bother me!

Believe me, I do so feel for "the giant mass of people who have departed out of Sunday morning meetings." I've experienced for myself some of the stuff that has driven that exodus! And yet I wonder. I wonder if stubbornly hanging in there, even if it means moving churches, and just sitting quietly in the back where no-one knows you, isn't in the long run a better option, a way to silently add one's weight to the forces that do, eventually, reform churches. St. Francis, Martin Luther, the Wesley Bros. OK sometimes they got thrown out, and had to start something new, but they didn't go by themselves into the "backside of the desert"!

I don't know. I hear what you say about old wineskins. I just wish there was some way for this inchoate diaspora to form itself into a real, rather than just a virtual, community. I do get scared for people living outside of Eucharistic communities. Tell me I'm wrong to be scared, Sue. Show me how this can work. If it can, I need to know. We all do. The whole church needs to know if God really is making new ways for community to happen. I mean that in all seriousness.

Love & blessings


Sue said...

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I was wondering after I posted my comment if I was going off on a tangent in talking about online communities and such, and people all being off by themselves. I did not mean to detract from what you are saying here about the importance of community because I thirst for it myself. I want to share life with other believers and I think it is vitally important. And yet I can't deny that these past 10 years of being out of anything organised have been the greatest period of growth for me and something I do believe the Father has called me into.

Do you think there is a difference between community of believers and a Sunday morning thing? If God was asking me to hook up with a group of people in that respect, I would. But I can't in conscience do it myself. I feel like I am folding myself down into patterns I have not been asked to fold myself down into. There is too much about the setup of the sunday morning thing that detracts from teh very community that I want. I just can't do it, Mike! :)

But community? A Eucharistic commnity? An intentional community? That's another thing entirely and I pant for that, absolutely.

And no, I do not believe that if this diaspora is a thing of God (and I do believe it) that it should be setting up camp anywhere. I believe it is a stage, I do not know what it means, I do not know if some great mammoth movement is going to arise out of it and I hope not because I hate movements :) But I do wonder if he has brought people out by themselves to bring them to the end of themselves, perhaps? There are things I have learnt out here that are invaluable, I have learnt to hear his voice for myself, I do not feel I will be swayed by those who wish to lord it over me any more. Those things are priceless.

Of course, for me, I was sick for 6+ years and then my marriage breakup and then the messy crap that came after that. Basically, the last 10 years have been a write-off, heh :) I do wonder if the same thing would have happened if I hadn't have gotten sick. Somehow I think it would have, but who knows?

Mike Farley said...

I think the really interesting thing in your latest comment, Sue - and it's hinted at in your Communitas post - is your sense that the diaspora of church-leavers is not, even potentially, a community itself. As you put it, it shouldn't be thinking of setting up camp anywhere.

I think it's a very honest and powerful position, to think of it as a stage, but a stage in which real encounters with God are possible. Something about the very temporary, provisional nature of that seems true and exciting.

I wonder what an intentional community devoid of Sunday mornings would look like. More like the community St. Francis founded, before it became settled and acquired property? And yet he remained loyal to the church of his day, corrupt as it was, Sunday mornings and all, and by his praying presence and his witness to the actual life of the Gospel, he transformed it.

But I hear your cry when you speak of folding yourself down into patterns. (Wonderful phrase!) Of course there is a difference, a profound and solid difference, between the "Sunday morning thing" and real community. Possibly that is one of the strengths of the traditional monastic community. The liturgical life of the community is not confined to one morning, and so that one morning can be there, special but part of it all; and those who meet and break bread together are real sisters or brothers, who live and work and play and weep together, as well as praying together in the Offices, not just Sunday morning acquaintances, with all the artifice and concern for appearances that that can imply.

Phew! Thanks for linking to this discussion on Communitas, Sue. Things may come from this cross-fertilisation, perhaps...

Anonymous said...

I wonder if we should think about community more as a verb than a noun - an action rather than a goal to be achieved. Perhaps true community is found in the struggle rather than after the struggle.