Questions to Ponder Alone

Who are the people in my life who make me feel resurrected?

When have I felt abandoned and how has that shaped my understanding of the truth?

Who comprises my "community" and how is it a mirror of the divine life?

How can my understanding of community be stretched to expand my capacity to draw others in?

How does a refusal to live in the present keep me from deeper understanding and experience of community?


Questions to Ponder with Others

How do I encourage, support, and promote the growth of others in God?

How has "labeling" others limited our ability to serve them authentically? How could this pattern be broken?

How has the temptation to retreat into individualism kept us from becoming fully human, fully alive?

How can we create a community that honors vulnerability?

What, other than death, is part of our shared and common humanity?



We Can't Go It Alone

Growing in Christ through Community

Psalm and Process for Meditation

CottagesIf we see humility as self-knowledge, that’s a very attractive virtue for modern people. Everyone wants to know themselves, and I think in coming to know yourself you need community, you need relationship, because you can’t know yourself in isolation. You don’t exist in isolation.

Laurence Freeman
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

Holy realism is … really the opposite of narcissism. It welcomes the presence of others, not as intruders on our own personal stage play but as gifts from God. The great Easter story about St. Benedict comes to mind. He says to someone who has come to his hermitage to tell him it is Easter—he may have interrupted St. Benedict at an inconvenient time—but Benedict looked at him and said, “I know that it is Easter for I have been granted the grace of seeing you.” That’s Holy Realism, which seeks the balance, the true proportion in all things.

Kathleen Norris
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

The denial of emotion is a terrible thing. But what takes time is learning that the positive path is the education of emotion not its uncritical indulgence, which actually locks us far more firmly into our mutual isolation. Likewise, the denial of rights is a terrible thing. And what takes time to learn is that the opposite of oppression is not a wilderness of litigation and reparation and recrimination, but the nurture of concrete shared respect. …

The community that freely promises to live together before God is one in which both truthfulness and respect are enshrined. I promise that I will not hide from you and that I will also at times help you not to hide from me or from yourself. I promise that your growth towards the good God wants for you will be a wholly natural and obvious priority for me, and I trust that you have made the same promise. And we have a lifetime for this. Without the promise, the temptation is always for the ego’s agenda to surface again, out of fear that I shall be abandoned once the truth is known, fear that I have no time or resource to change as it seems I must. But no one is going to run away, and the resources of the community are there on my behalf.

Archbishop Rowan Williams
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

Holy Realism … rejects polarization. And of course, we’re so comfortable with polarization in our lives, in our churches, and in the world. It’s so easy to think in terms of “us” and “them,” and you can put any label you want: liberal/conservative, gay or straight, secular or theocratic. But for the Christian, Christ blazes through our comfort zones and asks us to embrace something radically different.

Just one example of what I mean. I have been living in Hawaii for a time, and there’s a huge military presence there. Every armed service has at least one base on the island of Oahu alone. When troops were beginning to be deployed to the Persian Gulf, some women of our church who had been making Anglican prayer beads were asked to make some for the troops. They got, like, fifty volunteers. Whole families would come. They ended up making and distributing over 1200. Some of them were literally given to troops as they boarded the plane. They were given out by the military chaplains. With each set of beads was a little note from St. Clements’s Church with information on how to pray the beads, but also saying one could simply touch them and remember someone back home is praying for you.

Well, this little project made the newspapers and of course we got a few calls from people accusing us of aiding and abetting murderers. But I found it interesting in a church that some of the same people who were marching on every peace march in town were also making beads. One man told me that in the process of stringing the beads and making the knots and thinking of the young men and women who would carry them made him meditate on what it means to be one in Christ. It’s not necessarily comfortable and it’s beyond what we’re capable for ourselves, but it is a truth that Christ does make us one against all polarities.

Kathleen Norris
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

We live in community, even when we go off by ourselves. Remember the old song: "I see the moon and the moon sees me, the moon sees somebody I want to see; God bless the moon and God bless me and God bless somebody I want to see." To be in relationship with God is to be in relationship with every person who is also in relationship with God. And we do not need to speak the same language or have the same accent to be in true community; we have only to realize that we are all part of God, and to keep that uppermost in our mind and spirit as we live and relate to each other.

—William A. Kolb
 Community: Where the Holy Spirit Hangs Out

Benedictine spirituality is intent on our realizing that the presence of the other is also essential to my own development as well. Community is a Benedictine value. Do we need it now? We exist to be miracle workers for one another, and it is in community that we are called to grow. It’s in community that we come to see God in the other. It’s in community that we see our own emptiness filled up by the other. It’s community that calls me beyond the pinched horizons of my own life, my own country, my own race, and gives me the gifts I do not of myself have within me. …

A Benedictine spirituality of community calls for more than togetherness. Togetherness is very cheap community. Benedictine community calls for the open mind and the open heart. Benedict called always for minds opened to the shattering implications of the Scriptures. The fact is that Jesus was an assault on every closed mind in Israel. To those who thought that illness was a punishment for sin, Jesus called for openness. To those who considered tax collectors incapable of salvation, Jesus called for openness. To those who believed that the Messiah, to be real, had to be a military figure, Jesus was the nonviolent call to openness.

And so Benedict also calls us to open-heartedness. The Benedictine heart, the heart that saved Europe before us, is a place without boundaries. [It is] a place where the truth of the oneness of the human community shatters all barriers, opens all doors, refuses all prejudices, welcomes all strangers, listens to all voices, black and white, Arab and Jew, male and female. The data are in. The world is an electronic, commercial, political village. We cannot, you and I, go on much longer simply nodding to the neighbors in the parking lot after church, in the name of hospitality and community. We must begin to see the immorality of being socially, globally, unconscious. Socially, globally, narcissistic, and calling it the free market, democracy, and unipolarism. Individualism has not saved us. We need the wisdom of community now.

Joan Chittister
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

If Benedict’s contribution to Western culture and the survival of it through the Dark Ages was the God and person-centered local community, today his Rule can also inspire a God and person-centered global community. … This new global dimension of community, as St. Benedict [might have] envisioned it, is directly related, I would suggest, to a new kind of holiness. If we’ve got a new kind of community in the world, maybe it’s not so surprising that we have a new kind of holiness as well.

Laurence Freeman
Trinity Institute Benedictine Spirituality Conference, 2003

In the Buddhist view, wisdom and compassion are intrinsically linked together. One cannot be truly compassionate without wisdom. Wisdom—seeing the world as it really is—reveals the deep interrelatedness and impermanency of all things. When we genuinely recognize this, compassion is our natural response. When we have wisdom, we cannot help but feel compassion. By the same token, practicing compassion helps us to realize our fundamentally wise natures. Living compassionately means to think and act without putting ourselves at the center of the universe, without believing that "It's all about me." To recognize that the whole of existence does not revolve around these little entities we call our selves is the beginning of wisdom. Thus wisdom and compassion arise together. As we become more compassionate, we gain wisdom; as we become wiser, our compassionate natures are more fully revealed.

Wisdom and compassion are also innate. Our fundamental nature as persons is to be wise and compassionate, but years of social and self conditioning have obscured those qualities. We have learned to act and think in self-centered ways for so long that selfishness now seems natural. We need, think Buddhists, a practice, a discipline for reversing the effects of years of conditioning to return us to our true selves. Yet because our habits of self-centeredness are so deep and ingrained, the discipline needs to be gradual and gentle. We cannot expect radical transformation to happen overnight, nor can we expect to be the persons we wish to be simply by willing. Willing must be accompanied by acting. By acting compassionately and wisely, it becomes easier to will to be compassionate and wise. Buddhist spiritual practice, therefore, is a matter of training: learning and acting to be the persons we truly are.

—Mark Muesse
What Does It Mean to Lead a Spiritual Life? A Buddhist Perspective