Here is March’s Multnomah Voice article. I hope you like it! A couple of things first:
1) On Sunday, another MU student and I are going to go visit the Springwater Community for dinner and a worship service. The Springwater Community is an intentional Christian community in the Lents area of Portland. As I’ve mentioned on the blog before, God has given me the desire (and responsibility) to live in intentional Christian community, engaging the greater Portland community thereby. Intentional Christian community is one of my very highest priorities for post-grad school life. So, the chance to visit a community that already exists here in Portland that is doing what I want to do is extremely exciting! I’m praying that good connections and good things for the future come out of Sunday’s visit. You can pray too, if you’re so inclined.
2) Another community note: the Mount Angel Abbey, a Benedictine Abbey about 1 hour south of Portland, is doing a Monastic Spirituality Retreat on August 19-21. Here’s the description from the website: For lay people interested in learning about the Rule of St. Benedict, attending the Liturgy of the Hours (the singing of psalms and scripture) and the daily monastic spiritual life. All faiths and genders welcome. I’m hoping to round up some other interested people to bring along. It should be a rich weekend for learning and reflecting and praying.
The Discipline of Community
A professor here at MU’s seminary is fond of quoting something Henri Nouwen said about community: “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” This means, among other things, that for the people you are in community with, you may well be that person with whom they least want to live. It is true: when we enter into community we learn both the shortcomings of others and the shortcomings of ourselves. When we enter into community we acquire an awareness of the depth of our fallen natures, an appreciation for the vastness of grace and a gratitude for God’s steadfast patience with us (in addition to a desire for more of that patience for each other.) In a word, community is difficult. And yet, community is precious, it is beloved and it is blessed. Community is where we experience the fullness of our incorporation into Christ and our unity with one another.
A testament to the importance of community is the centrality of its place within Christian life and practice over the two thousand years of the Christian era. St. Benedict includes many admonitions about the importance of community in his Rule for the monasteries he established. He recognized that, in many respects, life in community is more challenging than the hermetic existences of the desert monks whose practice characterized much of early Christian monasticism. In her introduction to St. Benedict’s rule, Sister Jane Michele McClure, OSB comments “Benedict’s genius was understanding that each person’s rough edges—all the defenses and pretensions and blind spots that keep the monastic from growing spiritually—are best confronted by living side by side with other flawed human beings whose faults and failings are only too obvious …Though Benedict was no idealist with respect to human nature, he understood that the key to spiritual progress lies in constantly making the effort to see Christ in each person—no matter how irritating or tiresome.” (http://www.thedome.org/about/rule-of-st-benedict/the-importance-of-community-life/) The type of community that Benedict describes cannot be experienced or achieved except through the grace of Christ and the presence of the Kingdom of God in our midst. Although we cannot use community to force Christlikeness or to somehow fabricate an experience of the Kingdom on earth, we can recognize community as a gift of God to those who are in Christ and a foretaste of the kingdom here and now.
So we see, in community we learn to accept those who are not as we would have them be. We learn how to help in a way that builds up and points to Christ. And we also learn how to be helped and loved simply because we are children of God in Christ. This is the aspect of community which continually blesses and surprises me. I am not called to be in community for what I can contribute or how I can help out. The communities I am a part of do not accept me and love me because of my good qualities. Nor will they reject me because of my bad qualities. This is an essential part of the importance of community: we are shown unmerited grace from others, exactly because they have been shown unmerited grace from Christ. When we experience true community it is cruciform community which is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. There is no other kind. Through Christian community the body of Christ can engage the world around us and bring them in. When New Wine, New Wineskins members head out to 82nd street on Friday nights to hand out hot dogs, for example, this is community which reaches out, engages and welcomes in. Christian community should, like God Himself, be expansive, inviting the world to come and experience and participate.
So, knowing that in community we will live with those whom we do not like and knowing that community is the experience of having our rough edges made smooth through the friction of rubbing up against one another, let us do community because Christ lives there and because His love lives tangibly there, waiting for us to experience it and be transformed by it.