A Celebration of Winter Wonder: The Role of Community
Mary H. Reaman, D. Min.
Induced by our Gathering themes for January and reflecting on what has made the difference for me in terms of not just surviving the winter times of life, but living through them awake, I continue to come back to the power of community – intentional community – and how my various communities have sustained me through some of the most difficult times – the winter times – of my life.
Immediately coming to my mind, of course, is the Posse and the role they play(ed) in liberating me from incomplete and false beliefs or stories I tell myself, about myself. Until the Posse really mirrored to me the Strength and Potential I desired and had deep down, but had not raised into my full consciousness, I believed the story I had been telling myself since my youth – that I wasn’t very smart, or capable, that I am not enough… My Posse help(ed) me solidify a sense of my Self and belief in the Infinite Possibilities that Self contains and IS manifesting.
My union with Amanda, like all spousal relationships, is a community as well. And the support that comes from our union is unquestionably the most stable Ground of Being upon which I stand. That is to say, I feel that in the joining of our hearts and minds, a new creation emerges and sustains us. It belongs to neither of us as individuals, but emerges out of our union.
It is the creative passion that arises from the Love we share. It is Life Itself, alluring us to become new every moment and build on the Foundation between us. It is Eros, the Goddess of Playful Love luring us to the playground where youth is eternal and innumerable incarnations are awaiting to be breathed into Life.
And then I think about the TEN – Ten In the Spirit – A small faith community I was invited to join in 1993… Oh the Ten! How I resisted committing to the lot of them! But they were all such good people, amazing individuals…hopeful, convicted, love-centered…that deep down I knew I would regret it if I passed up the invitation to participate in this adventure into the Unknown.
We came together because of our own belief in the value of community, trusting the formative tool it can be if those involved willingly and openly share themselves in an environment of mutual trust, respect and humility. And now, here we are almost 20 years later, a very cohesive circle of love whose thoughts are never far from each other and whose prayers constantly contain the prayers of all.
This web of relationships has become for all of us involved, I think, a surprising net of support. Over time we have accompanied each other through the hills and dales of life. Births, deaths, resurrections of every kind – babies, divorces, the death of parents, siblings, friends, job changes, illnesses, healings, life changes, spiritual transformations…
I do not believe it is unique, that I, or others, experience a sort of existential loneliness – a feeling that we are alone in the deepest realms of our experience… and wholeheartedly participating in intentional community challenges the ego’s insistence that we are alone, that nobody really cares or understands… Community is our tether to the Divine Presence, our life line to remembering that there is Something More to life underlying All That Is.
Participating in intentional communities – from families, to teams, to friendships and spiritual communities like TLCUU isn’t easy. I don’t want to paint a rosy picture as if our participation in community can insulate us from pain. Quite to the contrary. Authentic community helps us face the pain, see the dis-ease, clean and dress the wounds that result from the combat of every day living. And community isn’t primarily about “getting along.” Rather, it is about learning to love and support the other, even when we don’t get along, when we do disagree and can’t find common ground.
Even when we are rowing our boat gently down stream, water rushes in, tree limbs jut out from the banks, rocks suddenly appear as the currents push us directly toward it. Community helps us keep our eyes, ears, hearts and minds open as we navigate the course. And when the storms do arise and we get tossed and turned, the boat torn to shreds, community swoops us up and says, simply, “I’ve got you. I’ve got you. It’s going to be okay.”
When my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I asked two wisdom figures in my life to accompany me and so we met regularly to pray and listen and support one another. We call ourselves the “Three Women.” These women were my mentors. Mothers. Sisters. Friends. These women are my heroes. They held me and bound my wounds, and stayed with me through the winters of life, reminding me of springs return.
And then there is the person who asked me to breakfast when I was associate pastor at St. Agnes. He was a parishioner. I was nervous when he asked me to breakfast because I assumed he wanted to complain or criticize or confront me about something I was doing or not doing as his pastor. But the week before we were to meet he left a message on my phone saying, “I just want you to know I don’t have any agenda for our breakfast meeting.”
Now 9 or 10 years later, he and I still eat breakfast together one morning a week. We simply share the journey, talk about Life, death, why we are here, our dreams, our disappointments. Sharing tears and prayers, silence and and shadows, diving beneath the surface of Everything. There is nothing we cannot talk about and everything we do talk about is in the context of the spiritual. Our breakfasts are a consistent source of Joy, Insight, Light, and Love.
The role these relationships and communities have played in my ability to persevere and to actually GROW through the winter times of my life is astounding. I wouldn’t be who I am without these relationships. That is true for all of us! Consider for a moment, those relationships that help you live – really live – awake!
My experience, my profoundly positive experience of participating in intentional communities, is why I do what I do! It’s the whole reason I founded TLC and believe in the power we have as an intentional or covenanted community to make a difference. Because when we make a difference in one life, that one life makes a difference to another and on and on until we begin to impact and transform culture.
Our competitive culture has suppressed our innate desire to cooperate, to help, to trust in and rely on others – especially when we are wounded or vulnerable. But this culture of competition and ladder climbing leaves us critically depleted in other ways – spiritually, relationally, emotionally and even physically. But in community, authentic community where there is a spirit of cooperation, of give and take, of shared desire that all of our needs be tended to, healing happens and new life emerges! I’ve seen it with my own eyes! I’ve been the benefit of it myself! I know what a source of strength, empowerment and love it can be!
But community doesn’t just happen. It is an investment. It is something that has to be tended to. Love costs! It costs commitment (staying in the relationship even when it’s hard). It costs time. It costs honesty. It requires humility. And yet, it pays off in the very ways it costs us! Community increases our commitment to One Self, it holds us accountable or said another way, encourages the cultivation of our gifts, talents and can even unearth treasures within ourselves that we have yet to discover.
Rumi said that the sole role of spiritual community is to open the heart. And I couldn’t agree more! The role of community is to help us keep our hearts open, no matter the reality we are facing. Because an open heart is the only way to make through the winters of life alive. Whenever we close our hearts to a part of ourselves, to another, to the suffering or even the joy in front of us, we live a half-life, a little more dead than alive – because we are separating ourselves from the very Life Source that sustains us – the web of life, the interconnections and communities that make every aspect of our lives, every emotion, every thought, every awareness possible.
All of us are part of communities within communities. Even our bodies is a community! And we contribute to every community we are part of – consciously or unconsciously – so we might as well choose to be conscious about our contribution. We have to ask ourselves, “What am I doing to contribute positively to this community?”
We gather here every Sunday for the very same reasons people all over the planet come together at critical times in life – to survive. But I’m learning that when we give ourselves whole-heartedly and intentionally to the communities that sustain us, we not only survive, we thrive. And winter turns into spring.
That’s the wonder of the winter times of life to me. Finding the hidden storehouses of wisdom, the deep wells of hope, and discovering when you have absolutely nothing left to give, that you don’t have to, and in fact, someone else is on standby ready to give to you, to catch you, to spot you.