communion and community

Posted on May 4, 2010

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In all wisdom traditions and religions, there is a great commandment at the heart that bears a likeness to this: Love the Lord you God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And a second is unto it; love your neighbor as yourself.

There seems to be a common belief throughout the world that we as human beings must seek meaning in life and identify what takes highest priority; giving our devotion to that which resonates with meaning and truth; using it to prioritize our lives. This, I believe, applies to any system of truth, whether there is a belief in God or not. This is basic to the human experience. There also is a corollary part that goes along with it; A SECOND THAT IS LIKE UNTO IT. Love your neighbor as yourself. Learning to live with each other in ways that increase meaning in the lives of all those we connect with. Since this world is quite full of people (they’re everywhere!), any wisdom tradition would leave us devoid of much use and meaning without addressing this.

I find it very interesting that along with these two interrelated life commands; there is also two interrelated “inconsolable longings” that follow as a shadow of the two life commands.

The Commands:
~ Communion with What is Ultimate, the Source of Life, the Ground of Being; to seek and love what is the most important thing in life with your whole being.
~ Community with people where one can connect, communicate, and support one another around that which matters in life; to seek and lift up those around you fired by your inner Source of Love and Ground of Being.

The Inconsolable Longings:
~ There is infused within each person a longing for that which is ultimate, for transcendence, for an understanding of who we are, whose we are, from where we have come, to where are we going, and why.
~ There is infused within each person a longing to connect to others in deeper, soulful ways that both instruct our souls in the truth, and move our lives forward . . . together.

The paradoxical and inconsolable thing is this: THESE LONGINGS SEEM TO BE LARGELY UNMET. Why is it so hard to follow what it is that we are here for???

The commands quite obviously reflect something deep within, something we all know we need, but something that is missing.

I know many, many people that would say that their lives are fulfilled and complete. So first we must penetrate our own illusions by examining whether these really are largely unmet.

Most people care about things that matter. Most seek that which is ultimate, seeking to feel grounded and at one with themselves and with that which is greater than themselves. Yet we lock ourselves into a rat race where we work our hands to the bone for what? For that ultimate purpose in life, for the greater good, for things that have the greatest meaning in life? OR for the trivial? Do we work for truth, or do we work to just pay for our stuff that we have no real need for? Are our lives prioritized around that which is eternal, or that which is temporary, around truth or triviality? Whenever I question myself, I always come up short; wanting for meaning, transcendence, and truth.

So what about our relationships with others? Are they full of meaning? Do we even know each other? Do we care enough to ask? When we say, “How are you?” Do we have time to hear the long answer, or do we long for the short answer, “Fine”, so we can go on our way, quickly and quietly?

How often do we penetrate the façade of another person and connect heart to heart about things that matter? How many friends do I have that are integrally involved with me in moving my life forward; and I theirs? Whenever I question myself about this, I again come up very short; wanting for meaningful relationship, to know and be known, to see and be seen, to hear and be heard, to love and be loved.

Why do we live divided lives? And why do we say we don’t? . . . dividing us even more???

Are we able to dive deep within and discover the “hidden wholeness” inside each of us?

What is your vision of wholeness? Here is mine:

THE INNER WHOLENESS OF COMMUNION

By communion, I am referring to an inner oneness with one’s own soul, a connectedness with one’s Source, a sense of being grounded, connected, and whole.

I may be idealistic, but it occurs to me that if I say something like, “Love is most important to me,” then my actions will reflect that. If seeking meaning in life is of ultimate importance, then the greatest portion of my time would be devoted to this. If material possessions eat up my time and my energy leaving very little of me to devote to anything else, then what is ultimate in my life has become “material things.” Admitting this is a start. It may not make me “whole” but it will make me genuine or authentic, moving me out of the rut of being divided between (speaking untruthfully about) “my soul and my role”. If I am whole, my life will reflect my heart, my words will align with my actions, my highest priorities will be given highest priority in my daily life.

The heart of living grounded, connected, and whole is having a rich interior life based on contemplation, meditation, and prayer; being at home with yourself and your God, being at peace with yourself and your God, being one with yourself and your God.

THE OUTER WHOLENESS OF COMMUNITY

By community, I am referring to a largely nonexistent concept in my experience. So I must speak from a strong vision and longing I have within and from the experiences of others. The journey within, seeking what is ultimate in life, is a daunting, taxing, and mysterious journey. Taking this journey alone is very difficult. We end up losing our way far too often. Sometimes this losing-our-way ends up being quite destructive to our own soul and can also be destructive of the souls of others. We are so easily sidetracked and misguided. Yet we can only find meaning for our lives by turning to that inner light and listening for that still small voice for guidance. We need people around us that do not “fix, save, advise, or set us straight”. Imposing our truth on another gets us nowhere, because our truth then becomes second hand. Truth only speaks to our hearts in a transformative way when it is first hand. We need people that will listen openly and direct us within with gentle and open questions to seek more deeply the guidance of our inner teacher.

I have recently had conversations with two friends that are both from different countries in Africa. They both shared a longing for the community that they had there. About a year ago, I had the same conversation with a person from Jamaica. What is missing here in America? We’ve lost our heart. We have systematically destroyed community with consumerism, individualism, and greed. When I asked them if they thought it possible to recreate community here, the answers were quite dismal. The conversation then took a sharp turn toward the priorities of our culture (individualism, convenience, personal peace, affluence, consumption, etc). Without relationships and people being at the center of our priorities, community is impossible. Since I believe both communion AND community are indispensable for seeking and finding truth and meaning for our lives, then does this mean that we live in a society that has rendered its citizens incapable of living out the truth and meaning that their lives demand of them?

My experience is that people speak to each other in such ways as to put us off and keep us at a safe distance. We don’t want to HEAR others, because then we may feel their pain and that might become uncomfortable.

Even “fixing, saving, advising, and setting each other straight” is a way of holding each other at bay. “It is a strategy for abandoning each other while appearing to be concerned. Perhaps this explains why one of the most common laments of our time is that ‘no one really sees me, hears me or understands me.’ How can we understand another when instead of listening deeply, we rush to repair that person in order to excape further involvement? The sense of isolation and invisibility that marks so many lives — not least the lives of youth people, whom we constantly try to fix — is due in part to a mode of ‘helping’ that allows us to dismiss each other.” (Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, p.117.) For more, see below.***

We have even created language that supports our own safety:
What American does not know that the proper answer to “How are you?” is “Fine, and you”?
And what American does not know that the proper answer to “Fine, and you?” is “I’m just fine.”

This is such a useful exchange. It is like a stiff arm; keeping a safe distance between people. Heaven forbid we ever end up in such a predicament as getting an answer like, “I’m doing terrible”. What would we do then???

Ever observe people at a funeral? Everybody comes with a quaint saying or a Bible verse so that we can offer our “condolences” and be done with it. What people need is for us to just “sit” with them, listen to them, and share their pain with them. But that gets uncomfortable, so we have to say something. Why? Because it make US feel better. It keeps deeper feelings at bay. It keeps people at bay.

Maybe we can live an undivided life, if we intend it with all of our hearts. The problem I see, especially in churches, is that we do not live grounded, connected and whole because we really never intended it.

“Everybody is half-dead. Everybody avoids everybody, all over the place, in most situations, most all the time. I know; I’m one of those ‘everybodys.’ And, to me, it’s terrible. And so all I’m trying to do, all the time, is just open people up so they…let themselves be open to somebody else. That is all. That’s it.” (Nina Simone)

“Neighbors, coworkers, and even family members can live side by side for years without learning much about each other’s lives. As a result, we lose something of great value, for the more we know about another’s story, the harder it is to hate or harm that person.

“Because our stories make us vulnerable to being fixed, exploited, dismissed, or ignored, we have learned to tell them guardedly or not at all… Instead of telling our vulnerable stories, we seek safety in abstractions, speaking to each other about our opinions, ideas, and beliefs rather than about our lives.” (Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, p. 123)

*** “When you speak to me about your deepest questions, you do not want to be fixed or saved: you want to be seen and heard, to have your truth acknowledged and honored. If your problem is soul-deep, your soul alone knows what you need to do about it, and my presumptuous advice will only drive your soul back into the woods. So the best service I can render when you speak to me about such a struggle is to hold you faithfully in a space where you can listen to your inner teacher.

“But holding you that way takes time, energy, and patience. As the minutes tick by, with no outward sign that anything is happening for you, I start feeling anxious, useless, and foolish, and I start thinking about all the other things I have to do. Instead of keeping the space between us open for you to hear your soul, I fill it up with advice, not so much to meet your needs as to assuage my anxiety and get on with my life. Then I can disengage from you, a person with a troublesome problem, while saying to myself, ‘I tried to help’. I walk away feeling virtuous. You are left feeling unseen and unheard.” (pp. 117-118)

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