Assorted Thoughts on Community

When I first joined the Church, I had a friend who said he assumed I was doing it for the community. I laughed -community is my least favorite part of church. As I said then, “People — whose bright idea was that?”

I generally like people — I like my family, I like my friends — but something about church community brings out the misanthrope in me. This morning I was getting ready to go to church, debating again whether I should seek another parish, because I have some very mixed feelings about the “community” at our current parish.

Talking to myself in my mind, I thought, “If I wanted to see another self-satisfied, perpetually complaining liberal prig, I’d look in the mirror.” And, “I get so tired of people who equate ‘community’ with a religiously tinged country club.” And, “I worked my ass off for this parish and I can’t even get a hello from some of these people.”

Another day, for good measure, I suppose I could throw in, “I feel most connected to God when I’m alone.”

Long before I converted, however, I came to understand the Buddhist concept of the three jewels: Buddha (Buddha nature or enlightened mind), Dharma (teachings), and Sangha (the community of practitioners). The popular American conception of Buddhism is the solitary meditator, achieving a state of perfect calm in silence, alone, without distraction. But this is incomplete at best. Consider how the Buddhist monk who is most popular in America, Thich Nhat Hanh, once described his work:

Our practice as a monk is not only to improve the quality of a person, but also to improve the quality of the life of a community. Community building, sangha building, is our true practice. And without a community, your practice cannot be strong enough. That is why it’s not true that Buddhism only offers a practice for individuals. Everything you can achieve as an individual can profit our community and our nation.

Buddhist meditation often focuses not on personal enlightement, but on all sentient beings, because suffering and happiness are not personal possessions. Their existence is felt by a community.

These are Christian ideas as well, but perhaps after growing up in a Christian culture, I did not really experience the truth of them until I saw them in a new light.

It is quite true that for myself, like many, it is easiest to experience the presence of God when I am alone. That is why the practice of community — of Church — is necessary. Because it is not easy, yet it is essential.

It is easy to love my children when they are asleep and cute. It is harder to act and feel loving when they are loud and stubborn — but that’s what I keep trying to do. It is easy to fall in love; it is hard to act and feel loving with the person who has been making fun of your taste in music, messing up the kitchen, and sometimes lying or saying unkind things to you for 15 years — yet that is the goal.

Solitary spirituality allows me to maintain the illusion of my separateness — from there I can judge everyone who is trying to practice community and screwing it up miserably. Solitary spiritual practice — without the counterpart of community — allows me to buff, shine, and gloss my selfinmage, which feels great! Community spiritual practice sands down that smooth finish, and that often feels unpleasant.

Christmas homilies often talk about the Incarnation as God coming to earth to be joined to all the mess that is humanness. Community spiritual practice is the same: I join myself to all those things I’d rather think I’m separate from, and in so doing open myself to God-in-all-things, or the birth of Christ in me.

Not that these thoughts add up to anything new, but they can at least remind me why I need to go back next week.

Published in: on December 30, 2007 at 1:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Quote for the Day

Maybe this can serve as an excuse for why I never post here . . .

“It is to be feared our nice speculations about . . . Theology have tended more to exercise mens Wits then to reform their lives . . . . Up then and be doing; and the Lord will be with us.” — John Smith, The Excellence and Nobleness of True Religion, c. 1660

Published in: on December 28, 2007 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment