Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Discipline of Community
Someone asked in a private message, "I have heard that to be a part of intentional community it requires reading and prayer to prepare for it. What do you think?"
There are different kinds of intentional communities, and they have different kinds of focuses. Merton would focus on prayer, because that's what his community was about. But different communities, like different people, have different gifts. You can get a community of service-minded folks or a community of evangelists or a community of Bible students... all of these are positive (see the book Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster for a description of the church as various kinds of gifted communities).
It seems to me that the one principle that everyone living in community needs to have is commitment to love the other people in the community. If you don't have that, you won't soon have a community. This doesn't mean that they need to know how to love before they get involved-- if they are in tune to the Spirit and to the other members of the community they will learn how to do that. But if a person is only half committed to the community, they will find that they are not actually in the community and never have been. If a person never spends time with the people in the community then that person will never be truly a part of the community. If a person spends time, but only to change the community, not to change themselves, they will be angry because the community never "listened" to them.
Every member of a community must be ready to listen to the community as a whole. They must be ready to change for the sake of the other. They must be ready to be flexible to allow themselves to be bent for the community. They must be ready to serve the community. They must pray for the members of the community. In this way, the community will grow in love and in Spirit and be a powerful voice in the world.
But choosing the right community is essential too. If we choose a community that is too focused on each other or on prayer, then it is a navel-gazing community, and it never grows in love as an entity. Also, if a community is only focused on the outward, on service or work, then it loses its spiritual core. The best community is a community of balance between God and their neighbor. In this way, we can be a community that both loves God, loves each other and loves one's neighbor, neglecting not a single one of God's commandments.