We never really realize the power of community until we step outside our busy lives and retreat with others.
Surrendering our technology, blocking out time, digging deep into listening to the stories of others and hardships they’ve endured, and the sweet expressions of joy as a result of working through them, can be a healing experience.
There are links found in the most subtle ways. Spending time talking about life we’re bound to encounter the subtle inclinations of commonality. We resound with a sense of common pain. Examples of hardship overcome and the daily grind of enduring in the face of seemingly impossible odds can inspire strength. Strength comes in the form of meeting tenuous events with an eye on survival. When we know others have faced them and lived to tell the tale, it inspires hope.
We take so much for granted in life. Those who come to our aid are the arms, hands and legs of our existence. My sister recently broke her arm when she fell on uneven pavement leaving church. My other sister saved the day by cooking for her and her family. My sister Kathy is a selfless soul. She is one of those people who is there for whoever needs her. I can’t count the times she has lifted me up and brought me to a new place of understanding with her tenacious attitude and positivity. Susie, the one who came to her aid, is a helper, too. It’s her nature.
My sisters inherited the convictions of my mom who believed in the tenets of creating community by opening the doors to whoever needed a place. Our house was the place where kids congregated. My dad called our pool “the community pool.”
Leaders in early Christian communities knew that the community would not survive without the service of one another and pooling of resources. My mother knew this implicitly, too. It wasn’t uncommon to set an extra place at the table for a guest who just happened to be passing through. We had a regular guest at our house who was always “between living places,” or needing “to find a new place.” He went for years not having a place to call his own and lived on the road, sleeping in his van. Our house was one of the stops to get a rest, a good hot meal, a warm house and warm shower. It was a place to rest his burdens.
Benedictine hospitality dictates this attitude as well. Benedictine hospitality makes space for the guest over a lifetime. It is a part of the Benedictine Rules. “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.”
Finding the poetry in community can revolutionize the way we think about life. Our ability to let others in is key in discovering the answers that work for now. All pain and suffering is a process of recovery. It may not be immediately alleviated, but the process of working through mental, emotional and spiritual anguish is a healing process that can only be initiated by owning our feelings and delivering the goods on seeking guidance.
I think of the moments of silence that reign between two people when a deep realization has come to light. Alchemy is working in the silence. Transformation is in the quiet and blessed understanding is working through the gaps of the known and unknown. We realize deeper when we penetrate with soulful awareness.
I saw a great image of a Labrador being approached by white Bengal tigers in a zoo. The dog was trapped and the tigers surrounded it. They outnumbered the dog. Viewers thought that the tigers would pounce on it and kill the dog. This isn’t what happened at all. The dog was embraced and the tigers cuddled with it. What onlookers didn’t know is this dog embraced them as cubs when their mother rejected them. It let them drink from its milk and provided for them. Contrary to popular belief an animal can remember those who weened them and attended to their needs. It is as if the subtle manner of loyalty grows with them.
Although it’s not a theory I’d like to readily test, as I am well aware of how the wilds can change an animal, there have been amusing stories to point to this truth. The same can be said for those who have raised us and nurtured our spiritual sensibilities with noble intentions.
In a solid, purposeful, intentional retreat there are levels of heartfelt knowing that culminate in connection; the notes of nurturing, the warm embrace of listening, the purposeful and intentional expressions of sincere sharing garner a comfort level of intimacy that is a form of agape – a sacred rite that transcends humanity’s short comings. For a time, we are face to face with vulnerability and stare directly in the face of fear.
A retreat leader who is guiding knows this first and foremost. A great leader creates a space that one knows is comfortable, blanketed in security and resting on a soft pillow of love.