A Sister just sent me a short email and as an aside, reminded me to be sure to make time for my ‘new community’ with my husband of several months. I confess I’m taking this as permission to invite my husband to go out to dinner tonight, since he’s done most of the cooking lately, been present while I was at work to have the old fridge replaced with a new one, and is now playing tennis until dark. I worked 13 hours out of town yesterday and 10 so far today, so this Sister is quite right that I not only may, but should, permit myself to spend some time with Michael.
He is one of my communities, but as someone who was single (if often dating) for many years, I’ve often felt the question: who is my community? I’ve blogged about this before, pointing out that a big difference for a Benedictine vs. an oblate is that as oblates, our primary communities usually aren’t involved in trying to uphold the Benedictine rule — even if many people share Benedictine values like hospitality, responsiveness, responsibility to others.
It can be easy to focus on what seems missing in one’s own life, when reading the extensive forms of shared communal support described in the Rule. But maybe a feistier angle would be to ask more simply: with whom do we spend our time right now? Who in our circles needs our support? To whom can we turn for support and companionship?
For those of us who work outside the home, there’s a community of shared responsibility at our jobs. Rarely can our work place be a fully reciprocal intentional community, but there is usually plenty to occupy our attention, compassion, and sense of responsibility in most jobs.
When I think of to whom I might offer my support, I find myself thinking more and more in recent years of the many unemployed but well-educated people that I know, some of them living on the margins, some homeless for a time. Many want to find meaningful work in their fields; others struggle with mental illness or immense debt or being bound to a particular place without the resources to move elsewhere. All of the people I have in mind are single. They don’t have the money to casually go out with friends, and find it hard to mingle in circles where people ask, “So what do you do?” I offer time and friendship as I’m able to friends — near and many afar — in these circumstances. While it’s easy to fall into the rut of feeling badly because I am a finite human being who cannot offer more meals, more time, or money, I sense keenly that it makes a beginning difference just to be aware as I speak and interact with others that our society isn’t readily hospitable to single people without work.
What are your own communities? How do you bring Benedictine eyes to your perception of them?
Being aware that most of our communities aren’t intentional ones (the way a monastic community is), I find myself thinking about how Jesus met so many people briefly, if memorably, as he traveled and talked about the Kingdom of God. Perhaps that is the place to begin and end each day: with a remembrance of a vision of the Kingdom of God, as a potential community of each and all of us, if we attend to one another within God’s heart. Particular intentional communities can bear witness to God’s own “Rule” or Realm in an especially potent, illuminating way . . . but where we lack those, we can remember the Greater Vision of the Kingdom of God, and take our bearings from there as we move through our days. In such contexts we may be more like apostles sent out than monks praying in community, but maybe if we’re clever we can see how others are bearing apostolic witness to us in turn.