By Amy Carr
At a recent oblate meeting, one man observed ruefully, “I don’t know who my community is anymore!”
Perhaps he wonders this because it is hard to draw sharp lines around particular communities. At least for me, this observation has become as steady as the soundscape of cicadas in an Illinois summer: that this world is one, across all the places and friendships and family ties in which I have invested.
On this particular sleepless night, as a fall semester begins to organize my time tightly, images arise from late summer travels:
Of standing in a huge circle with my mother and two nieces in Manistique, Michigan, saying our goodbyes after a week spent together.
Of walking out on a pier to a lighthouse, soaking in as much of the Great Lakes as I can before heading back to the cornfields — aware of how much the undulations of waves in Lake Superior and Lake Michigan insist upon transcendence
–and all the same of how my eyes would focus only so long on a Lake Superior horizon before they would inevitably turn to study the assortment of smooth round stones around me on the shoreline, or catch sight of a seagull, or an ore boat.
Of my husband and me stopping in Wisconsin to see an old friend from my high school debate team and her husband — talking intensely for five hours about real things — coming to insights across our political differences about how we can be tempted amid anguish to demonize those who support a policy or leader we oppose; sharing why God and church are central to each of us; noticing how debates in the Native tribe in our hometown and university conflicts echo one another. . . .
May we all know such friendships that open our heart and mind simultaneously!
Other summer images that unite disparate places and things: sitting on a porch halfway up a mountain earlier this summer in western North Carolina, talking about death with my spouse’s stepfather who just lost a son, noticing that the cows on the side of the mountain across the valley were still grazing in the moonlight.
Writing back and forth with a theological colleague in another state whose work I am commenting upon — there is nothing for me like sustained intellectual conversation, especially about the manifestations of the sacred in human history, a history textured still by persistent oppressions (of racism, colonialism: themes in this particular conversation), and seeing what witnesses to their effects and what repeatedly (like the prophets, stirred to see and speak in the Holy Spirit) resists efforts to force acceptance of dehumanization.
All we are and do flows together.
What is a worshipping community, a monastery, an oblate gathering, but a place where we can cast light on the whole of our lives and remember how to open with regard to it?
Home, church, monastery: these are centers from which to see the entire horizon.
Church, monastery, family are not the telos, the focus of all our gaze, all our interest, all our commitment; they are the center from which radiate all the spokes of our communication, and God who sings and flies back and forth across the near and far.
There is a time to build a monastery, a congregation, a family.
But every temple is a lighthouse from which we can see that all the world is one.
Remembering that, we can move our gaze from the horizon to the stones that need noticing — what calls for attention in our vicinity. We can rearrange the stones that circle our gathered communities, forming new ones as the waves of the great lakes of our lives alter the shoreline.
Any call for community that makes the locus of our dwelling the horizon of our lives will go extinct — or generate grave suffering in trying to hold on to a vision looking only backwards, instead of perceiving the past with our present, tradition with the living God.
Better to live from the center of what is ever a fragile, temporary locus of the Kingdom of God — a current pattern of water and stone, of motion and stability, blessed by baptism forever.
The vision of the Kingdom of God abides because it is ever-gathering us together, the Spirit stirring us to behold and dwell with one another here, and here, and over there: every place near and far, the past always with the present.