Community as a Spiritual Discipline

My previous post about what Pagan community looks like got me thinking about community and community building in general. To me, community building is in itself a spiritual discipline. The meal after a ritual is as important as the ritual itself. The regular covered dish dinners (one of the things I think the Baptist church I grew up in got right) are as important as the Sunday morning worship service. In fact, the charismatic church I attended my senior year in college understood this so much that they started having covered dish lunches every Sunday afternoon after the service!

From a Pagan perspective, each individual contains a spark of the Divine in their being. Perhaps some traditions don’t express it in exactly those words, but I think it’s universally (or nearly so) expressed in one way or another. For example, the Norse traditions hold to the idea that humans are descended from the gods. (How literally or symbolically this should be taken may be debated, but it’s there.) So there’s that sense of Divine origin and connection.

When I consider human relationships while holding this perspective in mind, even the simplest interactions become profound. Each time I laugh with a friend, share in his joy, or help dry her tears, the divine spark in me is reaching out and connecting with the divine spark in the other. In that moment, we are recognizing each other’s sacredness. A shared meal becomes a moment that strengthens our spiritual connection. And such connections should be strengthened, as they promote growth, both individually and collectively.

6 thoughts on “Community as a Spiritual Discipline”

  1. I am going to comment on these two posts…but I had to be away from the computer almost the entire day today and tonight. I’ll be back tomorrow.

  2. Ok, much of the stuff you wrote in the last two posts you and I talked about in chat…so I’ve been thinking on that, as well.

    In my opinion, I think the one significant thing that Christianity has gotten entirely wrong and (by your experience/explanation) pagan community has done right has to do with the idea that ALL our spiritual needs must be met by one community. Maybe this is where we have run into the problems with program-driven churches…they have tried too hard to be everything to everyone, and so they do none of it very well. Often it’s like Wal-mart for religion.

    Even the Jews in Jesus’ time had synagogue AND temple, with distinct differences in their purposes. Should we even expect to have worship and teaching at the same place?

    I’m not entirely sure how to remedy this, even in my own personal life…but it’s definitely something to think about.

    I think Christians worry about a couple things that prevent them from this approach. One would have to do with the concern that a person is receiving “right” teaching in all aspects of community…which in the pagan community seems like a moot point…not that you don’t have teaching but that it’s not expected to be conform to a certain creed…you said even with the Rede there is not an entirely uniform version that is held to. I wish we (christians) could be more flexible in that without cries of heresy.

    The other probably has to do with belonging…christians want to belong as much as anyone else, however (and I’m not sure why) we want to belong to an institution…a particular entity. Rather than being an extended family where everyone is interrelated simply by faith, we all want to have a membership card like church is a gym.

  3. Erin,

    I’ve been giving some careful thought to your great comment and I’m having trouble coming up with much to say that would do it justice.

    If you don’t mind an “outsider” offering a bit of advice, I’d say that the first step in changing these thing in the Christian community is to model and promote a change in perception. To be frank, I think Christians as a whole tend to have a certain amount of tunnel vision in regards to their community.

    Truth be told, there are already “community activities” outside of the church going on. Christians are inviting their friends over for coffee or dinner. They get together to pray. They do these things of their own accord. And yet, somehow, these things are not seen as valid forms of community-building — or at least not on par with those activities and programs “officially sponsored” by the church. That’s something that needs to change.

    People need to acknowledge their little groups and their activities outside of “official program.” They need to honor them. And most importantly, they need to be encouraged to continue them as an important part of communal life. Ideally, that encouragement would even come from the pulpits. But for now, I think it needs to come from individuals like yourself and your friends.

    I also think Christianity needs to re-examine the clergy-laity model they usually work under, and how they view ministers in general. I would recommend (and I personally think you can find Biblical support for such a suggestion) moving away from viewing ministers as “spiritual leaders and authorities” and more towards viewing them as “spiritual specialists” instead. This would have several positive effects, I think. The first would be that it would enable such “specialists” to work in non-institutional settings and through separate organizations. Imagine if your pastoral types could do their job without being fenced in by the same church that has to also provide the teacher and evangelist types. (My personal opinion is that pastoral types also work better when they don’t have to try to be all authoritarian too.)

    Also, such a paradigm shift would further emphasize the existence of and importance of “non-ministerial” gifts and specialists. It would provide opportunities to demonstrate how helpful and essential individuals in the laity can be to community building and health. In effect, it enables people to explore the verse from one of the epistles that says all believers are a part of a “holy priesthood.” Quite frankly, I think that’s a verse that gets little more than lip service, which is a state of affairs in desperate need of change.

    Those are just a few of my thoughts. 😉

  4. Sorry Jarred…I was away again all day yesterday…my MIL had the brain surgery Thurs., my brother/SIL had their first baby yesterday and my GFather is dying today.

    Anyhow I will come back to this as soon as I can, because it’s an interesting conversation to me. Just wanted to you know I’m not ignoring you.

  5. Erin: Sounds like your life is rather crazy right now! Don’t worry, take your time. Any updates on your mother-in-law? Congrats to your brother and his wife. And my condolences to your family regarding your grandfather.

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