Some of the articles in last month’s exploration of sacred community lamented the difficulty in creating a community where one is supported and valued for who one is, where one can be vulnerable and real. Some had encountered such communities, usually when a group faced real issues together over a period of time. Usually the creation of such a community seemed just to happen. It was not planned. It raises the question of what, if anything, spiritual communities and groups can do to break down barriers between individuals and provide a place where participants can create a closer connection.
One possibility is to practice facing tough situations together. My church community has sponsored a class for over 50 years that helps to break through our defenses so we can find deeper community with each other. Called “Life, Community, and Faith”, the class is designed to help participants discover what their faith is – that is, where they actually turn for help and support in times of joy and sorrow. Through skits and role plays, class member confront numerous common situations where options are ambiguous. They talk together about how they felt as they played their parts or as they watched their colleagues in the mini-drama. Class members are invited to think of times in their own lives where they have had similar experiences and feelings.
At some point, the class confronts an unsolvable situation such as death. For me, it was here that I learned of my own propensity – like so many others – to “fix” the situation. I learned that telling some one in an extreme situation that “it will work out”, “it is for the best”, or even “I know how you feel”, or whatever had more to do with my own discomfort than any desire to help the individual in distress. I learned my response was not helpful, not even kind, since it devalued the very real feelings and circumstances faced by the other person. Through the skits and role plays, I got to practice simply coming alongside someone facing difficult or extreme circumstances. I got to practice simply listening without judging. I got to practice acknowledging where someone else is, and thereby validating them as a valued person.
Our class is not a cure-all. But it is true that class members usually bond tightly, that many find it easier both to state honestly where they are and to hear where others are.
The chance to practice community sometimes can result in real community. When that happens, it is a sacred result.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church