Sunday, December 30, 2012

Growing Well in the Light

I've been laboring for a while to put into words just what makes community such a necessary part of spiritual life.  I don't mean by this that it is wrong or a failure for any of us attempt to stay faithful and connected to our gods alone; I don't mean to echo the words of Gerald Gardner, who said we could not "be a Witch alone."  Sometimes all magic, whether of a Pagan or a Quaker variety, has to happen in solitude.  Sometimes there is no community that is hearing the music we hear; sometimes we are called away, on our own; and sometimes, solitude is for a time precisely what we are called to experience.

But solitude in itself can never allow us to find our fullest spiritual growth.

Without a community around us that is also striving for direct experience of Spirit, our own efforts in that direction will be held back.  For one thing, when the men and women around us are good at going deep, they tend to pull us deeper along with them.  I think of that as a "slipstream effect"--like a bike or a small car that moves along effortlessly in the slipstream behind a large, fast-moving truck.  We can take an express elevator down into the deeps of spiritual communion when we are in company with others who are able to do the same thing, and that's wonderful.  Surely, spending time in communion with the sacred is the heart of religious life--of all religious life.  But there is more to it than that: it's not simply that we can get to the heart of worship faster in company with others, it is that that same heart is best nourished in company with others who have been in that same communion--whether or not we share any ready words for the experience.  

I keep coming back to, of all things, a scene from a Stephen King novel when I think about this part of spiritual life.  (You have no idea how I wish I could illustrate this point with a more important seeming text... but never mind!)

The scene is from his best-seller, The Stand, and it is the point in the story where his friends are trying to prepare Tom Cullen, a profoundly mentally retarded man, for a dangerous journey into hostile territory.  They decide to use hypnosis to plant suggestions Tom will need along the way, and in the course of speaking to the hypnotized Tom, they discover that he seems to be more intelligent, both smarter and wiser, while in trance.

They ask him why.

"This is God's Tom," he answers.

And that's the root of it... When we are deep in worship, we are in our fullest, best, completest selves: the selves we can only be in potential in our daily lives.  (Though, with work, we can bring more and more of that potential into life.)

This I know experientially.

When I have been in worship amid a community in worship, too, I have journeyed down into my deepest levels of self, to where God's Cat lives.  And the person next to me on the bench has become God's Frank, or God's Georgiana, or God's Margaret.  And in that deep self, not only am I able to be in closer communion with Spirit, but I experience my real kinship with those others who are in their deep selves, too. 

When I have been God's Cat, sitting next to God's George, I know George in a deeper and more loving way than I used to.  Not only that, but from that time forth, spending time with George will call to mind both the experience of communion with Spirit, and also will remind me of what it is like to be God's Cat--completer and more loving than I was before.

Spending time with George will become a way of deepening both my connection with Spirit and with the best, most promising parts of myself.

It is perfectly possible to cause a seed to sprout using only water; it is possible to feed a plant's early
needs using only light.  But for that seed to grow healthy roots, strong vines and leaves, and to bear abundant fruit, you need good, rich soil: organic matter, minerals, and the whole ecology of bacteria and fungi that are drawn to support the developing root.

lettuce seeds sprouting
Photo Credit: Rasbak
We're not so different from that.  Spiritual depth is best rooted in spiritual community.  We need each other, in order to grow well in the Light.

6 comments:

Mary Ellen said...

Cat, this is so wise and so true, as I also know experimentally. Thank you - and may you continue to bloom in community (and solitude) this new year.

cubbie said...

yes! hurray!

Heather said...

Thank you so much for this post, Cat. I have been feeling called lately to seek out community more than I have done in the past, and to build connections with other people, however I can. It's not something that I'm very good at, but I feel that I have spent enough time alone for now. I don't know if I will ever have the kind of community around me that you describe here, but I still dream about it.

Liz Opp said...

Gosh, it's so good to read you again, Cat!

Regarding your post, I think it's the "continuity of depth" in a beloved worship community that draws me back to worship week after week... It's probably also why I'm a Conservative-leaning Friend. The worship I experience in that community over the years is inherently richer and deeper--at least at the yearly meeting level--than what I've experienced elsewhere.

Your post also makes me wonder:

Is depth helped when we don't speak too soon, or when we don't gossip or get too chatty or "sweat the small stuff"?

I don't know if you get my meaning... I just know that there are times when at meeting, if people don't sit long enough with something that's trying to be birthed; or if people don't sit long enough with a difficulty that needs the darkness of internal exercise, then the depth of the overall experience--and the trust of God's ability to work through us--doesn't seem like it reaches its fullness.

Hope to be reading you and others again soon... and more regularly too.

Blessings,
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

jess said...

Cat, I'm so glad to have found you through Cycles of Transition! I agree and have longed for community for some time now. My wife, myself, and our family recently moved and some of us have begun attending a UU church (we're the token Pagans there at the moment) in search of that community. Many blessings on you today and all throughout this year!

Cat C-B said...

Thanks for your comments, all. Sorry it took me so long to come back to my own blog--it's been a very busy winter. *smile*

Mary Ellen, Cubbie, thank you for being such encouraging voices to me. I do appreciate it.

Heather, I wish you could have known me when I was younger, and before I began struggling to find my place in spiritual community. It has sometimes been a hard journey, but I have been transformed from someone who was painfully anxious and brittle into... well, not that. I like myself and I like being myself so much more than I did before my life in community began bumping the sharp edges away. Not saying you have sharp edges--but I have come to value what we can become in spiritual community very highly. I hope you'll find those connections you're seeking.

Liz, I think you are right, that that spiritual deepening needs sometimes to be held inwardly at times. To perhaps stretch an analogy, seeds need darkness when they begin their growth as well as light.

I do think that chattiness and even positive gossip (there really is such a thing, and when I know who is dating someone new or looking to adopt, I can hold them in greater tenderness because I know it) have a place in our communities. If I know you only in worship, my creaturely part may not trust our friendship to be real. I need a certain amount of "surface" time with my deepest relationships, as well as intimacy, and I think communities are like that, too. But I don't think that's what you're driving at--instead, I hear you saying that sometimes we need to hold our pain and our labor as a community patiently for a while, perhaps allowing ourselves to feel our confusion or grief over world events or a sense of emptiness, in order to eventually be gathered into something deeper and more true than what we get when we let our social selves rush in to fill an awkward feeling of strain or discomfort.

And if I understand you, I agree... though I think it is a hard discipline. (I wish more of us Liberal Friends were open to hard disciplines--not for the sake of severity, obviously, but because there is so much more we could be together if we could reach even an extra inch toward faithfulness...)

Jess, I'm glad you found this blog, too, and I hope there are writings here that will speak to you. Here's to your coming into a spiritual community to call home.

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