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.
|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.