In ‘Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership’, Ruth Haley Barton refers to the words of a Benedictine monk concerning community. He said that what enabled his community to stay together for so long was a commitment to stability, the choice to ‘pick a community and stay with it; pick a path and stay on it’.
How often do we do that as Christians? Even if we think ourselves above the church-tourists who hop from church to church every week looking for the ‘perfect place’, are we so very different? How committed are we to the community we are in right now?
This particular monk had been in community with these brothers for fifty years. Fifty years with the same people. Fifty years, knowing that the only way you’d probably graduate from that community was through death. Fifty years of struggling with the same ‘difficult’ person. Fifty years of being known so well that you could not hide your heart even if you tried. Would you do that?
We can rationalise our movement in and out of different communities in this day and age where travel is easy and electronic communication easier still. We can say that even when we move away from our Christian community we are still ‘in community’ with them.
But is that the kind of community that God intends for us?
It seems to me that our real community are those with whom we do life week in and week out. They are the only ones in our lives who really see enough of our hidden selves to love us and correct us.
Facebook friends, the twice-a-year friends…I need you in my life. But you are not enough. I need a community of people whom I have known and by whom I have been known over long time periods and with whom I am STILL doing life each day or week.
And, for that, I need to ‘pick a community and stay with it; pick a path and stay on it’. For that, I need to give up my right to move around every time I get bored of one place or one people. I need to stay even when you are difficult to be in community with. I need to stay even when you are able to speak more accurately into my life than I want. I need to stay when you bore me. I need to stay when being in relationship with you is more than I want.
Who else hears this challenge to authentic Christian community, the kind which proceeds from years of the same lives smoothing the corners off each other daily or weekly rather than a few times a year or only electronically? And, ministers, who will surrender their dreams of being the ‘somebody’ always moving on from Christian community to community to ‘minister’ at greater and greater heights but never truly knowing or being known?
It is perhaps one of the most challenging calls – to love a people and give your life to them, committing not to leave them. I don’t know how many of us can do that. And yet, I see the lover of our souls. The one who gave his life to us and committed not to leave us. And I suspect he calls us to the same.