Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What is Spiritual Community?

About 5 years ago I was finishing nine years of classes to become a LUT. When the classes are completed you have to go through something called SDS. Skills Demonstration Seminar. It is an intensive week of lengthy exams, giving talks and meditations in front of a panel of Unity ministers, doing lots of inner spiritual work. In 2001 there was an opportunity for me to finish my last week of classes, stay over the weekend and do my SDS the following week. So to save the airfare of having to go to Unity Village again, I decided to do that. I discovered there were a few us that had also decided the same thing and we had an amazing experience over that weekend. We studied and tested each other with Bible questions, (where is the first place people are called Christians? what do the 7 days of creation represent? What year did Silent Unity begin? and on and on……….we roomed in the same set of cottages and we spent day and night, reviewing our talks, using flash cards and study guides, reading the Bible and praying.

In that period of time we formed a little community. It was a community based on need and circumstance. We happened to be going through the same experience at the same time. That is one kind of community.

A community can also be based on common experiences or interests. You may get together with people who have been raised in the same kind of culture, - my daughter went to the Ukrainian centre and learned the dancing and we ate lots of good Ukrainian food and met wonderful people that had formed a community based on their common culture and language. or it could be a Bridge Club or a hiking club.

And then there is something quite different called a spiritual community, which calls the relationship to an entirely different level because it is not based on needs or common experiences or shared interest. It is based on spiritual principles and when we are willing to be together in that way – incredible things happen. People who seem to have nothing in common can form a powerful spiritual community. Because holding the principles as a guiding light is more powerful than any interest or experience.

Often, those drawn together in spiritual community are people who under different circumstances would not necessarily spend time with each other. But that is the beauty of the spiritual community - it is based in Spirit. Not in our human-ness, not in our individualities, but in the principle that each one of us shares our spiritual nature – the nature of God. Each one of us is a unique creation of the divine. And when we see each other in that Light, and support each other in Truth, miracles happen.

Many of us can do things alone – but doing them in community really calls us to a higher level of commitment and intention. Community acts as a cauldron – a form where miracles happen – like alchemy………..things that are ordinary come together and become something greater than ever anticipated.

Some of the values that this community holds are: love, caring, growth, renewal. Unconditional love that allows us to be who we are without judgment. It is knowing that others will love you and appreciate you even when you are not feeling worthy of it. Through the good days and the times when we are struggling. Growth – that allow us to experiment and try new things in the supportive environment of love and caring. Renewal – a beautiful word that encompasses the cycles of outer energy and inner rest.

These are the gifts of a spiritual community. Can most of us say that we would love to experience those? love, acceptance, caring, growth and renewal.

What I have just described is what we RECEIVE from a spiritual community. How do we get it? How do we receive it? BY GIVING IT.

When I first realised this - suddenly I am thinking – I am not sure I can do that. I try to be loving but sometimes this person is so ____________ fill in the blank. I am accepting – most of the time…….

Guess what? We are learning how to do it all the time. That’s why it is called a spiritual practice. Perhaps in some areas we have had a lot of experience and we can act out of our spiritual principles most of the time. And there may be other areas, where we have not yet even tried. Be willing to do it imperfectly. Am I the only one who feels like they need to do it right – the first time – every time? Can you see what an unrealistic burden that places on us? We would not expect a child to jump on a bicycle and take off and ride perfectly. No – they are going to practice and probably have a few spills.

It’s a spiritual practice – be loving with yourself and be loving with others as they are also learning these skills. Spiritual community is where we get to practice these – because it is a place of love – acceptance – growth.

One of the greatest gifts you will receive is finding a place where people are going to support you in your spiritual practices.

So we have the intention to follow our spiritual principles and then………someone does something so – so unspiritual !

What do we do? What do we say when we see this?

There are some great examples of this in the Bible – and if you have done some reading in the Bible you will know that it is not all about love and grace. There are some pretty nasty stories about some pretty ugly deeds. In Unity we look at it all with the idea that there is always something to learn from everything that happens – the good, bad and ugly.

When I was thinking about how to describe how we support and love each other through our growing – I thought of a great example of how NOT to do it – so we are going to the story of Job - the place where we can read about all the strengths and the weaknesses of people just like you and me.

Some background: Job has been a good man all his life. He has a wife, children, herds of cattle and sheep- a prosperous man in every way. Then everything is taken away from him – his family, his possessions and even his health. He is sitting in the dirt – wondering – how did this all happen – to me – a good man! Perhaps you can relate ….

The part of the story that we are going to explore right now is Job’s friends. The ones that come to comfort him and be with him in this disastrous time of his life.

Eliphaz – God is doing this to you for a reason. It is not yours to question. When God is good and ready, He will turn everything around – you need to be patient and wait.

Job – show me how your words are of comfort.

Bildad – You must have done something! Perhaps your children were sinful, maybe you have been too proud. You have forgotten God. You have brought this upon yourself. “God will not reject a blameless person” You must have done something. As soon as you get right with God – God will get right with you. Here in Unity we might use words like – there must be something in your consciousness that attracted this to you.

Job – your words are full of the east wind – blowing hot and scorching. Read Job 19:1-4 “How long will you torment me, and break me in pieces with words? Even if it true that I have erred, my error remains with me” You do not need to remind me of what I know.

Zophar – things are so much more than you can imagine – you have no idea how great God is, or what is in the mind of God. You are obstinate and proud. No wonder God turns his face from you. It would take a miracle to change your life. “But a stupid person will get understanding when a wild ass is born a person” Repent and everything will be OK.

Job – “But I have understanding as well as you; I am not inferior to you. Who does not know such things as these?” “If only you would be silent – that would be your wisdom” “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes” Do you think I do not know these things – I am not an idiot. Tell me something I don’t know. READ Job 16:1-5

Can you see where Job’s friends have totally missed the spiritual practice of love? They have been critical - you did this to yourself. they have been condescending – just be patient, you are experiencing this for a reason, its for your own good. They have been stand-offish – it would take a miracle to fix this mess – good luck.

In Unity we have a name for this: metaphysical malpractice.

This is metaphysical malpractice and we all need to aware how easy it is to fall into this trap – in the guise of being a good friend, we use spirituality as a weapon. Has anything that has been said been helpful or comforting or accepting or loving?

When your friend is in pain – this is not a time to argue theology. One of my very first Unity teachers said: mind your own spiritual business.

In the end the prophet Elihu appears and says – “Let us choose what is right, let us determine among ourselves what is good” (Job 34:4) And I think these are beautiful words – words of comfort and empowerment. Let us (together) choose what is right.

Honour the connection your friend has with God. Hold the place for healing – even without words. St Francis said “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

There is incredible potential in the form called spiritual community. There is unlimited possibility for growing – growing in love, growing in Spirit. Honour this community you have created and always look for ways to nurture and support each other.