Author: Rebecca Dale
Published in Communities Magazine Issue #154
“I keep turning to God / saying dance with me.”
Those words, hand-lettered onto a bit of birch bark, tumbled out of a package from Jaymee, away at college. And an image flashed into my mind of a girl with a dance card, filling every line with the name God (or Krishna, or Life, or Spirit, or…). Actually, I think Jaymee and God have been dancing together for a very long time.
She danced into our community and stayed for the better part of a year. She wanted to experience intentional community and it just so happened we had a room available. But I wondered why someone so young, energetic, and full of idealistic fervor wanted to hang out with a bunch of pokey people old enough to be her parents or grandparents. And I had been wondering why so many other young people have been drawn here in recent years. When I asked Jaymee what they are seeking—or finding—here, she replied, “A sanctuary!”
I don’t know what answer I expected, but the theological language surprised me. I know our land is a lovely place where nature is allowed to unfold without too much human interference, and I know our people have good hearts and caring ways. But we don’t have a shared spiritual path. In fact, as a group, we don’t talk about spiritual things much at all.
When I joined Currents, a rural community in southeastern Ohio, four years ago, the membership was down to five original members, all of whom seemed pretty allergic to religion! They also seemed wary of anything that called itself “spiritual.” And that was fine with me. By then I had developed a rich, inner spiritual life of my own and didn’t share it much. Several decades of what I consider religious or spiritual oppression had left a bitter taste in my mouth.
As a child, my spiritual life had been blessedly untroubled. I felt at home with the formal God of our Lutheran liturgy and with the loving Jesus of our Sunday school room. And I was on intimate terms with the Spirit who shone through the natural world of our farm’s fields and woods, and whom I felt in my own growing being. My parents taught us moral principles but never made God into a bogeyman. I think I had what might be called a natural religion with a bent toward nature mysticism.
That changed as I grew older and grew away from home. I started encountering people who told me I was “unsaved,” or just “didn’t have it” (whatever “it” was!). One woman told me that God had talked to her that morning and had a message for me. Of course it was about some way I needed to change. I thought it strange that God didn’t tell me in person.
These people wanted to mediate between God and me. Worse, they wanted to interpret my spiritual experiences and give me “guidance.” I resisted becoming a follower but doubts sometimes crept in. I wondered why people couldn’t just be comfortable with their own spiritual lives, sharing their feelings and insights with others as fellow travelers, not as competitors for “more spiritual than thou” status.
A turning point came for me when I discovered the book, The Findhorn Garden. It’s about the spiritual beginnings of Findhorn Community in Scotland. One of the founders, Eileen Caddy, was a spiritually sensitive person who frequently heard the voice of God within, wrote down what she heard, and through those spiritual leadings a most remarkable and influential community was born.
Although this book sparked my interest in intentional communities, the most valuable gift it gave me was the assurance that my own spiritual experience is real, and is all I need. For Eileen shared these words that God said to her in reference to this universal Presence: “Do you not realize that you have within you all wisdom, all knowledge, all understanding? You do not have to seek it without, but you have to take time to be still and to go deep within to find it. Many souls…prefer to live on someone else’s wisdom and knowledge instead of receiving it direct from the source themselves.”
Clearly, there are special souls like Eileen who are exquisitely attuned to the spiritual realm and have highly developed spiritual practices, just as there are musicians who hear nuances of sound, and artists who see light and color that the rest of us do not. I’m glad when they find ways to share these with us so all our lives are enriched. But I see now that my own experience is also valid, beautiful, and not to be discounted.
I’m sure my fellow communitarians have their own stories to tell about their early religious and spiritual experiences, and any oppression they might have encountered. We don’t talk about it, though. When people show up with spiritual agendas, the old-timers just sort of ignore any attempt to change us, and so do I. I think our polite resistance is really about wanting to claim our own experiences, including doubt or cynicism, and not to “live on someone else’s wisdom and knowledge.”
But Jaymee is like a spiritual sponge, soaking up wisdom and knowledge wherever she finds it. The difference is that she dances with it, choreographs her own changes, and doesn’t seem to let anyone intimidate her. Maybe the reason this community feels like a sanctuary is actually its freedom from religious/spiritual language and teaching, the freedom to go within and listen to that inner voice.
We held a potluck by the pond for Jaymee just before she left for college. Now, the only ritual we practice here is to circle-up before our meals, for announcements, community songs, silly songs, or sometimes just a quiet moment. But this time we turned the circle over to our young friend, and she gave a long, sweet prayer (yikes—did I really say that word?), invoking and appreciating the divine Presence that seems such an intimate part of her life. And there were smiles and tears all around, for this was her Dance with God, a dance into her next stage of Life, and we were privileged to share it.