Seeking a Spiritual Community Home
Victoria Adams (Stillwater Sabbatical, Montana) poses some questions for evaluating a community as a possible home. In particular, she invites a look at the balance between time for introspection and level of engagement with others; of finding a home where there is opportunity to know your own mind, and the minds of others.
For some of us, there comes a time in our lives when our spiritual development requires us to be in the company of like-minded folks, or in an atmosphere of genuine and sincere inquiry. When you are seeking a spiritually oriented community, there are a few questions that should be considered carefully.
Your first duty to yourself, and those you wish to share your time with, is to define your purpose for seeking such a community. Are you prepared to approach differences with an open mind, to learn from others as well as share your own feelings and needs? What is the prospective community’s position regarding each member’s personal needs? Without going to the extreme of “looking out for number one,” our personal health (mental, spiritual, and physical) needs to be nourished for us to function well. A community should offer a balanced lifestyle with the understanding that not everyone thrives with the same diet, physical regimen, or level of spiritual discipline.
Is there time provided for recreation and solitude? Are members allowed to wander off and let the breeze blow through the belfry and ring a bell or two? Or, are they kept in a constant tizzy of activity with little time to think? If you are sincerely seeking to develop your own spirituality, and not someone else’s version of it, you must have time to digest what you learn. Your mind, as well as your body, requires rest, quietude, and time alone. It is at these times that you learn how to think, to determine your own thoughts, rather than what to think, or what someone has told you to think. Keep in mind that development of our spiritual selves comes, for the most part, through interaction with those that we agree with, as well as the challenge of working with those we differ with.
What is the relationship of the community with society in general, or nonmembers living near it? Be very careful of groups who look at the rest of the world with an “us against them” attitude. It is best to find a group that devotes some energy to a wider community service; the kind that says “we care,” not “we are superior.” Sharing should come from an attitude of compassion and mutual understanding, not arrogance or dissention.
Most religions and philosophies include the axiom that what is not shared will die; so we must share what we believe. However strong the desire to share is, though, in no event do you have the right to force others to believe as you do. In Christianity (as it is practiced at Still Water Sabbatical) God Himself does not override human free will; why then should we?
What is the relationship of the community to the natural world? Do lifestyle choices exhibit a caring attitude toward the earth? Whatever you believe about how this earth appeared, we are all very dependent on what the planet provides us. Make sure the group seriously considers the benefits from community activities versus the price — not just in dollars, but in social and environmental costs as well.
Are the principles being advocated for others carried out at home? Avoid those groups with a double standard — one set of rules for “us” and a different set for “them.” A healthy attitude includes a sense of personal responsibility for what “we” are doing, as well as the desire to correct whatever “they” are doing.
It is also important to find a group that seeks creative alternatives when differences arise, and mutually beneficial solutions when there are conflicting interests. Seek a community that accepts the differences among its members within prestated parameters. Most important is the ability to leave amicably should you decide that a community is just not the place for you.
An intentional community that encourages your spiritual growth can be a rewarding place to live. From those of us at Still Water Sabbatical, good hunting, and may your journey be fruitful!
About the Author
Victoria Adams, together with her husband Jonathon, is one of the founding members of Still Water Sabbatical, a small but growing community of nondenominational believers located in northwest Montana. Their main goal was to develop a self-sufficient atmosphere where honest inquiry into the Christian faith, and its relationship to current world affairs, could occur. It is also their hope to make the results of that inquiry available by mail and bulletin board. Victoria has taught adults and children in varied subject areas. In recent years, writing has taken the place of some of the classroom and general fellowship participation.