If you build it, they will come!

Posted by on 09.23.07 | 2 Comments
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As members of the Central Oregon Community Fire Circle sat around the fire in my backyard last night and shared sweetness, pain, laughter and large doses of love, I was thinking about the meaning of ‘church’. A couple of the members of the community, both under 20 years old, stayed after the circle broke up and had tea with me and my partner Andy. They both had been to a church-related function the evening before. Both are spiritual young people, and both have been churched. As they talked about the benefit and burden of religion in their life, the smallness of religion to contain their questions, and their search for broader views of themselves and their world, a knowing that has been in my head for a long time sunk down into my heart. What many of us humans seem to do, in lieu of a structure that can allow us to really grow, is find new venues, new ways of stretching and finding comfort at the same time. We yearn to gather, create sacred space (so that we can view our lives from a different perspective) and then enter that space with open hearts. We don’t need facilitation or admonishment–the love and respect that we have for each other is what is needed to hold the container for us to do the work of community. The community fire circles (which meet around the world) are only one such opportunity: we regularly come around the fire to warm our hearts and allow our truths to become more clear and honored, mirrored by our community. This type of honoring of each members’ wisdom and ability to connect is a powerful, if often lost, piece of the work of religious groups.


I receive a daily email from the Center for Action and Contemplation, Richard Rohr’s center in Albuquerque, NM. The email has excerpts from Rohr’s writings and teachings. Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest who has taken the work of St. Francis where it was meant to be: out into the world. Richard is a well-loved author, teacher and retreat master for Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Sometimes the daily emails are a bit too Catholic-based for me, a Methodist by background. Most of the time, though, the emails are spot-on. The one this Sunday morning (September 23) is an example–the reference to celibate priests is catholic, but the message is much larger.

From Richard Rohr: U.S. Catholic, Recipes of a Gourmet Pray-er
“We Need New Ways to Worship”

“As much as I love liturgy, it still reflects the pyramid structure of the Church. It suggests an official religious experience, from the pulpit to the people. There isn’t much chance for the community to feed on itself, to enrich and nurture itself. The priest’s religious experience becomes the only source. One result of this narrow sense of liturgy is a very limited view of the Scriptures. It is a celibate, male, clerical, sometimes academic reading of the Scriptures. Part of the reason New Jerusalem Community grew strong is that we had formats for worshiping and praying other than priest-led liturgy. I think the Church of the future is going to have to discover these formats. You see the power of other prayer gatherings, for instance, in the communidades de base, or base communities, which began in Latin America. They have sharing of lay religious experience. They ask, What is Jesus saying to us through the Scriptures and our daily lives? There is an opportunity to share faith experiences. Its non-academic; its non-male; its non-clerical. Its much more homey and folksy; its much more alive, even if its also harder to control. But that shouldn’t be our main concern, should it?”

I know that many of you are fortunate to have a spiritual community of some sort that both grounds and challenges you. For those of you who don’t…make one! In the spirit of following your heart’s subtle guidance, here are some suggestions from what I’ve learned about developing a spiritual support system:

  • Let your heart lead you–it has a keen perception for what you need to be grounded and whole.
  • If there’s no church or other spiritual group you’re affiliiated with, try gathering some friends who show interest for the specific purpose. Lay out some very simple ground rules, for example: this is not a therapy group; it is not a typical prayer group; it is not a place for ‘fixing’ each other’s problems. It IS, however, about finding safe and common ground for your hearts to find peace and connection. It DOES need some kind of ritual for opening and closing the space. It does take all of the members to make it work–no one can dominate or, conversely, be un-involved.
  • If someone chooses to participate in the developing community, they must ‘show up’ for each other–and allow others to do the same for them (often the harder of the two for our individualistic culture).
  • Prayers, readings, poetry (others or the members’ own), skits, music, chanting, drumming, dancing (and I’m sure there’s lots of other things that I haven’t thought of) can all be brought to the group.
  • If there IS a church or spiritual group you’re affiliated with, ask the pastor for ideas about how to develop a special group designed to be your ‘home-group’ for study, reflection, support, encouragement, etc.
  • Whatever your heart designs: if anyone else enjoys it and comes back for more, great. But if not, continue on–you are doing this for yourself. If you build it they will come! (They being other like-minded souls and hearts.)
  • If no one else joins you for awhile, it’s a great practice in not taking yourself too seriously! Hold the space–eventually your willingness to be the focal point for gathering will attract others.
  • In other words, it’s all about you–at the same time that it’s not about you at all (as in, don’t take it personally if it isn’t other people’s cup of tea, etc.)
  • Remember not to take any of it too seriously–don’t make a religion out of it!! (For instance, we start our fire circles with jokes or stories of what has made our hearts skip and be merry since we last met.) Laughter is a great way to open the heart!
  • Don’t expect everything that happens to be sweetness-and-light. The difficult stuff that comes as the community grows in intimacy is a sure sign that it’s working. You don’t want it to be a ‘bliss-bunny’ group. We’re as much darkness as we are light…
  • Don’t try to control the group’s development. Watch it like you would a beloved plant–water, feed and nourish it and see how it grows and morphs!
  • Feel free to contact me for support, encouragement, ideas. beth@virtualteahouse.com

To find out more about Father Rohr’s work: Center for Action and Contemplation www.cacradicalgrace.org

Beth, VTH Host




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