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A Community of One?

Without realizing it, I had stopped reading and was looking at the unalome hanging in the window. I had intentionally placed it there as a constant and visual reminder that life is a journey, sometimes filled with twists and turns, at other times filled with peace and harmony.

Now conscious of the unalome, as my eyes traced the flow of the interconnecting cycles, I knew exactly where I was. My most recent cycle of life’s twists and turns had thankfully come to a close. I felt the melancholy lift as I understood that I was entering a new phase in my life. In this calm, the quiet voice inside me reminds me that it was now time to put the insights garnered over the last several months to work.

The past several months had been painful and hard won. I had learned it was my time to fly. And to do so, I had to let go of fear and conformity. At the same time, I was filled with the longing to belong and ached for connection. I remained at the edge, but I had been given the gift of insight and clarity. I knew that my next move was mine alone.

The book I had been reading, before my eyes unconsciously found their way to the unalome, was Wendell Berry’s Home Economies, a book of 14 essays, motivated by what Barry describes as “… a desire to make myself responsible at home in this world and in my native and chosen place.” The difference between ‘this world’ and a ‘native and chosen place’ had resonated with me. For the past several months, I have felt so torn, and I hoped this book might provide the insight I needed to become whole again.

The specific essay I had been reading was titled Does Community Have A Value? In this essay, Berry muses:

“The values that are assigned to community are emotional and spiritual—“cultural” —which makes it the subject of pieties that are merely vocal.”

This line caused my departure from the text—community is an emotional and spiritual construct. I finished reading the essay and stopped short at the very last line:

“The two economies, the natural and the human, support each other; each is the other’s hope of a durable and livable life.”

Natural and human economies as each other’s hope for a durable and livable life? A life in community? What did that mean? Was my longing to belong, my need to feel connected, a call to community? Or was it some form of a religious quest?

Surprisingly, these questions did not fill me with fear, panic, or the need to immediately answer them and move on, as they might have in previous periods in my life. The quiet voice inside reminded me of the Quaker promise “Have faith, and the way will open.” Similar to the Talmudic Angel Laylah’s advice to “Allow the way to be shown, rather than directing a path based on your current perspective.” In the peace and calm, all was going to unfold. This I knew for certain.

But I could not stop thinking about life in community. The only point of reference I could conjure was religious communities—Benedictine Monasteries being the most famous. Within these monasteries, The Rule of St. Benedict, written in the sixth century, a brief 96 pages, described the practical and thoughtful ways human beings can best live in community.

I know a bit about the Benedictines due to my fascination with and on-going practice of lectio divina. Lectio divina is a practice to read and study the written word with the heart, surrendering to whatever word or phrase catches your attention. The practice is a slow and meditative reading that enables the written word to resonate with the full range of the human condition. I have always daydreamed of a life where lectio divina is a part of the common hours. But I digress. Then again, maybe not . . .

The Rule of St. Benedict, as described by Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk:

Over and over, the Rule calls us to be more mindful of the little things, even as it reminds us of the big picture, allowing us a glimpse of who we can be when we remember to love. Benedict insists that this remembering is hard work needing daily attention and care. While Benedict respected the individual, he recognized that the purpose of individual growth is to share with others.

Sharing with others. What a different world.

I feel like we currently live in a world steeped and schooled in individualism. We live in a curated consumer culture, our unknown wants extracted from our travels in the metaverse, marketed to us as needs, then served up at every electronic turn. Have we, in fact, lost the ability to distinguish desires from needs? We curate our stories and compete for friends and attention on social media. For what purpose? We alone know what is right and wrong. But how can that be so different?

Could it be that living in community is about putting the greater necessity above our own individual preferences? Taking individual differences into account while establishing the primacy of a greater life? A call to live in the fractured and divided world, in the very community in which we find ourselves, remembering to love and to share with others?

I don’t know. But I am going to start with The Rule of St. Benedict. I hope it will show me a better way to live in this world, in community, with others. For one thing is certain …we need to do better than where we are.




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