What Our Hearts Know— True Spiritual Community
Many memorable moments have stayed with me from our time with Mark Nepo, featured speaker for Shalem’s Gerald May Seminar in March. Mark shared illuminating stories from around the world, revealing insights that we had been holding in our hearts but hadn’t yet named. The beauty and truth of his poetry released from many of us a knowing “ah” as we recognized the wisdom that was held between the words. The quality of rich silence as we ended our time together in community seemed remarkable and holy.
One particular discussion led me to further reflection about what happens when we join in a spiritual community. “Humanity is a global body,” Mark said. “When we meet like this, we aren’t just being self reflective. We are strengthening the immune system of humanity. When we do this work, it’s not navel-gazing as people who are afraid of this work would like to name it. When we can be whole hearted, we help move our time toward an era of greater compassion.”
In the chaotic times in which we live, many of us struggle with how we can make a difference. We long to bring love and hope to a hurting world. When I join in spiritual community, I often can sense that I am stronger. It’s as if the deep listening of others invites ever deeper listening from me. As heart calls to heart, I am increasingly able to loosen my grip on thinking, thinking, thinking, and I can open more fully to the Presence within, among and around. My discernment is clearer, more likely to be aligned with what is being invited. What a gift!
I also sense that when we meet in spiritual community, we may notice a collective strength. We feel that if only we could stay together, we could take on the issues of the world. I think this is one of the reasons that goodbyes are often so long at these gatherings; we long to stay together because deep spiritual community is sacred, gifted, and filled with possibility.
And yet, as powerful and important as they are, Mark points us to impact beyond individual and group experiences. He tells us that coming together in spiritual community, doing our “work” together, is strengthening the immune system of the global body. Can what happens with a group of about 200 people gathered a few blocks from the US Capitol on a Saturday afternoon in March help move our times toward greater compassion?
My mind answers, “I hope so.” My spiritual heart answers, “YES! We are one in God. Our prayerful intentions ripple beyond our small circle, impacting others in ways beyond our limited expectations and capacity.” I lean into a favorite quote by Rose Mary Dougherty: “True spiritual community is an expression of a contemplative heart. It expands beyond itself to embrace all humanity. The essence and the fruit of true spiritual community is an intercessory stance for our world.”
When we gather in our pilgrim community on the prayer-soaked island of Iona, we stir compassion for all living beings and Earth, and we know in our deepest being the communion of all Creation. When we join with Cuban prison chaplains in Matanzas, we understand that the language of the heart is far more powerful and far-reaching than our spoken language. When several thousand individuals and groups from around the world pray together in silence for 40 hours, we feel the truth of God’s limitless waves of love. When during the residencies of each of our long-term programs we steep ourselves in contemplative spiritual community, we know that we offer our blessings to those beyond our location. Yes, in these sacred moments of spiritual community, we are graced by Spirit to offer compassion to the world.
Spiritual community is at the heart of the contemplative path that Shalem seeks to nurture. We may not always recall what our hearts know: that true spiritual community is vital to the world’s well being. We are deeply blessed when we can join with others on this amazing journey that offers love and hope to us individually, to our gathered community, and to all beings everywhere.