Friday, December 23, 2011

Can We Achieve Community in Complete Silence?

You may remember this post, where I wrote about talking to my friends about why one has a spiritual practice in this age of science.  My spouse, a fellow life-long Lutheran, took part; both friends were raised Catholic, before one decided to be an atheist and one decided to become non-practicing.

Last night, the non-practicing friend told us that he'd been thinking about the conversation and that he could really see the reason for having a religious practice so that you'd have community.

Then the talk turned to the meaning of community.  Can you have a religious practice without it?

I've always said that you could, but most of us aren't that disciplined.  My spouse thinks that we need to gather in church so that we have a knowledgeable person leading us through our reading of the Scriptures; I'm not convinced that most church leaders are as knowledgeable as they should be, and therefore, cannot fulfill that part.

And of course, we're Word and Sacrament people, but last night, we didn't talk about the Sacrament side.  My lapsed friend, interestingly enough, has a brother who's a monk, but a different kind of monk than the Mepkin monks.  He's one of the Irish orders that runs a school.

My lapsed friend said that he doesn't see his brother as part of a community because so much of his time is spent in solitude studying.  My friend said, "And what about those orders that never even talk to each other?"

It's an interesting question:  can we have community without knowing each other as individuals?  I would say that we can.  There's a whole school of thought that would say that our individual selves are not even essential when it comes to community.

My friend, on the other hand, seemed to think that if we don't know each other in a close way, we don't have community.  I see his point of view too.

From my visits to monasteries and from my reading about monastics, I find that they try to subsume their individual selves for the good of the greater whole and for the continuing of an ancient tradition.    It's a very different view of community from the one that says, "We're not really in communion unless you know me deeply, with all my faults and flaws, and you love me anyway."

I'm not sure that one is correct and one is not.  It's just two very different ways of thinking about what community means.


Anonymous said...

You can come to know a great deal about someone living and working side by side with them; have been on retreat at Trappist (silent) monasteries and certainly felt a deep sense of community present.

Kristin said...

Thanks for the comment--I agree, and it's good to know I'm not the only one who's felt that sense of deep community, even in silence.