inquiry: "Who Are My People?" stands among the
perennial questions we come to face when the meaning in
our usual, familiar answer fades away. As Sam Keen writes
in Hymns to an Unknown God (1994) perennial questions lie
beneath currents of time, culture, and conventional knowledge.
They subtly, yet profoundly, fuel our quests for significance
and spirituality. These underlying, ancient inquiries lead
us to seek new horizons, understanding, and risks through
connecting with different communities, beliefs and relationships.
particular junctures in our lives we step out of our established
identities, be it family, neighborhood, church, or workplace
to discover fuller responses to another deep, recurring
question: "Who Am I?" Treading that inner path
is ultimately solitary, yet as Keen notes: "The spiritual
journey is one we take alone together. It begins in community,
leads out into the wilderness of solitude, and returns to
community. Again and again." And with each return,
the explorer is undeniably changed, seasoned in quite unexpected
ways yet fresh and new as s/he looks for a welcoming shelter.
hope the new communities we dare to enter will bear little
resemblance to what was, especially if we found former groups
to be rapt with division, prejudice, and insincerity. As
we retreat from old dogmas, rites, and social structures
we search for a sense of kinship full of feeling, validation,
cooperation, and shared vision. We eagerly seek to find
true belonging and new beginnings. And perhaps we search
imagining that what was "wrong" about "them"
or ourselves will be set right when we find the perfect
refuge. Yet, how often have you found those same niggling
traits tagging right along, for "wherever you go, there
we venture into new community, the thrill of discovering
its treasure or the awkwardness of being new will often
color those first few meetings, classes, or celebrations.
And then we come to experience the challenge of true communion
with others. Questions start to filter through: Do I step
forward or withdraw? Do I initiate or wait? What can I give?
What will I receive? Am I safe? Here we face that delicate
tension between separateness and unity, solitude and communion.
Our spiritual teachings may speak of Oneness and interdependence
but our insecurities or fears tempt us to forsake communal
contribution for solitary enlightenment. Building the bridge
to span these opposites is crucial in this 21st Century,
when through our technology and social awareness we are
experiencing a greater sense of universal brother/sisterhood
and global citizenry.
I attended a talk by a Buddhist monk at a spiritual center.
Though I walked into a room of strangers I sensed the safety
and warmth among 50 meditating attendees. The peace in the
room was palpable and as I found a place to set my cushion
someone turned to me, smiled and shifted over to make space.
Not another word or glance was exchanged but we both wholly
understood we were sharing a communal spirit. As I listened
to the monks insights on kindness and "right
relation" I started to wonder how well do I bring the
spirit of compassion and communion to others in everyday
encounters? How much am I wholehearted to my self and the
parts of me hidden behind the persona I present? Are they
not cut of the same cloth? And is it not the absence of
awareness and compassion that characterizes the groups we
leave or the struggle we have with shadowy parts within
is not just a product of spiritual living but a practice
that can free us from our sense of separateness. It is the
natural, spontaneous spirit of an open heart. Cultivating
compassion opens us to our basic aliveness and wise and
skillful presence. So as we become aware of our own humanity
through a spiritual lens how and where do we face one another?
Do we communicate appreciation and care toward our own fragmented
self so that we may come together for support, respect and
shared purpose? Do we shift abit to smile, greet and make
room for each other? Through these facets of compassion
we call on Spirit to weave oneself and community together.
As the poet Marge Piercy envisions:
goes on one at a time,
It starts when you care
To act, it starts when you do
It again after they said no,
It starts when you say We
And know who you mean, and each
Day you mean one more.