Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Spiritual Community

Virtually all organized religions include “community” as an important component of their makeup. Historically, the individual spiritual seeker gave way to informal gatherings of like-mined seekers. These loose-knit gatherings in turn gave way to a formalized local church / temple / mosque / sangha / monastery. These individual entities in turn gave rise to a collective institution of similar entities, which became our religious denominations, church hierarchies and structures. At which point the structural evolution turned and reversed itself, with the formal hierarchy taking control of the separate entities and dictating downwards form, ritual, organizational regulation and dogma.

For many, the form and content of their spiritual community fills a particular need in their spiritual pursuit. The fellowship, the resources, the personal support (spiritual and secular), and the sense of connection creates deep attachments and ongoing comfort. For others, the confines and demands of the institution through its understandable emphasis on conformity of belief and practice progressively weighs more heavily on the practitioner. For these seekers, the Church begins to become more of a barrier to spiritual attainment, a less-supportive element in the seeker’s quest for a personal connection with the Source of the greater Universe.

As an “unaffiliated” seeker, I have experienced two different sides of the calling of a spiritual community. There are times when interaction with a community feels very desirable, providing a sense of belonging, a lessening of aloneness and singularity, and a warm connection against the frequent coldness of Life. The community can offer encouragement, suggestions of direction, previously learned insights, and some renewed energy in those times when our spiritual drive falters. Yet in that unaffiliated space is also a great openness, where many paths are open, where many diverse communities can be called “home” in one’s travels, and nothing stands between me and the Divine. It is a place where commonality and orthodoxy ae permissible but not required; both are subservient to the continual personal discovery of one’s own Truth.

Increasingly in America, more and more people of all ages and backgrounds are following their individual journey, having determined that traditional religious institutions are inadequate fellow travelers on their path. Around 1/3rd of Americans do not identify themselves as Christian. In a recent Pew Research study, 23% of adults deny any religious affiliation at all, outnumbering both identified Catholics as well as mainline Protestants. Numerous writings abound about “the graying of the church pews,” as many congregations are failing to attract younger replacement members. Among the young Millennial demographic, 27% say they never attend a religious service, and 25% have “no religion.” Anecdotally, I recently attended a religious service at a small non-mainline church, and observed that out of around 100 people attending, there were no more than a dozen I would estimate to be under the age of 50.

Today, many struggle over their affiliation with their spiritual community, and that community’s teachings and approach. Given the strength and typically long history of that affiliation, the struggle is likely very deep and intensively personal. Some seek to change their community from within; others decide to take their leave and try something new: a different local community of similar form; a new denomination entirely; perhaps a solitary spiritual life.

For many people, the change is driven by a growing realization that too often our religious communities focus on our mind (thoughts, reasoning) and on directing our actions. But seekers looking to know and experience a union with the Divine understand that that union is beyond reasoning and outward actions. It is a calling to reach into a different place within, a free and complete surrender of ourselves to heart, feeling, and openness. It is a place of expression – music, movement, prose as poetry, art, voice, and stillness that touches us and moves our spirit. Out intellect can bring us to the door of our spirituality. Ultimately, though, it is experience, rather than intellect, that brings us into Oneness.

When we start from that place of union, appropriate thoughts and actions flow naturally from within, not requiring instruction from without. It is within us where the Divine Home on the Human Earth can most truly be found – the true community of the sacred.

©  2015   Randy Bell      

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Randy, I find that your musings most often strike very close to home for me and reflect so much of my own spiritual journey . . . this post, especially so. Thanks for offering your experience and journey for others.