Community and Communitas – a Mercy Challenge

February 4, 2017

Note from blog editor:  Gittens’ piece on Community & Communitas appears not to be available on the web or in bookstores.  If you have a copy, please send it to [email protected] Gittens has an earlier book published in 2002 called A Presence that Disturbs, described as a ‘powerful, moving, and “disturbing” book looks at the contemporary issues that block the attainment of a revitalized Church-a Church united rather than fragmented, a Church tuned to justice for all rather than to provincial myopia. A Presence That Disturbs will engage the general reader and the specialist alike with a fresh perspective on what it means to follow Christ. Three themes garnered from Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl underpin the message of this book. To live you must choose: you must not let life “just happen.” To love you must encounter: you must know that human encounter is the only authentic way to know and love. To grow you must suffer: you must know that suffering can be a vehicle of growth, a chance for redemption, a way to turn ourselves to the outside.  Tony Gittins discusses these themes in the context of the search for meaning. The new lease on life endowed by the Holy Spirit, the function of imaginative ministry, the communitas of true discipleship, and the radical actions of Jesus’ ministry are just a few of the ideas explored in the quest for a new understanding of discipleship. “Authentic Christianity,” says Gittins, “is outreaching and encountering; it communicates and ministers. Christianity, like its sibling, Judaism, does not produce complacency, but complicity or participation with others. These pages are an invitation to renewed discipleship and an appeal to radical Christianity in the footsteps and in the Spirit of Jesus, who prayed that his followers be one in Him.

Living in Community: “a daring and not quite rational undertaking”

By Sr. Mandy, RSM

They say that “young people” today are seeking community, but no one really talks about what that means.  There are two ways to look at community according to Sandra Schneider: common life (monastic or structured) and congregational living (loose structure but intentional).  When people talk about “young people” seeking community it sounds like they suppose this means common life; I can tell you that I am young people, and common life doesn’t appeal to me.  What does appeal to me is sharing my adult life with like-minded, and like hearted people.

Tony Gittin’s article “Community, Communitas and Downward Mobility.”  According to Gittins communitas, a vibrant kind community life, is a brief moment  like a match being struck.  As I read his article I couldn’t help think of Catherine McAuley’s own communal beginnings.  Her dream was impossible, her companions were insufficient, and the audacity of her imagination and faith were unstoppable (Gittins 19).

It’s hard to imagine choosing the circumstances which would facilitate communitas today: incredible odds, and little hope of success.  The payoff however, is an incredible burst of imagination fueled by “a burning commitment both to the idea and to the community” (Gittins 20).  This choice, to live on our liminal edge, to live vulnerably and therefore authentically, is a daunting and simultaneously alluring challenge.  We are no longer a new community, new foundations are not being sent out as in Catherine’s day.  So how do we rekindle communitas?  We can’t re-strike a match, but we can bring a new match to the embers of the original fire.  For me these coals are found in the members of my community, the history of the order, Catherine’s charism, and my inter-community peer groups both here this year as well as within Giving VoiceThe challenge to me personally will be to seek out areas and experiences which will present me with incredible odds that can only be faced with a strong commitment to community and to the call God has given me.

img_0788bMy ministry’s environment can be rather hectic most days; full of activity and lots of people.  The day is on the short side, just seven hours, but between breakfast and lunch we serve an average of 300 meals a day and I depend on a lot of volunteers to get this done.  I’m also an introvert so socializing with volunteers and guests all day requires a lot of energy for me.  With all that goes on at work I began to notice I was holding my breath while cooking and would have to consciously think about breathing for a moment, attentively releasing all of the breath from my lungs so I could take in fresh breath.  I’m grateful for all those yoga classes I took where I learned this and other breathing practices which helped in the moment but had not really changed my general experience of work-place stress.  Cooking has often been a special meditative activity for me which I treasure so I wanted to do something to address the root causes of this stress in my work place and return to what has always been a rejuvenating process for me.

secretsI happen to be taking a class on prayer which uses the book, “Secrets of Prayer” (Nancy Corcoran, CSJ), and around the same time when I began to notice my troubles at work I was into the section about praying with our five senses.  In this chapter Sr. Nancy discusses Thich Nhat Hanh’s bell meditation which is the practice of stopping what you are doing when you hear a bell and becoming mindfully present.  I thought that I would give this a try at work to see if it helped so I began to consider what sound I would use as my “bell”.  The doorbell is wired into the kitchen though you can hear it almost everywhere in the building, it’s just that loud and obnoxious like an old fashioned fire alarm, so I chose this sound for my practice.  I liked the idea of taking an annoyance and transforming it into something peaceful.  For this meditation I cannot stop during my day as Thich Nhat Hanh recommends, but when the obnoxious door bell rings I bring myself mindfully to the moment and fully attentive to whatever action I am preforming, or I at least take three mindful breaths.

This could not have worked better for me.  I no longer find myself holding my breath while I cook and just the other day I was running around wishing someone would ring the obnoxious doorbell.  The gift I did not expect with this practice is that I am more myself during the day, the more at ease I am the more authentic and patient I am able to be while I relate to my volunteers and guests. My days are just as hectic as ever, and just as full of extroversion, but I am learning to be still in the rushing pace of life.

Henry Nouwen on Downward Mobility:

The society in which we live suggests in countless ways that the way to go is up. Making it to the top, entering the limelight, breaking the record – that’s what draws attention, gets us on the front page of the newspaper, and offers us the rewards of money and fame.  The way of Jesus is radically different. It is the way not of upward mobility but of downward mobility. It is going to the bottom, staying behind the sets, and choosing the last place! Why is the way of Jesus worth choosing? Because it is the way to the Kingdom, the way Jesus took, and the way that brings everlasting life.

Henri Nouwen