Something in Common

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Recently, I led a retreat at Pecos Abbey in New Mexico with Glandion Carney. Both Glandion and I are members of the Renovaré Ministry Team, a Christian Renewal Movement that leads retreats and conferences around the USA and overseas. Some folks at Pecos Abbey knew each other, some didn't. We were new to the place, and though we ourselves were friends, this was our first retreat to lead together. The retreatants were a fairly small number—plus the Benedictine priests, brothers, and sisters of the Pecos Community.

In the first session, Glandion began to joke about his fondness for Starbucks coffee. Before the evening was out, he had invited everyone to join him the next morning at 6:30 a.m. for a cup of his own Starbucks brew. I got up a half hour earlier than the rising bell to join in Glandion's coffee klatch. The coffee was good, but the conversation was better.

In the next session, I read a prayer by Richard Foster about praying with a cup of coffee. "I blow on the coffee and drink," Foster writes. "Spirit of God, blow across my little life." By this time, the joke was more than a running gag. Our coffee time became a motif in our retreat as we spoke about the incarnational life, Jesus present to us as we gather in groups of two or three.

I love to see how a community can form in the short space of a weekend. We were touched by the prayer of the monks and sisters, uplifted by the Psalms. We began in small ways to tell our own stories. By the afternoon session on Saturday, Glandion and I could tell—particularly by the depth of the questions—how the Spirit was at work. Between sessions, I noticed small clumps of people visiting, laughing, exchanging names and addresses. On Sunday morning, I could hardly wait to join the "coffee community" before morning prayer at the Benedictine abbey.

The forming of a new community seems spontaneous. I find it unpredictable, delightful. I remember a New Orleans entrepreneur who started a coffee house—then a series of coffee houses. Her motivation? "I wanted to see people talking to the people they've come with, or maybe the people they haven't come with," she told me. Phyllis Jordan (for that was her name) saw her coffee houses as places of hospitality and a return to basics. She meant to do something to reinforce neighborhood values and bind together the larger community.

I suppose my favorite picture of "community" is in the Gospels. I especially like the scene in John 1:35-42 in which two disciples (originally disciples of John the Baptist, I think) trailed along after Jesus to find out where he was staying. Jesus turned around, challenging them. When he learned that they were curious about where he was staying, he asked them to "Come and see." They just wanted to be with him, it seems. The story continues: "They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon."
Throughout the Gospels are little cameos: the disciples walking along the road; finding a place to rest; gathering around to listen to Jesus. The disciples plan light meals; they plan important meals, like the Passover meal in the Upper Room. My own experiences of community—in writers’ groups, Bible groups, formation groups, committees—often seem to reflect this drawing together: the Spirit of God at work in us.

Another thing: even if you belong to several communities already, you can suddenly be drawn into a new one. It happens by grace, I suspect, freely sprinkled along the way.