In the past week the Community of the Holy Trinity, a small intentional community of which I am prior, has said several goodbyes. For a week we had two guests in our largish Chicago apartment (but small for community life). Both of our guests left on Sunday, and last night a member of our community for the past year and a half officially moved out, he has returned to his home town. This is one of those liminal moments and another time of transition for this small and fledgling community.
I have begun to think that I have held a false notion of community: a notion of a community as a stable entity in a changing world. This is not and has not been the experience of Holy Trinity. In part this is certainly due to the reasons the community formed: to create a prayerful and contemplative environment where the community could exercise hospitality and be a support to the spiritual journeys and ministries of those God might bring to us. This means welcoming it also means saying goodbye. They perhaps always go together.
There are two sources of the above mis-perception of community as stable entity: the image of the peasant village (where you are born and die) and the walled monastery. These are images I have held in my mind as we have formed this community. The peasant village image comes from my Swedish family; it has been years since the extended Nelson family lived in one geographic location let alone in at least the same State, and we felt a keen loss and a sense of nostalgia for that time (Since our Grandparents and great grandparents were immigrants and homesteaders, it must have been an image from some time in Sweden) when families remained close, when family and local were the same. I do not know if this ever was so, but it’s a strong image that has been passed on to me. And certainly for most of my childhood and adolescence family centered on a small town in California was a stable unchanging reality. Even though my nuclear family and the nuclear families of my cousins moved a lot, Kingsburg, California was home; the family farm was there, though none of us farmed. The nostalgia for the peasant village and the power of Grandmother to keep us coming back, all kept us from seeing that the image did not match our actuality. Yet even now our family has not been able to keep a sense of community without this nostalgia.
Then there is the monastery, monks and nuns committed to live in this one walled place devoted to God, what could be more stable? The world of the monk or the nun so clearly marked by the walls of the monastery appears as an image of stability. Yet like with the nostalgia of the peasant village this stability evaporates upon further investigation. In fact Holy Trinity’s sense of call to hospitality is due largely to our finding ourselves in the midst of the monastic tradition of the church. Not only were monastery’s committed to hospitality but they were often along routs for trade and pilgrimage, if not the destination of these routs, as sites of pilgrimage. Suddenly, the walls of the monastery do not only echo with the silent shuffle of sandaled feet but the courtyard resounds with voices and hoof beats, and the scraping of luggage. Hospitality and being a place of refuge along the way alters the image of those stable walls.
The walls then don’t so much mark the unchanging but mark a space, a limit, in the midst of the flow. The monastery becomes a lock in a canal, which allows for passage, even affects the flow, but doesn’t change the reality of the flux. The limits of the monastery are not only those physical walls and gates, but the Rule and the Hours of prayer, the vows of the monks and nuns. Yet all of this does not and did not simply keep out the flux, but was a means to welcome and channel it.
This I think is at least the experience of The Community of the Holy Trinity, and it will, as long as we are true to our calling, remain our experience. Our commitment to hospitality means that our limits are permeable while stable. This permeability means there is movement into out of and through our boundaries. Being called to be a place of rest and support for people on their spiritual journeys means certainly welcoming but also means equally learning to say good bye. Each is disruptive to the life and routines of the community yet such disruption is I think necessary for any true communal and contemplative life. This calling has set us along the way, for some this may be their destination, for most the journey will continue, their destination elsewhere. For me at least the difficulty in saying good bye graciously is that I know the roads that lead from here are often treacherous, the temptation is to say “Stay here where it is safe.” Saying Good bye is then in truth God be with you, we hope God has met you here and that you have been able to rest and recover for your next part of your journey that is truly between you and God. Our prayers go with you. And then we wait for the next pilgrim to come along the way. There is now an empty room waiting should you come along the way and need a place to prepare for you next stage of your journey, or should you find this to be your destination to join us in this contemplative welcome of the flux.
Jason our prayers are with you, may you continue to find God along your way.