Intentional Spiritual Community. Inclusive by Definition

Article excerpt

In an intentional spiritual community, people come together willingly to entrust their desire for and love of God to one another

In the summer of 1994, I walked into a conference center outside of Washington, D.C., and met 27 seasoned adults for the first time. We came together as participants in the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation's two-year program designed to help us discern a call to the ministry of spiritual direction. For the next 10 days, we would live together in community and enter into the experience of being formed into a spiritual community centered in God. Little did I know then that those 10 days would mark the beginning of one of the most significant transformative experiences of my life.

As we gathered for the first time that afternoon, we had little in common except the apprehension and uncertainty associated with the firsttime experience of something new. sat in a large circle around a lit candle on a small, cloth-draped table. Our program leaders asked us to check our titles, positions, rank and status at the door. After an opening prayer and settling into a long period of prayerful silence, we began to introduce ourselves. Names were connected to faces. Each person's identity had a faith tradition. Some anecdote of each person's life was disclosed. A community was being formed.

During the next 10 days, through prayer, seminars and experiential exercises, an inclusive, ecumenical, spiritual community evolved. There was no preconceived notion of what or how it should be, or what or how it should look. There we were, 27 adults, men and women, young and not so young, from different traditions of faith and systems of beliefs, but all centered in the one same God.

During the second year's 10-day residency, we were further tested and tried, formed and transformed in ways we never could have anticipated, expected or imagined. Something very deep happened in and through us, not of our making.

While each of us has gone our separate ways since completing the program, the center around which we gathered remains the same in each of us. In a very real sense, the spiritual community formed in the summer of 1994 still lives.

A Need to Belong

Inside every human being there is a need to belong to something. We have an innate desire to be included. In short, we call this need and desire a longing for community. What is community? What is a spiritual community? How does it differ from an intentional spiritual community? What implications are there for inclusion in an intentional spiritual community?

The French have a wonderful expression-raison d'être. It means "essential purpose" or "reason for being." Every human community has a raison d'être, that is, the purpose or center around which it gathers. People who love to play the card game bridge create bridge clubs. Tennis is the raison d'être of a tennis club; a work of fiction or non-fiction is the center around which a book club gathers. A community is understood to be a group of people having common organization and common interests. They stand in a living relationship to one another around a single center or interest.

The raison d'être of a spiritual community is God. People who form a spiritual community stand in a living relationship to one another around a single center of interest, the Spirit of God. Jesus' words, "Where two or three gather together in my name, there am I" (Mt 18:20), affirm this. Whenever a deep desire for and love of God becomes the raison d'être for individuals to come together, a spiritual community is created. Parishes, Catholic schools and religious communities fall into this general description of spiritual community.

An intentional spiritual community calls for a particular level of intent. In an intentional spiritual community, the group of people who come together willingly entrust their desire for and love of God to one another. The shade of difference between a spiritual community and an intentional spiritual community may seem overly nuanced or a little nit-picky. …