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Archive for the ‘Spirituality’ Category

Laird Schaub (community and consensus blog) and Ma’ikwe Schaub Ludwig (www.maikwe.net) are members of neighboring Sandhill Farm and Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, respectively, in Rutledge, Missouri. Laird co-founded Sandhill Farm in 1974 as an egalitarian, income-sharing farming community, and is one of the creators and current administrator of the Fellowship for Intentional Community, an organization committed to nurturing and promoting intentional communities worldwide. He has worked as a group process consultant for 25 years, providing training in consensus facilitation, conflict resolution, and communication skills. Ma’ikwe is author of Passion as Big as a Planet, which explores the connection between the inner and outer dimensions of ecological activism. She is a consensus facilitation trainer, often working together with Laird, directs Ecovillage Education US, and gives workshops on starting communities, leadership, and spiritual activism. She is the mother of a teenage son and expresses her passion for people and planet through helping Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage grow into its vision of a full-scale, ecologically regenerative village and center for research and education.

In our conversation, Laird, Ma’ikwe, and I discuss the consequences of communities lacking a common understanding and agreements around how to handle emotionally-charged conflict. We explore the strengths and weaknesses often exhibited in communities with a shared spiritual orientation, and the challenge of bringing the full range of human modes of knowing into the room—including emotional, kinesthetic, intuitive, and spiritual—in a culture that is heavily biased toward translating all forms of knowledge and experience into clear thinking. Laird talks about his experiences working with communities and the most common causes of group conflict he encounters, such as scapegoating (the contagious belief that “things would be better if only so-and-so would…”) and the tendency of groups to harden themselves around particular narratives. Finally, Laird and Ma’ikwe speak of the advantages Christian teachings offer in establishing healthy relational and communication habits in community, and of the spiritual benefits of consensus process and decision-making, and its congruence with a Christian sacramental worldview—of God in all things.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Having just come from Koinonia Farm and gleaned from conversations there that, among some in the New Monasticism movement, there is a growing interest in connecting more deeply with the classic monastic tradition, I was eager to bring “old-school” monastics into the conversation. Here I speak with Cistercian monk Michael Lautieri, OCSO, current vocation director of Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. In our conversation, I asked Michael how neo-monastic communities might better learn from monasteries and the monastic tradition. He offers two concrete possibilities—monastics living temporarily with neo-monastic communities as teachers, and core members of neo-monastic communities spending time in temporary monastic guest programs such as that offered by Monastery of the Holy Spirit. In regard to learning from monasticism, Michael stresses the need to actually experience monastic life firsthand in order to understand the monastic charism. And while he emphasizes monasticism’s adaptability and flexibility according to culture, circumstance, and religion, he’s also clear on what he considers the constitutive elements of any form of monasticism: prayer, silence, solitude, manual labor, and community. Michael also shares his thoughts on what he anticipates for the future of monasticism (mirroring Ivan Kauffman’s conviction that the future of monastic communities lies in stronger bonds with lay people) and his enthusiasm over the broad interest among lay people today in incorporating a depth of spirituality into their lives through learning monastic values and practices.

Embedded in this interview are two questions that have come to the fore for me over the course of this tour of communities. The first question is, simply: what is monasticism? One concern I have is that the New Monasticism movement has been re-defining the very meaning of the word, often with little concrete input from or experience of the classic monastic tradition. While this re-definition process from a fresh perspective expands the monastic imagination, so to speak, sometimes I have difficulty understanding just what’s monastic about particular expressions of the New Monasticism. Hence, I want to carry this question of what constitutes the essentials of monasticism into future interviews with monastics “new” and “old,” and especially into my Monastic Studies program at Saint John’s School of Theology upon my return this fall. Thus far, I’ve received three direct responses to this question: Mary Ewing Stamps, leader of the Methodist-Benedictine Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery, emphasized the structural elements of stability of place, a leader, and a rule of life (incidentally, even though much of her own formation took place in a Benedictine monastic guest program similar to that offered by Monastery of the Holy Spirit, she prefers the idea of monastics coming to live as teachers with new communities in order to preserve the importance of a sense of place). Camaldolese-Benedictine monk Cyprian Consiglio, speaking from the eremitical (hermit) tradition and from years of involvement in monastic inter-religious dialogue, named the primacy of the interior life and contemplative practice as comprising the core of monasticism. And here, again, speaking from within the Cistercian tradition, Michael identifies the essential elements of monasticism as prayer, silence, solitude, manual labor, and community.

What these three monastics witness to is the fact that there is no definitive answer to the question of what constitutes the essentials of monasticism. Rather, there are many perspectives from within a shared body of experience that constellates around certain key features, while allowing for much diversity. Hence, I think Michael makes a crucially important point here: that monastic life cannot be adequately understood from the outside; it has to be lived. And to reiterate an observation I’ve made in earlier posts, this gap of experience between the classic Christian monastic tradition and the New Monasticism contrasts with new expressions of Buddhist communities in the West, in so much as the latter have mostly developed directly from what has been passed down from Asian monastic teachers; the lineage of tradition remains unbroken. Which brings me to my second question, reflecting my conviction that the classic Christian monastic tradition and the New Monasticism have much to offer one another:

How might this gap of experience between the classic Christian monastic tradition and the New Monasticism be bridged? And why? What does each have to offer the other?

Stay tuned…

Books mentioned or alluded to in the interview: Monastic Practice, by Charles Cummings, OCSOConsecrated Religious Life: The Changing Paradigms, by Diarmuid O’Murchu 

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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In this second half of my conversation with Bren Dubay, we speak of the rich tapestry of relations Koinonia Farm now enjoys, with communities already mentioned in the previous episode (Jubilee Partners, Reba Place Fellowship, Church of the Servant King) as well as with the Bruderhof, an early 20th century addition to the Anabaptist communal family tree (which also includes the Mennonites, Amish, Hutterites, among others). Formed in Germany on the cusp of the rise of Nazism, the Bruderhof were expelled from their native country after refusing to allow Nazi teachers to instruct their children. Finding their way first to England, then Paraguay, the Bruderhof finally set roots in the United States with the help of Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Farm in the 1950s. Here, Bren tells the story of how this friendship between the two communities has recently, serendipitously been rekindled, and the intimate bond of mutual help and learning that’s rapidly emerging.

Koinonia Farm has also been adopted by the contemporary New Monasticism movement, who consider Koinonia one of its pioneering forerunners. In fact, Bren is part of a network of new monastic communities currently exploring how they might strengthen relations among themselves. She also expresses her strong conviction that this movement’s future lies not only in strengthened bonds with one another, but with the classic monastic tradition. To this end, the core members of Koinonia are currently engaged in a close reading of the Rule of Saint Benedict, with commentary by Joan Chittister, OSB, and plan to continue this practice of shared reading and discussion with other monastic literature. Several members also retreat at nearby Cistercian Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA.

Members of Koinonia Farm with Bruderhof Friends

In addition to these topics, Bren and I discuss communication and trust in community, and how she looks forward to the collective maturity that comes only with time, longstanding commitment, and patience.

What excites me most about Koinonia Farm at this time in their history is this unique confluence of influences: of its own profound spiritual legacy interfacing with that of the Bruderhof, representing the classic Anabaptist tradition (what Ivan Kauffman refers to as the “old” new monasticism), and the younger generation of communitarians involved in the New Monasticism. Koinonia Farm also exhibits the strongest inclination I’ve seen thus far toward seeking ways to learn from and build concrete relationships with the classic monastic tradition. Taken together, these factors render Koinonia Farm a key community to watch as the New Monasticism movement continues to evolve and reach for greater maturity and stability.

Other people and resources mentioned in this interview: Jonathan Wilson Hartgrove, School(s) for Conversion.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia, was founded in 1942 by Clarence and Florence Jordan and Martin and Mabel England, with the intention of being a “demonstration plot for the Kingdom of God” and helping the region’s poor, struggling farming families. Foremost among the biblical values they sought to embody were economic sharing among themselves and with their neighbors, racial equality and reconciliation, and compassionate nonviolence. Due to their pacifist stance during World War II and inter-racial composition, the community quickly gained a reputation as an irritant to the surrounding culture. In fact, during much of the 50s and 60s, Koinonia Farm endured all manner of persecution, including cross-burnings, death threats, gunfire, expulsion from local churches, fire-bombing, and a prolonged economic boycott by local businesses. Undaunted by these trials, in the late 60s, Koinonia Farm began the partnership housing movement, building affordable homes for low-income local families. Seeing the global potential of this movement, community members Millard and Linda Fuller went on to expand the endeavor beyond its local scale, giving birth to Koinonia’s most famous contribution, Habitat for Humanity International.

According to Bren Dubay, steward (vowed member) and current Director of Koinonia Farm, while the community enjoyed a certain kind of expansion and growth during the partnership housing era, the very forces underlying that expansion were at the same time subtly eroding the original communal vision. Short-term volunteers swelled the ranks through the late 60s and 70s, motivated more by a particular cause than by the aspiration to embody Christian koinonia, or community, as described in the Acts of the Apostles. As one longtime member succinctly described the scene, “The tail began to wag the dog.” Finally, in 1993, with the decision to reorganize Koinonia according to a more conventional non-profit business model, what remained of the original communal pattern of life was dismantled. Consequently, Koinonia’s focus grew more diffuse, and financial losses were suffered in the process of moving from a common-purse economy to paid employees. By 2003, it was clear that a fresh vision and new leadership for the community were needed. To this end, the Board of Directors sought to hire a new Executive Director. That’s where Bren enters the story.

Prior to her arrival at Koinonia Farm, Bren Dubay had worked and served as a spiritual director, retreat leader, playwright, Montessori educator, fundraiser, and development consultant. In May of 2003, she rather innocently took a group of students on a field trip to Americus, Georgia, to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity. As they were preparing to leave, she reluctantly accepted an invitation to take the students to Koinonia Farm, Habitat’s birthplace. Unbeknownst to her, this visit would trigger a series of events that have since turned her life in a surprising, radically new direction. Within a year, in May of 2004, Bren moved to Koinonia as its new Executive Director. Within another year’s time, she was leading the community in a retrieval of its original communal inspiration.

Koinonia Farm Members and Friends

In our conversation, the first of two podcast episodes with Bren, she tells the story of her entering the stream of Koinonia’s rich, diverse history, the decision to return to the original communal vision and how that process has unfolded over the course of 7 years thus far, challenges and mistakes made along the way, and her own sense of inner peace amid the difficulties. We speak of particular changes, such as restructuring the Board of Directors to include one member apiece from 3 other Christian intentional communities; namely, Jubilee Partners in Comer, GA (a community that welcomes refugees from war-torn countries, founded by members of Koinonia in the late 70s), Reba Place Fellowship in Chicago, IL (inspired by Koinonia), and Church of the Servant King in Eugene, OR. Finally, Bren shares her joy in the revitalization of the community’s internship program as an expression of the founders’ intention that Koinonia serve as a “school of discipleship.” Through this program, and through other forms of hospitality, Koinonia Farm welcomes and feeds the spiritual hunger of a wide diversity of people, young and old and in between, of all manner of religious faiths or none at all.

What strikes me most in this part of my conversation with Bren is that hers is clearly a vocation story: of an unexpected invitation, of wrestling with the tension between wanting to say “no” yet knowing (without knowing why) to say “yes,” and of an underlying peace and mysterious satisfaction even through difficulties and trials. There’s humility and gratitude in the recognition of having received a graced opportunity to serve; and a posture of faith, even though the way forward may seem anything but clear at times. To my mind, these are the marks of true servant leadership, the branch grafted onto the Vine, and a vital sign of hope for Koinonia Farm’s uncharted future.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Saint Joseph Abbey, Covington, LA

I’ve been struck most deeply thus far on the journey by the recurring theme of commitment, especially in my earlier interviews. Craig Greenfield’s perception that so many community-oriented young people today seek a kind of “community without cost”—that is, without real commitment or sacrifice—became a kind of conceptual lens through which I reflected on my own life experiences. John Schwiebert’s likening the level of commitment required for joining an intentional community to that of marriage also left a deep impression on me. Finally, Debbie Gish’s reflections on what she learned about commitment in her years of living in Church of the Sojourners, especially her sensed inability to even communicate that experience of commitment to a world that was quickly losing any kind of analogous experience or conception, named the elephant in the room: I’ve been operating without an inner conception or clear analogy from my own life experience of what deep commitment to people and place requires; to some degree, I’ve unknowingly sought “community without cost” because I hadn’t been aware of an alternative. And the emotional ambience within which these self-revelations were unfolding was drenched by my grieving a painful disappointment in an intimate relationship for the first months of the tour. In short, I was learning, in a graphic, visceral way, that I had a lifelong habit of making poor choices around commitment, to my own detriment and at times to the detriment of others. And the communities and people I was now encountering on this tour were serving as gentle but firm mirrors to this habit. Or, to place this discovery process in a positive light, these communities, these people, were helping to establish in me a new imagination, a new sense of possibility, a new hope that I could begin to live differently.

What I recognize more clearly now is that I have brought at least two sets of motivations into the communities I’ve lived. On the one hand, I’ve come to community out of the mature motivations of seeking to co-create a life of spiritual practice and justice-making, personal and social transformation, companionship and collaboration, in the context of serving a common vocation or mission. On the other hand, I’ve been compelled by a child’s motivations to satisfy the ache of unmet needs of the past, of holding others responsible for meeting those needs, and of acting out in unhelpful ways when they don’t (and, of course, they never do!). And to the extent that I have lacked self-awareness around this inner dichotomy, or haven’t had the understanding or ability to engage others responsibly amidst these emotional tensions, I’ve suffered greatly and have caused others to suffer as well.

When I think of Lois Arkin’s strong admonition to select for emotional maturity when discerning whether a prospective community member is a suitable fit, I don’t think this means that such a person must demonstrate pristine psychological health and wholeness. Heaven forbid! Rather, I think first of having a healthy self-awareness of how the kind of dichotomy I describe above functions in their own inner and outer lives; secondly, I think of having an adequate skill set to responsibly navigate their relationships given their unique mixture of motivational centers. On the community’s end, like Lois, I think of the necessity of having clear agreements and accountability structures, vision and mission statements, conflict resolution and participative decision-making processes, and a general ambience of safety that encourages clear, honest communication.

When I probe more deeply into what commitment means to me, however, I am compelled to think in terms of the vows I made in my formation as a Camaldolese-Benedictine monk: stabilitas, conversatio, and obedientia. While these vows were temporary and I have since left the Order, my reflections around the nature of commitment over the course of 3000 miles of bicycling thus far have brought me back to their profound meaning and formative potential, both within and outside a formal commitment to community.

These vows rest upon the foundational experience of discovering oneself called by God to a particular community, people, or way of life: “Listen, my son, to the precepts of the Master, and incline the ear of your heart” (Rule of Saint Benedict, Prologue). Listening in a deep and sustained way to that call (the practice of discernment) leads to a consolidation of one’s energies toward a particular commitment, understood as a concretization of one’s “yes” to God’s invitation. To use Catholic language, this means that one’s actions, responsibilities, relationships, and the events of one’s life become imbued with a sacramental quality. One’s whole life is illumined as an ongoing conversation with God. When I remember to call these vows to mind, for instance, they still resonate with the power to reveal God’s presence and action as intimately woven into my daily round, imperceptibly guiding my steps, meeting me at every turn.

Saint Joseph Abbey, Covington, LA

In particular, stabilitas, or stability, functions as an anchor, reminding me that this moment, this place, this person or people, are sacraments of God. Perhaps especially given my history of relational and geographic instability, both growing up and in my adult life, my only hope for prolonged stability lies in my faith in the gravitational pull of God’s invitation; Christ’s love, the only love that could ultimately bind me enduringly to people and place. Why? Because without this transcendent, relational reference point, as I’ve shared above, I recognize that I am highly vulnerable to relating to people, places, situations, and events as ends in themselves. This kind of self-seeking always leads to disappointment and, often enough, harm or neglect of others. At the same time, without the concreteness of real-world commitments and responsibilities, faith is reduced to a mere wish dream.

The careful discernment of God’s loving invitation requires an intuitive listening beyond preconceived ideas and ideals, beyond habitual likes, dislikes, and emotional predispositions. Staying put in the dispositions of faith, hope, and love carries me beyond the reach of immature, self-centered motivations. Only through abiding in these dispositions can I hope to stay put through life’s inevitable disappointments, disillusionments, and the painful consequences of my own limitations and weaknesses and those of others.

Conversatio morum sorum, often translated as fidelity to the monastic way of life, ongoing conversion, or even (with a pinch of poetic license) conversation, reminds me of the dynamism inherent in staying put in God. Stability, manifested through concrete commitments, places me fixedly under God’s transformative, loving gaze. It’s ironic that I’m learning more deeply of my own need for stability, of rootedness in order to more freely move in God, while on a perpetual-motion bicycle tour. While itinerancy has its place, even its own form of stability in God and conversatio through its constant invitation to nonattachment and letting go, in the context of community, growth tends to happen through an ongoing willingness to carry forward the sacramental conversation; that is, through fidelity to one’s given relationships and responsibilities. Conversatio always flows away from immature, self-centered motivation, and accepts growth, change, loss, and death as nonnegotiables that can neither be run from nor fought. Through eyes of faith, I aspire to see these nonnegotiables as a participation in Christ’s Paschal Mystery, death to resurrection, constant transformation. Through faith-filled, dynamic fidelity, life forms me for God, God forms me for love, and I am freed to hold life and other people lightly without demanding that they stay the same for my sake.

Obedientia, obedience, presumes that God is in the mix, which is not to say that a superior’s dictates are always imbued with the wisdom of God. Nor does it presume that I must simply comply with what I am told to do without question or recourse. Rather, the practice of obedience dis-locates my motivational center from the exaggerated need to have my way, unclenching heart, mind, will, and imagination for real love and creativity. While the word “obedience” strikes modern ears with more than a hint of infantile, oppressive connotations, it derives from the Latin obediere, which means “to listen, to take heed, to respond.” In the context of a sacramental worldview, wherein all-that-is communicates God’s presence and action, this responsive, attentive listening becomes an overarching posture toward life: remaining faithful to God’s invitation, stable in one’s commitments, surrendered to God’s transformative action through life’s rhythms, rests upon constant listening/response. Once again, for the Christian, God in Christ resides as the transcendent, relational reference point, made sacramentally present through concrete relationships and responsibilities. In the context of community, this entails listening and responding faithfully to a superior’s directions (Rule of Saint Benedict, Ch. 5), while also including a faithful listening and responding to one’s sisters, brothers, guests, and all who are received as Christ (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chs. 53, 71). As indicated by my interview with Quaker teacher Lysbeth Borie, this same posture of transformative listening and responding—beyond self-centered motivation, for the sake of love and a shared mission—can also be facilitated by consensus process and decision-making (just make sure you and your community receive solid training!)

I strongly believe that neo-monastic and other Christian communities have much to learn from the largely secular intentional communities movement, especially in regard to structures and practices that facilitate healthy relationships, communication, conflict resolution, and decision-making. These structures and practices help people move from immature motivational centers toward mature wholeness and generativity. This kind of basic, integrative health is a necessary precondition for fruitful, stable community. Additionally, I strongly believe that learning from and incorporating elements of the classic monastic tradition can help take such communities a step further, toward self-transcendence; that is, into the self-giving love that is the hallmark of Christian spirituality. In my experience, the vows of stabilitas, conversatio, and obedientia serve both ends. First, they teach and form me into a life of mature commitment and responsibility. Secondly, they propel me out of the orbit of self-concern in a more profound manner, placing God in Christ at the center, liberating me to live the teachings of the Gospel, whether in the context of community or without. While this tour has taught me something of how very far I am from the abiding, all-pervading commitment these vows imply, I am grateful that they continue to point the way home.

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“You did not choose me, I chose you” (John 15:16)

With 20 podcast episodes published and another on the way, for the next couple of weeks I’m shifting gears a bit, spending more time simply bike-camping. As I shared in a previous post, leaving the West Coast has placed me in a more solitary situation, perfect for deeper reflection and discernment. Also, in this more solitary and reflective place, I sense the two strands of the journey—the spiritual pilgrimage and the exploration of communities—converging in a new way, requiring my giving shape to this convergence through writing. In fact, spiritually speaking, this journey is the sequel to the bicycle tour of over ten years ago that led me back to the Christian faith and into a Catholic monastery. Therefore, to better grasp the content of this present journey, it’s first necessary to recap its prequel.

In January of 2001, I left the Sirius Ecovillage in Shutesbury, MA, which had been my home for 2 ½ years. That previous fall, I had been seized by a mysterious restlessness, not simply to move but to create, to generate life, as if, contrary to the earthly season, new sap flowed in my veins and pressed forward to bud and bloom. I sought for ways to express this impulse—start a cottage industry? join the Core Group?—but nothing seemed to resonate. Within a couple months of searching in this way, the insight dawned that this life-impulse was in fact pushing me out of the community. I didn’t know why or to where or for what purpose. I just left.

Several months after leaving the community, I was on a bicycle, clothing and camping gear atop the rear rack and stuffed into panniers, bouncing around the deserts of the Southwest and finally tracing the California coast. The pressing life-impulse by that time, at least to my perception, had degenerated into a wrenching sense of futility and an eclipse of life’s possibilities. I simply couldn’t see a road ahead of me beyond the asphalt under my tires. I didn’t know why, but the tide of hope and vision had receded. Did I dare expect its return? Still, the more dependable rhythms of ocean tides and redwood forest cradled me each night as I camped, giving me solace, drawing me out of myself and into the cosmic symphony. I may not have known what to do with the life-impulse entrusted to me, but in more lucid moments I could rest assured that Life beneath and above me, within and beyond me, had meaning beyond telling.

Slowly, this sense of communion with Life coalesced into a voice addressing me personally. I can’t remember how or when I took notice, and no, I didn’t literally hear a “voice,” but somehow, at some point, I knew that I should stay in a Catholic monastery if given the opportunity. The press of the life-impulse took on a strange specificity, all the more strange because “I” didn’t share its prerogatives. A Catholic monastery? Why? Yes, I had gleaned inspiration from scant reading of authors such as Thomas Merton and Kathleen Norris, but…did I really want to stay in a Catholic monastery?

In the meantime, the miles rolled on underfoot, until one evening in early November, while pedaling down Highway One through Big Sur, CA, I came upon the drive to New Camaldoli Hermitage. Too late to visit, I pedaled on another mile and a half and slept on the beach below. The next morning, having broken camp, I stood on Highway One, looking north, then south, wanting to keep biking but still possessed by the intuition that I needed to visit the monastery. So I did. And I was offered the possibility of a job on the residential maintenance crew. I didn’t stick around to find out whether the position was available or not, though (all the more baffling in hindsight, considering I had less than $300 to my name, with no job prospects ahead), but continued biking, camping on the beach again that night 50 miles down the road. I had no idea where I thought I was going. I just wanted to keep moving. I was searching for I-knew-not-what, all the while dimly picking up on and yet still missing the cues from the One who had already found me and was inviting me to something startlingly concrete.

The next morning I woke up depressed. I got ready but just couldn’t bike. I lingered in town awhile, listlessly. I opened the book by Thomas Merton I had bought at the monastery bookstore and began to read. The intuition once again flooded me, reminding me: I need to return to the monastery. I called the maintenance supervisor to see if the job was indeed available and the offer still good. It was. “See me at 9am Monday morning,” he said. That night I camped in the same spot as the last, but this time my spirits were buoyant, filled with a quiet peace and joy. I even danced in the moonlight, beneath a tree, listening to Emmy Lou Harris. The next morning, I turned my bike north to retrace the ride of two days before.

Before telling any more of the story, I want to make a few observations. First and foremost, bicycle touring has been for me an act of faith, even when I haven’t been aware of it as such. Yes, I plan and prepare, but I’ve come to believe that these decisions and actions are a participation in a larger pattern and purpose not of my devising. Yes, I planned and prepared for this present tour, and yet I am haunted by the conviction that I’ve also been lured into this endeavor for purposes beyond my own making or comprehension. As the story above illustrates, on the one hand, bicycle touring can have the mark of a restless running-away in a time of distress. On the other, and unbeknownst to me, or perhaps dimly intuited, is a running-toward a wider horizon, a new level of meaning that seems like nothingness until I am led to a crucial breakthrough. The bicycle tour narrated above had a clear, concrete breakthrough-event in my arrival at the monastery. Will this tour have a similar breakthrough? Obviously, I cannot know, but I recognize the telltale symptoms that precede such an event—the sense of being stripped of old ways of perceiving and experiencing meaning, of attachments to particular people, places, goals, activities; in short, being stripped of familiar narratives that held life together for a while but have outworn their appropriateness, a necessary dying in order to receive a new story and direction. Now, having the benefit of being taught by experience, bicycle touring this time around allows me to literally pedal through this process of deconstruction and reconstruction as a conscious act of faith.

To be continued…

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Catherine Rundle with Husband Alastair (left), Family, and Friends

InnerCHANGE emerged in the mid-1980s from the aspiration of John Hayes. While living and ministering with his family among immigrant neighbors in the most poverty-stricken, overcrowded street in Orange County, California, John recognized the urgent need to better enable missionaries to share more concretely in the lives and struggles of the poor to whom they minister. Identifying as “a Christian order among the poor,” ecumenical in composition, and affiliated with the larger mission organization CRM: Church Resource Ministries, InnerCHANGE communities have since taken root in impoverished neighborhoods in South and East Africa, Central and South America, London, Cambodia, Bangladesh, as well as a handful of urban centers in the United States.

I first encountered writing by and about InnerCHANGE while reading of the New Friars, a movement of Christian missionary communities seeking to live more integrally among the poor, in part through appropriating the wisdom of the classic religious orders. I was particularly impressed by the maturity reflected in their writing, a clear awareness and responsiveness to historical, economic, and political conditions, and the intention to create sustainable ways of life and lifelong formation in community.  In fact, I had met members of InnerCHANGE years before at New Camaldoli Hermitage, again impressed by their intentionality in integrating solitude and contemplative disciplines into their lives. Perhaps the most significant note of appreciation I heard, however, came from my monastic formator, Michael Fish OSB Cam., who gave a talk at one of InnerCHANGE’s recent annual retreats. After the retreat, he spoke excitedly to me of his impression that such emerging communities represent a springtime of renewal in the church. Hence, I had already developed an appreciation and curiosity before meeting InnerCHANGE members on their own turf, first in San Francisco and then in Los Angeles. In particular, as a former member of a monastic order, I’ve found InnerCHANGE’s capacity for liberally incorporating the creativity and spontaneity of their members a breath of fresh air, a capacity Catherine Rundle compares to the necessary messiness of the artistic process, equally applicable to life and ministry.

InnerCHANGE from CRM InnerCHANGE on Vimeo.

Catherine Rundle’s story was grafted onto that of InnerCHANGE when an urban mission internship in North Hollywood, California, put her in contact with longtime InnerCHANGE Los Angeles members Jude and John Tiersma-Watson. While this internship (unaffiliated with InnerCHANGE) provided the motivation for a way of life among the poor, she and her husband Alastair still lacked the tools, ongoing mentoring, and enduring context to make that happen in an intensive way beyond the period of the internship itself. Hence, in 1999 Catherine and Alastair joined InnerCHANGE as apprentices, therein finding the guidance, maturity, ongoing formation, and  modeling they sought from those who had walked the path well ahead of them. However, an unexpected medical condition compelled them to move to Texas after three years, where they bore their two children surrounded by the loving embrace of extended family members. Six years after their move, having served as outreach pastors for a Presbyterian church, they discerned the call to return to InnerCHANGE and to Los Angeles specifically, where they continue to live and grow and learn what it means to live out God’s tender heart for the poor.

In our conversation, Catherine and I discuss how she’s been transformed by her relationships with the poor, her initial entry and return to InnerCHANGE, the significance of raising a family as members of a diverse religious order, raising financial support for her life and ministry, and her love for the city of Los Angeles where she’s chosen to set down roots. She speaks of her special passion for imparting a sense of personal dignity and value to others through writing their stories in light of scripture and God’s love for them. Finally, Catherine gives a taste of her practice of prayer and praise walking, of sharing holy attentiveness, blessing, and inspired song as she walks the streets of her Westlake/McArthur Park neighborhood.

To learn more about InnerCHANGE, see John Hayes’ book, Sub-Merge: Living Deep in a Shallow World.

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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Cyprian Consiglio is a Camaldolese monk, musician, and teacher, as well as a personal friend and confrere. After ten years at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, CA, he has lived for nine years near Santa Cruz, CA, where he divides his time between solitude and extensive travel, performing and teaching around the world. He has been deeply involved in inter-religious dialogue for many years and is the author of Prayer in the Cave of the Heart: The Universal Call to Contemplation.

In our conversation, Cyprian distinguishes between what he sees as two forms of monasticism in the West: the familiar, institutionalized model and one arising from a more spontaneous, flexible contemplative impulse, manifesting across religious traditions in a variety of emergent forms. In this light, Cyprian discusses the sources that have inspired him in his own journey, from living as a monk in community to the less predetermined path of “hermit, preacher, and wanderer,” or Christian sannyasi, in the spirit of inter-religious pioneers Abhishiktananda (Henri Le Saux, OSB) and Bede Griffiths, OSB Cam.

In a significant contrast to Mary Ewing Stamps, who in an earlier interview identified the non-negotiables of monasticism as a leader, a rule, and a stable place (which is about as succinct a definition of the first form of [Benedictine] monasticism as you’ll likely find), Cyprian goes to the heart of the matter in identifying the primacy of the interior life and contemplative practice as the fundamental, nonnegotiable elements of monasticism, which in turn imbue the whole of a monk’s life and activity. With this more flexible definition in mind, Cyprian and I explore various forms of monastic community and itinerancy East and West, how to maintain a disciplined contemplative life on the move and without direct community support, and the critical necessity of daily practice, rootedness in tradition, and spiritual direction for the monk in the world.

While the distinction shouldn’t be drawn too starkly, I find Cyprian’s understanding of two forms of monasticism helpful and refreshing. Having myself been trained in the Camaldolese tradition, I tend to identify with a middle-ground, wherein the monastic institution meets, and ideally fosters, the kind of adaptability, spontaneity, and freedom of the second form. Hence, like Cyprian, I’ve also taken inspiration from the more flexible ascetical traditions of the Far East and the kinds of monastic or “lay monastic” communities they’ve established in the West (Cyprian speaks particularly of Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery (see interview here) and Mount Madonna Yoga Center, of which I have visited only the former). As Cyprian affirms, this is not to say that one form is better than the other, but it does help to clarify important differences in, say, vocational dispositions.

Incidentally, this is the same Cyprian who performs the music I use in the podcast…

Into/Outro music “He Prabhu” by Fr. Cyprian Consiglio, OSB Cam., and John Pennington, from Compassionate and Wise.

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On the Way, North of Big Sur

Funny thing. Two weekends in a row, in two towns, upon my arrival I’ve found myself invited to attend retreats I hadn’t previously known were happening. In Eureka, through a chain of logic that still eludes me, a friend of a friend of a friend thought I’d like to participate in a retreat given by a Catholic priest on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as part of my tour. In fact, I was grateful to participate, but perhaps for different reasons than this person anticipated.

“When two or three are together in my name, there am I in your midst” (Matthew 18:20)

A common theme running through the presenter’s exploration of the 12 steps was how recovering addicts and codependents in 12 step groups “come to believe that a Power greater than themselves can restore them to sanity” (Step 2), and acquire the courage to “turn their wills and their lives over to God as they understood God” (Step 3) not so much through explicit religious belief (although this can help) but through coming to know something of God communicated implicitly through interactions and relationships formed with other members. The sense of dignity, understanding, respect, and compassion a new member receives, from those further along in recovery who have undergone a spiritual liberation they could not have imagined or willed on their own, can often communicate the God who saves more surely than a catechism class or a Sunday sermon. This theme struck all the more deeply when we broke into sharing groups.

If you’ve ever been welcomed into a circle of women and men who’ve suffered similarly as you, who can listen to you with deep empathy and respect (without needing to give advice, sell you on their religious views, or shift the focus onto themselves) and are willing to reciprocate by sharing from the same level of vulnerability, then you are likely familiar with that peculiar quality such a group can evoke: the visceral knot of habitual guardedness uncoils, and a pain you may not have known you’ve been carrying wells up in your solar plexus, your chest, your throat, wells out as tears long overdue. From a Christian perspective, and without negating God’s transcendence or the necessity for the addict of receiving help beyond the merely human, I believe we can say that such moments of compassionate presence to one another reveal the Triune God in our midst; the God who is loving relationship, who is less an object of belief than a constant discovery, leading us through our pain and fear and the pain and fear of our world, to be surprised again and again by new life awaiting us on the other side.

Liz Song and I Working Our MSR Stoves, Portola Redwoods State Park

Next, in Palo Alto I met up with new friend Liz Song (aka the Dancing Panda of the SFO baggage claim area) on the eve of her departure on bike with a few friends into the Santa Cruz Mountains, to attend a camping retreat with members of their church, the Highway Community. In spite of being the oldest attendee at this “post-college” retreat, I felt right at home and grateful to meet so many passionate, engaged, thoughtful young Christians. How surprising and inspiring it is to hear them talk about such topics as monasticism, ecology, intentional community, and Christian anarchism, nearly all in the same breath. In fact, a handful of them have already formed an intentional community. This is definitely a clear, hope-filled trend I’m seeing: young evangelicals eager to learn from the whole of the Christian tradition, open to a variety of radical perspectives, creatively engaged in applying what they learn into shared ways of living—something is definitely afoot! I look forward to re-connecting with this particular group in the near future.

Stealth Camping, Carmel Beach

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and there speak tenderly to her heart” (Hosea 2:14)

It’s always a fine line between reading the hand of God at work in the events of your life and mere narcissistic magical thinking, but I’m going to take the risk and trust that these turn of events were no accident. The tenderness that these retreats, these people, touched in me, each in their own way, has been vying for my attention for a while now. And if they’ve helped to lower me closer to the bottom of the well, they’ve also spoken of where I need to go to plumb the depths. And the word they’ve spoken is:

Get thee to a monastery!

Altar, New Camaldoli Hermitage

If you’ve been following thus far, then you may already be aware that at the beginning of this tour I had the unique experience of being struck on the Achilles Heel both literally and metaphorically: while the physical injury grounded me for a month’s time, a particularly painful event in my personal life instigated a period of deep reflection. And the truth is, as a consequence of the latter, my attention has been drawn inward, my enthusiasm for the tour flagging, and the passionate questions and aspirations that underlie the inspiration for this journey have lost their sharp edge. Where my intention has been to attend closely to and learn from the lives, perspectives, and concerns of those with whom I visit and interview, I simply haven’t had the energy or focus available for that level of presence.

Now, please do not worry! This is still very good news, both personally and for this endeavor I’ve set out upon. It simply means that I need to take a brief sabbatical from the actual tour of communities in order to give the rumblings of my heart the attention they deserve; to re-charge, re-evaluate, and re-connect with my monastic roots so as to be able to give myself fully to the work before me.

“O God, you search me and you know me; you know my resting and my rising…all my ways lie open to you”  (Psalm 139:1-3)

For the time being, then, I’ve returned to my “home group”—my once physical, enduring spiritual home, New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, California. This is where I come to attend to “deep calling on deep in the roar of waters” (Psalm 42:7). As I see it, intertwined with this tour of communities is the opportunity to dig more deeply into the aspirations God has gifted me with to shape a life with meaning, a life that bears fruit, and to let go of those habit-patterns that have recurringly led me down paths of futility and disappointment along the way. This inner work is the personal analog of what I see new forms of community engaged in on social, cultural, economic, political, ecological, and ecclesial levels: how do we take the life conditions we’ve been given and forge a Spirit-infused, liberating path together?  And this is by no means a dreary process but one that’s already filling me with a renewed sense of vitality and clarity of direction, qualities I am eager to take back onto the road again (picking up where I left off in the San Francisco Bay Area, possibly as early as mid-September). Hence, in no way do I see this as a set-back but rather a leap forward in what I’m actually seeking interiorly from this venture—transformation—which can only have a positive influence on the outer rind of the journey; that is, visiting communities, blogging, reflection, interviews, etc. In any case, while I am here, I hope to corner a hermit-monk or two for an interview (no promises!) so that I might keep the podcast rolling. We’ll see…

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