Tuesday, October 9, 2012

my farflung congregation (2)

Community has been on my mind a lot lately, and this book, whose subtitle identifies the Rocovian Commune as "An Early Liberal Religious Community," feeds that train of thought.  My dream has often been to live in a small community, similar in a way to Stephen Gaskin's The Farm--even down to my imagining myself standing in a field Sunday mornings to deliver a Gaskin-like meditation each week--but the chance of that happening is pretty remote.  Nearly as remote as the success the Racovian community enjoyed for a short time.

Hewett's lesson, if I take it right, mirrors that of the 1570 pamphlet with the unwieldy Faulknerian-styled title "A Treatise not against that apostolic Community formerly in Jerusalem and described and commended by the New Testament, which should exist among the true followers of Christ, but against such as has been recommended by one of the numerous sects which multiplied from the teaching of Jesus after his Ascension, known as the 'Communists' in Moravia.  Extra quam--they say--non est salus."  (Yes, it includes the interrupted Latin phrase.)   The pamphlet, ascribed to the moderate Minor Church leader Stanislas Budzynski, would seem to emphasize the lesson "Jesus...did not order us to renounce the world but to let our light so shine before men that they, seeing our deeds to be good and holy, should praise the Lord and be uplifted...He is a poor warrior indeed who, fearing an encounter retires from the arena and yet desires to be regarded as a valiant Christian."  That is, as Hewett paraphrases, "don't experiment with Utopia.  Stay in society and work for its reform."

Decades ago I left Buddhist practice precisely because I perceived a tendency among them to aim for retirement from the world to a place where they might meditate in private and without worldly interruption.  (Thich Nhat Hanh and his Engaged Buddhism has made great inroads to put the change to this.)  Despite what I might dream about, I know I couldn't really live that life, in the world but not of it.  Twenty years ago my friend Lars tried The Farm route, cycling from New York to Tennessee to give it a try.  Six months later he cycled back, recognizing that The Family's hermetic tendencies put his own--and this from a man who lived for a while in an abandoned barn, slipping in and out without anyone seeing him, for nearly a year--to shame.

All this is to agree with Hewitt's distinction between a society and a community.  A society "is an arrangement entered into for limited and specific purposes; [a community] is an organic whole constituted of members who find their fulfillment only through relationship."  (My emphasis.)  It is this relational fulfillment I seek and, in some ways, have discovered in my farflung congregation, spread as it is between the coasts and often coming together only in my imagination.  What I would want and what I miss is a community  like I've experienced in New Paltz, a cohort that comes together on an almost-daily basis to work and see and eat and play with one another.  What I also recognize is my difficulty sometimes and especially as I grow older with being in constant contact with other people, because while I enjoy, for instance, the twice a week I go in to my seminary for classes and drinking coffee with friends and talking with them for hours, that trip in is entirely my decision.  I choose to go there and have the option not to do it.  And it is only twice a week:  how, I ask myself, would daily and hourly affect me?

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