photo credit: Ryan Klinck

photo credit: Ryan Klinck

The Dance of Community

by Wendy Miller

As we prepare to begin a new series of devotional thoughts in a couple of weeks, we have asked some Missional Wisdom Foundation staff members to share some thoughts with us.

Living in intentional community is a dance. I took ballroom dance lessons when I was thirteen. My older brother did just fine. I fretted over what step my partner planned next and felt tight—anxious. Not fun.

Living in intentional community requires that we attend to the dance steps we are supposed to learn: Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, and Mission. But when it comes to actually living together and adjusting to how each one dances, the flow of the dance can sometime become tight and tiresome.

Recently, our intentional community at Spring Forest* felt strained. We weren’t talking about it. We just pushed ourselves through one day to the next: hosting various groups of persons, joining community meals, attending events at Duke Divinity School, honoring other evening commitments. Evening prayers and our house meetings became wallflowers.

A quiet but primal tug began pulling on my attention. I missed our evening prayers together—the chime Randy sounds to call us to presence, our reading, sharing, praying, waiting. Another tug showed up: slight depression, lack of joy, and lowered energy. I don’t always equate these kinds of feelings with God at work, but, apparently, the porter who stands at the door of my inner house had, unbeknown to me, said, “Yes, come in! We welcome you as Jesus.”

So, I sat down and listened, becoming hospitable to “loving myself as I love my neighbor.” Here the dance slows down; even coming to a standstill. These soul visitors were carrying words of the Holy Spirit. Jesus comes among us through tension, fatigue, and grief (John 20:19-20). I became aware of how our household is its own body, and as a body we were suffering from over-work, over-extension, and body neglect.

Part of my role in our Spring Forest community is, when needed, to call for a house meeting and offer spiritual direction. We reflected on three things as an examen:

  • What was our life together like at Peace House (our intentional community in Texas)? What is different now?

  • What are our primary gifts and roles which have emerged, now, at Spring Forest?

  • What is our call? What is the call within each of our gifts to be discerned and honored?

After prayerful reflection on these questions, we discerned that Jesus was calling us to own our gifts and call/role at this time, cautioning us from trying to over-shape the dance.

God takes the lead in the dance. The Holy Spirit gives gifts that differ. Each gift has a variety of expressions, and each expression has a variety of results. But God is at the center and at work in each and all—for the good of God’s purposes in the world. (I Cor. 12)

We decided on a few practical things:

  • Hiring someone to work on our engagements calendar—looking at four months at a time. In this way we became aware of how we were keeping a rhythm of inward and outward life.

  • Deciding to meet for community meals (with other houses) once a month, freeing space for us be together as a house.

  • Paying attention to how many invitations come our way (and there are many) from persons who desire to come to Spring Forest and engage in conversation around intentional community life.

In the resultant space, we returned to the rhythmic dance of evening prayer together—entering into God’s dance.

*Spring Forest is an intentional new monastic community in Hillsborough, NC, near Duke Divinity school, which is home to Elaine Heath (dean at Duke Divinity School) and Randy Bell, Ed and Wendy Miller, and Sean (an M. Div student at Duke) and Nicole Rice.

 Invitation to Missional Mindfulness:

  • In this post-resurrection season, in what way is Jesus showing up at the door of our own inner-monastery house? See John 20:19-20.

  • In what way are we honoring our gifts, and God’s call on our lives? In what way are we entering into God’s dance?

  • In what way is the rhythm and rule of our life, ministry, and prayer offering space for love for self; sustaining our life and our ministry as a body.