‘…denser and denser the pattern becomes…Take your well-disciplined strengths and stretch them between two opposing poles… Because inside human beings is where God learns.’ – RM Rilke
The word sacrament isn’t used much now and mostly has religious connotations. But I’ve been thinking about it in the context of community; for every intentional group of people there is a sacrament, a glue, that holds the members together and for which each person offers up themselves to some extent for the greater whole. Whether this glue ‘holds water’ for us depends most probably on our individual core values or soma; the experience of our own core emotional and spiritual needs within the physical body.
I guess (in my experience, not trying to speak for the whole) what I see as the sacrament of the community here at Anilio (part of the Kalikalos network) is the sharing circle. Every morning before the day’s work we gather to share part of ourselves, how we feel, what we are experiencing with whoever is in the community that day. One of the wonderful gifts and challenges here is that the members of the circle are constantly changing; different presences, voices, values and contributions ebb and flow in and out, some times indecipherable, some times with a ruffle. But the circle remains, this space. And over time (I’ve been here for almost two months) it’s as though the layers of the personal start to peel back, to reveal what is more true. A web of trust that somewhere deep down we know it is safe to surrender all the mechanisms we have built to survive.
As Rilke suggests in the poem, the pattern gets denser, more entangled… This can be startling to begin with, terrifying even; it can come in the form of vulnerability; sadness or fear or anger. Or boundless joy. The ego has a hard time with such simple levels of feeling and will kick up a fight. This is the painful bit; the sense of losing your individuality in the communal brings up all these default patterns of fight, flight or freeze; we seek out conflict, disappearance or numb out to maintain what we’ve known of ourselves, our role. In my experience, this is when the ‘well disciplined strengths’ come in. For a circle to maintain its shape, it needs a certain tension, opposites, people prepared to witness, listen and hold a mirror up to their own and each others patterns playing themselves out, and to nurture the gifts and strengths each person has to become more fully themselves.
The attitude we try to do this with (not always possible!) is in love, compassion, generosity and free from personal projections. Holding our own gravity and truth whilst being in relation to another is probably the biggest lesson of becoming a human being. Without this balance of care and attentiveness, members either collapse into each other in an unhealthy merging; or the circle falls apart. I’ve seen so many variations along this spectrum over my time living in various communities. So the question is, why bother? Again for me the answer is in the poem; the divine lives through our humanity, we are the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, skin of God. So our task is to find not some form of angelic perfection, but the fullness of our humanity.
I remember a Franciscan monk summing this up thus: ‘We are not human beings trying to become more spiritual. We are spiritual beings trying to become more human.’ When we open out our hands, whether its in a close-knit group or across a great distance, and say ‘yes, send me’, I think we are doing something simple but radical for a world where such values could so easily be smothered by consumerism and personality politics.
Here’s the full poem:
Just as the winged energy of delight
carried you over many chasms early on,
now rise the daringly imagined arch
holding up the astounding bridges.
Miracle doesn’t lie only in the amazing
living through and defeat of danger;
miracles become miracles in the clear
achievement that is earned.
To work with things is not hubris
when building the association beyond words;
denser and denser the pattern becomes–
becoming carried along is not enough.
Take your well-disciplined strengths
and stretch them between two
Because inside human beings
is where God learns.
Rainer Maria Rilke
— translated by Robert Bly
— in The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart