Called to building and living community
Sister Joyce Lehman • President, Sisters of the Precious Blood
As professed religious, living and building community is an integral part of our life of obedience, chastity and poverty. If we are to live these evangelical counsels faithfully as countercultural witnesses in our society today, we know we need the support of others who have made a lifetime commitment to live those values. That is one reason why living community is so important to us.
Human beings are said to be social animals, and though the building of community is part of our religious life DNA, it does not confine itself just to our commitment to one another. The skills that are part of living community manifest themselves in our ministry as well. It seems that wherever religious minister, the common good, which is a goal of community, is often front and center to the work. Even when it is not so obvious, community is often the skeleton, the network, the scaffold, the unintended consequence that supports a Sister’s ministry efforts.
In this issue of Sharing & Caring, we take a look at which skills are necessary to make a community out of a group of people, including:
- Going from “I” to “we” — Many groups are fashioned around accomplishing a task. Community is formed around the commitment to union with others. In the first, the focus is on getting something done; in the second, the focus is developing a deeper caring for those working on this task. It isn’t about what I can give or do better than others. Rather, it is about how I can empower others while giving my best to the common effort.
- Speaking our truth — Both in forming and living community, speaking comes from a deeper place than the casual conversation of strangers or even acquaintances. It comes from a place of truth and caring. Not everything needs to be — or should be — shared, but each individual in the community needs to speak from that place of truth which fosters union in the group. When we speak our truth and accept another’s truth, the honesty strengthens the fabric of the union.
- Listening with reverence and respect — When another is speaking from their place of truth, it is important to receive that gift with gratitude. Words that express a person’s truth are gifts, and gratitude is an attitude that helps us recognize the divine in that person. Even when we think someone’s ideas are “off the wall,” we can still hold those ideas reverently as the expression of what the other believes and is willing to share. Both speaking and listening are acts of caring that are essential to the building of community.
- Recognizing where all this is coming from and going to — As followers of Jesus, building community stretches us beyond the simple human dimension of being and doing with others. We recognize that God created each individual with whom we are living and working, that Jesus lived a life totally focused on doing God’s will and shed his blood to make sure we understood, and that the Holy Spirit was given precisely so that we have the grace to do what must be done. And finally, we demonstrate that building and living community, while never easy, is possible.
In a culture that seems to foster polarization, blame and divisiveness, the challenge of building and living community can seem almost impossible. When we look around, however, we see the movement of individuals going beyond themselves and banding together to work for the common good. Like the Pentecost event, with the power of the Holy Spirit, a group becomes a community, caring for one another, speaking truth and listening reverently and revealing the reign of God among us. Men and women religious bring the unique skills of building community, skills that we share wherever we live or minister.