Within an hour of my snowy arrival at Nether Springs, the mother house for the Northumbria Community, the bell summoned us. I sat down quietly in the beautiful great room as some emerged from the kitchen, wiping their hands on aprons as they quietly came in. More staff emerged from the office across the quad. Others, like me, emerged from other guest rooms or the library. As we gathered we sat in a few moments of silence, then began, “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…”
I took a deep breath and rested in Christ’s peace. A long, long way from Orlando.
Finding and sustaining Christian Community has been an achingly elusive reality for me. What I do know about community has primarily come from the desert that has accompanied it. A solitary cell is the place where desire for community is purified.
Here are some of insights that have come out of the silence in my various cells:
- In my cell I again find my bearings as to I am (and am not) in the eyes of God. I have found it too easy to see myself through the eyes of others. When I lose that centered place I can be dangerous to community. I can desire position I’m not fit for, or shirk from the place that is mine to fill. While community is intended to help us discern these things, immediate (but not necessarily important) needs often overshadows a right fit. In the best situations the cell is a place of confirmation, in unclear contexts, it becomes a space for me to get my bearings and stand up straight again to engage others with a discerning mind and clearer heart.
- Resentment and bitterness hide in the cracks of strong natural affinity, especially at the beginning of entrance into community. In the strain of “doing life,” however, leaders do not meet my expectations, and I do not meet theirs. In my cell I hear this exhortation anew, See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15). There is nothing more important to the health of community than time in a cell where God can search our hearts. So often bitterness has to be rooted out there, but better there than in a corporate conflagration.
- Every time I have slipped into perceiving Christian community as an extension of family, it has ultimately failed. The image of church as a place of familial intimacy is dangerous in an age where so many of us have deep relational wounds. We need new eyes to see that the body of Christ, whatever her expression, is always a mediated relationship. As Bonhoeffer says, “we have each other only in Christ, but in Christ we do have each other wholly, and for all eternity” (Life Together). This understanding that “he himself is our peace” is, like Christian unity, a reality that must be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. But the cell gives me a place where I can catch up with the insights of the Spirit, pondering how my relationships with specific people would be different if I lived with Christ truly between us, holding us together, preserving our uniqueness.
I had an epiphany on my recent journey to the Northumbria Community. It came slowly over the course of the week. Conversation was not centered around what people did. I couldn’t tell you all we talked about, but there was lively conversation and a restful acceptance that echoes deeply within me. Where was our common ground? “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning…”