Do not seek things too difficult for you, nor examine what is beyond your strength.
Think about what is commanded you, for you do not need what the Lord keeps hidden.
Do not meddle in what is none of your business, for things beyond human insight have been shown to you.
Speculation has led many astray, and evil suppositions have caused their minds to slip and fall.
– Wisdom of Sirach
Things are moving along at their own pace with regard to the Concord Front Porch Society. I’ve put off updates mostly because I’ve felt there was nothing much to report. I suppose that is because few of the grand plans have really come to fruition.
But I’m convinced now that I’ve been wrongheaded in the manner that I’ve been contemplating our communal concerns.
At present, there is still no community tool shed. Someone broke into the neighbor’s garage. Naturally that led to second thoughts. Additionally, they recently welcomed their second child.
John Lennon once sang, and I’m beginning to understand that, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
My wife, Kayla, was able to attend the birth. You don’t get much more communal then walking seven houses down the street to support your best friend as she brings new life into the world. Needless to say she was ecstatic, giddy and, above all, reverent.
She had, in her own words, witnessed a miracle.
Planting season began late for both families, though we did manage to coordinate and mostly avoid overlapping crops. It’s an ongoing process. Our peppers still haven’t been planted.
We had planned to start a little communitarian reading group. As it stands, we still haven’t got that going.
But we have spent time together and with other friends. We’ve taken joy in good company and new life. We’re preparing to celebrate the marriage of two friends from our parish. It is as Bonhoeffer said in Life Together, “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.”
And elsewhere in the same text: “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
More recently, in my book Unseasonable Poems, I put it this way:
We share meals and
Carry one another’s babies
in the communion line,
Take them forward into Death
in order to receive Life.
We give each other many impossibly precious gifts.
Is this hell?
We are vessels of clay.
Filled with grace to overflowing,
we spill over into those around us constantly
as if it were the most mundane thing.
And it is
and that is
There is, I think, a good case to be made for a kind of holy intuition: an imaginative and improvisational response to community. In being attentive to our community, quiet and considerate, we are freed to let the concerns of each day be enough. We can tend to our gardens, to the health of our souls, and be listening and watching in anticipation of meeting the needs of others.
Rather than lofty plan-making, we ought to do as Sirach advised and St. Paul after him. We should live simply, mind our own business, and accept that what we have is sufficient—spiritually and materially. We should seek to be peacemakers, to give freely wherever we have extra.
Chasing an ideal rarely serves anyone. There is value in setting a high bar, but many have turned to the unthinkable and inhuman in their impatience. Endless plotting and theorizing can lead to minds that are starved—bureaucratic minds.
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon points to the possible risks and rewards of contemplation as he considers sanctification. For those of us with an intellectual bent, our mind can be part of the salvific process or can be our undoing.
“One must put grist in the mill,” he says. I’m daily more aware of the necessity of a well-fed mind and hands set to life-giving work. Like starving bodies, starving minds begin to eat themselves. Such a mind loses itself in solipsism and turns away from others. Idle hands manifest the sickness of a hungry mind.
There are two kinds of men: homo politicus and homo adorans.
There is contemplation as machination. And there is contemplation as prayer.
Homo adorans or doxological man approaches everything barefooted, in humility and fear. He is aware that he is finite and the Divine is everywhere present. The world is aflame with God’s presence.
Politicus is another story. He is political man. He knows no limits, only engineering and revolution.
Nothing is more at odds with community.
There is a traditional Orthodox prayer included in many prayer books. Contained therein is a request that, for me, serves as a starting point when thinking about community:
Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as I once loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver.
Some years ago I worked this request, reworded and expanded, into a poem that I had the opportunity to share with my fellow parishioners. I won’t include it here in its entirety, but the last few lines are pertinent:
Where I once set these hands and mind to evil,
Let me be found now a conspirator in Your work.
Where I have sown hatred, cruelty, selfishness;
Let me reap a rod of discipline—grant me penance.
May I do only good, taking nothing more than what I need.
May I give more than my foolish estimates deem possible.