under these trees, not others

Community is ours for the making, an always-present happening, broken open to each other through a willingness to be vulnerable.

under these trees at Kline’s Run Park along the Susquehanna

“You have made us together, you have made us one and many, you have placed me here in the midst as witness, as awareness, and as joy. Here I am…You have made me a kind of center, but a center that is nowhere. And yet also I am ‘here,’ let us say I am ‘here’ under these trees, not others.”

– Thomas Merton

There’s an uncomfortable truth that I’ve struggled with for most of my life: I’ve been really lonely.

It’s a squirmy little truth because it manifests itself in some pretty mundane and unimaginative ways. Here are my top three:

  1. The mindless consumption of plugging in to the dream worlds of never-ending video and social media
  2. An easy rejection enabled by perfectionism – summarily dismissing participation because it doesn’t meet my poorly constructed and usually self-edifying standards
  3. The ugly exhaustion of isolation – not the active, renewing power of solitude, but the inactive, life-draining leech of alienation

And it certainly isn’t because I’ve been alone. For most of my adult life I have been surrounded by an amazing partner, wonderful colleagues and warm friends. The surprising thing about being lonely is that it doesn’t have so much to do with who is around me, but instead it’s about how I am participating in co-creating community with who is around me. Dorothy Day got it absolutely right:

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.”  (“The Final Word is Love,” The Catholic Worker, May 1980)

Those simple words: “It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on.” They speak perfectly to the way community takes shape. It’s something that can only be co-created; it’s the place where our relationship with the Creator (Buddha-consciousness, Universal Light, God, Divine Spirit, Infinite Loving-kindness, Powerful Goodness, Ein Sof) becomes manifest in our relationship with others; it’s the dynamic solution to all that loneliness. It speaks for us to “Come here, stay awhile, for we belong to each other. Let us slip in and out of old skins that we share and make mistakes together. Let’s believe that our faith in each other will let us live the questions in our collective care of the space we inhabit.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about community, especially as I sit in the Meetinghouse on Sunday morning, and how our work together midwifes the emerging Beloved Community, what others may call the Commonwealth or Kingdom of God. But this emerging Community is only ushered in when we can cultivate a lasting commitment to leaving behind less-skillful ways of being.

I try to consider the following:

  • Community is the solution to loneliness, but only when I am vulnerable enough to set aside what Wendell Berry calls “the pointless work of pride.” Participating in co-creation requires me to accept the ever-changing mandala of collaboration, the antithesis to being “set in my ways.”
  • I need to live a kind of vibrant humility that directs me back to Love, time and time again, as my guiding principle.
  • A renewed sense of awareness of small, joyous interactions feeds the work of the Beloved Community, because as John Woolman wrote, “Conduct is more convincing than language.”
  • A community is a group of people set aside for the care of a particular place. We don’t experience the troubles of our community so that we can resist them or run away from them, but so that our hearts can break open to them. Thomas Merton said we are “here, under these trees, not others.” And trees are prone to take deep roots.

There is much to hold in contemplation, for sure. But community is a tactile technology – it is always generative and responds to us according to how we use it. When we use it as a practice to lovingly explore our collective brokenness and loneliness, we are no doubt on the right path.

Some sacred words I’ve used in Centering Prayer that facilitate a heart for Community: Serve Humbly, Humble Service, Loving Boundaries, Boundless Love





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