My understanding of community has morphed through the years. Time, failure in relationships, brutal betrayal, sacrificial love and unimaginable kindness by strangers have all helped develop my experience of being in and practicing community--of sharing friendship.If you have read some of my books, you have been a witness to my progressive revelation of what community is and what it is not. In 2006, I was shaped and impacted by the words of psychologist David Benner when he says that friendship has several non-negotiable ingredients—one of which is this: True friendship and community must be reciprocal. There must be give and take in healthy relationships. No one person can be the one who gives all the time. No one person can do all the initiating. It must be reciprocal. It must be shared. It must be give and take and back and forth. Benner penned these words in my very first book, The Transformation of a Man’s Heart. That clarification helped me greatly to distinguish what had become a fuzzy boundary in my life in relationships where I was paid to be people’s friends in ministry as a pastor. When I grasped the needed quality of having reciprocal relationships, I learned to distinguish between people who were really my “work” and people who were really my “friends.” It helped me and still helps me know who I am to the few people I can find in my life that actually do want to be reciprocal rather than one of us feeling like we are doing all the giving and thus someone else is doing all the taking.In 2008, I wrote in a chapter in Soul Custody titled, “Soul Companions: Choosing your Friends” that companionship is one of God’s great desires for us. Since God is Trinity—and we are created in the image of God—we learn that the soul was created to actually be in and thrive by community. It really is not good to be by ourselves in this life. There’s a lot in that chapter about loneliness and moving out of loneliness into the actual experience of tasting true friendship. As I read that chapter today, I can clearly see my own pilgrimage in attempting to move beyond my own inner loneliness to a sense of connectedness and community.In 2012, I wrote an important book titled, The Jesus Life. There’s an anchor chapter in this book about “The Way of Companionship.” I wrote this chapter reflecting on one of the greatest hurts and wounds in the erosion of what I thought was a friend. Through a deep betrayal, a friendship ended and has never been resurrected to this day. I still wonder how something that deep and tearing could ever be repaired and would I even WANT it to be? It was in this year that I discovered a small and seemingly insignificant verse in the Gospel of John where we are told that Jesus “would not entrust himself to them for he knew all people” (John 2:24). Jesus was speaking about his companions at a table he was having dinner with. He somehow knew in his interior soul that some of the people around him—perhaps already in his circle were just were not safe. That one, small verse gave me fodder for the fire in my heart to grasp friendship even more deeply. Here I learned that Jesus did not give his heart away like we were taught in Sunday School. He guarded his own heart and was not fully vulnerable. Perhaps, in my quest to be like Jesus, I would need to reign in my heart and be more careful about who I called, “friend” and with whom I told my secrets to in life.In 2014, we moved out of the city where we had lived for a dozen years and uprooted our lives to live near our retreat. We wanted our life to be integrated. I wanted to “do my life” in one place and not be so divided. We left our church. We left our small group. We left our home and have tried to put down roots where our work, life , church and friends can have a sense of synergy, connectedness and harmony. It’s not been easy to be truthful.But in the last few months some new light has come into my quest to understand community even more. The prolific 21st century sage, prophet, farmer and spiritual guru, Wendell Berry, wrote a few sentences that stopped my in my tracks in trying to grasp community. He writes, “Community, I am beginning to understand, is made through a skill I have never learned or valued: the ability to pass time with people you do not and will not know well, talking about nothing in particular, with no end in mind, just to build trust, just to be sure of each other, just to be neighborly. A community is not something that you have, like a camcorder or a breakfast nook. No, it is something you do. And you have to do it all the time. “His words were like a light bulb for me. Something that felt dark became a little more filled with light. Community is something you do and you practice. So, with renewed wind in my sails, Berry’s words have helped me want, desire to practice community. We went to church on Sunday and sat in chairs surrounded by some “friends” and neighbors where we live. We passed the peace to each other when the preacher asked us to; we stood up together and sang the Doxology and sat down to pray the Lord’s prayer together in unison. With one voice; one motion, and in one building we found ourselves warmly connected. It was stirring for me in a deep way. I was practicing Berry’s plea for what authentic community actually is and actually does. Slowly we will build trust. We invited one couple to join us for lunch. We began a new journey of practicing casual friendship. We are both new to our new town; new to our shared neighborhood and in a new stage of life together. There’s a lot in common to build upon. There is some ground now to “practice” all that I have learned thus far in my life about friendship and community.No voice has impacted me more deeply than the prophetic words of poet and author David Whyte. He writes,, “Without tolerance and mercy, all friendships die.” Read that again. Don’t read anything more than his sentence: “Without tolerance and mercy, all friendships die.” He is telling us that friendship is not about being right. Community is not rooted in the affinity where everyone believes the same thing. It is not about have the same political views and sharing the same doctrine. He is telling us that the soul of friendships will shrivel and die unless we practice tolerance and mercy with one another. We will not always agree. 90% of all business partnerships fail. We simply need more tolerance and a whole lot more of mercy. He further states, “A diminishing circle of friends is the first terrible diagnostic of a life in deep trouble: of overwork, of too much emphasis on a professional identity, of forgetting who will be there when our armored personalities run into the inevitable natural disasters and vulnerabilities found in even the most average existence.” Ouch! How does he write in such a way that his words become a scalpel to my crusted heart. If you find yourselves in a diminishing circle of friends, perhaps your own understanding of friendship will need to morph.About 20 years ago, I wrote an article for a newspaper titled, "Who are the six strong people who will carry your casket to the grave?" I didn't know the answer to that question then and I still am not sure today. Do you know the answer to that unsettling question? For some of us that kind of uneasy question may jar us into thinking more about this very important issue in our lives--the question about who are my friends and how do I really find true community? We live so much of our lives asleep and on the hamster wheel that few of us think below the water line of life as we need to--as God wants and invites us to ponder.Many of the great spiritual truths in our lives are best understood when we accept the notion that goes like this: “I do not know everything. As I live more I will become more wise. I want to be a student of progressive revelation. I want to grow in my understanding of all things that matter: marriage, love, what is really essential in life and my yearning for heaven. As I have morphed and grown in my understanding of community, I can now be ready to lay down some things that have not worked; have not served me or my friends of the past well and now practice a better way of being a friend and having a friend. Like the Apostle Paul told us, sometimes we need to put aside childish notions and take hold of a more mature understanding of things. I find myself doing precisely as he instructed us to do regarding friends and community. Do you?
The care of the soul is not a program to be mastered; not an agenda to be followed; not a curriculum in which we advance. The care of the soul is a way of life—a way taught by Jesus, followed by the early church, practiced in communities in the mid centuries and almost entirely forgotten and neglected by the modern church today.This way of life is a clarion call to pay attention to God in the world and in your own life. Soul Care is about awakening to what really matters in life—far, far more than monetary success, personal achievement and individual significance. The more modern we become, the more likely we are to both forget and ignore the old, ancient ways that we see in the Scriptures. In today’s world, we value the fast and swift; the busy and the one who can multi-task efficiently; the strong and convincing. By returning to our roots, we find a whole, other way to live--a way the ancients knew and practiced--a way that brought them life in the midst of trials and tribulation. We need this hope today, don't we?Our souls are in need of great care because there is great violence happening in the world today and great violence in our inner lives. The world seems so thin—so much turmoil—so much disturbing us. We seem on the brink of war with so many. Our inner worlds are in turmoil too! We’ve become over-medicated; over stimulated and over committed. We can’t do it all. We can’t keep up. We’re not sleeping well anymore and there always seems to be a committee meeting happening in our minds when we try to be silent. The expectations we care in our minds about our work, marriage, money, relationships and witness to the world can sink us. They are heavy, often conflicting with one another and sometimes confusing. We need help.[tweetthis]The care of the soul is a non-linear, fluid and kinder way of life.[/tweetthis] Soul Care has a predictable movement which involves these developments:- an awakening that we need to tend to our inner life.- a confession that we can’t do this on our own and that we need help.- a humility to become a beginner in something we’ve never been good at but need to master.- a guide to show us the way forward.Perhaps we need to just stop here and say that the reason why there is so much resistance to the care of the soul is because we are not really good at all at: awakening, confessing, being humble and realizing we need a guide. Our culture has shaped us into almost the exact opposite of each of these postures of the heart. We have been led to believe we are already the enlightened ones. We have no need of confessing anything because we feel we have not done anything wrong. We are stiff-necked not bowing to anything or anyone. Thinking that we are the real trail blazers we have no need of guide because there is simply no time to ask anyone for guidance.Caring for the soul is seen first and foremost in the life and teachings of Jesus, himself. Since he said, “I am the way…” we would do ourselves some good here if we remembered that the first followers of Jesus never called themselves “Christians.” They referred to themselves as the “followers of the way.” This is mentioned five times in the book of Acts alone.I’m sorry that the church, in general, is not much help here. Addicted to programs, attendance and performance, we must return to the ancient ways to find our own ways of doing our life. I lament this so often as I travel, experience and witness the unfolding of our American attempt to be the church. Personally, I feel like we are on thin ice with our smoke machines, performance driven ways and spectator like methods of worship. I'm so thrilled to share a new and just released resource with you here. Our friends, Mark and Carrie Tedder have now released a way for house churches, missionaries, those who travel; those who can't go to church--a new way to worship. It's called, "Scattered and Small" and you can view it here. It's a way to worship without the frills and trappings and for those who might want intimate, small and more reflective. I am thrilled to discover churches that embrace the care of the soul for the sake of others as a basic tenet of their life. I'm so glad to say, I know of many and lift of the chalice of my life to greet their life.Throughout the history of our faith, individual men and women have stood up and stood against the tide of culture defining our faith and how to do our faith. Throughout time, there have always been individual voices beckoning us this way or that way and a part of caring for your soul is listening to the voices who speak with authority, clarity and conviction. Perhaps, you might decide to start reading books published 100 years ago–for in these pages, you will find a more distilled voice–a voice that we can benefit from in today's modern world. Ancient wisdom still lives today and helps us today.Potter’s Inn is a resource to individuals who seek to care for their soul and then offer that same care to others. Our Aspen Ridge Retreat is a place people can come to be trained, receive guidance from our trained spiritual guides, and explore more resources we offer.To get started or to continue in the journey of caring for your soul, I’d like to suggest the following places to dig in:
- Get and read, Embracing Soul Care and do a daily reading. Use it as couples, in small groups, with a friend or alone. There are short entries to grasp some new thinking. Also, consider reading Soul Custody. Use this as a guide because there is a short study at the end of each chapter.
- Consider having a spiritual guide—a spiritual friend where you can enjoy conversations that are deep; life-giving and healing. At Potter’s Inn, we offer this through Skype, but also in person at the retreat.
- Attend a retreat this coming year. Consider the Potter’s Inn hallmark retreat: The Soul Care Experience. It’s a five-day, guided retreat covering the life-giving themes of soul care. The May 2016 is almost full but there is room in the fall retreat in October.
- Consider the Soul Care Institute, which is a two-year, cohort modeled training initiative led by seasoned veterans in the field of soul care.
Caring for your soul is a spiritual journey that has tremendous benefits for our physical life, our human bodies and minds–who always seem to beg for more! It is a journey of the heart and mind, where a place of convergence begins to flow onward and inward.Blessings as you move onward and inward in the care of your soul this year!
I've been outside each morning for the past five mornings up at our retreat. This image shows what I've been able to sit in. The Aspens are turning gold. The sun has been shining bright. The air has been warm. One could not ask for a better fall here in Colorado.Yet, like the leaves, I feel something inside of me is changing. Something feels like it is dying. As I reflect back on this past year, it's been a hard press. I have written a book (Soul Custody); been focused on the entire transformation of the barn to morph into becoming a 14 year long vision of having an "Inn" for people to come who are worn out, tired and burned out on religion. I've led several dozen retreats and met with scores of people. It's time for me to take a break. Take a break to look for Jesus. Go into the wilderness so that I might find him.But these golden Aspens reveal a deeper secret I have within me. As much as I have tried to advocate for; be passionate about and help others to experience--I have to admit, I'm wrestling inside about some things that are just plain, making me tired.The scared bark of our beloved Aspens show the wounds where elk, deer and other critters have come to rub themselves against this precious bark. The bark, like my soul has grown weary with a few wounds to prove it.I am going on a respite. It's much deserved but as this day of departure looms for me to pack my bags and go into the wilderness for a three week journey, I feel everything inside of me saying: "Don't go. You have too much to do. It's not the right time." And I listen for a while to those old voices which I know all too well and I know that they are speaking to me lies. Lies to make me sign up again; stay for another card in the game and go for one more ride around the ring. When I feel tired...life and almost everyone and everything looks tired also.I read the lyrics to an old Black gospel song which simply says, "If you want to find Jesus, you gotta go into the wilderness." I've sat with that song now for about a month since discovering it. I've realized how true the song really is when friends fail you; church seems like nothing but a programming machine and the idea of 'community' has never seemed farther away. I need to go into the wilderness. It's time.For three weeks, Gwen and I will be in Alaska. I've never been--but always wanted to go. I am going into the wilderness. I'm not going on a cruise. I'm not going with a tour. It's just me and my companion now of 30 years. Together, we are going to fly in; rent a car and get as lost as we can get for three weeks.At the end of these three weeks, I'll be with 20 pastors and spouses up in the tundra of Alaska...in a place so remote that the only access is to be flown in on a plane. There's no electricity. There are few cars. And I just heard that the daily diet of most of the folks I'll be working with is whale blubber. I've never eaten whale blubber. It doesn't sound too good right now. They are living in the wilderness and I wonder here if they might know something I need to know...about Jesus and the wilderness. I'll be anxious to find out.I'm taking a few books. A pair of binoculars. Some rain gear and we're off. I'm going into the wilderness. I'm going into beauty--about the last sacred thing on earth that can revive a person's soul I think. I'm going into the wilderness to look for Jesus.SWS