This is the second of two posts containing my application to the School of the Spirit for its program On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. The first post, and a fuller introduction, can be found here.
A well-chosen question can have quite an impact. Several years after moving to the Blue Ridge Mountains, I was gifted with such a question. It was posed by Douglas, the same friend whose birthday would later coincide with the Testing the Water retreat in Roanoke.
It was a sunny afternoon at Light Morning. We were sitting on a grassy knoll called Temple Hill, close to where Douglas now lies buried. High above us, a raven traced a lazy circle in the sky.
“So why did your Virginia Beach guidance,” Doug asked, “say that the Essenes were to serve as a model for your community?”
In March of 2018, I learned about an 18-month program called On Being a Spiritual Nurturer. It was offered by The School of the Spirit, a ministry “rooted in the Quaker contemplative tradition of the living silence.” Feeling ready to explore my Quaker heritage, I requested an application.
“Write a summary of your experience with spiritual nurture ministry,” the application said. “Reflect on how you have been drawn toward or clearly discerned a call to spiritual nurture and its study. We seek to understand how this call has risen out of your personal faith, faith community, life experience, education, and training. We encourage you to offer stories that describe your explorations, wrestling, insights, and lessons learned. Please include your experience of desiring, seeking or receiving support concerning this call.”
What follows is my response to this request.
Spiritual nurture ministry is an unfamiliar phrase, but it stirs deep associations. Good friends nurture each other. They’re responsive to one another’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Quakers, moreover, self-identify as a Religious Society of Friends.
I have a knack for making and keeping friends. I’m a good listener and often ask good questions. People tend to trust and confide in me. I have been with friends who are giving birth and others who are dying. I have helped some friends get married and others get divorced. I’ve been there for friends who have become suddenly and seriously unhinged, just as they, in turn, have been there for me.
[When Light Morning was an active community, those wanting to visit or intern here sometimes asked about our core values. In response, we posted three articles to an earlier version of this website: Living Close to the Earth; A New Kind of Family; and A Transformational Journey.]
Choosing to live close to the Earth, in a new kind of family, is to risk intimacy. What drew us to Light Morning in the first place, however, and what keeps us here, is riskier still: a whispered call to cast off our moorings and embark upon a transformational journey.
This journey grows out of an audacious assumption that humans are mutable creatures. As a species, we routinely engage in nearly inconceivable atrocities and generosities. Who could even hazard a guess, then, about what any individual’s capacity for goodness or godliness might be?
This post will approach the complex nature of the human heart from several directions. First we’ll consider a disturbing tension between the soul and the human. Then we’ll turn to an emerging Light Morning paradigm called The Four Cairns and a threefold path of meditation, dreams, and prayer.
Shortly before the turn of the millennium, Light Morning experienced an unprecedented population explosion. For twenty-five years we had been a relatively small intentional community. Then, seemingly overnight, our family of six adults and a teenager morphed into a bustling warren of sixteen adults and six children. The transition was chaotic and overwhelming, exhilarating and exhausting.
Almost as soon as it had formed, however, the bubble started to deflate. A few of the recent arrivals packed up and moved on. Others wondered what their next steps were going to be. Still others were trying to discern how their personal values aligned with those of Light Morning.
All of us were deep into the stretch zone. The newcomers were adapting to a place where every meal, most of the work, and much of the money was shared. The old-timers found themselves suddenly outnumbered by those who didn’t understand – and sometimes didn’t want to understand – how or why Light Morning had become what it was. The crucible of community gifted everyone with psychic bruises and blown fuses.
The intensity tested our resilience. It also forced us to wrestle with several essential questions: Why are people drawn to Light Morning? How much do they know, beforehand, about its founding vision and core values? How do visitors become committed members of the community? What systems and values are we willing to change? What remains non-negotiable?
The questions kept gnawing at us. So when four of us left for a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in January of 2000, we took the questions with us. Jonathan, Joyce, and I were fully committed to Light Morning. Kent was a former member of the community and a fellow Vipassana meditator. Little did we realize how insightful and harrowing this midwinter pilgrimage from southwest Virginia to western Massachusetts would turn out to be.