Episode #29- Lectio Divina on Matthew 11: 25-30 with Neil

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Hi beautiful ones, 

Here’s what to expect in this episode of the podcast:

*I chat a bit about the quiet season of Pai, as well as talking about worry and its phantom suffering.

* Neil guides a lectio divina meditation on Matthew 11:25-30. (If you want to skip to this, it’s at 05:30, but don’t skip the introduction because it is pinker than a flamingo!) 

Here’s the podcast on iTunes. 

Here’s the episode on Youtube.

My brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces are still with us! I’m a blessed girl. Today we have plans to go and play water in the streets for Thai New Year. I pray that this week, you find a way to play!

Many blessings,

~ Rae

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free. This week we want to welcome our new patron with a big thank you! Thank you Alecia Zoccoli! You are wonderful. xo

Chai Wallah

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Chai garam! Chai garam!

I sit on the beach for a Nature Meditation when the chai wallah's voice comes to me on the wind. He carries a silver urn of hot spiced tea. His young son, bouncing along next to him like an energetic puppy, carries a long bag of paper cups, and joins his dad in the call:

Chai garam! Hot chai! Hot chai!!

He makes it a game, his dad calls out and he calls out after him, echoing the pitch and cadence:

Chai garam! Chai garam!

People sitting in the sand watching the sunset give a small nod, and the man and son rush over, offering cups and pouring sweet, hot chai for each customer.

Hot chai! Good chai!

And suddenly it hits me: God is like a chai wallah.

Coming to us, God approaches with joy, telling us of blessings. All we have to do is give a little nod, signal to the Divine our openness, our readiness to receive, and God is there. Ready with sweetness. Blessing us, pouring out gifts.

Hot chai! Good chai! Chai garam!!

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(A post by Ro)

Episode #20 - Imagination meditation on John 11 with Neil

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Hi beautiful ones. I hope you’re keeping warm wherever you are. It’s chilly here, but we’re admittedly soft. 

Here’s what to expect in this episode of the podcast:

* Ro and I talk about how we feel about reaching episode 20 of the podcast, tree signs, Vanna White, a Devotion Circle on spirituality and play, and birthdays. 

* Neil guides an imagination meditation from John 11. If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 09:46. (But don’t, because the introduction is not a waste of beans.)

Here’s the podcast on iTunes. 

Here’s the episode on Youtube.

I’m thinking about unity and love this week. I pray that you’re feeling loved, wherever you are. 

 Much love,

~ Rae

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free.

Episode # 9 - Lectio Divina on Zephaniah 3:14-17 with Ro

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Hi! I’m away at a women’s retreat so this episode is going out a day late. Sorry about that! The time here has been beautiful and restorative, though. I’m thankful for every bit of beauty in the gardens around here, for weather that is cooling down and for so many beautiful people in the world.

Here’s what to expect in this episode of the podcast:

* Ro and I have a little chat about a Very Special Visitor, a worship circle, the extra audio for this month, part singing, and weeds like trees (again.)  

* Ro guides a Lectio Divina meditation on Zephaniah 3: 14-17. (If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 10:18)

Here’s the episode on iTunes. 

Here it is on Youtube.

I pray that this week you would notice the beautiful light of morning each day. Be well, dear ones.

~ Rae

Episode #7 - Imagination on Luke 8:22-25 with Miri.

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I just drove a car load of teenagers to a youth retreat and now I’m recovering from a very chatty four hours in the car, posting this in a quiet space. (Aaahhh.) I love those kids.

Here’s what to expect in this episode of the podcast:

* Ro and I chat about the last week, including community lunches that have been full to the brim, dance meditation, planting seeds, forgetting about the sun, and a beautiful Devotion Circle.

* Miri guides an imagination meditation on Luke 8: 22-25. (If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 09:13)

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*Also, during the introduction, I talked about an art piece that my fourteen-year-old daughter did in response to a dance meditation this week. Here it is:

Dreamy.

Here’s the episode on iTunes. 

Here it is on Youtube.

Here’s the podcast and blog Facebook page.


I pray that you feel scads of joy this week, wherever you are. 

~ Rae

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free. 

Episode # 6 : Lectio Divina on Psalm 126 with Rowan

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This week I’m posting from theRiver Gathering in Chiang Mai. It has been such a full week, so full to the brim with goodness and thoughts and connections that we are overflowing. 

Here’s what to expect in this episode:

* Ro and I talk a little about the gathering, including dance meditation, wrestling contests, new and old connections, and amazing worship. 

* Ro guides a Lectio Divina meditation on Psalm 126. (If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 08:30)

Here’s the episode on iTunes. 

Here it is on Youtube.

We have a Facebook page up if you want to follow us there.

May all the love and mercy you need flow freely to you and through you this weekend. Much love.

~ Rae

***

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free to travelers and spiritual seekers from around the world.

Episode #4 : Imagination meditation on the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' robe, with Rae

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(Rae here.)

We’ve been so busy with life but one of the gems right now is being able to guide meditation. I hope today’s meditation speaks to you.

Here’s what to expect in this episode:

*Ro and I have a short chat about life right now including rainbow salad, contact dance, city life, and being glad to be home. 

*I guide an imagination meditation based on the story of the woman who came and touched the hem of Jesus’s robe. (She was so brave.) (If you want to skip straight to this, it’s at 07:05)

Here’s the podcast on iTunes. 

Here it is on Youtube.

We have a Facebook page up if you want to follow us there.

Many blessings for the weekend. Love one another and remember that you are so, so loved.

Episode #3 of the Podcast! Imagination meditation on John 13:1-17 with Neil

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Hi everyone, this is Rachel. I hope you have had an excellent week!

The podcast is live on iTunes, so you can subscribe there if you like!

Here’s what to expect in Episode 3 of the podcast:

I tried something new this week and created this episode without any background music. We normally meditate without music. Let us know what you think about the difference. Music? No music? 

* Ro and I do an update of life around here this week, including uncles, camping dreams, housecleaning, and a quiet week.

* Neil guides us in an imagination meditation on John 13:1-17 (If you want to skip straight to this part, it’s at 08:34.) 

Enjoy!

The Youtube version is here :)

***

The podcast will always be free, but you can support us on Patreon.com and get extra audio each month. We're so thankful for your support, which helps our communities to offer this kind of meditation and other Christ-centered practices for free. 

A Little Breath

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Here at Shekina Garden we are taking a little breath.

For two weeks we are halting most of our regular rhythms at the Garden. It is school holidays for the kids. One family is away for a holiday with visiting parents. Jazzy and his Dad Joshua need to go to Laos for a visa run. And we are preparing a Gathering for theRIVER - a whole bunch of communities like ours, coming together in Chiang Mai in a few weeks time. There will be folks coming from all over the world to think about community and faith and travel and Jesus. Just the best sort of gathering!

Soon the season here will start to ramp up, as the rains stop and the weather cools down. Already, friends are starting to return for the part of the year that they live here. We have joyous reunions with friends we see each year. And I realise the sweetness in both the seasonal friendships - where we are apart for half the year and get to catch up on each other’s very different lives; and also the friendships that go all through the year - the ones we cough with during the dry burning season, and sweat with during green season.

We all do different things when we take a seasonal break like this. Some folks like to give their homes a big spring clean (autumn/fall clean?). The kids don’t have school so there are more fun holiday-type adventures to be had. There is a little bit more time for other projects or study, creating or reading. We get together with friends for bible reading circles, or coffee, or board games.

Our regular work is so good. We love it so much! Our meditations, gardening days, meals together, devotion circles. Beautiful practices that require our full selves. But if we keep doing them all year without any break, it can feel like we are on a wheel that never stops, as Rae says. And that isn’t such a nice feeling. So before High Season is upon us, with all its energy and visitors and events, we make an opportunity to take a breath. To look around at all that has been going on. To thank God for what has been happening around us and in us. It is good to stop, and to breathe long and deep.

(A post by Ro)

(A post by Ro)

Gardener's Paradise.

It was our own form of shopping spree and we were in heaven. 

“It’s gorgeous… I’ll take four,” is a phrase that doesn’t come out of my mouth very often. Nor do I exult in shopping sprees. Except, unless… I am in the Kamthieng Market, a blocks long garden market in Chiang Mai. Basically, shop after shop has the most gorgeous plants and trees and flowers for sale. It is a hippie’s paradise. We could have spent days there, but we limited ourselves to a few hours, roasting in the hot sun, (Leaf and I bought sombreros to keep our heads cool) while Brendan kept the kids in the air conditioning at the Tesco Lotus nearby. He watched as the kids played in the playground and stormed the arcade. We, meanwhile, stormed the garden market, determined to make the garden of our dreams.

“Avocado trees?” 

“Yes, let’s take more of them!” 

“What about these wildflowers?”

"We have to have pomegranates!"

“Let’s get three kinds of mango tree.”

“What are lamyai?” “Oh, they’re small fruit, really good. Let’s get one!” 

The enthusiasm was crazy. I quickly took photos of all the little trees, labeling them in my phone so we wouldn't forget which was which.

We are planting trees at Shekina Garden, and for the first time ever, all of us in our little community got on the curvy, sick-making bus ride to go to Chiang Mai so that we could buy trees together. We piled into the back of a song taew, which took us through the city to the market. Plants. Flowers. Heaven. We bought a lot of fruit trees that will take years to bear fruit. We bought climbers and ten crepe myrtle trees to stretch along the front of the garden, blocking the view of the new resort that is being constructed directly opposite us. (One day—the crepe myrtles are still pretty short.) When we got home I found a nursery in my yard, trees upon trees. We have planted many of them and every Friday, during gardening time, we plant more. Planting trees is always good, always right, and doing it together is a lot of fun. And a lot of work, but what beautiful work. 

(This post was cross-posted at Journey Mama)

A Thin Layer

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. An extra bit of brilliance just before the light disappears, like a thousand invisible lamps being turned on at once. We were sitting in the sala at Shekina Garden yesterday, finishing up with meditation, bamboo leaves rustling in a strong breeze. Brendan began riding Nay’s bicycle in circles around the garden, testing it or something, I never did find out.  “It’s like the Wizard of Oz,” our friend Beau said. “And look, he’s riding a bicycle out there.” Brendan did make quite a sight, green and golden in the weird light, cycling on the grass. 

We were drinking kombucha and I felt the kind of happy settledness that meditation brings me. We lingered, the light keeping us there, our little conversations blinking on and off. We talked about light therapy and skateboarding, and then I told some stories about the Catholic shrines in Goa, out of nowhere, related to nothing. Snippets of memories. Leaf and I walked back over the bridge together, then lingered longer beside the river, talking. We meant to head in different directions, but we were caught there, talking by the river, as the light got dimmer and dimmer and finally it was gone before I even pulled away, my headlights guiding me along the narrow street. 

Earlier in the day we had looked at land, dreaming of a future with a bigger retreat center in it. Chinua is recording everything lately, every moment, so I drove while he held the video camera and we followed Brendan and Leaf on their red motorbikes, which are forty years old and aptly named Big Red and Little Red. It was all ridiculously photogenic—Brendan with his waist-length dreadlocks and Leaf with her brilliant hair on these old, beautiful bikes. They drove side by side and chatted. Chinua filmed it all. (Filmed? Is there a different word for that these days?) 

I left quickly when I realized I was late for my afternoon tea with my friend Rowan Tree. Ro and I ate cake. We ate too much cake, the pieces were twice as big as we thought they would be. I offered Chinua some when he wandered into the café later and groaned that he couldn’t go anywhere anymore without bumping into us. He looked at me suspiciously. We are competing to reach our weight goals, (people still ask me if I’m pregnant, nearly every day) and we have been known to offer each other food as a weapon because we both want to win. But I really just wanted him to enjoy the cake with me and eat it because it was too much. He took a bite and disappeared. Ro and I talked about learning Thai and how it can be an obsession, words tumbling over each other in your brain until you think you will go crazy. I was nervous about guiding meditation because I’ve been using up a lot of my courage lately and it seems to be finite, though rechargeable. I’m not usually anxious about guiding meditation but this time I was and Rowan Tree set me at ease as she clutched her stomach and groaned “I ate too many snacks…” 

We went to my house and I finished making dinner so it would be ready while I was away and Josh was watching the kids. Once the salsa was made and the lettuce was cut, we rode off to sweep the floor of the meditation space and put the mats out. Our friends began pulling up one by one on their scooters and the sunlight slipped further along the red floor as we settled in a circle and began. 

God is our refuge and strength.

Sometimes there is difficult work to do in community. I think this particular group of friends has fooled me away from my firm belief that community is a kind of suffering. I start thinking it is all fun and games and playing in the mud and get careless. But in talking about what really matters to us and digging to find each other and dream together, a wild fear of being seen or unseen, changing beyond recognition or being misunderstood can rear its head. 

A very present help in trouble.

Past days, memories and fears and stumbling, clumsy love can make me retreat into myself, can tempt me to isolate myself. Maybe you are the same. But as soon as we try to run from the knife of suffering, the iron of community, we give up on the depth and truth of love. It is the same in marriage, in parenting. We flinch away from pain, but suffering guides us to new depths of understanding. We learn more of what God is doing as he writes his story among us. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God…

We sat in the circle together, our minds close and far away, and birds sang above us, and one shrieking cicada tried for all our attention. 

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The evenings have been otherworldly, lately. A drape of thin cloud hangs over the valley, and as the sun goes down, the clouds pull the light into them, refracting a golden glow onto everything you can see. 

*From Psalm 46

This post was cross-posted at Rae's blog: Journey Mama.

A light has dawned. (Late Christmas Post.)

On Christmas Eve we had gatherings in two countries. Miriam and the community in Goa made a beautiful circle and dinner there, and here in Thailand we made a circle as well, and we ate and sang and shared together to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We passed a light around the circle, which has become a tradition, lighting each candle from the candle next to us and sharing what has been a light to us in the past year. The kids joined in and some of us scrambled to keep everyone safe, but it was beautiful.

There was so much food, there was music, we sang carols, and many travelers found their way to us throughout the night. I can’t think of a better way to spend Christmas, I love to welcome in those who don’t have a place to celebrate, and it's beautiful to eat and sing and be together. 

I hope you all had a beautiful Christmas. I’m excited for this gift of a New Year! Who can tell what it will bring? 

A meditation on Psalm 104

Recently, at Shekina in Pai, Chinua guided a meditation on Psalm 104,  introducing it as a hybrid meditation between Lectio Divina and contemplation of nature. He read the Psalm through and then we each chose something in the world around us to focus on and absorb, asking ourselves about how this piece of nature spoke about the attributes of God. 

First of all, what a Psalm!  It’s really long and I encourage you to read it. Here are some snippets:

He makes the clouds his chariot

He rides on the wings of the wind

The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly

The cedars of Lebanon that he planted

In them the birds build their nests

The stork has her home in the fir trees

I will sing to the Lord for as long as I live

I will sing praise to my God as long as I have my being

May my mediation be pleasing to him

For I rejoice in the Lord

 

Sitting with the greenest fields and mountains all around us, with birdsong in my ears, these words washed over me like water. I felt lifted, as I always do, by scripture in this quiet setting where we only hear the words and don’t share our opinions on them (at that moment). The words themselves are full and strong and pure.

Then, for my contemplation of nature, I chose a small, purple set of flowers that grow on one of our trees. In thinking about what this flower spoke about the heart of God, I was filled with the strongest love. Flowers! I pictured flowers springing from the heart of God in all their delicacy and color. That he made these things which serve such a practical purpose (to spread pollen and attract bees and butterflies) and yet our eyes love them, that he made this partnership between us and the beauty of the world speaks of a great tenderness and love for beauty that goes beyond any of my own love or desire to create. How could I shrink in shame from a being who made flowers? He reveals his love for me in feeding the longing for beauty with something as lovely as a flower. How can that not fill me, enclose me? 

In our contemplation of nature mediations at Shekina, we often think of how the piece of nature that we are contemplating is like God and unlike God.  As we sat in silence, I thought of God, this eternal love and being, and how being eternal means that he is eternally young and eternally ancient. The flowers I held in my hand would only ever be young, then die and wither. But God, though his heart is young and rejoices with the blooming of each flower, also is ancient, with the wisdom of the ages and the understanding of every single happening on the earth and beyond it. The flower is not God, the flower did not make God, but something of who he is springs into the world every time a flower blossoms, and this blooming speaks of him, all around the world, every day. 

Chin in America? When does that happen?

Here is is. I want to share Shekina Meditation, with as many people who will receive me, in the states, soon.

I just put a post on Facebook about how I want to go home to the States to do our practice with people. Doing a facebook update about something more complicated than "OMG, my cat just sneezed!!” is not as always easy so I also posted here.

Simply put, I want to demonstrate and encourage Shekina meditation with all who want to benefit from it. In my mind it's small groups, churches, bible studies, kirtans, gatherings, any place people have the open intention to further their spiritual growth. We have somtheing valuable to share.

If I get a robust response from facebook, emails and such I will make it a priority to be there. After all, it’s expensive to come all that way. I’m hoping for four weekends and some midweek time too.

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A photo I took way back in the 90s. Did I really live here?

But why would I come all the way there, literally half way around the world? I want some of you to do the smae honestly. We want people to come here and help us do this. It would be crazy, and wonderful, to imagine returning to Thailand with a 10 people wanting to come help us at some point.

I want people to be thinking and dreaming about it, but how can anyone even begin if they have no idea what we even mean by Shekina Meditation? Experience is the best teacher. We have brochures and blurbs, but you know everyone is selling something. Like good fruit, you have to really take it in to benefit from it.

Honestly it's a good moment, our center here is almost ready to open and the high season is coming. I want to inspire as any people to move more deeply into their spiritual life through meditation as possible. I want to build some momentum so that when my whole family comes in the spring, we can be taking the next natural step rather than the first.

Its easier for me to zip around when its just me, although almost infinitely more sad (insert heart wrenching pining sound) to be away from them. Rachel can manage with support, although it’s a stretch for us all. We really think it will be worth it.

I’m hoping to connect with people in Southern California, Northern California, and up in the Pacific Northwest. I have a mind to come to the Midwest as well, since Michigan is my home state, and we have a smattering of good people that we know in the region. Asheville is a natural stop too.

What are we offering? One hour sessions at a location of your choice. Rachel and I and the Shekina Center in Goa have been doing this for years with the help of many amazing people. It could be after church or during a mid week gathering. I will give a short but clear introduction into the practice and we will jump right in. I’m open to everything from circles of old friends to YWAM groups to your church cafeteria and everything in between.

So what do you say internets? Is this a meh or a woo-hoo? So when do we see Chin and Shekina Meditation together with you in the States? That’s easy, when you want it :)

Let me know in the comments!

It begins: building a new Shekina space.

Meditation center in progress.

When Chinua and I moved to Pai, it was with the intent of beginning a meditation community similar to Shekina in Goa. This past year has been a settling year. We’ve been learning language, getting to know people here, playing music, making connections-- doing all the things you need to do to get into life in a new place. I didn’t want it to take a long time and I’ve been very impatient at times, sitting on the bus trying to make it move faster with my knees and the muscles in my cheeks.


But sometimes we wait for God. He has his time and we don’t know what’s going on, but we wait. We looked and looked for what would be our own space, a place to gather, to be the place for our circles and meditation here. Sometime in May, a friend told us about a property for rent that he thought might be something we could use, a lot like what we’re looking for. I walked out to the property. Chinua was away for five weeks, and I remember the Skype call I had with him.


“I’m in love,” I said. I took Miriam out there and she loved it too. And Chinua, when he came, saw all the things we saw and more. We started dreaming.

The property is small, just the right size for beginnings. It’s for rent, rather than for sale, also good for beginnings. It’s close to town, close enough for people to walk out to us in no time at all, and yet when you walk out to it, crossing the river in the process, you enter a little space of quiet and you can see for a mile, all the way to the mountains. It’s lovely.

 

Meditation center in progress.


We signed a lease on June 15th.
We started building on July 2nd.


We’re making progress, and we’re so excited; planning and sketching, dreaming and comparing ideas. We talk about the feeling of absolutely everything. The words we use in designing are: simple, welcoming, sacred, artful. We ask ourselves questions: Can you see the doorway when you walk in? Will you feel drawn in? What does the way the buildings are arranged do to your headspace as you see them? It’s all important.

There were two buildings already on the property. We kept the kitchen (re-did the walls) but took down the bamboo hut, and now we’re in the process of building a large meditation/gathering space and a bathroom.

Meditation center in progress.


We’re nearly ready to begin here. And of course, the timing of God is perfect. If we had tried to do all this a year ago, without the amazing connections we have now, we’d be spinning our wheels. If we tried to do it without being able to speak Thai as we are now, we’d be incredibly frustrated. It shows me yet again: Wait, oh wait on the Lord.

Beautiful Community: Values

New Year's 2013

There are many ways to attempt to keep a community moving toward an idea or purpose, rather than away from it. One way is to write a set of rules that the members of the community should follow, then have the leaders of the community make sure people abide by them.

This is a terrible idea. Honestly, take my word for it. There is nothing worse than an adult feeling like a kid because of a well meant but misguided rule book, and a visionary feeling like a policeman or policewoman. I shudder, even writing about it.

But there has to be something. Doesn't there? Because if there isn't anything that keeps the structure of the community in place, how is it intentional? How is it safe? How is it not completely annoying because everything changes all the time?

This is where a written group of ideals comes in, and it needs to be in place from the beginning. Your written values originate with the core group of people who are starting your community. But how do you come up with these ideals- your values? I suggest you sit down together and have a talking circle. (Use a talking stick if you need to- they're very handy and keep more vocal people from trodding over quieter ones.) Ask questions and listen to the answers around the circle.

  • What things feel like the most important things in the world to you?
  • What things will strip you of the will to live, I mean, the will to remain with your community?
  • How do you dream of living, when you have beautiful dreams about life lived in a different way?
  • What makes your community different from any other?
  • What are your experiences in trying to do things with other people? What have you learned? What are the pitfalls? What would you like to avoid? What would you like to repeat?

Come to the talking circle with the goal of really listening to one another. Write down all the things you think you are best at, as a group. Write down all the things you are worst at. And write down the answers people give to the above questions. Then pass that stick around the circle again and again until you come up with the things that are most important to how you will structure your community.

With what you have at this point, it is not too hard to form a values statement. The purpose of the values statement is that it forms a sort of constitution. It does the work of aligning person to person. It inspires the original feelings and hopes of the community when things get opaque and full of struggle. And when others desire to join your community, you can give them the values statement and ask some simple questions: Do you agree? Can you live by this? The answers to those questions will tell you whether people are a good fit for your community or whether you need to encourage them to live their dreams elsewhere.

Here are a couple of sentences from our values statement, stated in brief (because our statement goes on to explain each sentence.)

We have sentences that describe the beliefs the community is built on:

Each of us is personally responsible before God and also to others in the community to live life in a way that honors Jesus.

And sentences that describe the practices of the community:

We choose to be a community centered around prayer, meditation and worship.

We are a community that practices hospitality.

We are a community that values creativity.

And they go on.  Our values are quite serious because we spend a lot of time with one another in countries around the world, living life together and seeing one another every day. If you have a community of women who love to knit together for those in need, your values might be as simple as: We will be welcoming to newcomers. But maybe you also believe in encouraging local economy, so you write down a value like, We attempt to support our local yarn stores, whenever possible.

Values differ from rules. A rule states: Greet newcomers as soon as they enter the door, or, members must purchase yarn locally. Rules take the thinking out of a value system, and they take ownership away from other members of the community. Rules limit. Values expand. The support of local yarn stores can take many different shapes, (a sale of goods to raise money for those in need, held in the yarn store, which then attracts customers and interest) just as our practice of hospitality can take many different shapes, and these things are not limited to rules when they are expressed as values.

This is a rather silly example, but say our community, because the core members feel strongly about being hospitable, had a rule like Greet newcomers as soon as they enter the door. How would that honor someone perceptive enough to notice people who seem shy, as though they would rather sneak into a circle and be there for a while before talking to anyone?

This is why values trump rules. Rules are for elementary school. In a dynamic, communicative, thriving community, each person will feel that she has something to offer and a statement of values helps her to sort out, for herself, what her offering will be. The health of your community can only be as strong as your understanding of your values.

Beautiful Community: Rhythms of life together.

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Last week I wrote about the expectations surrounding community and how to adjust them to be more accepting of what living alongside other people actually entails, how to cultivate an inner acceptance. 

Today I want to talk about the next thing to make community work well, an outer bit of practicality that has everything to do with putting things in the correct order. I think this is one of the easiest things to fumble over. I know we have, many times. 

To have a healthy community, you need to ask and answer questions on a regular basis and come up with community rhythms that help and challenge everyone.

There is a set of questions that I've sketched out, to help with finding out where your community is now, then setting the schedules that will work best for you. I can't tell you how important the order is, here. In a world and culture where we are always scrambling to fit the bill, we tend to come up with ideas of what we should be doing,  and then, when leaks inevitably spring because we've overextended ourselves, we run around and try to plug the holes. So. Here are the questions that seem to work, in the sanest order.

1. What is your vision?

2. Who do you have?

3. What will you do?

4. What/who do you need to do more?

What is your vision?

I strongly believe that a community will be healthier if it has an idea of something it wants to accomplish, if being together is not the end goal, but the way of life that enables everyone to thrive in doing what they believe in. For my community, that would be living and teaching Christian practice among the international community of travelers around the world. For some communities, it may be restoring permaculture methods,  rebuilding a neighborhood in an urban setting, or working with children who are at risk. It may also be something small, like knitting or eating soup or putting photos in albums or listening to stories.

Once you've decided what you are hoping to accomplish, you can dream and make your vision more robust, and you can look at who you have and what kind of community you want to create. Community means togetherness, and you can do togetherness in anyway you want, as long as it is committed. You can be together twice a week, you can live together, you can live near each other. You decide, and you come to  agreement.

Who do you have?

Look around and really see each other? What are you skilled at? What are you passionate about? How much time do each of you have to work with? What are your capabilities? Longings? Dreams? How many families do you have, and how will their children be involved? How will singles and families work together?

What will you do?

When you look at who you have with you, you'll be able to decide what you will do. For example, this year when Chinua and I were in Goa, we and Miriam had a talking circle, as we always do, at the very beginning of the season. We asked each other, "What can we do this season?"

There were three of us who were experienced at guiding meditation, so we decided to have three meditation sessions per week. In past years, when we've had more people with us, we've done them five days a week.

Chinua, a skilled musician, was inspired to be out playing music as much as possible, so we decided to worship together on the beach once or more a week. Chinua was also really excited about leading workshops on aspects of the life of a Jesus follower, so we added that into the week. We all loved Devotion Circles, so we kept that in place on Saturdays. I am in love with gardening and Miriam wanted to learn more about gardening together before she took on the care of our community gardening, so we added a community gardening time. And we took Sunday as a day of rest. Our week ended up looking like this:

Monday: 10:00 AM meditation, 1:00 PM lunch scheduling circle, 5:00 PM worship on the beach
Wednesday: 10:00 AM meditation
Thursday: 9:00 AM community gardening
Friday: 10:00 AM Workshop, 5:00 PM meditation on the beach
Saturday: 5:00 PM Devotion circle and dinner after
Sunday: Rest

These were the rhythms that we cycled through, week after week. In addition, we would meet once a week (during the Monday lunch scheduling circle) and talk about whether there were other things we wanted to do during the week. There were always things we wanted to do, and we managed to make time for a few of them! We hosted two night time concerts. Miriam would often make lunch on Wednesdays, inviting friends from the larger community in our neighborhood. Miriam also had a daily group prayer time, from 8:00 to 9:00 every morning, which was always optional since some of us have children and felt that it wasn't something we wanted to add to our days, as well as preferring a private prayer time.

Some people, looking at this schedule, will say that it is a LOT for a group of people to do together. Some people will say that it's not a lot at all. "That's not community," they say. "You barely do anything together!" That brings me to something that I will write about next week. To form a community that will work, you will need values that do not change, because people's opinions about your community will be many and varied, and you cannot shift with opinions. The things that are unchangeable will allow you to be flexible with other things, the things that can change. Your rhythms and schedules are like crops in your garden, you can change them depending on the season, but you always have the soil underneath, you feed it and take care of it, because your harvest depends on it. This is the deep stuff.

We have a long page of these values. One such value for us is that we do what we are able. We look at who we have, then we decide what to do. It works.

What/who do you need to do more?

Is your vision larger than your current community is capable of sustaining? The answer is not to get everyone to do more, but to ask what you need to grow. Do you need more people? Or more skills?

In our circle of deciding how our seasons will look, we take into account the fact that we have a musician and people who are experienced with guiding meditations. We also have good cooks and people who love gardening and are willing to champion it as a community practice. If we want more, do more of us need to learn to play music? Or do we need to invite more musicians to live with us? If we want to build an earth building, does one of us need to take a course on earth building? Do we need more gardening skills? More people to make our community healthier?

And after all this time, I can say that we always seem to need more skills and more people. We need people! It's something that comes up in our prayers all the time. You can pray for the things you need, and you can work on ways to find what you need.

There are so many variations on making your own community rhythms. I think that often people imagine there's only one way to make a community and see it grow, but the truth is that the need for community lies within all of us and there are as many different ways as there are walks of life. Be free to explore yours!

Next week I'll write about forming community values.

Beautiful Community: Adjusting Expectations.

Many people joined.

Community is such a loaded word, isn't it? There seem to be words behind words whenever we bring up the topic of community. Sometimes I don't even like to call what we do community, because I know the word is stacked with meaning.

If there is anything I've learned in the fourteen years that I've lived in intentional community, it's that every person carries his or her own definition and expectations of what the word community means, what community IS. These expectations, which tag along whether we like it or not, can bring more trouble with them than almost any other part of living in community. They create a scenario where no matter what the current situation of our community is, there will be disappointment or frustration at how it's not measuring up. People have different ideas, different dreams. We bring our blueprints to the circle, lay them side by side, and nothing matches, the building feels crooked and clumsy.

The heart of these expectations, troublesome though they may be, is good. It's here that our deepest desires for connection lie, and in a community of people desiring true Christian practice, there is an even deeper and more central desire for the Kingdom of God.

What is the Kingdom of God? It's something Jesus talked about almost more than anything else, and it can very simply be described as a place where things move and breathe and sing in the exact way they were designed to, the way God wants them to. Where we truly love and feel loved. Where we see others as who they truly are, as beloved to God, no matter their rank or usefulness or stature.

At the heart of who we are as believers, we desire connection with God and connection with the way he wants things to be, and we carry all of these infant dreams and desires to our new community and lay them gently and tenderly down on the altar we've constructed.

But then we come up against the very worst thing about community. Its made of --ugh-- other people, with their own desires and dreams and weird breathing and annoying ideas and strange morning rituals and the way they look when they chew their food. What a contradiction in wishes we all are, made of our desire to be side by side and our longing to get away. The very substance of our answer threatens to tear itself apart.

But I think there's hope. There are some things we can do to soften this jarring difference between expectation and reality.

The one I want to talk about today is a very simple changing of expectations. It's so simple, but so profound that it moves everything off a shaky foundation and onto a solid one, right from the beginning. We need to come to the table of community with the understanding that a part of community is suffering.

It is the suffering that Jesus underwent as he loved and longed to be loved. He knew, though, that this love would be partly grief and disconnection.

But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

John 2:24, 25

At some level, because we are not God, we will disappoint each other's ideas of love and togetherness. You will insult my neatness with your messy scrambling, I will insult your spontaenaity with my desire for rules and schedules. (In reality, it will most likely be just the opposite.) Community, in many ways, IS suffering, a beautiful, refining, redeeming, abundantly joyful suffering.

Henri Nouwen says, "Within the discipline of community are the twin gifts of forgiveness and celebration that need to be opened and used regularly. What is forgiveness? Forgiveness means that I continually am willing to forgive the other person for not fulfilling all my needs and desires."

Of course it's not all suffering. The most amazing moments of my life have taken place in the garden of community: playing crazy games, surprising people on their birthdays, being surprised on mine, singing around a bright fire under the trees. It has been a wonderful, wild dance. But when I come up against my own desires and see the difference between the fantasy of community and the truth of it all, the fact that I disappoint and am disappointed, I remind myself that this pain is a part of any true, committed community. Walking through this suffering together produces beauty in friendship that goes beyond a simple similarity of interests. Walking through this, I have gained friends unlike any I could have imagined, in my first fluffy daydreams about Christian community, when I had no idea that it would hurt.

If you want to form a community, adjust your expectations. Have everyone adjust their expectations! And you will all be surprised by the brilliance that can come from the simple act of loving other people and experiencing life together.

Next week I'll address a more practical aspect of a thriving community: Finding your community rhythms.

The meditation of scrub scrub scrub.

We are back in Goa and there is much to be done. Miriam will be here for the full season (she'll stay until the end of March) with several people who will be coming and going to join in meditation and devotional practice with her.

Chinua and I (Rae) will be here for six weeks before going back to Pai to have our baby and continue on in our quest to form another Jesus devotional community there. While here we plan to soak in as many beautiful moments together with our dear friends, Miriam and Johanna.

But first, there is work to be done.

First step of getting the meditation space ready. Scrub scrub.

And I probably shouldn't even say "first", because there is so much community and meditation involved in good, physical work.

First step of getting the meditation space ready. Scrub scrub.

Especially the work of preparing a beloved space for time spent together.

Miriam has been the superhero here. With some help from the kids, our new friend Ulli, Johanna, and Jaya, she has been scrubbing all the monsoon mold from furniture and floors. We have to do this every year, and every year it feels like a big giant task.

Getting the meditation space ready.

But soon it is done, and the mattresses and cushions are out, the floor is clean, and we're ready for another season together.