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Marks of the Liberating Community

Marks of the Liberating Community
Written by admin June 17th, 2006 in Saturdays
By Elizabeth O'Connor

As our people form small communities and set out on the next stage of their journeying, we have pondered what might be the marks of the liberating community - the new community that will be a clear sign of God's people in the world.

First among those marks is a clear, radical, unequivocal commitment to the poorest, the weakest, and the most abused members of the human family. Among them are the children of the world whose young bodies and minds and hearts lack nourishment and protection, and who are thus condemned for the whole of their lives; the mentally ill, sprawled in the hallways of state and federal hopsitals, and their brothers and sisters in misery - the mentally retarded; men and women in the prison system and juveniles in correctional institutions; the elderly on welfare; the unemployed; and those vast numbers all over the world who toil the whole day and earn barely enough to survive - to keep body and soul together. They are the neglected and despised ones with whom our Lord was so identified. All of this may sound utopian, but the new community will bear the mark of this kind of vision.

The second mark of the liberating community is commitment to a life of dialogue. None of us will be able to make a home for the heart unless we desire with all our beings to be persons in dialogue. In our own community we have hurt each other most when we rushed by one another without taking time either to share ourselves or to listen. Dialogue demands of each participant that we try to live into the other's world, try to see things as another sees them. We do not enter into dialogue in order to persuade another to see things our way. We enter into dialogue because we are open to change and are aware that our lives need correcting. Dialogue requires a clear, radical, and arduous commitment to listening. Essential to that listening is knowing in the deepest recesses of our being that we really know very little about most things, and that the truth may rest with some unlikely soul. God says to the most gifted among us, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways" (Isa. 55:8). When we know that, when we are truly seeking God's will, we have to be persons of dialogue.

The third mark of the liberating community is a radical commitment to a critical contemplation of one's own life and the life of one's faith community. This commitment is important for all groups and especially important for communities like my own who have made small beginnings in aligning themselves with the oppressed, and are somewhere concretely involved in the struggle for justice. We can too easily become identified with goodness - feel that we are "the enlightened ones." We cease to ask questions about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and whether it might better be done another way. Not only must we question ourselves; we must create the kind of atmosphere that invites others to question us and to give us feedback on how they perceive and hear and experience us.

The fourth mark of the liberating community is its commitment to a life of reflection. I have come to doubt that there can be any radical transformation in ourselves or the oppressive structures that we seek to change unless we value and practice reflection. In reflection the emotional and the intellectual become partners. Since the beginning of its existence my Eighth Day Community has been faced with many pressing decisions. When we begin to talk simultaneously, or do not seem to be getting anywhere, someone will say, "Let's take time to reflect on what we have been saying and what others are saying. What do we want our corporate life to show forth? What are the ‘bad feelings' we may be having, and what are the ‘good feelings?' What are we willing to give up and what do we feel we should hold to?" After a time we speak out of the silence, each of us sharing our reflections, each having tried to listen from a place of silence.

The fifth mark of our vocation to build liberating communities is that we will structure into every day a time of solitude. This is the foremost responsibility of the Christian revolutionary. Without a protected time of daily silence we have no possibility of doing the extraordinary inward work that each of us needs to do. And what is this work that we will do in the silence? The foundation of our dialogue with God is the Scriptures. We cannot reach any new land without God's words. Other works of silence are confession and forgiveness. In the silence we have some possibility of being penetrated by the truth and thus of gaining the humble and contrite heart. Another work of silence is intercession. We are to go to God on behalf of humanity. To intercede is to have one's life widen out to include all those who suffer. Another work of the silence is thanksgiving and praise. Through praise God's love infuses our suffering and our struggle. A more neglected work of silence is to experience and understand our aloneness. Call it existential loneliness if you like or whatever will help you to grasp the painful knowledge of your aloneness that will not be relegated to some back corner of your soul. In an understanding of your aloneness lies your freedom.

And how do we know when the divine birth is over - when Christ is born in us, and we are born in him? Meister Eckhart says, "The birth is not over until the heart is free from care." To touch a quiet center is to know that the source of action and the source of contemplation is the same - Jesus Christ. Our lives become fused with the life of God and the life of each other, and together we seek the will of God for that small segment of the earth where we are placed. Out of us will flow an unbelievable creativity.

Until her death in 1998, Elizabeth O'Connor was the primary chronicler of the life of The Church of the Saviour. Books still in print include Call to Commitment; Journey Inward, Journey Outward; Eighth Day of Creation; Cry Pain, Cry Hope; and Servant Leaders, Servant Structures (available from the Potter's House Bookservice at www.pottershousebooks.org). This article is excerpted from a chapter in her 1976 book, The New Community.

This is from Inward/Outward, The Church of the Saviour, Wash., D.C.

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