Between the Lines: A Conversation with David Benner – Part 3

This is the third of a four-part interview we had with Dr. David Benner – author of the recent Brazos book Spirituality and the Awakening Self: The Sacred Journey of Transformation.

David’s book is currently a part of the Book Club at Patheos.com.

In Part 1, Dr. Benner discussed his purpose for writing Spirituality and the Awakening Self.
In Part 2, he talked about Christian mysticism and what it has to offer for one’s journey of transformation.

In today’s post, David discusses the role of community for that journey.

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You discuss the role that community can play in an individual’s spiritual journey. What are some helpful ways that a community can encourage its members’ journey? How can a community hinder one’s journey?

This is a tremendously important question because no one makes this transformational journey alone.  Our communities – familial and spiritual – either support or impede transformation.  Tragically, too often they impede it.

Communities that support transformation in their members are communities that are themselves open to transformation.  Rather than trying to preserve what they have always been, they embrace change and have learned to continuously evolve.  They know that the most basic lesson of life is that things that are brittle are either dying or have died whereas that which is flexible is that which is growing.  Communities that find a way to stay molten help their adherents and members also stay molten.  But sadly, individuals and organizations that may begin in a molten state quickly cool down and ossify.

Transformational communities embrace diversity as a way of honouring otherness.  They recognize that the other is a face of the self and a face of the Ultimate Other.  This is the motive for the hospitality to diversity and otherness that they offer. They make no demands that everyone be the same.  In fact, they recognize that their strength lies in diversity.  The broader the range of diversities that are welcomed, the healthier the community and the more capable it is of supporting transformation.

But the transformational journey will often require that we move from one primary support community to another.  This doesn’t represent a failure of the community we leave; it simply represents a reality that seldom can one spiritual community meet all our needs as we follow the path of authentic transformation.  A truly transformational community will always, therefore, be one that encourages seeking rather than self-contented finding.  Questions – all questions – will always be welcome because these communities are continuously open to further change and evolution.  This is what allows them to support, rather than fear, the same sort of change and evolution in people.

There is no single thing that could make a bigger positive change in the growth and development of persons than an increase in the number of communities that understand that the first rule of care is to offer support without constraint.  This is the lesson that parents must learn and it is equally true of couples and communities.  Good parents learn to celebrate when their children are ready to move beyond the family and healthy communities should be prepared to do the same.  Human coherence is enhanced when we are able to live within social groups for a considerable period of time but this only happens when communities learn the rhythm of holding, releasing and then staying involved until we are well embedded in the next community.  This allows us to move beyond old communities of belonging but still remain attached to them.  Separation from old places of belonging is always grievous because it involves separation from old meanings and previously significant relationships.  This always carries with it an extremely high price tag. In order to genuinely move beyond old places of belonging it is essential that we integrate that place of belonging into our self, not simply try and leave it behind.  This integration requires the support of those we hopefully remain connected to, even as our transformation and continuing growth often demand that we shift our primary context of belonging to another community.  Communities that can support people before, during and after their transitions can help their members both grieve the losses and celebrate the gains that are part of the human spiritual journey.

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