Belonging can be beautiful. As I’ve reflected on my own journey of vocation, the question in my twenties seemed primarily to be: Who am I? But as I approached thirty, it was replaced by the question: Whose am I? The latter is a question about community: Who are the people alongside of whom I am meant to work, grow, undergo real conversion, and bear the fruit that God intends? How beautiful it felt when God drew me, in response to that question, to belong to this Society. There are surely parallel experiences in your own life.
But belonging can also be complicated. In pursuit of belonging, one risk may be that the complexity, dynamism, and mystery of an individual person becomes flattened, distorted, or worse. One facet of a person may be made to stand for the person herself. In search of belonging, as our Rule cautions, individuals may unwittingly “seek refuge in passivity and conformity,” or succumb to false messages from the group’s members or authority figures. A deadening or unquestioning uniformity may be the cost.
These past months have been ones of particular challenge for all of us, as we have learned to manage, and now live with, the COVID pandemic. This is especially true for us in the Community. In January, eleven of us either tested positive or manifested symptoms of the virus over the course of several days. It seems that, multiple times a day, decisions were made and remade as first one, and then another Brother, went into isolation.
Out of the background of that particular challenge comes this issue of Cowley, in which Brothers reflect on personal and global challenges. Whether the challenges are personal, such as dealing with sickness, stuttering, or discerning God’s voice, or global, such as the climate emergency, it is my experience that challenges bring with them invitations.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Earlier this summer, the Reverend Sarah Coakley led our annual community retreat on the subject of risk. Using earlier members of the Society – such as our founders, Father Benson, Father Grafton, and Father O’Neill, as well as some others, such as Father Johnson, Father Waggett, Father Slade, and our beloved Brother Paul Wessinger – Dr. Coakley examined how risk has played an essential role in the history of the community from the very beginning. Each morning she challenged us to take seriously the risks with which we are being invited to wrestle on a daily basis, as well as to renew our willingness to take risks.