The Life-giving Sustenance of Intentional Community

The Life-giving Sustenance of Intentional Community January 28, 2013

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family.
Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”   

Jane Howard

I came across the above quote this morning and found myself saying out loud…”Yes!” Yes, it’s a vital human need to feel part of a community. Through my work, I create and foster spiritual and creative circles of women, both online and in “real-time,” in retreat and workshop settings.

Women throughout time have gathered in circles and perhaps the yearning for that particular  experience of community is actually a cellular memory that lives in our bones. Perhaps some of us carry a faint or fervent recall of a long ago ancestral time when there was more spaciousness in the day and fewer distractions. In that far away time and place, women gathered with the intention to share their stories. When their stories had all been spilled, they rested in the silence that surfaced like sweet cream.

My novel, Ink and Honey, offers the reader a spiritual handbook for how to personally incorporate sacred practices into the everyday, and also how to bring ritual, prayer, and contemplative ways of being, into a circle experience.  Here is how Goscelin, the scribe in the story ofInk and Honey, describes the importance and value of simple ritual for her community, the sisterhood of Belle Coeur.

The rituals of daily life sustain us. Prayer is added to all we do to feed our spirits. We taste it in Beatrice’s bread.  It grows in Helvide’s planting of the herbs and is heard in every strum of Mabille’s playing on her lyre.” Later she goes on to say…. “The beauty is in the blending of how each demonstrates her vision of the sacred.”

Recently, I was blessed to go on an annual retreat to a beautiful wooded setting with a small circle of dear women friends.  We have known one another for twenty years, and for the past twelve years we have kept a covenant to gather each January to live together in community.  We celebrate the year’s stories… our accomplishments, our struggles and challenges, and our hopes and dreams.

We sit in circle together once and sometimes twice a day. Each woman takes a turn “checking-in.”  She holds a touchstone, a talking-piece, and without interruption she speaks until her story has been woven thread by precious thread. One by one we weave our tapestry of stories together with the commitment to support one another. Our weaving of stories creates a strong multi-colored blanket to cocoon us until next year’s gathering.  During our circle retreat we experience… “the blending of how each demonstrates her vision of the sacred.

While we’re together in the rented cozy house in the woods, we cook nourishing meals, pray, co-create sacred rituals, and tend one another’s hearts and spirits in sisterhood. We are therapists, spiritual directors, artists, writers, corporate executives, teachers, mothers, grandmothers, daughters of aging parents, wives, partners, and together we are sisters in spirit. Our annual retreat is more than just a chance to break from routine, to get away from it all… it is sustenance and life-giving nourishment to sustain us to return to our work and the world replenished, renewed, and recommitted to service. If one of us is unable to attend due to illness or sudden family emergency, her place is held in the circle with her photo and other mementos.  Even during an absence a sister’s spiritual presence is both honored and palpable.

When our retreat time together nears the end, we gather in our closing circle to “check-out.” This is when we state our intentions for the new year. Our “scribe” makes a record of each woman’s intention and we carry them with us and pray for one another during the months we’re apart. Our personal intentions become our compasses for when we gather together a year later.  At that time we will open our first circle by listening to our “scribe” read the intentions we put into the center of our closing circle the previous year. This kind of accountability yields positive results. I’m not sure I would have completed my novel by now, were it not for my intention in 2011 to return the following year with my book in hand, and for the support of my spiritual sisters.

An excellent resource for learning more about how to call and foster a circle is, Calling the Circleby Christina Baldwin. For guidance for how to incorporate circle in additional settings and circumstances, read The Circle Way: A Leader in Every Chair, by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea.

In our technological world we are connected in an immediate way via e-mail, social media, and online connections.  However, the blessing of coming together in a “real-time” circle, in a safe, nurturing space, with kindred spirits, to breathe the same air, still hearts and minds, light a candle at the center, and one by one share the stories of our lives… ahhhh… ancient memory…the weaving of hearts and women’s stories. A lasting experience that transcends time and s

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