Tag Archives: Christian community

Mutual admiration society

Someone was telling me about a friend who had died, sharing the admirable characteristics this person had, which made me think of my own friends and what I admire about them.

One of my friends, someone I have known for almost fifty years, endured a debilitating disease when she was in her fifties. She recovered, but she was left financially depleted, and so she took a job overseas where she could make enough money to restore her retirement nest egg. I am not sure I could have uprooted myself and lived in the different places she lived, and I admire her courage and determination.

Another friend has incredible clarity about her values. When I think about standing up for what one believes, I think of her. She is unwavering in her commitment and untiring in deepening her knowledge about the issues that shape her life. I admire her clarity and commitment.

My dog died two years ago and rather than get another dog, I started dog sitting—inspired by the woman who had been my dog-sitter. Her love of dogs is pure, and the joy she gets from them is delightful to see. She helped shape me into the dog-lover I have become and she inspires me by her willingness to tell the world how much she loves dogs. I admire her childlike love of dogs and her freedom to express that love.

Several friends have lived in non-traditional communities—such as Catholic Worker Houses and l’Arche—and I admire their ability to successfully navigate community living.

Several friends inspire me by their generosity. One friend loves to cook and to share what she cooks, and another loves to garden and has helped me in my garden. I admire people who find their passion and are generous in sharing it.

I could go on and on, but I will stop there and invite you to think of your friends and what you admire in them. And once you have a good list going, start telling your friends what you admire about them. Perhaps they, in return, will share what they admire about you, and you can start you own mutual admiration society.

All that positive energy has the potential to transform us and our world.

Open the door

At Christmas Eve Mass, the priest asked us to recall a time when we had been the recipient of generous hospitality. He had been talking about the lack of hospitality Mary and Joseph experienced in Bethlehem, and then he shared a time he had experienced unexpected hospitality during a trip to Ireland.

The memory that came to mind was the time I had moved out of the l’Arche community feeling disillusioned and disappointed. My pride was wounded, and I was too distressed to make a decision about my next move. I felt let down and lost. After all, I had moved to l’Arche expecting to be there the rest of my life, and only a few months after arriving, I was leaving.

It took me a while to realize that my expectations had been way too high and to own why l’Arche did not work out for me. On the day I left the community, though, I was desolate.

Fortunately, the Sisters at the Benedictine Monastery invited me to stay with them for a week, which gave me a little breathing room.

A friend then invited me to stay at her house for as long as I needed. She would be away but her upstairs tenant (whom I knew) was looking after her house and there was plenty of room.

Unfortunately, the upstairs tenant did not share my friend’s generous spirit. She said I could stay for one night and then had to find someplace else. It wasn’t that there was no room, but rather that this woman was just inhospitable.

I felt so unwelcome that I did not even stay that one night.

Instead, I drove away discouraged and thinking that I would have to sleep in my car that night.

I had plans to meet a friend for coffee in the afternoon, and I was in tears by the time I got to the café.

Learning this latest development, my friend arranged for me to stay in her Mennonite community at the home of a young couple who had an extra bedroom. I moved in that evening.

I can still remember the couple opening their front door and inviting me inside. The welcome I received from this couple and the rest of the community was incredibly warm, and I immediately felt at home. The community shared everything they had; their attitude was that there is always room for one more.

It didn’t matter to them that I had no money or job, that I was spiritually and emotionally drained or that I had very little to contribute. They accepted me as I was and included me as a full-fledged member. They loved me back into wholeness, and I can still feel my heart swell with gratitude at their kindness toward me.

Their hospitality was what I wished for Mary and Joseph upon their arrival in Bethlehem.

I was grateful for the priest’s invitation to recall how blessed I was by generous hospitality.

What is your memory of hospitality?


Custody of the Eyes

Orientation for new Cabrini Mission Corps volunteers included a day focused on staying emotionally and psychologically healthy. Most of what Sr. Mary Pat talked about was familiar to me, but my ears perked up the first time I heard her use the expression custody of the eyes.

Custody of the eyes was something she was taught during her formation as a sister; it is another way of saying, “mind your own business.” When I first heard it, an image of a horse wearing blinders popped into my mind.

Horse-drawn carriage rides are one of the tourist attractions in historic Philadelphia. The horses have blinders on to keep them from being distracted and giving them a narrow line of vision.

When I first saw those horses, I remember wishing there was a human equivalent, some apparatus that I could wear to keep my focus on what was right in front of me instead of looking at what was happening around me. I wanted to be content with what was on my path, but I often fell prey to the temptation to look at others.

When I lived in l’Arche, the negative aspects of comparing myself with others became abundantly clear to me. I frequently let my vision wander to what others were doing—or not doing—rather than staying focused on my own actions.

Critiquing others’ behaviors did not change anything and while it might have given me some momentary, smug satisfaction, I was usually left with a decidedly negative after-effect.

I could see that letting my vision stray from my own path was not helpful and could be downright destructive; gossip has to be one of the biggest threats to healthy community living.

And I quickly realized that only by focusing on myself would I be able to change what I needed to change so that I could add something positive to the community. What others did or did not do needed to matter less to me; I needed to pay attention to my own actions.

Of course, looking at what I was doing, admitting my weaknesses and mistakes, confessing my breaches against the community—those were all terribly difficult. I still squirm a bit when I think of how judgmental I was, how quick I was to speak out against someone else’s faults and actions—as if I had the corner on all truth and wisdom. I still shutter when I remember how defensive I was when I was called out for my bad behavior.

Ten years after leaving l’Arche, I learned the expression custody of the eyes and had flashbacks to my behavior in l’Arche. Since then, using this expression as a mantra, coupled with the image of the horse blinders, helps keep me focused on my own path, watching myself put one foot in front of the other.



Ever since I learned to sew, I have loved being around fabric, feeling the texture and weight of it and noticing differences in various materials.

Although sewing is a solitary activity, there is a community of sewers—people who gather at fabric stores, sharing ideas as we shop or wait for our fabric to be cut. At one transition point in my life, I worked at a fabric store while I figured out my next steps.

One of our regular customers was a mother of six, five girls and a boy, all of whom had Biblical names. She usually brought a few of the children with her when she shopped, and over time, I got to know all of her children. She sewed most of their clothing, as well as her own.

This young mother and I lived very different lives, but we shared a common bond through sewing. We also shared a desire to live lives based on our faith.

She belonged to a small, Bible-based community, a “remnant” community, she called it.

I had just come back from living in an intentional Christian community in Canada, and our vocabularies around community and faith were in sync.

As I helped her select fabric or we stood around the cutting table, we talked about our sewing projects and our faith.

Her clothing was an expression of her faith. She and her girls all wore long dresses, usually calico. Their shoulders were always covered, as well as their knees. Modesty was an important virtue for her and other members of her community.

I had just spent time living and working with Mennonites, sharing life and faith with people whose religious practices differed from my own. My understanding of where our faith traditions overlapped and where they diverged had grown, and I had come to a deeper appreciation of my faith tradition.

I think my customer had not had much experience sharing faith with people from different traditions; she continually expressed amazement that we could have so much in common. She marveled that our passion, our core beliefs and our faith-talk were so similar. She was able to get beyond the externals—the fact that I was not wearing a long calico dress and that my shoulders and knees were not usually covered—to see that my faith was as important to me as hers was to her.

In sewing, a “remnant” is the small piece of fabric at the end of the bolt which gets marked at a reduced price and tossed into a bin. Most remnants are unwanted leftovers, but sometimes gems are found in the pile of bundled material—just the right piece of fabric to make a pillow or some other small project. My “remnant” community customer was that gem in my job; I happily greeted her whenever she came to the store, feeling blessed by her presence and her willingness to share bonds of sewing and faith.