Cathy and I went on a hike in the Prescott area from Walker to Potato Patch, more than just a stretch of the leg. Near the top of the ridge about three miles into our hike, at the edge of the National Forrest, we met a rancher, his son, and grandson. They looking for trail signs of few of their cattle. The eldest said hello and remarked how it was a nice day for a walk. Indeed, cool, overcast, a mild chance of rain. He told us he was local rancher, five generations he smiled. He asked if we had seen any cattle on our walk up from Walker. We hadn’t. Somehow, walking softens boundaries between people. We began a conversation that would span the next hour, as he would drive his pickup a bit of the road and search for his wandering cows. He told us about how the Bureau of Land Management had reduced his herd lease over the years from 800 to 180 cows. This, he believed, led to the rapid spread of more forest fires. I have spent many summers over the past fifty years in this area and I agree with him. When we told him we lived above the Sheldon Mine, he told us of a time he helped search for a lost autistic boy, finding him near the fire station look out a good three miles above our cabin. We experienced a communal conversation, walking, talking, sharing stories. I am confident we will meet again. And pick up the conversation where we left it when his son and grandson unloaded their horses to gather the cattle they had found. Community building, community work, is done one conversation, one step at a time.
St. Augustine’s Episcopal Parish and St. Brigid’s Community are doing the hard work of community building, one relationship at a time. The parish has recently been given a grant to expand our community work among the youth (6th-12th grade). Through the graciousness of the Neely Foundation, St. Augustine’s will be able to hire a part time Minister for Youth Formation. The last three years, Chad Sundin has done multiple jobs at St. Augustine’s. One of those jobs has been Youth Minister. Chad created the concept of a Village for Youth Formation, a work of building community. The parish, in order to receive the grant, needed to formalize a plan, which prompted the writing of a document you will find in the next post. I have separated the Village plan from this post in order that our parishioners, or anyone else, can find our model of Youth Formation. We believe youth formation does not stand alone. Neither does childhood formation, young adult formation, or adult formation—all community formation must be integrated into a community-wide village understanding.
There are three loaded words in the title of this essay, formation, community, village. These words can be trite and over used. However, my hope is that my musings for the next few posts will be the beginning of a dialogue about the integration of the “Formation of Community in a Village.”
The promptings of my scribblings are multilayered. Feeling that I am in a state of unconscious imagination and at the same time, the conscious reality—what has happened over the past few days moved me to write; some synchronistic events, including the grant, a few edgy conversations among friends, more than one mystical encounter, a dream that woke me in a frenzy of confusion, an encounter with a Prescott rancher—these experiences nudged me out of a zone of “all is well,” near the fray of the frazzled edge of the circle of leadership.
My belief is that building community is grounded within the work of the Formation of a Village. However, in the twenty-first century, both community building and formation work are not done the same as just twenty years ago. Not long ago, doing the work of community building happened among a homogenous group. Most churches at one time had some sense of communal homogeneity to hold them together. Therefore leadership could invoke dogmatism and creedal uniformity as the codifying agents. Now we live under another truth. We work in a post-Christian, post-denominational, post-institutionalism—religious hegemony has been left in the ashes of cultural and religious pluralism, thank God. We come from varying backgrounds with a different understanding, but we are still seeking community. The rancher along the road may have a different understanding of life than Cathy and me, but we both want what is best for the ecology of the Prescott area, for the community.
To the point, community building—we yearn for it, we love it, we hate it, community makes us, breaks us, hurts us, bleeds our heart. We crave it, the longing, the hopefulness, the dangerous wire-walking, the slippery mud covered shit strewn sheep-path falling down, while walking up hill. Yet, most of the time we are not that good at creating real sustainable community. Can we master it? No. We can only pray and weep and be present—sometimes causing suffering, scaring, and still builds healing. And, oddly enough, we dare teach this as a strange path towards community development. We ache for the community experience—the dream of authentic relationships. Such work, what we call community villaging, is hard. And in the context of spiritual pluralism, this community building demands Formation threaded across our differences of every sort; one step, one conversation, one cup of coffee, one beer, one relationship at a time.
“The real is imagined and the imagined is real,” said Irish author Colum McCann. The award winning author’s latest novel is Transatlantic. Last night I watched an interview of McCann on PBS. There are two reasons I am sharing this interview. First, McCann’s comment about writing being a rare moment when the author enters the thin air of magic when the real is imagined and the imagined is real breathes, life into the ensouling of the word. For a writer, his statement is one that has found its way into my quote journal. I can imagine I will return to these words many times as a source of inspiration and encouragement. Much like the Buehner’s Ensouling Language.
Second, for those of you interested in Myers-Briggs, watching this interview will give you a perfect example of two types talking right past one another. McCann is obviously an NF (iNtuitive-Feeling), while the interviewer clearly must be an ST (Sensing-Thinking).
When McCann utters the creativity of his soul in the mystical realm of imagination and reality, the interviewer is stupefied. Before McCann can move to the next flow of NF, the ST interviewer stops him in mid-sentence so that the interviewer can try and quantify the qualitative. While McCann was caressing the prose in the intimacy of sensual love, the interviewer was hoping the author would provide him with a step-by-step description of how to change the oil in his Ford pickup. When the interviewer asks McCann a conflated question he answers, ‘yea,’ as in “You cannot hear me, so I will further explain myself because I did not understand your question.” The interview is a perfect example of two distinct, and somewhat opposite personality types, having an important conversation. While, one person is describing the intricate subtleties of a well-played baseball game, the other person is explaining the precision of thoracic surgery. Neither is a wiser than the other, nor out of place, nor inappropriate—simply here we have a beautiful portrayal of two stark juxtaposed MBTI personality types. I imagine Jung would have enjoyed the interview.
Immediately at the conclusion of the interview I downloaded Transatlantic to my Kindle. About a quarter way through the book, I am not disappointed. In the words of the Irish, this is a beautiful book.
My good friend, Dr. Jennifer Botham, introduced me to the author Stehpen Harrod Buhner. She recommended, The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines for Life on Earth and Ensouling Language. I devoured both, reading Ensouling Language: On the Art of Nonfiction and the Writer’s Life first because of my passion for writing.
Good thing I had not read Ensouling before writing my book, which I just finished. Buhner gave me courage to be bolder in my editor struggles. On second thought, I wish I had read this wonderful book years ago. Reading Buhner’s book surely must be like sitting in on one of his writing workshops, or better yet, having him as a personal mentor. Most every chapter is designed to inspire the nonfiction writer to embrace their work as if they were creating poetic fiction birthed from the recesses of the heart. Imagination, creativity, soul—these are the forces of Buhner’s writing life. And he yearns for those of us who weep to write to feel his presence of blessing; keep writing in the face of rejection.
Buhner encourages, no demands, all those brave enough to write to breathe out the words emerging from their soul, feeling for the “Golden Thread,” that which knits every image and thought together in their work. He implores the writer to dream the story, to be the story, to become the conscious unconsciousness of what is being released from the inner self to the outer page. Buhner pulls back the curtain between writing for the sake of telling a story or writing non-fiction to show the reader “how to.” He fetches us to ensoul the language in order to bring joy the readers heart. Writing is an art.
Writing is also a craft, requiring hours and days sitting in front of a journal, notebook, and computer. The writer cannot escape the haunting whispers emanating forth from the simple tools of pencil and paper, blank page. She who dares pretend to write, must write in order to breathe, ditching all other endeavors to pour over the page that begs its own life. Write until fingers bleed. Then write some more.
I strongly encourage all my writer friends to immerse themselves in Buhner’s work. For those that don’t write, but love to read, I venture you will find his writing refreshing and worth your money and time.
Priest, pilgrim, writer, alchemist—living into the mystery, the knowledge, and the practice of sacred alchemy. I've walked across Ireland, almost 400 miles of mountains, valleys, forests, and magic. The pilgrimage was a mirror of my life's journey, coach, president, priest. Traveler of the life's struggles—from failure to re-imagination—still walking.