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  • Writer's pictureChristine Hassing

Building Community

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

I think of each person I meet as a puzzle piece that completes the picture of my life, no matter the duration. A person can be a moment in life, a season, or beside us from birth until old age. I also believe that no moment is coincidence. Many moments in each day I pause in the awe of a moment I experience, and I hear the words, but I was always coming here. Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, “But I was always coming here. I thought about one of my favorite Sufi poems, which says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand, exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen” (Gilbert, p. 309). No greater truth than my immersion in ORGL 522: Community and Leadership.

“Here are the conversations that produce something more than just talk: Invitation, Possibility, Ownership, Dissent, Commitment, Gifts…any one held wholeheartedly takes us to and resolves all the others” (Block, p. 112). Each of these six conversations provided thought-provoking questions such as to what extent is one here by choice? or what has one done, and what is one doing, to contribute to what one wants to change?

When a professor somewhat reacted in surprise to learn that this course was my second one I was taking in the program, I sensed I would not be the same when my time to leave the abbey ninety-six hours later. I did not know the journey down the U that I would take. Nor did I know that this would be the first significant life-changing experience of this program.

I am standing in the chapel at Saint Andrews Abbey at forty-nine years old. I am standing in the chapel during Compline with a seven-year old soul. I am the adult entering the scared room with curiosity. I am the seven-year old entering the sacred room with condemnation (Block, p. 120). I am the adult who has been peeling away layers of myself to accept who I am, as I am (Horsman, 2017, p. 18). I am the child who is still holding on to chapters of her story that see her experiences as negative effects.

My eyes are closed, I am sitting in silence, and suddenly I feel the truth of what I know; I chose my grandparents to be exactly who they were so that I could become who I am meant to be. I chose my father. From birth to this moment I am sitting in the chapel, I have chosen every person that influenced all that I believe. I am the cause of my story (Block, p. 128). I have made the choice to be here in this lifetime. I invited myself to experience every decent and ascent of my life. The Universe gave me everything I have asked for from the moment I took my first breath.

“The deepest calling in our quest for knowledge is not to observe and analyze and alter things. Instead it is personal participation in the organic community of human and non-human being, participation in the network of caring and accountability called truth” (Palmer, pp. 53-54). I sit quietly to listen to Nature, my heart feeling at home, for it is in Nature I have come to trust what I hear and see. I hear the woodpecker whisper “rhythm of life”. Tears begin to fall. On this wall where I sit, wrapped in the acceptance and love of the community of Nature, the hospitality of my classmates and professors, and in the sacred home of the monks, I am safe to cry. I begin to write with two gifts I have been given; my voice and the gift of listening. Both gifts because of a little girl (I) who desired to learn silence so that she could better hear.

The harbored feelings of shame and selfishness, of humiliation and being unworthy wash away with my tears. My tears flow non-stop, like nature’s cycle that brings drought to an end. My emotional core no longer a dry river at the base of the desert awaiting rain, I give myself permission to let all feelings flow. Like runs I’ve taken when cold weather against my cheeks allows me to feel how alive I am, my heart is opening now to fully feel each moment that happened, not as something I did in those moments, but as something I was a part of. As shame and self-judgment slid down my cheeks, forgiveness and gratitude for my story filled up the now empty spaces.

I learned the rhythm of silence and the silence of community beget individual wholeness. “Solitude opens us to the heart of love, which makes community possible; life in community manifests the love we touch in solitude” (Palmer, p. 122). During one of my most vulnerable times, I was given the honor of experiencing unconditional acceptance from my class community through the safe space they held in reverent silence. In that, I found a self-acceptance to my authenticity that no longer needed words from others to give me permission to accept myself. I found the ability to wholly embrace that silence is a gift and listening and hearing are the gifts we pay forward when we are quiet. I was silent as a child, then silence was something I was trying to break to be seen and heard as someone that mattered. Now I hold silence and stillness sacredly as the gifts that enhance my contribution in community. The hospitality of my class community provided me healing and opened my heart to sacredness that I can better write sacred words for souls to heal.

A time to speak and a time to listen. A time for darkness, and a time for light. A time to hurt, and a time to heal. A time for feeling unworthy so that one recognizes the feeling of worth when it arrives. A time to stand in despair so that one knows the strength of hope and trust. A time for being in solitude and a time for community. We cannot know and appreciate the reward of one “side” without first-hand knowledge of suffering and trial on the other “side”. Both are needed to complete the story of our lives. “What makes servant-leadership work is…not trying to separate things out and see how they work against each other or how they’re different from each other; it’s trying to draw things together and see how they’re all the same (Ferch, Spears, McFarland, Carey, p. 42). To see the purpose of our story, and make it matter that it occurred.

At the abbey, I learned of the U and being in not A and not B. I had not yet learned the fullness of heart-gesturing and heart-hearing. Another life-changing impact in learning Theory U had started, and more would come. As I have been always coming here in each course, a wisdom is resting on my shoulders. This, too, one of my philosophies of leadership:

May you always lead from your heart, knowing they will act and react accordingly in reciprocity. What portion of your wholeness you give to them will open possibility for them to courageously return their whole heart to you. That kind of community with one, twenty, or a thousand creates the momentum of change, the perceived mountains to move. We have visions for change we wish to see in the world that diminish pain and suffering. To impact that change begins with you, me, and cannot be done without we. “We and the world each mirror the other within the depths of the soul. We discover that each thing of the world lives deeply within us. But more, we discover that each of us, in the region of the soul lives deeply within the soul of the world, and the crossing point is the centering heart” (Sardello, p. 12).

Block, P. (2009). Community: The Structure of Belonging. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler

Publishers, Inc.

Ferch, S.R., Spears, L., McFarland, M., Carey, M., (2015). Conversations on Servant-

Leadership. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gilbert, E. (2007). Eat, Pray, Love. New York: Riverhead Books

Horsman, J. (2017). Chapter Two: A Servant-Leader is Profoundly Relational. Gonzaga

University, 22-March-2017

Palmer, P (1993). To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. New York:


Sardello, R, (2006). Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books

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