Do (not) Disturb

About ten years ago, I joined a writers’ group. One rainy night in 2002, I sat in a cozy, wood-paneled living room with seven other women and talked about writing. I liked the seriousness and camaraderie, the mutual respect and good humor, and I joined. Of that group that sat around the coffee table in 2002, only I remain. We’re eight again – a mutually agreed upon workable size for such a group. The new members have energy, insight, and opinions. Lots of opinions.

How much of my own control have I invested? How much do I (and the others who agree with me) need to dictate the terms of our meetings, the tenor of our discussion? I bristle at one newbie’s announcement that “we’ll always meet at my place.” Yeah, my neighborhood is notorious for lack of parking, but don’t we cede a bit of ownership when we give up serving on our own plates? Just how controlling AM I?

On Monday nights for a little more than a year, I’ve been attending a lay Benedictine group. We gather for prayer, a meal, and contemplation. Last week, during T’s reading aloud from Cassian’s Conferences, one member turned the pages of her binder. A quiet sound but one that – like the unwrapping of a lozenge in the row in front of you at the theater – grew increasingly distracting. Did she have to paw each page before turning it? How difficult was it to pick up a corner and lift it? Just what was she looking for, anyway?

I’ve never considered myself a joiner. On personality-type quizzes, I tick the box next to I am energized by solitude. Growing up, I avoided organized groups because they involved competitive sports or the adherence to some social protocol of which I alone was ignorant (or both). I joined a sorority in college after my parents insisted that I go through rush (otherwise, they feared, I’d spend four years in the library). But here I am, a willing member of groups. And the surprising thing is that, as different as they are one from the other, each presents the same challenge.

In the movie Of Gods and Men, one Trappist monk tells another to go fuck himself.  It’s a surprising moment – monks swear! and in French! – and such a human one. We feel the younger man’s outrage and pain; we feel his elder’s hurt and bewilderment. Being in community doesn’t mean we always talk nice or even like one another.

I joined the Benedictine group to have more time for studying scripture and sitting in contemplation, and to get to know a certain guy better. I found those things, and these too: one of our members scrolls down his iPhone during silence; another turns her pages during table reading.  Reader, I get annoyed.

A few Mondays ago, we read from Saint Benedict’s Rule: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, who said: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matt. 25:35).” And then,  from Sister Joan Chittister’s commentary : “The message  is clear: Come right in and disturb our perfect lives.”

Hospitality is key to Benedictine spirituality. Three hours once a week may be dipping a toe in deep, deep water – barely breaking the surface – and yet, like any regular practice, no matter the time involved, it informs our lives. Perfect and not-so.

Disturb away; this, too, feeds us.

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About lindseycrittenden

Lindsey Crittenden is the author of two published books: THE WATER WILL HOLD YOU: A SKEPTIC LEARNS TO PRAY (Harmony Books, 2007) and THE VIEW FROM BELOW, a collection of short stories (Midlist Press, 1999). Her personal essays and articles – on topics such as prayer, the pitfalls of too much California sunshine, and visiting a group of lifers at San Quentin – have appeared in The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle Magazine, Image, Real Simple, Bon Appétit, East Bay Express, Health, and Best American Spiritual Writing. Her fiction has won national awards and has appeared in Glimmer Train, Bellingham Review, Quarterly West, and other publications. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she graduated from UC Berkeley, moved to New York City as soon as she could, and returned to California for grad school. While in the graduate creative writing program at UC Davis, she discovered (much to her surprise) the fun of teaching. She lives in San Francisco and teaches at UC Berkeley Extension. She has completed a novel, and is writing new short stories and a (very early stages) nonfiction exploration of spirituality & sex.
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9 Responses to Do (not) Disturb

  1. craig says:

    solitude in community is such a complex endeavor…thank you for your insights about life in community…i look forward to additional posts!

  2. Meghan Ward says:

    Lindsey, I love this post. I, too, look forward to reading more!

  3. Ilana DeBare says:

    Welcome to the blogosphere, Lindsey! I look forward to reading more. I’ll add you to my blogroll.

  4. dianeolberg says:

    I like this post so much – you capture such interesting tension in your writing group, yourself, Christianity, and more. I read it more than once and keep thinking about it

  5. Scribbly Jane says:

    I too have never considered myself a joiner, but as I’ve learned to become part of various communities my life has become so much richer and I’ve found I then treasure my solitude that much more. Beautiful post Lindsey.

    • Isn’t it interesting, how solitude & community overlap & balance & reflect on each other in new ways? Feeling alone in groups can be deliciously affirming (solitude, honored, such as in group meditation or on a silent retreat) or awkward & alienating (the high school dance, standing on the edges at a cocktail party). thanks, Jane — keep scribbling!

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