Spiritual Community in the 21st Century: Growing a Garden of Light

By: 
Rev. Deborah Moldow

What is spiritual community? For starters, it’s a contradiction in terms, since our spirituality is perhaps the most interior aspect of ourselves that can’t ever be fully communicated, whereas community is an outward cultural experience that is by definition shared with others. When we imagine our ancestors living in tribal clans, there was no question of community: our kin were our life. We lived deeply connected to nature and everyone around us looked similar to us, spoke like us and worshipped the same way. Our spirituality and our community were inseparably intertwined.

As our modern world emerged through conflict and conquest, clans merged into empires and the great religions came into being as codified systems of belief shared by people of different languages and cultures. You can join a religion, by consent or by force. As travel became faster and accessible to more people, we began to have some choice in where we lived, unthinkable in our tribal past. We could choose to leave the clan behind and start an independent life. In many parts of the world we could choose our religion.

But all of this individual choice was at the expense of community and of the once-secure foundation of our spirituality. Interfaith dialogue began in earnest in 1893 and grew throughout the 20th century. In the age of the Internet and the jet plane, the wisdom of the great spiritual and religious traditions has become available to all seekers. For the first time in history as we know it, the average person is able to carve out his or her own spiritual path. What is most remarkable is that in this “spiritual marketplace” so disdained by organized religions, common values are emerging.

The Golden RuleThose who are delving into their spirituality and embracing these shared values are likely to be holding multi-level cultural identities cobbled from nationality, language, race, religion, and many smaller community identities, such as schools, political parties, clubs, interest groups, preferred entertainment, taste in consumer goods, and many more. All of these mini-identities can leave us feeling fragmented, which is often the trade-off for the freedom gained in leaving behind the kind of homogeneous community that may have felt stifling to our personal growth and expression. Now even close family members may live halfway across the planet.

And yet Catholic nuns sitting in Zen meditation, Jews chanting Vedic mantras at their yoga classes, descendants of European conquerors participating in rigorous Native American Sundance ceremonies, and towns grieving tragedies together at interfaith services are actually forming a community of belief around a number of shared principles. A perfect example of this is the growing acknowledgement that the Golden Rule is expressed in all the major world religions and its value is disputed by none. Those on a contemporary spiritual path tend to agree that they are responsible for their lives, they pay more attention to what they eat and what healing modalities they choose, and they are recognizing the importance of living in harmony with nature. They are seeing the Divine in one another. They are seeking out spiritual community in various ways, such as meditation classes and online events. But this community as yet does not have a name, an established dogma or any standardized way of meeting, and maybe it never will.

The Garden of Light was established at www.gardenoflight.org to create a home for this movement, a place to explore what the shared beliefs and practices may be, and to assure those who resonate with it that they are not alone. As the rapidly growing spiritual community becomes visible, it will become more powerful in the world, a positive contagion that welcomes everyone into its ever-expanding embrace.

The impulse behind the emergent spirituality is no less than the enticing siren song of evolution itself. At this moment, when we are moving inevitably toward a global civilization, we are being called to recognize that we are all one human family sharing one planetary home. The spiritual community that celebrates this truth is pushing us toward our next place on the evolutionary spiral, where we are once again a single tribe – this time appreciating our diversity – that shares our resources, stewards our habitat with care, and lives from the heart-based values we all share. Attaining this global culture of peace will be the greatest achievement for all humanity and could be the only way to marshal enough collective creativity to save our species from the looming effects of climate change. And perhaps there is more. Humankind learning to live with full awareness into the wholeness of our interconnected matrix of life on Earth may be just the invitation that other civilizations in our vast universe are waiting to receive before they come knocking on our door.

What is spiritual community in the 21st century? It may just be the call of our time.