"It's not by chance that the word community contains unity. Our possibility is rooted in the very word. For community is an ever-potent seed waiting for our effort and care to animate what we have in common, so we can share our understanding and experience in our time on Earth."
— Mark Nepo
Poet and spiritual writer Mark Nepo, one of our LIving Spiritual Teachers, brings to this masterwork on community his skills of observation, his ability to reflect in universal terms, and his personal openness to the many ways people approach their life together. This book, twelve years in the making, illustrates his wide-ranging interests. Nepo writes:
"While some moments of community were long-standing and multi-generational, others may have lasted a week or an hour. I seek to learn how they work. To uncover the pathways that bring us together. To discern the human dynamics akin to how a flock of geese migrates without losing a single goose. To understand that our exchange of love is akin to how photosynthesis enlivens a field of ferns. To understand how an orchestra works together to bring Mozart alive and what happens to the community of listeners as they awaken. To be inspired by the gathering and perseverance of great effort the way thousands accompanied Gandhi on his long march to the sea."
In this one early paragraph, Nepo gives a sense of both the sweep and the intimacy of the large and small communities he sets out to map. He plunges into history and compels us to ponder the cruelty of war and the senseless domination of humankind over the precious realms of the natural world and the kingdoms of animals.
We live in confused and contemptuous times when fear and hatred have taken hold of citizens. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and hostility towards "the other" divide and isolate us from the fetching and fulfilling solidarity and adventure of communities that matter.
Throughout the book, Nepo proves that questions are powerful allies on the spiritual journey as they stretch mind, body, and soul. He believes that we don't ask questions for answers, but for the relationships they open between us. This book consists of short meditations organized in six chapters:
- From I to We
- Islands in Time
- Centers of Light
- With and Against Community
- How We Meet Adversity
- Our Interests Are the Same
With each meditation, Nepo suggests "Questions to Live With" to evoke further wisdom and insight on his subject. He challenges us to be like the medieval monks who kept literacy alive during the Dark Ages in Europe "to commit to a life of care and to keep the literacy of the heart alive." He vows to provide us with every resource he can find to offer light, hope, and meaning as we care for each other in communities.
Here is a sampler of quotes that reveal the spiritual takes on community you'll find on these pages. Some are thought-piece quotations setting up the theme of an essay, and others are Nepo's own summary statements at the end of an essay.
- "What if the healing of the world utterly depends on the ten thousand invisible kindnesses we offer simply and quietly throughout the pilgrimage of each human life?" — Wayne Muller
- "Community becomes the art and science of understanding and engaging the life-force that moves through everything." — Mark Nepo
- "Shared roots lived longer." — Mark Nepo
- "We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results."
— Herman Melville
- "I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because she is weak. I want her to practice non-violence, being conscious of her strength and power. . . . My life is dedicated to the service of India through the religion of non-violence, which I believe to be the root of Hinduism." — Gandhi
- "Like white blood cells rushing to the site of an injury, people in the modern world are gathering around different injuries to help each other heal." — Mark Nepo
- "We’re all one gesture from being the cruelty we have suffered or one kindness from helping each other heal in the open." — Mark Nepo
- "A mysterious power appears when people tend to each other beyond any sense of self-advantage." — Mark Nepo
- "Don’t ask the mountain / To move, just take a pebble / Each time you visit." — John Paul Lederach
- "The work of repairing the world is endless and beautiful. And since we are the world, we are here to repair ourselves." — Mark Nepo
- "We need each other and our diversity of gifts to make life whole." — Mark Nepo
- "To speak and hear the truth, each must accept the other as they are, putting aside assumptions and expectations; each must accept the other as equal; and each must be honest, clear, and forthright." — Mark Nepo
- "The struggle between self-interest and care lives in each heart. We are asked to work these choices every day, and the life of relationship, family, and community depend on what we choose." — Mark Nepo
- "Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive." — Don Miguel Ruiz
- "What is a bee without its hive?" — Puanani Burgess
- "All the great spiritual leaders have challenged us to let the world pass through our heart, another name for love." — Mark Nepo
- "The questions are always there for each of us: Will we be shut out or taken in? And will we shut others out or take them in?" — Mark Nepo
- "No matter the devastation, there’s a resilience within us to rebuild whatever has been destroyed." — Mark Nepo
- "How do any of us know when to stand up and when to give up?" — Mark Nepo
- "When I stop to put down my assumptions and conclusions – when my hands are empty and my heart starts to open – I am returned to our natural kinship with each other, no matter our path." — Mark Nepo
- "Community is like a large mosaic. . . a fellowship of . . . people who together make God visible in the world." — Henri Nouwen