elaine a. heath

Spirituality, Theology, Creativity, Community


Muchness and Manyness

I realized I was suffering from what Thomas R. Kelly calls “muchness and manyness.” Too many tasks, too little time, increasing panic as deadlines neared. The usual ways of praying seemed only to make things worse as I “journaled” lists of things to do and tried to listen to God through the chaos. So with the guidance of my spiritual director I went on a mini-retreat for a few hours. That was all I could afford, time-wise.  She urged me to present the problem to “the Holy Friends,” her affectionate name for the Trinity. In prayer I welcomed the loving presence of the Holy Friends and told them I was at my wits’ end.  I waited to see what would happen.  After awhile I saw a mountain of debris with recognizable elements from my actual life–people, books, tasks, places, and more. Then I noticed the three friends, their backs to me, each standing with their hands on their hips and looking at the pile with me. They were between me and the pile. This is the honest to goodness truth–I heard them laugh. They shook their heads in wonder and said to each other, “My God, can you believe this?” Then slowly they began to confer together. Without me. They pointed at one thing and another, making a plan. They left me out of this process. I realized I did not have to watch the mountain any more because they were taking care of it. I did not have to order it because they were. I found myself sinking into peace. Relief. Rest. I could let go of the muchness and manyness and release the outcome. The peace that was given to me that day remained into the months ahead. Here is a rough sketch of what I saw. May all of us hear the laughter of the Holy Friends this day. May we take comfort in their abiding presence. May we be given the strength to let go of our muchness and manyness and dwell in sabbath rest.


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The C Word

Elaine Heath at Cochran HouseOne of the most common questions I am asked about intentional communities goes like this:

“But how do you keep from becoming a cult?”

I am astonished at how many people assume that the moment several unrelated-by-marriage adults begin to share a home, pray faithfully for the neighbors and the world and demonstrate hospitality in the neighborhood, a deadly cult has formed.  These assumptions come more from inside than outside the church, especially the Protestant church. I am never asked this question by Catholics, Orthodox, or Episcopalians because they always had faith-based intentional communities (aka religious orders). Their first comment is always, “How wonderful!”

The funny thing is, secular intentional communities are all around us and we think they are perfectly normal. Sororities and fraternities are a type of intentional community gathered around common values and practices. Not only do we think these are acceptable organizations, many of us work(ed) hard to get into them, and remain connected for life to our “sisters” or “brothers.” We also have intentional communities of senior citizens residing in assisted living villages where people eat together, exercise, and go on adventures together. No one worries about cults there, even though most of those communities have religious services, too.  Every summer families send their children off to live in intentional community at summer camp for weeks on end. No one worries about the C word forming there.

I understand why people might fear a cult, of course. If it is a real danger. No one avoids religiously induced tyranny and blind obedience to narcissistic, violent, exploitive leaders more than I do. That is one reason why our leadership structures in Missional Wisdom communities are democratic, involve teams of several people, and diversity of thought. They are designed to give hives to would-be cult leaders.

In light of the oft-asked cult question, though, I laughed out loud when I saw the recent AARP article about a group of women of a certain age that decided to buy a home and live in community together for economic reasons.  Lauded for their savvy business sense and resourcefulness, these women are middle class and Suze Orman worthy.  I wonder if anyone asks them in a hushed, worried, voice, “But how will you avoid becoming a cult?”