The other evening during our spiritual reading, I happened across something quite interesting in the book I have been reading. The book is titled “Against an Infinite Horizon: The Finger of God in our Everyday Lives.” It is written by Ronald Rolheiser. There is a chunk of it that I would really like to share with you all, so I have typed it out for you to read.
The beginning of this little section within the chapter it is in starts with the talk of polishing stones. There was someone who would place small stones he found in a barrel-drum, add some water, seal it, and have it on a rotator. After several weeks, he would open it up. If it was gone, it was of sand and gravel. If the stone had value, it was polished and gleaming with all the rough edges off of it. It was written that this could be related to family and community life. It says this.
…real relationship, actual interaction within family and community, deflates our fantasies, makes us see reality, punctures our narcissim, and against every protest, denial, and rationalization we can muster, shows us how selfish and immature we often are. We cannot live very long within any community […] without becoming aware of our faults and narrowness.
From here, Rolheiser goes on to tell this story and finish up the section on the polished stone.
I remember a young nun to whom I once served as a spiritual director. Before entering the convent, she had lived alone in her own apartment and was quite popular. She had many friends and was, to her own mind, quite a mature, giving, and unselfish person. Not long after joining a religious community, where she lived in close quarters with other novices and those directing the novitiate, she began to experience major problems with her relationships. She was often at odds with her peers and her directors, who, tactfully and otherwise, told her that she was somewhat self-centered and immature. She was particularly frustrated because often the tensions arose over very petty things.
“It must be the community that’s causing this,” she told me during one of our sessions. “I was never a petty, selfish person when I lived alone!” Then, when I asked why she continued to stay in the convent if this was the case, she replied: “Because, in my better moments, I know that if I ran off now and got married probably most of the things that are happening here would begin to happen again! Some of this stuff would catch up with me again. When I lived alone it was lonely, but it was easier. You didn’t have to live your life under a microscope. But you could easily fool yourself too!”
What was happening to her in that community? The stone was being polished! She was being churned in the barreldrum that is called family, community. The other stones were knocking some rough edges off her and rubbing her free of considerable useless gravel and sand. It was painful and humiliating for her, but she was learning the most valuable lesson of all, how to share your life in reality as opposed to fantasy. She was in a school of charity. She was being purified.
Family and community aren’t boring; they are terrifying. They’re too full of searing revelations; there we have no place to hide. In family life, our selfishness and immaturities are reflected back at us through eyes that are steady and unblinking. Staying within them is often the hell that is purgatory and so leads to heaven.
When I read this, I had to stop right in my tracks. How true some of that is to me and many of the aspirants with me in our little community! While every aspect of this story may not coincide with me, or anyone here, it is something that makes sense to me and others who have also read this. You never know what a community can pull out of you and the things that it teaches you.
Community is terrifying. I have learned that indeed it is hard to find a place to hide from the world on your own. Much of the day you are with others until you retire to your room for the night. It is a part of this world I believe we all knew was coming. The reality of life here is what hit us hard; the actuality of living it out is what struck us off guard.
The last line struck me as interesting and very true. Staying with a community can be like hell. There are a lot of things pulled out of you that you never knew existed, good or bad, that can start to change you a bit. If you take that, it is like penance, time in purgatory. You are dealing with who you are and how to change what needs to be changed as well as nurturing the parts of you that need to grow. All this work on yourself to become the best that God intended you to be leads to heaven. Heaven and eternity with God is what we want.
I would like to know, what do you think of what Rolheiser has to say? Have you seen any of this in your life? Please comment with anything you have to say about this reading! Peace!