Mom loved to croon Snow White’s song from the Disney classic. She made us a singing household. Scout songs for long car trips. Musicals for Saturday morning when we all did our chores. And in the evening, folk songs. My favorites were the ballads with at least a dozen verses. When we were small, Mom made up new endings for them, so instead of the (seemingly inevitable) tragedy, things turned out happily. Mom yearns for happy endings. Don’t we all?
As the feminist movement took root in the culture and in my life, I began to recognize the dangers in these ideals. Expecting a romantic relationship to provide all my needs, imagining that “happily ever after” was a possibility, these notions set me up for disappointment and crazy expectations of my intimates. It was a wonderful part of maturing to accept that my partner would be one part of a circle that would make for a full and satisfying life.
It’s taken me much longer to recognize that I apply the Prince Charming Syndrome to organizations too. Perhaps even more fiercely. How dare a work place set unrealistic expectations for its workers? What’s wrong with government that they failed to regulate the financial system and allowed the current collapse? Why didn’t they get their act together? After all, it’s what they’re there for. Be professional. Do your job.
My church life demanded especially high standards. Whenever I hit a new phase of the spiritual journey, I’d wonder why they didn’t have a fully formed program to walk me through. Yes, I used to want theological sophistication in worship, but now can’t you make it charismatic too? And now inclusive? And now justice-oriented? And now compassionate? Someday my kingdom will come.
Thanks to Seattle’s rich environment, I have easy access to a cluster of practices that can satisfy my peculiar palate of spiritual hungers. It’s been a revelation. Instead of fussing over my church’s shortcomings, I have options. A lot of them. Learning that one community need not meet all my needs has been as profound a step toward maturity as giving up the expectation that one person could.
How does that look? Like this:
My spirit, mind, and body are especially united when I can move my body. I enjoy monthly sessions with an Interplay group that practices this. After breast cancer, I encountered qigong — a Chinese practice especially suited for cancer treatments. It challenges me to attend to health on many levels. I attend trainings and practices regularly. My husband doesn’t find Christianity valuable, but connects with the earth’s cycles. Over the years, we’ve gathered a circle of friends who celebrate solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarters. With this group, James and I have a few places where we share the language of the spirit. What a gift! And, these practices extend beyond the group settings. To really connect, it is helpful to step into them regularly when I’m alone.
Occasionally I must take stock to determine if I’m spreading myself too thin. The Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield recommends adopting “the one seat”, the practice that is your core, your home. There can be a danger for me in trying to be part of too many communities, combine too many practices. A good warning. It’s clear that Christianity is indeed my one seat.
Still. The benefits of multiple communities are great. I can show up joyfully at my church home if I don’t expect it to meet my need for prolonged bodily expression, if I don’t feel that my Christian practice divides me from my husband. I can love this community for what it does offer. I am less grumpy if others want something that doesn’t happen to make sense to me. I have less judgement and more room to hear what serves the entire community, not just my interests. “There are many paths to my kingdom,” sings the psalmist. Praise be for all the beloved communities.