Newsletter Excerpt: Is Our Community Spiritual?

Here is an article from our most recent newsletter by resident Lucas Braun. For more like this, you can find our previous newsletters here!

Is Our Community Spiritual?

By Lucas Braun, Resident

For this newsletter, I interviewed a number of my housemates to get their perspective on the house’s spiritual activities. I asked them about their perception of the house before and after moving in, as well as their hope for the what our communal spiritual life could look like. It was a fun way to initiate rich conversations on a topic that I don’t often discuss with these friends outside of group settings. Now that I know how willing folks are to share their fascinating outlooks on what it means to live in spiritual community, I plan to ask more often!

Our house is quite unusual when it comes to spirituality. We are an extremely eclectic group in terms of spiritual backgrounds, however everyone here is united by the house mission to live out Quaker values together. Before moving in, applicants are at the very least aware that this is a Quaker house, and most arrive expecting to participate in Friends’ spiritual practices. At the same time, we clearly communicate that a multiplicity of beliefs are welcome and ever-present.

The average resident’s pre-arrival perception of the House is of a spiritually alive community full of diverse, if Quaker-centric, spiritual activities. Many applicants, while understanding there is no requirement to participate in regular worship or other such activities, look forward to having encouragement and ample structured opportunities to incorporate more spiritual practices into their lives. In reality, participation in conventional spiritual activities is mostly unstructured and individual. Residents report that everyone tends to engage in spiritual experiences on their own time and in their own way. So can this really be called a “spiritual community” if we all go our separate ways, quietly and alone, to find our spiritual fixes?

    The current group of residents has a diversity of strong spiritual identities, and Holly reports that it has been that way since she began as the Director. My fellow housies regularly attend services at more than eight different places of worship. We have a pattern of pairing up for our spiritual pursuits: two residents regularly attend Fresh Pond Meeting, two have a tradition of getting together for morning prayer each Tuesday and Thursday, one or two go to Beacon Hill Friends Meeting each Sunday, a newer resident has been taking housemates to her weekly meditation practice, and a couple residents walk down the hill to the Church of the Advent almost daily for the morning service there.

Many residents are seeking, or just love to explore all the wonderful options here in Boston, from traditional ornament-filled Catholic churches to atheistic Humanist services held in City Hall. Several residents don’t go anywhere regularly, or anywhere at all. Discussion of these choices is often limited to one-on-one informal conversation. There is some trepidation about offending each other with our own convictions, even though the house is such an open and accepting place. Despite all this, every resident I asked agreed that this is a spiritual community.

    One common thread throughout my conversations was a sense that the act of living in community is in itself a spiritual activity. When asked about the current spiritual life of the house, many referenced house dinner, informal conversations in the kitchen, the practice of sharing chores, and other everyday traditions. Less surprisingly, residents consider our House Meetings for reflection and our biannual house retreats to be some of the most spiritual activities we engage in as a whole group. These gatherings aren’t planned or presented as religious ceremonies. They are spiritually powerful because of the intentionality we bring to them. They create space for deep sharing that is rare in day-to-day life.

    There is a persistent desire for more opportunities to share our spiritual paths, past and present. The resident clerks of House Meeting have begun striving to satisfy that desire by giving residents the opportunity to share their stories and practices during our Sunday nights together in the library. The stories we have heard are rich and revealing. The passionate and vulnerable manner in which people have spoken is striking. One night we held Quaker worship on the deck as the sun went down. Another night we practiced walking meditation, strolling as a group down the hill and around the darkened Public Garden. Everyone seems to want more of this sort of thing, as long as there is no proselytizing involved, and so far we have easily avoided that feeling. Discussion and shared participation in spiritual activities outside of the house is also on the rise since I moved in two and a half years ago. We are claiming a more spiritual identity, and I look forward to seeing where that leads our community.