It’s never easy to discuss the pluses and minuses of two approaches to living out your faith, particularly as a current view is often un-tested and in-part automatically implies a ‘rejection’ or moving on from a previously held viewpoint. So naturally, there’s always some subjective bias.
So before I begin to try, here’s the health warning…by and large my experience of pilgrim lifestyle to date has been more positive than my experience of community (it has to be said that communities often write off criticism as ‘we didn’t live up to your expectations’, which has a large enough element of truth to cover up the enormous cop-out this can become to ever having to face up to things being wrong and attempting to put them right…phew, end of rant!). This is also unashamedly me thinking by writing, so it will often be half-baked and not fully thought through, but hopefully will be a stimulating way to begin a dialogue about the issues at hand.
I think I’ll begin by simply sharing my own brain-dump of thoughts I had while considering this issue, then maybe in later posts I’ll try to draw out specific elements.
In traditional monasticism ‘community-based’ spirituality would be represented by Benedictines, Cistercians and Carthusians.
By and large, community is:
Settled, static, ‘safe’, exclusive, inward-looking’, committed, caring, stable, authoritarian, hierarchical. Some of the words in the pilgrim list (exploratory, adventurous, vulnerable etc) might also apply, but in my experience only in the early stages…inertia towards settling soon sets in.
In traditional monasticism ‘pilgrim’ spirituality would be represented By the Franciscan and Dominican friars, who perhaps demonstrate a healthy balance between having a community base but adopting a pilgrim lifestyle ( and actually, it might not be a matter of either community or pilgrimage, but rather protecting and jealously promoting the balance between them for good spiritual health).
Pilgrimage words might include:
Exploratory, pioneering, adventurous, dangerous, inclusive, vulnerable, self-seeking,irresponsible (Benedict’s ‘gyrovagues’ who travel around never being committed), outward-looking.
Amongst ‘new’ monastic communities there is often a real desire to maintain the balance between community and pilgrimage (in and out, staying and going) lifestyles. Northumbria Community has the two symbols of ‘cell’ and ‘coracle’ to express the way this could work. Inevitably there will be a leaning towards one way or the other, especially over time, and often dependent on the preference of the community’s leadership (inward or outward looking). This is particularly true the longer a community is around, and in my experience the default mode is towards becoming more settled and not the other way around.