A Conversation with Ann Marie on Community

I often feel challenged by the craziness I see in the world around me. I turn on the News and I hear about the latest killings, fires and mayhem interspersed with advertising (actually, a more accurate statement might read advertising interspersed with a little news) that insists I must take this particular medicine, or drive this new car, or travel to that corner of the world if I hope to experience life and be happy.

I believe there’s another way. I can search for like-minded people, persons who believe in collaboration and sharing and align myself with them in community. In the next couple of weeks I would like to tell you the stories and the opinions of some of the many good people I’ve met in my search for community. Today’s post starts with a conversation with Ann Marie Cunningham sharing what drew her to a religious community when she was younger, her experience of community then and today and her hopes for the future.

This interview appropriately took place at the Lakeview Presbyterian Church in Chicago where I and twenty or so other older adults, participate in the Senior Lunch Bunch five days a week.  I write “Appropriately” because this coming Easter, Pastor Joy Strome and her church members will dedicate their new “Third Space – a community building, building community”.  Hopefully more to come about this growing community in a future blog.

Posted by Dan O’Donnell, a layman who has covenanted with the Chicago Community of Passionist Partners. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Connecting Through Ritual

Mushka, my indoor/outdoor cat loves ritual. She wakes me up each morning long before I’m ready to face the day insisting that it’s time for her to go out. Each weekday afternoon she greets me on my return home from dining with friends for lunch at Golden Diners. Of course, she’s been napping while I’ve been away and now, for Mushka, it’s time to play. Despite the fact that I’m feeling the need for my nap she relentlessly pushes her agenda, play. She wins, we play, and then I nap with her on my lap.

Baya Voce in her October 2016 TEDx Talk, The Simple Cure for Loneliness quotes Jim Carrey who said:  “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”

Then she tells us the answer to the question: “What do we really need?” What we really need says Baya is an anchor of connection and that anchor is ritual. She shares her anchors of connection and for me at least, convincingly demonstrates her case.

There’s a problem that Baya does not directly address. Some rituals are not life giving. In fact some, like addiction rob our lives from us. She does not tell us how to distinguish one from the other although she gives us a hint to healthy ones with the rituals she shares—meetings and meals with friends and family on a regular basis.

Of course there are other rituals we can adopt to build connections. We can attend regular meetings with our local communities to address issues and to take concerted effort to make our world a better place by doing our little part. We can help out by caring for grandchildren while their parents are at work. Of course there’s our work lives, church meeting and rituals. Putting all these together and I believe we’re on the way to a connected and life-giving world for ourselves as well as for all those around us.

Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Partners and Community?

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

A number of years ago, a good friend and I spent a couple days at a Bed and Breakfast in the Amish Country in northern Indiana, not too far from Chicago. Sitting on the front porch after touring all day and seeing the horse and buggies passing by was almost surreal. How do the Amish do it? I still wonder, how, that is, do they survive economically in this country with such a diametrically opposed economic system? I also wonder if we could learn from them. I think so.

Robert Neuwirth in his June 2012 TEDGlobal Talk, “The power of the informal economy” taught me things I never learned in Economics 101 at DePaul University in the mid 1960’s. I suspect they are still not teaching these facts either in their 100 level courses or the 400 level ones. Neuwirth ends with saying: “I just want to end by saying that if Adam Smith had framed out a theory of the flea market instead of the free market, what would be some of the principles?” I like his question and think it especially good for us as we struggle to find jobs and meaningful employment today for all our college graduates leaving school with thousands of dollars in debt.

In an April 21, 2016 post “Leap of Faith” on the Fellowship for Intentional Community’s Blog, A couple in their late 60’s tells of their joining a younger couple, buying a couple farm buildings and acres and starting a community. I found the entire post very interesting, but in case you don’t have the time, I found the following quote especially apropos for anyone interested in developing community.

I also asked Alina what makes the farm work. She said (not in these words) that we know each other very well, we generously share things without feeling territorial, we don’t keep score, we all work together as a team, and we talk to each other about important things at dinner.

I wonder if such thinking has any place in our discussions regarding the communities we as Passionist Partners are trying to develop? I wonder especially if meeting once a month is enough to develop community? I wonder if it’s not time to rethink this whole thing we call community?

Stop! Look! Go!

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

On a Fall evening in 1963, I was sitting in the refectory (dining room) of the Passionist’s Novitiate in St. Paul Kansas (yes Kansas) listening to a fellow novice read an article from The Sign Magazine by Fr. Andrew Greeley entitled “Grace, the Sacrament of the Present Moment”. Today, 53 years later, I remember well what Fr. Greeley wrote, basically, if you are waiting for life to happen, forget it. It is happening here and now in the present moment. That thought changed my life’s direction then, and continues to inspire me today.

Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast repeats that same message in his June 2013 TED Talk, “Want to be happy? Be grateful above. He further gives us a simple formula for doing that, living gratefully. After explaining the relationship between being happy and grateful, brother tells us if we do three simple things we were taught as children, Stop! Look! Go! we will be happy not only in the good moments but the challenging ones as well.

For me, it is also important to Stop! Look! Go! in community with at least one other person, but better with a small intimate community. In a National Catholic Reporter April 12, 2016 interview of Sister Diane Guerin, Justice Coordinator-Mid-Atlantic Community of Sisters of Mercy by Sister Camille D’Arienzo, Sister Diane tells how she prays:

I most often pray in images generated through readings of Scripture, poetry, headlines, nature. I share these experiences and reflections with other sisters and those close to me. For over 40 years I’ve been part of a small group of sisters, priests, lay women and married couples who have shared life together. We meet socially but also pray deeply together. As we age, and some have moved on to their heavenly reward, we meet less frequently but there remains a strong bond among us.

So here I am still trying to live one moment at a time, sharing those moments with the people I love, praying. I am lucky to have a small group called the Community of Passionist Partners. I hope you have a similar group.


Let’s Try Integrity When Attempting Community

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I believe relationships, while the basis for happiness according to a 75 year Harvard study, must be honest and free of fear. If they are not, we all lose.

Robert Waldinger has received 2½ million views of his November 2015 TED Talk: “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.” In this talk Waldinger tells of a 75 year Harvard study of 724 men from their teenage years into their 90’s. The men studied came from two groups: a class of Harvard sophomores; and children from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. Sixty of these men are still alive. Basically the study discovered that our relationships are the single most important element accounting for our happiness.

Would if these relationships are contrived and don’t accurately reflect who we are, what we think and believe? In short would if we find we’re just playing a game?

Trevor Laffan recently retired after 35 years from An Garda Siochana, the national police service of Ireland. Garda has a stated purpose of Working with Communities to Protect and Serve. Writing for theJournal.ie, an Irish online post similar to the Huffington Post in the U.S. he laments the demise of community policing. He spent 20 years there. In his article he describes how his fellow officers desire for advancement led to the community policing’s demise. Basically he writes that his fellow officers were fearful of reporting what they experienced at the grass roots level for fear of upsetting those above them in the hierarchy, and limiting their chance of advancement.

We can each do something to reverse the demise of our institutions, increase our own job satisfaction, and to build lasting relationships. Here are just a few examples:

  • When you disagree with the boss, or anyone for that matter, respectfully tell them you see things differently.
  • Always put your integrity first and trust this will serve all concerned.
  • Let advancement happen. If it doesn’t, find a new job or in my case a new volunteer position.

One Day in the Life of a Man’s Monastery

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I grew up in a quiet almost Beaver Cleaver like community across the street from the Passionist’s monastery in Chicago. During the summer I would wake up in the middle of the night and hear men’s voices chanting. As I grew older I got to know these men. Some were priests who ministered at our local Catholic parish and some were brothers who tended the apple orchard, cooked the meals, plowed the snow in the winter and manned the front and back doors. There were also college students we called Confraters who I’d see walking in silence as I passed the monastery on my way to school in the morning and again at lunchtime when I’d be going home for lunch—we did that in those days. I eventually joined them at their high school seminary for some of the happiest days of my life.

These were not famous ballplayers although Fr. Fred could hit a ball further and run the bases faster than anyone I personally knew. They were not famous actors, yet they were able to hold a church full of people spellbound for 30 to 40 minutes at a time. They were no Carusos but Fr. Kent sang “Danny Boy” like no one I’ve ever heard before or since. They were not community organizers, yet everyone, Catholic or non-Catholic alike knew Fr. Bennet who on his way home in the morning from visiting the sick in the neighborhood would stop wherever he smelled a fresh cup of coffee brewing and complementing the lady of the house invite himself in for a cup and some chatting. This was before Starbucks.

They were a group of ordinary everyday men, living their lives in peace with one another and the world about them, sharing their lives through their jobs (ministries, they called them) with the world and giving thanks and praise to God through their common life of prayer and study.

So last week I wrote that I’d post about what I believe each and every one of us, regardless of our Faith can do to confront religious violence. We can do just what the men I described above did and still do. We can educate ourselves. We can pray. We can work for peace. We can each create a space in our day for study and prayer (reflection on that study). We don’t need a monastery in which to do these things either. Community however, is the sine qua non of making this work. The history of monasticism shows us this. The first monastics started out as hermits, but eventually joined together to walk with each other on their journey through life. So you see why many of the posts here deal with creating and sustaining community. We actually call ourselves the Community of Passionist Partners.

Chelsea Shields TED Talk and Sister Christine Schenk’s work (her column with the NCR, is just a hint of a lifetime of doing) are also great models. We can make the world more peaceful by being that peace in our little corner of it. Oh, we may not get the notoriety of Chelsea or Christine, none the less we will be doers, like Fr. Bennet, Fr. Fred, living our lives one day at a time giving it all we have.

Taking the time to watch the above You Tube video “Documentary about daily life of a Men’s Monastery in Abkhazia” is a great illustration of just what community looks like in real life.