enlarging the tents vs. circling the wagons


Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out;

do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. Isaiah 54:2

 Several years ago, I was asked to be part of a visioning team with my dear Benedictine friends. The Sisters were discerning the future of the monastery in a time of diminishing and aging members. One Sister proposed this line from Isaiah as a mantra and guide.

What a courageous and inspiring image! These women refused to allow their hearts to mirror their shrinking numbers. Instead, they began looking at new ways to share their cherished charism. Not ready to roll up their tents, they dreamed of expansion by embracing new ways of thinking and of being. Today, part of the monastery has been refurbished into St. Benedict’s Place; independent living suites for seniors who “seek to age meaningfully and gracefully with others in a peace-filled environment.”

The image of enlarging tent sites is a useful metaphor in today’s world of ever-narrowing ideologies. The Tea Party in the U.S draws those who want to circle the wagons and hunker down into a security seeking conservatism. Many religions, including Roman Catholics, have groups that would happily wave farewell to all members who do not follow their own fundamentalist or traditionalist ideals.

For these groups, a smaller, “purer” community of the faithful is preferred to the messiness of diversity or dialogue. Clinging to a perceived golden age of the past is preferred to facing the challenges of new methods and new times.

In this dreaming time of Advent, it’s worth taking a moment to vision what our world and our church would look like if we all worked at enlarging the tent site. What if we stretched those stakes and cords further than we thought possible – welcoming others more freely rather than turning more away? What if we learned to expand our boundaries and embrace the risk of newness?

4 thoughts on “enlarging the tents vs. circling the wagons

  1. What the Benedictine Sisters demonstrated was leadership and vision. Let us pray for those parishes where the leadership has as their goal a smaller, ‘purer’ community of believers. Praying that those that are being made to feel not quite pure enough would have the courage to challenge the leaderhsip to embrace a broader vision of church. Leaders have the courage to challenge the staus quo, take risks, and cast a vision for a better future. Yes indeed, let us enlarge our tents. Great reflection Isabella!

  2. What a great story of these Benedictine sisters who found healing ways to enlarge their tent by embracing reality on a different level. They did so by trusting in a Loving Presence that they could surrender to in the midst of diminishment and the limitations of their aging members.

    As Isabella mentions, many people because of the uncertainty of our times are attracted to “Fundamentalism”, be it the Tea Party, Christian, Islamic, Jewish, or Hindu. It appears to happen like this: “If I just align myself with those who are “right” already, then I am finished”. Then all of the economic uncertainty, all my ethical questions, and the ambivalence of being human, as well as, the shadow side of life will all be fixed. I don’t have to ask life questions anymore, or worry that I might find something in my closet or someone else’s closet later on, everything has already been cleaned out. I can live “care free” in the bliss of this fundamental “rightness”.

    When one “circles the wagons” and becomes fundamentalist there will be victims, yourself; but always there will be another victim, there always be someone else who becomes your victim too. Claiming orthodoxy in a group will not lead to the expanded boundaries that led the Benedictine sisters to newness and transformation. With them, let’s make the tent and the table bigger.

    1. A big AMEN!, Ray. Stretching those tents out requires a stretching of minds and hearts; something that fundamentalism is often lacking.

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