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?