A Call to Intentional Community?

I’ve had a question that has been central in my mind since one of our first class periods. We read the autobiography of Dorothy Day, which is called The Long Lonliness. Dorothy Day was part of starting the Catholic Worker Movement, which comes out of Catholic Social Teaching. While I enjoyed and learned from conversation with my classmates about Day’s main arguments and her theology, I left class with a burning question, not fit for the classroom. This question burned even hotter when later in that week I had conversations with two friends, both of whom have lived in Catholic Worker communities.

That question is: what do we do now? What are we to do, now that we have read this autobiography? What do we think about this call? I so strongly hear a call to live in a community similar to those of which Day speaks- perhaps a Catholic Worker, or perhaps another sort of faith-based intentional community, grounded in a belief in the work of social justice. But is this realistic? Intentional communities, in my experience, are hard work. The introvert and the exhausted graduate student inside of me groan at this thought. I remember my (non-Catholic) parents telling me that before I was born, they participated in civil disobedience with a Catholic Worker community. Perhaps this is where this pull that I feel originates?

I don’t know what I do with this. I do know that I have passionate people around me who have thoughts, and I would love to hear them. I can think of many who might have enlightening thoughts or further questions. What do you do with this? What am I to do now?

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9 thoughts on “A Call to Intentional Community?

  1. Karen Lilley says:

    File it away with your other ongoing learning. When you think back on it later it will have more dimension because of what comes after. Eventually all your learning and life experiences will fit together and you’ll know what’s right for you. Enjoy your great opportunities. Thanks for sharing with your friends.

  2. Olivia says:

    Hannah, your question is totally fit for the classroom! In fact I think that’s *the* question beside which all other possible questions about Day pale. I would love to hear more as you continue to discern your call.

  3. Living in intentional community and participating in the work of social justice was/is exhausting. Absolutely. It’s hard because these activities (community and justice) are not for everyone but yet they are for everyone. They are necessary to life, yet they are so difficult that they are not conducive to some people’s personality’s or life situation(s). I had an amazing/challenging/difficult/enriching experience in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, and yet, when my time was up, I knew it. I knew I needed to be done with my work and my community.

    I think that’s the trick. Finding people who are just as dedicated, if not more, to your community and your cause(s). Perhaps it get’s exhausting when you’re doing work to which you are not called. Perhaps it is tiring when the people with whom you dwell are not as devoted to the intentionality necessary to your environment of faith/justice. It’s hard but it’s needed.

    Most importantly: you feel a call. Continue discerning this and discern the options available to you… even if that means starting a community of your own. If the city in which I live once I get ordained and am working somewhere had a young clergy population… I would be all for a young clergy intentional community based on faith and justice. Let’s make THAT happen!

    Last thing, Hannah: I’m curious… what is it about this that makes you ask the question about it being realistic? And if you were to begin a community like this, in what kind of justice work might you seek to participate?

    Keep thinking. Keep discerning. Keep loving. Keep doing justice.

    The world needs all of it/you.

  4. Erick says:

    Emily, I think your words are spot on; a dedicated group of people who are like-minded in goals but diverse in ideas can really make for an empowering community and alleviate the quandaries of fighting for social justice.

    Hannah, you may be interested in cohousing, which is a form of intentional community where members proactively choose to live a certain lifestyle and support each other in a social environment. Check out Creating Cohousing by Chuck Durrett and Katie McCamant, they coined cohousing in North America. The information and case studies can help get you from the idea of finding the like-minded to a supportive, social intentional community.

    Hold on to your passion; it creates the challenges worth overcoming.

  5. Leah B says:

    Love your thoughts, earnestness and heart, Hannah! It seems you are wrestling with many different things and I also have many questions, particularly re: your question about realisticness:

    Your question of: “Is it realistic?” is very interesting… what do you mean by realistic? Are you asking if these communities are sustainable for a certain period of time? Are they a realistic vehicle for social justice? Is it realistic for you and is it the best sort of “soil” you can be rooted in and blooming from? Is it the difficulty of the work that makes it unrealistic (and I am curious about what you mean by how they are hard work) and, what, exactly, is the “work” referring to?

    In regards to the overall questions and post, I love Karen’s encouragement to “file it away”. That is reminiscent of Mary’s (Jesus’ madre) “treasuring all these words and pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Luke writes of her treasuring the prophecies, announcements and “calls” that she experienced before she brought Jesus into the world. Maybe it’s too silly of an analogy… but as you continue to reflect on the prophecies, announcements and calls that move you deeply, I wonder what kind of “birth” or creation of new ways of living that you will be a part of!

  6. Kate says:

    Hi, I’m a friend of Alex and I’m super interested in intentional community too. But, it recently occurred to me that intentional community need not be physical — you could be living intentionally in community by maintaining a network of strong and weak ties and both offering yourself and accepting the help others offer.

    That being said, come move with Alex and me to Detroit. We’ll buy three houses on a block and start serving the community.

    • Hannah, Kate’s invitation is seconded. We can start own Catholic Worker *Urban* Farm. Kate has the Catholic hook-up, or so I’ve heard.

      Kate, I agree that you can create a kind of intentional community without physical presence, but part of the Catholic Worker Movement was about sharing *things* in common. I wonder to what degree that is possible without physical proximity. Thoughts?

  7. Kathryn Ray says:

    I lived in intentional community in groups of three people for two and a half years, and I was totally burned out by the end. Now, one year later, I’m starting to miss it. There’s something extremely useful about being stuck living with people you did not choose, recognizing that fact, and finding a way to make it work. I improved my conflict resolution skills immensely in intentional community, and those are skills I use everywhere now. I think it’s possible to bring intentionality to relationships with others whether living with them or not. It largely involves not retreating from difference and knowing how to engage in honest, respectful conversation.

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