East of Shawangunks, a bunch of ridges, bluffs, and palisades in upstate New York, New Paltz sits quietly in their shadow like a little dog tied to a picket fence. It’s a one horse town with twenty or so odd bars and restaurants and a state university like Sodom and Gomorrah. I’m back in own, walking around like Lot, recovering from a stint as a condo pitchman down at Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina, and an all night drive back home. Two strangers with back packs moseying down Church Street toward the Cloud House catch my eye and we collide in the August shade of a life size John Lennon in full “Pepper” regalia sticking out one of its upper windows.
“Hey, what’s happening?” I ask. “You guys want to smoke a joint?”
A little silence. A grin. One of them ways, “Ah, that’s OK. We don’t smoke anymore.”
“Where are you from?” I wonder out loud.
“We’re from a community up in Vermont.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that like? What are you into?” I’m busy conjuring up visions of their scene. Probably a couple hundred acre farm, bunches of animals and kids, ramshackle sheds and gobs of trees — a simple, roughhewn life — roosters crowing outside the window; frogs a chunking down by the pond; cutesy, white steeples down the valley; dandelions by the millions; people hanging out, laughing, talking, everyone as easygoing as a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. I’ll head up there some time and check it out.
The curly haired backpacker says, “We all live together. We work with each other and share everything we own. We follow the teachings of the Messiah.”
“Really? Which one?”
They both laugh. “We can understand why you ask that. There seem to be a lot of them out here. You can read their books and be spiritual, but we follow Yahshua.”
“He’s the head of a body of people who live together,” someone says back at my place. We’re eating tomato and cucumber sandwiches, olives, and nut mix. “We’re connected to him like your body is attached to your head. In the same way as your body has many different parts, do does our Community. Some people are like eyes: they see what others can do well and they can see problems. They can even see things far off down the road. They have vision for what direction we need to go in and how to get there. Some people are like ears; they listen to people, they are able to hear people’s hearts. They listen for God’s voice so when He speaks, they can know what he is saying. Some people are constantly encouraging, talking about what is happening in the Community, singing, speaking, and even teaching about all the wonderful things that go on in our life together.”
What a relief that must be to not have to be everything myself; to not have to feel the pressure of having to be good at all the things I see others being good at. Who am I? I wonder. Why am I always competing? Why can’t I just be glad when other people are better at something than me? I don’t want to be that way: I want to be grateful just to be alive. “How do you guys all get along without competing?”
“Basically, by respecting each other. We have all kinds of different people. Some of us do two or three different things, some of us do only one. Some people stand out immediately and attract much attention, others do the things they do and hardly ever get recognized. You’d think that the people who don’t get a lot of attention would get jealous of those who are noticed, but more honor is given to those parts of the body that are less likely to be recognized.
“We also have a common cause and we’re totally for one another. We sense that others feel that way about us and that makes us love them. The different parts work together in coordination and the body is able to move and work. The eyes may see something we need to head towards; they communicate their message to those who can organize us to move and everybody works together in unity in order to get there.”
“Do you have anybody that doesn’t fit in?”
“No, everyone’s needed. There’s a place for anyone who wants to be a part of the body. But on our own, it’s not easy to find out where we fit in. Others have to help us to be who we are. We go through a healing process. We are a hospital, or better yet a healing environment.
“The world has hurt us in many ways and has left many scars deep down inside of us. Every unkind word that was ever said to us has gone into our souls and left its mark there. And every unkind deed that was ever done to us has effected us deeply in our spirits. They are all remembered, stored away deep inside of us twisting and bending us to the left or the right unconsciously. Of course our minds may cast out the unkind words that were spoken, but our spirits absorb every word. You can see them written in our faces and in our eyes, in the line of our mouth, and in the set of our chin, in the way we walk, and the way we speak.
“Others have hurt us so often that now we walk around with our guards up. We have learned to protect ourselves from injuries and have built walls to keep others at a safe distance. We’re defensive, intimidated, and worthless. Or we’re proud, aggressive, and overconfident, depending on how we’ve learned to cope with other people.
“Living with others in a healing environment restores us to health. All the mangled, withered, diseased, and crippled parts of us come to the light. Our guilt and shame are removed when we are forgiven for our wrongs and the hurts of our past are resolved. Kind words and kind deeds strengthen us so that we can love others in return.
“Sometimes our wounds have gone so deeply into us that we need to lie down on the operating table and submit to the surgeon’s scalpel. Those whom we trust, delicately cut away the infected areas from our heart and remove the things that have long poisoned our relationships. Though the surgery is painful, our life is changed and we come into a greater fullness than ever before.”
Maybe that’s what I need ... help. Someone to take all the junk out of me. I’m so insecure, cynical, and unable to express what I’m really feeling. How’s that ever going to change?
“Healing takes a long time. We’re all like seeds. Each one of us has a hard outer shell, a hull that protects the tiny germ of life that’s hidden away inside. The seed can sit for years, all alone, unaffected by everything that goes on around it. It could stay in a drawer, or in a yellowing envelope, or between the cracks of the floor for almost forever. But given the right environment, the right moisture and warmth, the seed will begin to grow. The warmth of the sun and the moisture of the soil will start to penetrate the seed’s outer shell. Slowly, almost invisibly, it begins to weaken and dissolve until the life hidden inside sprouts forth. A shoot unfurls its stock and runners reach out to the soil to take root.
“The reason all this happens is because of the foundation our lives are built on. We live according to the things that our Creator has spoken to us and in keeping with the things he has established long ago in the past. The voice of our heart and the thoughts of our conscience are in harmony with the things that are in the heart of our Creator, because we trust him and have submitted our entire lives to him.
“We see this as the beginning of a new society here on the earth — a new culture, a new nation, a new government, a new race of people (a tribal people) ... a taste of the life of the new age. What is happening here will one day fill the earth with people whose concern is for others above themselves. Come and see.”
“Don’t worry, I’m coming,” I said to them.
What I found is the very life they were talking about. Now it’s my life, too. Come and see.