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Unexpected Sanga: Stumbling into Deep Community

Submitted by on July 13, 2017 – 12:33 amNo Comment

By J. Dana Trent

I was certain we’d hate each other.

Many writers experience a push-pull of introversion and ego, of wanting to “see” the world in order to convey it, and longing to convey to the reader what they see. Some of us are envious when the other lands a high-profile article or a slew of new readers. As a result, writers are not necessarily known for our warmth.

That’s why I was surprised to belly-flop right into sanga, or “community” at it’s known in the west, at the Collegeville Institute’s “A Broader Public” Writers’ Workshop.

Our six-day workshop was comprised of 14 folks from many flavors of Christianity, Judaism, and spirituality. We’d been hand-selected to learn from two industry experts: Religion Dispatches editors Lisa Webster and Evan Derkacz.

The premise was simple: how do theologically-inclined writers find a broader scope of readers? It was a pragmatic approach: we workshopped one another’s pieces, looking for hooks and threads, absorbing editing mechanics. Then we crafted tighter articles to pitch to religion outlets.

Amid our hard work, another theme emerged: sanga.

Christians know sanga as community. It’s the foundation of Jesus’s ministry—as Christ taught that the Kingdom of God is both narrative and relational. Our story is bound up in God’s and in one another’s.

Sanga, as it’s known in Hindu and Buddhist circles, is community on steroids: deep “association” with pilgrims on a spiritual path—more than just post-worship potlucks, Sunday School check-ins, and church gossip. Sanga is walking and wrestling in order to grow together. Sangas don’t swerve from the big questions: who are we in relation to God? What is our purpose? How might we serve?

Hindus sometimes call good sanga “boiling the milk.” The heat source—shared sacrifice that results in love—is a kind of intensity to achieve richness.

I was surprised to find such community among writers. We aren’t always shared sacrifice, people people. We love our closed-door nooks where we indulge in our quirks and eccentricities. But at the Collegeville Institute, we emerged as a different kind of artist: tuned into the sacred and mystic. We made safe space to sink deep into doubts and inquiries with no ready-made answers. In just six days, we had been “boiled” into a tight-knit tribe.

I’ll admit I felt naked—a vulnerability specific to revealing one’s truest self to those who want to understand you, and you them. But, I didn’t run to my corner. I leaned in, yearning for more—a sure sign that something is going right.

At the last night’s gathering, we ended our week with reflections on rituals we’d created for one another. We’d walked labyrinths, jotted down fears, and offered blessings. We’d stumbled on meaning-making without even realizing it. Love, instead of spite; sewn together instead of siloed.

Now that’s sanga.

The Rev. J. Dana Trent is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and adjunct faculty member at Wake Technical Community College, where she teaches World Religions. Dana is an ordained Baptist clergywoman, award-winning author, speaker, and workshop facilitator. Her work has appeared on Time.com, The Christian Century, Patheos, and Sojourners. Her second book, For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship, and Community, will be released October 1, 2017 by Upper Room Books. Her Christian-Hindu interfaith marriage is chronicled in Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk. She loves naps with cats, vegetarian food, and teaches weight-lifting for the YMCA.

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