Followers of God, a Nomadic Tribe – An alternative concept for an inclusive spiritual community. By Andrew Hendrikse

January 1, 2008 at 11:47 pm | Posted in community, emergent spirituality, spirituality | 9 Comments

Since leaving a formal church back in the mid-nineties, I have often missed the collective part of my spiritual expression. Even though I’m blessed with family and friends, I still longed for some authentic reality to spiritual unity with others.

 In today’s society the individual is highly regarded. Furthermore, technology has revolutionized the way individuals interact. These two factors have in some ways forged a pattern of multilayered community. Therefore, I can be part of many communities at the same time. (i.e. I’m part of a blogging community, a golfing community, a business community where I work in one country and my colleagues in another, my neighbourhood community, a large family, friends from my student days, the list can go on) However, I can dictate the level of commitment to each of these groups based on my own priorities. Some might put family first and others put golf first on the list. It’s the individual’s right to choose. So maybe, community in the “classical” sense has long gone out the window and all attempts to simulate it in a western culture at the beginning to the twenty-first century are futile. This is based on an understanding that I still wish to function in society as opposed to heading for a monastery or some form of asecular communal living. I’m just your average dude with a family, a business career and a desire to know God and experience this with other similar dudes and dudesses.

So, I want to have communion with others and express oneness and love for God and for each other, even if we find our view of God coming from different angles through a prism. In this post-modern environment, with the desire to be inclusive, it is a challenge to find an honest way to express community without falling into the trappings of simply becoming another “Church”.

The first reality that I face is that we each have a unique understanding of God. The second reality is that the spiritual journey into finding an intimate communion between the individual and God is paramount. Both these realities, I understand to be sacred to the post-modern ethos.  However, there is a desire for experiencing the Spirit of God as a group united in love and acceptance of the commonality of the essence of God’s nature.

“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God: but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is complete in us”. 1 John 4 vs 11-12

God is Love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.” 1 John 4v16.

 “I will cherish all living beings without exception because this precious mind of love is the supreme method for solving all problems and fulfilling all wishes. Eventually it will give me the supreme happiness of enlightenment” Geshe Kelsang Gyatso on the Bodhisattva path 

So, we are each on our own path to enlightenment and experiencing God, and at the same time it appears that it is by loving one another that our experience of God will be complete. To say we love all living beings, and let’s take it a step further and include all of creation, is not that difficult as it is an ideal we all should have. However, to practice love/community with a smaller, intimate group of spiritual travellers, each on his or her own path, is somewhat more challenging.  

The search for the God and his Kingdom is a journey both inward and outwards.

Jesus, In Matthew 6 gives the “pagans” a hard time for pursuing materialism and in verse 33 says: “But seek first his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We are told not to worry about what to eat or drink or about our bodies or what clothes to wear. In other words, “lose your ego”. Then in chapter 7 we are told not to judge others. The ego thing again.  I love the illustration, by Brian Mc Lauren, where the Kingdom of God is seen as a large circle with many smaller circles intersecting. All the smaller circles are included into the large circle.

So where am I going with this?

I see myself and many others searching for the truth as spiritual nomads. The journey is a way of life. Nomads are not lost but are happy in the understanding that there is no final destination in this life. This is on two levels. Firstly, in our personal spiritual journey and secondly, we have a missional calling to share the Love of God. However, as nomads we respect the paths others are taking, even if they are different from our own.   We are all children of God.

Jesus was preparing us for this life in Matthew 6 and 7.

Nomads are a tribal people. In this post-modern era with communities fragmented, multilayered and looking for new ways to be real and relevant, possibly this metaphor needs to be considered.  It allows for tents to be pitched together, travelling on paths together, sharing tales of journeys taken, we can celebrate together, share needs, worship in love and allow God to show himself through our love for each other. However, we are talking tents not buildings, tribe not membership, missional love not missional evangelism, spiritual not structural, freedom not dogma. There is no ownership. A nomadic tribe is on the move, sometimes together on a highway and at times we have our own private paths. We find the only commitment is to love each other.

This is the spiritual unity that I’m looking for. This is not a new-age type of everything goes idea but is centred on our love for each other as a way to experience God’s love completed in us.



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  1. Hi Andrew,

    I believe we were always meant to be a pilgrim people, nomadically open to the Spirit in this life. Our ultimate destination is never going to be one of arrival in this life as we experience now, in part, what is still to come – the fullness of the reign of God/-ess.

    Bev and I have been chatting about the Feast of Tabernacles. There’s definately something we can appropriate from our shared heritage that can contribute much to our present spirituality.

  2. Tim
    Yes, The Tabernacle was designed in such a way that even when it was stationary the the four carring poles covered in gold what fitted into the golden rings were not to be removed. This was to remind the children of Israel that they were not settling down. It also symbolized God dwelling amongst them, regardless where they were.

    I love this nomadic metaphor. It also speaks to me about being part of creation, part of the eco-system. Only leaving light footprints, not having an effect on the physical world. We are a spiritual tribe.

  3. Andy, I think that diving into the nomadic metaphor with such gusto is a really good thing. I connect with this via the dialectic between Solomon, temple builder, and Moses, wandering worshipper, as put across by Walter Brueggemann in “The Prophetic Imagination”. Here we can contrast temple and tablernacle.

    I also like the idea that this community frees its “members” to come alongside, and does not require “membership” for belonging. Any attempt to institutionalise community is bound to fail, because it incereasingly becomes a community of fear rather than of faith.

    I’d like to engage with an ethos here of holding community lightly, without losing the engagement of real interaction and shared life. I think you may be in a position to “enlighten” us there.

  4. Nic
    The Children of Israel in the wilderness and the classical comparative study between the Tabernacle as a Tent and the Temple is a great reference from the OT but is in some ways not typical of the essence of nomadic life. The Israelites were always a tribe moving together and desiring the “promised land” in this world. This was more a wilderness experience, and was the result of God’s judgement. (maybe in reality the Israelites were Nomads but that is not the mythology we are taught in the scriptures as far as I understand)

    True Nomadic tribes have been wondering the plains of Mongolia and regions of north east Africa and other regions for countless generations. They have hardly an impact on the environment as they are in tune with nature and respect the land. Even though they might move apart and come together in a symbiotic basis, here there is a real culture of caring for the young and the aged and a sharing of resources such as water. Read this article for more info on nomads and the experiences of Malcolm Hunter who lived with nomads for 35 years in Ethiopia.

    As to “enlightening” you on a model for community based on this concept, I think the point is not to try as we are already part of the tribe. As to how to develop the symbiosis, that’s the challenge I was mentioning. I feel the need to stress the 1 John 4 vs 12/12. It’s all about LOVE !!. We need to consider the Nomadic principles of openness, freedom, respect, sharing resources, in tune with creation etc.. The elements that will bring about sharing lives and interaction will follow as we journey together (and sometimes apart) always aware that we are a tribe.

    Nic, maybe still far too vague but I suppose Nomads do live by faith that the journey will bring them to food and water.

  5. I would really like to keep this alive and also take it offline. Nomads are the opposite extreme of our heavy laden, unsustainable, trace leaving, materialism.

    We will almost definatively find it impossible to be as unattached as they are, but we can seriously consider the nomadic metaphor as both a judgement and also a blessing on the community.

    Keep curating this image …

  6. Thanks Nic,

    The basic concept I was putting forward is that the spiritual journey is the process of the individual finding/developing a personal relationship with God. (a private and sometimes lonely journey) However, at the same time it is through love for one another that we also experience God. (a journey as a community) We need both.

    The rest of the metaphor is purely an interesting discussion taking the concept of “nomad” to it’s limits.

    I will continue to curate this and look forward to travelling with you.

  7. Andy, your words remind me of the short saying attributed to Christ in the gospel of Thomas: “Be passers by.”

    i see the path as requiring a balance between two aspects: on the one hand being the spiritual nomad – the passer by – in relation to the potential entanglements of this realm, holding lightly to our beliefs etc – in short, having a consciousness of being strangers in this world.

    on the other hand, community requires roots, consistency and a commitment to a deepening contact between us, toward the mystical unity, sealed in the loving presence of our divine parents – to tweak a quote from bruce cockburn.

    upwards & inwards, towards G-d and each other.


  8. in terms of the tribe/community, how radically inclusive are we? for those of us who embrace the concept of the final restoration of all things, surely the tribe includes all people. such a perspective becomes all the more profound when we consider that outside of space-time, all things stand in full restoration.

    “the kingdom is laid out upon the earth but they see it not” – GoT.

    the circle who’s circumference is nowhere and who’s center is everywhere – holding such a picture of the kingdom of G-d up to meditation, allowing it to reshape our soul and view of reality, would in turn reshape the world without.

    i salute you all in your explorations and efforts to put flesh on the mystical bones of community.


  9. Russ,

    Thanks for your most-valued input.

    I fully agree that we have to keep checking ourselves as far as remaining loving and embracing. I used the term “Nomadic Tribe” as there is a unity while being apart. It is a commitment to love and not judge. Matthew 6 and 7.

    Yes, a view of the kingdom being “laid out upon the earth” is beautiful on so many levels. Thanks for that imagery.

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