I’ve experienced seasons in my life of deep and intimate community, community that was a taste of heaven. Throughout the past year or more, my heart has been awakened to my longing for this type of community. We are designed for relationships. The holy trinity itself is a community and since we are made in His image we are made for relationship. By engaging with one another in community we therefore engage with God. We draw each other closer to God.
Community is a group of people….?? What else? What makes community, community? I think it is sharing the stuff of life. The good, the bad, the ugly. When someone has a need the community fills it. When someone has a joy, the community rejoices, when someone has a tragedy the community mourns with them. Sharing the stuff of life. Sharing food, sharing belongings, sharing time, sharing struggles. Being involved in the day to day. Knowing how you can pray for someone, and actually praying for them. Living life together, hanging out, having fun, laughter, long conversations. But I think it is more, I think it is actually wanting to do these things. Wanting to help the others in the community. Wanting to invest in others. Being intentional about investing in them. But more than all of this I believe that true community will bring about growth. That each member of the community will grow mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as a result of the community.
Henri Nouwen asserts that community is actually a spiritual discipline essential for a spiritual life. I can’t attempt to paraphrase his brilliance so I’ll indulge you in a direct quote (long but worth it!):
“Community as discipline is the effort to create free and empty space among people where together we can practice true obedience. Through the discipline of community we prevent ourselves from clinging to each other in fear and loneliness, and clear free space to listen to the liberating voice of God. It may sound strange to speak of community as discipline but without discipline community becomes a ‘soft’ word, referring more to a safe, homey, and exclusive place than to the space where new life can be received and brought to its fullness. Wherever true community presents itself, discipline is crucial. Not only in the common life but also in the sustaining relationships of friendship, marriage and family. To create space for God among us requires the constant recognition of the Spirit of God in each other. When we have come to know the life-giving Spirit of God in the center of our solitude and have thus been able to affirm our true identity, we can also see that same life-giving Spirit speaking to us through our fellow human beings. And when we come to recognize the life-giving Spirit of God as the source of our life together, we too will more readily hear his voice in our solitude. Friendship, marriage, family, religious life, and every other form of community is solitude greeting solitude, spirit speaking to spirit, and heart calling to heart. It is the grateful recognition of God’s call to share life together and the joyful offering of hospitable space where the recreating power of God’s Spirit can become manifest. Thus all forms of life together can become ways to reveal to each other the real presence of God in our midst.”
While part of true community is being open to all, and we are all one as brothers and sisters in Christ, it still makes me wonder…. Can you have community with just anyone? Just because you decide, “ok, we’re going to be a community”, can you really be one? I’ve noticed that with some people community develops effortlessly, with others it doesn’t. I reflect on my own role in that, was I intentional? Did I make an effort? Etc… But with some people, I don’t even think about it, it just starts to happen, and then I become intentional about investing in them, to keep the community going. I’ve experienced superficial community and deep community, and I’m trying to determine what was at work in both. I just know that I’m over superficial, I don’t have time for that….just give me true community, ya know?
I have many more thoughts on this, as does Nouwen, Bonhoffer and others, but, for now I’ll ponder it some more and you can stay tuned for Part 2 .
As i await your thoughts i leave you with one more thought from Nouwen
“In true community we are windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”