I've started reading Jean Vanier's Community and Growth. I'm finding it... provocative... on a personal level. So far he's talking about how people in our culture find their security and sense of identity through accomplishment in the absence of belonging and acceptance. One notion that's resonating with me particularly well is that living as part of a real community on a day-to-day basis is going to show us how really unloving we are:
"As we live with people daily, all the anger, hatred, jealousies and fear of others, also the need to dominate, to run away or to hide, seem to rise up ... While we are alone, we could believe we loved everyone. Now that we are with others, living with them all the time, we realize how incapable we are of loving, how much we deny to others, how closed in on ourselves we are" (p.26).So many of us, when we begin to have really deep friendships, realize how terrifically bad we are at loving. It's not just us - it's all of us. We have to learn to stop protecting ourselves and learn instead to keep open hearts and risk getting hurt. The trick is that many people don't find out how bad they are - and therefore never get good at it - because they don't change their lives so as to let people in that closely. After all, how much easier is it to live with such a personal distance (even if we live and work and play alongside others) that we don't cause offense or get offended ourselves?
I am convinced that it is the work of the Evil One that anyone would live really alone. Humans were created to be in communion with God and one another. I think immediately of two kind of isolation: one can live alone, and share a household with no one, or live with others but remain closed off, to keep one's own counsel, and to really live only for oneself.
I am trying to live counter to that kind of culture that is everywhere in our society and our churches. I have insisted that my own church be a primary "point of reference" in the way I live my life. I don't attend the Liturgy because I "get something out of it" (not that I don't), but because I'm dedicated to being with those people in that deeply meaningful way. And do you know what? Enacting that dedication, moving it from theory to concrete practice, is transformative for me. It makes me more concretely and practically God's, moving from being the overseer and director of my own life to being homo ecclesiasticus.
We aren't together, either my church or the people in my household, because of common affinities or interests. Those things are there, and those things help, but we have been called to be with one another and to learn to love one another well. Only when we learn to make one another a steady point of reference, choosing to deal with those people on a regular basis and to take completely for granted that they have a place in our lives, are we going to be the kind of community that Jesus is shaping us into. That's what cooperation with Jesus looks like.
So what do you think?