The Divine is Hidden within Community

I’ll write about practices and resilience soon enough, but I wanted to continue on your line of thought in the way of community.  

Your idea of community is not simply “extreme” in comparison to western individualism, it is an assault on our idea of autonomy. But I agree with you.  

Next, thank you for that Crabb quote.  It is both sad and comforting.  Jenn, I think you echo the thought of so many people and put words to the tension many feel when you say, “what I had believed to be my life-preserver turned into an anchor.” 

Our problem, I believe, is that many of those practices, rhythms, or ways of being have been equated to the very person or thing we put our faith in.  At some point, we have elevated what started out as a means, to the place of ends.  After decades of ceaselessly committing to those disciplines, they have become equal to our belief.  So, letting them go, or cutting the anchor, seems much weightier than finding new means to the same end, it seems like walking away from our faith. 

I think the fact it didn’t start with community for me was more about grace than it was about priority or preference on the part of the Divine. First, not only do I love autonomy, but I’m an introvert.  I just am.  True regeneration for me is found outside of people and in the company of trees, mountains, and streams.  Second, I don’t trust people.  There, I said it!  I’m always looking over my shoulder.  I know this is not the way to live a healthy life, but I have allowed my experiences of betrayal from those I’ve loved, to keep community at an arm's distance.  It was the rhythms and practices that acted as stabilizers, slowed down my spiraling, and allowed me to see my need for community.  I had preached community for so long, but my inability to trust made it difficult to truly practice what I preached.  I always “needed” the ability to walk away from someone or something if I sensed possible betrayal.  As a result, I kept myself distant enough, even from those I loved, in order to keep self protection possible.  I couldn’t allow someone to get close enough to hurt me. 

But I agree with you.  No amount of past hurt changes the need for community.  It may change how we enter it.  It may change how we initially engage it, but it doesn’t change the reality of our need.  In fact, I’ve come to believe that I can never become my true self without true mutual submission and interdependence within a community.  Community is the furnace through which we are purified and set free to become ourselves.   I’m not talking about hierarchical submission that has fed the beast of patriarchy, nor am I talking of co-dependence, I am talking about truly self-differentiated individuals submitted to one another within a life-giving interdependent system of deep relationships. 

The second lie within the Hebrew scriptures pontificated by humanity is, “I am not my brother’s keeper”.  The God of the Hebrews and later the God of the Christians will go to great effort to both teach and model the reality that not only are we each other’s keeper, but it is in being kept by others that we are released to discover our true humanity.  

In fact, a line that became a mantra around here through this time period was, “I believe the divine is hidden within the faces and landscapes around us”.  If I wanted to return to the presence of God, I was not going to do so in isolation but I had to bypass the trust barrier and truly enter into the lives of those around me and allow them to enter into my life as well.  It was as if God was saying, “I love you.  So, I’m going to remove myself from these old habits and practices, that actually created a sense of superiority within you, and I’m going to hide within the faces and landscapes around here, so if you want me, you know where I am.” 

I began to feel the need and safety of community while in Austin, especially with about three other families, who became our family.  However. I find it interesting or ironic, that, like you, my realization for the need for community didn’t come until we landed in a place in which the people were so unlike us.  In fact, after being in this part of the country for so long, we were sure we had made a wrong turn.  And yet we hadn’t.  God had brought us to a strange land with strange folks so that we could enter them and be entered by them in order to experience the divine in a more beautiful and complete way.

Do, I still need to get away and find the divine within nature?  I do, John Muir has been a great guide for that.  But, just as important as alone time is, the divine is hidden within the faces around us, and we cannot know it until we have embraced and been embraced by the broken flesh that surrounds our life. 

I’ll try to follow up soon to begin to talk about rhythms and practices…

until then…Love ya’

Matthew