Moving Deeper Still: Three Roots of Community

Flickr credit: Elf-8
Flickr Credit: Elf-8 “Racines/Roots/Raices”

How do we go deeper into this community?

I have, for most of my life, been someone trying to organize community, bringing people together, and building connections. For a lot of that time, I put emphasis on showing up for one another: presence is key I would say.

I got a monumental lesson in presence twelve years ago. When my step-father committed suicide in 2003, those who were the most helpful during that crisis, were the people who showed up. Those who came and sat with us. Brought the ministry of cookies and casseroles. They offered no grand theories. No trite explanations. What they offered were silent bodies, sitting in prayerful support. Like a silent cloud of witnesses visible to the naked eye. It was here that I learned how presence is the roots and the ligaments of community. It was faithful presence that got us through that dark night.

How do I go deeper into community?

As important as presence is on its own it does not make for the depth of community we seek. If I am unable to surrender myself in such a way that I can offer or receive a gift, then my presence alone is little more than a Cicada’s exuvia.

I purport depth of being when I am unable to offer the gift of a word of kindness, a gentle hug, a silent prayer, a hand-written card. I impersonate community when I am unwilling to receive the gift of another in all their mispronounced, hierarchical, and experiential wanderings.

And what about my own gifts? If I stand and offer vocal ministry will you finally see that my faltering words are unclear and half-baked?

If I write words out for the world to see what will the world see in me? Will you allow me the space to grow; a space that can only come through speaking and revising within a circle of trust?

If I risk a gift will it be abandoned under the tree?

Will it be dashed upon the rocks of misunderstanding and disapproval?

Surrender is the unfavorable brother of community. We want “community” on our terms. I will write the contract for negotiation, thank you very much.

If I am to be in community with others, I must learn how to surrender in the way I receive the gifts that are offered even, and especially, when it is not the gift I requested. If I am to become an integral part of the threads that are woven into this people, I surrender the gifts I have to offer. No matter how feeble they are bound to be.

But I do not just surrender when I venture to contribute my piece. I surrender when I put extend my hands and heart in receptivity. Community invites me to surrender my misgivings, biases and expectations towards that which is offered. Community is where I practice “listening with empathy.” Can I receive you the way a mother receives a newborn child? Can I hear you as I want to be heard?

How do I go deeper?

Both presence and surrender move us closer to the kind of gift that we can be to one another in community: a people who bless and not curse. In our world there is so much emphasis on taking. Every time a video on youtube rolls, someone is wanting to take a piece of our time and resources. So often in meetings and churches, someone wants something from you. Contributing and supporting is after all how we sustain these fledgling and historical communities. But if I want to go deeper, I need to the emphasis away from taking to blessing.

A community that blesses one another is a community that recognizes the gifts that are already present, that have already taken place. To bless a birth, a death, a new found love, and other failures and successes is a way in which we can say, “I see you.” “I recognize and honor your life in all its beautiful and frail complexities.” To bless is to allow the other to stand independently of the group, to see them as an individual not to be “taken” or “controlled” as though the goal of friendship is to turn others into our likeness, but instead to bless and honor for who and where they are. This alone could take us a long way toward stitching together the fragments that have separated us.

I can move deeper into this community not by practicing presence alone, but by practicing surrender both the giving and receiving of gifts and blessing those whose lives are different from mine and yet whose story I share in.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

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