Part 5 in a 7-Part Series on Spirituality, Self-Image and World Religions
Ideally, we work on our spiritual growth projects and problems together, or in relationship with others who are at work on similar problems of their own. It’s not that we should be in the position of needing somebody else, in order to do our own work. For me, it’s just that it sometimes helps to have others around, to mirror me back to myself.
We dress each others’ wounds. We play “tag team” when appropriate, and rest from our battle. We carry each other through the tough times. We celebrate each other’s wins, or mourn the losses, without needing to define ourselves by any one victory or defeat.
In the Christian tradition, we try to do this through fellowship in the One Spirit of God, by letting some of our problems become a communal problem, not just a personal one. The God of the Christian theological tradition is the Triune God. Thus he is already a sort of model for community and cooperation.
I also discussed this dynamic in my Ash Wednesday entry that talked about confession. Because confession requires trusting the community to be like Jesus to us, and to be generative and merciful themselves. It also requires readiness for me to forgive, for those others will sometimes fail in their attempts to be like Jesus, to accept me unconditionally while also challenging me to love God and others more. Through alternate periods of forgiveness and persistence, we call each other into these spaces and moments of ministry and mutual love.
We do this fellowship thing, this “being family”, sometimes by listening, and nothing more. We create safe space, both workspace and playspace. We make room in our widening, tentative hearts for more than just our own wrestling, loudmouthed, wounded angels. We invite “company” into our hearts, and together with God, we go about cleaning up and creating a more hospitable space, which welcomes all people into our hearts, and honors each one individually. Then, hopefully, we pray together and invite the Holy Spirit into our team approach to working out salvation.
Soon after that –to borrow an analogy from Amish and Mennonite community life– we’ll probably be “raising a barn” together with our brothers and sisters, creating a wider space in our hearts for our own inner family to move around comfortably. We make more room for new guests, and even leave guest space in the “manger”, for whenever Jesus decides to make his Presence known (which will be as often as we seek Him).
I honestly believe that growing as an individual, and doing “church” right, can make us as family to a wider range of people, if only we can conquer our basic mistrust and fear of them, and our need to be “right” all the time.
On the other hand, I recognize it’s easier for me to say that, because I am already an extrovert. I generally do trust people to be true to their better natures. (And I’m ticked off when I see they’re not… which brings us back to the “acceptance of reality” –and of sin or brokenness– that I’ve been discussing for several days.)
What’s more, I expect God to be present in those interchanges with others, even the tough ones. I try to look for His appearance, and what new blessing he’s trying to reveal through this particular wrestling match. I try to “tag Him in”, and thus allow the blessing to the other person.
So for those like me who pursue a certain religious tradition, the ever-broadening “family” model is usually the dominant path to greater peace, wisdom, and connection with both God and humanity. But there are other very useful paths — for introverts and extroverts, for religious and nonreligious, for rich and poor, for those in the east, west, south and north.
Life in all its own richness makes no distinction between those it wants to both challenge and embrace. It comes down only to one’s willingness to engage with Real Life.