Nouwen: Community

Nouwen: Community

“Community is not a talent show in which we dazzle the world with our combined gifts. Community is the place where our poverty is acknowledged and accepted, not as something we have to learn to cope with as best as we can but as a true source of new life.” Henri Nouwen, in “March 18,” Bread for the Journey (HarperSanFrancisco, 1997).

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The Hebrew Bible and the New Testament constantly reveal stories of how God continually calls us to community. This is what enlarges our view of God, keeps our God from being so small as we hear about the God of their understanding from others. In community is where we learn how our gifts are needed and how we don’t need to have all the gifts or be in control. In community, we also learn about ourselves as we begin to see that the faults we so dislike in others are often also in ourselves, and in time we see how ugly they are in the ourselves as well and finally pray to be changed.

We also learn about forgiveness as we are forgiven. In community as we attempt to live in harmony we learn about reconciliation, pluralism, connection, a different kind of living than our society often teaches us.

We live in a zero-sum world, where we are taught there is only so much food, so much resources, so many jobs, so much money, so much love to go around. If we give any of what we have away, we will lose it all, we will lose all that we have accumulated, and it will not return, so we store our things in pods and warehouses and even store up love inside of ourselves and don’t give it away. We fear if we share, we will lose what we have and not be able to have more.

I learned about the fallacy of zero sum from some of my grandchildren. I once envied their grandparents who lived nearby while we lived far away. I feared there was only so much love my grandchildren could give, and their closer grandparents were going to get most of it. Oh, me. My grandchildren have taught me that they have much more love to give than I can fathom, and how wonderful it can be that they know and share the love of so many living grandparents. This is what we learn in community. We learn about God’s love without numbers, love without conditions, love that we cannot hold onto, but love that can only grow if it continually moves and flows in and out of us.

As I meet with spiritual friends I share what I have learned in community and offer living in community as one more way to keep that connection to God which so beautifully lives in others. In return, our community reflects to us the Christ, the God of our understanding which also dwells within ourselves as well.



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