I thought that “community” was a place. A physical place where one’s need for connection is sustained and fulfilled. I thought that this place was something to be sought after and protected. And I believed others when they told me where to find it.
I tried to make it so. I’m always trying to do the right thing. I can get obsessive about it. I want to figure it out. And my fear that I won’t be able to blinds me to the reality that I’m already doing it. My continuously created being, guided by the divine and invigorated by my very nature, is already doing it. When I stop worrying about it, I know that.
But I get scared, and I start to make excuses for myself. I internalize the judgements of others and make them right. I let the fear of others define me and then I defend it. So, when what I thought was my only chance at community began to pull away, when I stopped fitting in at my church, I scrambled to appreciate being a “lone wolf” and find some higher purpose in it. And there is, but it’s not the whole story.
There are dark nights. Moments in which even the small things that hold me up slip away so that I’ll learn to stand on bedrock. I had been grasping onto the community I thought I was supposed to have. And then, when that faded, I grasped onto loneliness like it was my calling in life. But the grasping always fails. Thank God, the grasping always fails.
What was left was just me, trying to figure out whether or not I needed community. I got tired. I took a deep breath and just let it be. And then I understood. The choices aren’t “community or loneliness”.
Community isn’t a place. It’s a feeling.
And there are so any things that gift me the feeling of community. That feeling of belonging, of being welcomed and wanted.
Community isn’t a place. It’s the earthly echo of that overwhelming sensation of perfect connection with God and all of creation. As God breathes into the world, the reverberation of God’s word feels like home. It isn’t a place, but it is the places, the people, the material objects, the wind, the light, and the beating of our own hearts. I’m a lone wolf, and I also belong to a pack so vibrant that I often have a hard time seeing it because it can’t be demarcated. It’s everywhere.
God knows it’s hard to see as big as God sees. I’m given finite things that point to the infinite so I have something to hold on to while I get my footing here. Sometimes those finite things are allowed to drop away, lest I hold on too tightly and forget that they are finite and that I am infinite. In those moments, if I don’t panic, I know God will sustain me. I know I’ll be okay.
So, today I appreciate the ways in which community shows up in my life.
My friends and family, the relationships of which by the grace of God I am an integral part. They are my community.
The books, music, and podcasts that feed my mind and my heart and invite me to know things there are no words for. They are my community.
The humans whose paths cross with mine, who need do nothing but be alive with me to remind me of my belonging on this earth. They are my community.
The growing things, the dying things, the still waters and the rushing winds, the natural world that envelopes me and speaks of the eternal, creative force that is the substance of all things, including me. They are my community.
Father Romano Guardini said, “Although I am not God, I am not other than God either.”
And James Finley added, “Although I am not you, I am not other than you either. Although I am not the earth, I am not other than the earth, either. We sometimes feel lonely because we don’t think anyone understands what’s happening to us. But that’s okay, because we don’t really understand it either. Our loneliness becomes a type of paradoxical all-encompassing communion, and we discover where our lives converge. This is the loneliness of Jesus. As this soaks into me, what are the implications of this in the way I act in the world?”
The dark nights will come. The loneliness will come. And if I don’t panic, God will help me see the communities that are sustaining me. And God will help me see the ways in which I can be sustaining for everyone else too.