What does the word “community” evoke for you? Family? Friends? Neighbors? Religious groups? The Cheers bar where everybody knows your name?
We are social creatures that need company – to know and feel known. Isolation withers our spirits. Companions call us out of ourselves, and reflect back to us what we put out into the world. But do those companions always have to be people we know?
For much of my life I have held close to myself a piece of wisdom from Parker Palmer:
“In true community we will not choose our companions, for our choices are so often limited by self-serving motives. Instead, our companions will be given to us by grace. Often they will be persons who will upset our settled view of self and world. In fact, we might define true community as that place where the person you least want to live with lives….” [The Company of Strangers]
As I move to a new city completely across the country from my familiar communities, and assume a new leadership position with a group of people I hardly know, I am struck anew with the beauty of connection that can happen with strangers. Unencumbered with assumptions built up in past relationships, strangers can meet as they are in that moment.
Without prior knowledge of one another the brain often seeks refuge in stereotypes – socially constructed prejudices that can lead us to avoid or fear the stranger. The divisions and polarization of our current culture give testimony to this instinctive behavior. It is a tragic gap we all live within. But when we take the courageous step of receiving the stranger as a gift of grace, we can go to a deeper place of soul connecting to soul. These encounters can be as, or sometimes more, life-giving than a meeting of life-long friends.
When I think of the communities that are most energizing for me at the moment, they are ones where people cross the usual boundaries and together create an experience of grace and joy, even amidst the challenges that diversity can bring. One such community that I’ve had the great pleasure of witnessing is The Sanctuaries: DC, an intentionally inclusive gathering of young adults who bring art and spirituality together and weave a new fabric of community. Here’s a video of a song they created called “Love Reaches Out” that shows the joy that comes as a result:
Love reaching out is indeed what our world needs more of right now. And I take courage from the model of these folks willing to challenge the easy assumptions that keep us divided. Strangers can indeed create a home together. I am grateful for the strangers who have welcomed me into my new life, my new home. I so look forward to what we can create together.
P.S. Journey to a deeper place of soul connecting with soul in a Courage & Renewal program. Find a program near you.
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