Community has been a buzzword for years in faith circles, social justice movements, and local politics. It works because it’s a shared felt-need by most people, regardless of race, socio-economic standing, and religion. It’s a longing and a remedy as old as Adam. Man wasn’t meant to be alone, God thought he needed a wife, and even one other person is the seed of community.
It is so necessary to developing and maintaining mental health that the lack of connection causes severe deficits, and even death, in children and the taking away of community is considered a harsh punishment in the prison system. It is that important.
David Clark wrote in Yes to Life that “without a strong sense of community human beings will wilt and begin to die. Community is the foundation of human society, the zenith of interdependence, the epitome of wholeness; in fact, the end of our journeying.”
Marriages are grounded in community, friendship grows out of it, families are supported through it, and every one of us has been fed by it or wounded by it at one time or another.
Jean Vanier, the man who founded the L’Arche communities for disabled people, wrote a book called Community and Growth. Although it mostly addresses groups of people who have intentionally chosen to live together, the larger implications are that it applies to any and all of us who want to broaden and deepen our concept of community as well as our experience of it.
“We are broken, but we are loved. We can grow to greater openness and compassion; we have a mission. Community becomes the place of liberation and growth. The wound in all of us can become the place of meeting with God and with brothers and sisters; it can become the place of ecstasy and of the eternal wedding feast. The loneliness and feelings of inferiority which we are running away from become the place of liberation and salvation.”
Growth. Liberation. Salvation. All of these can be found in relationship with God and each other, in the closeness of community.
“God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.
And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community