I’ve been thinking about community a lot lately and what it means. What do we mean when we say community? We have home communities, school communities, church or religious communities, work communities, the LGBTQ community, the running community, the Boston community, the global community, and the list goes on. After a while, the word loses its meaning–it’s just something we use to describe ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
But community is a beautiful word. It is both concrete in referring to a group of people and also abstract in referring to the relationships between those people. It shares a root with the word ‘common’, meaning ordinary or general, but also in common, meaning shared and implying togetherness. It’s a word that requires relationships between people and celebrates our commonalities over our differences. It emphasizes the relationships that individuals form over the individuals themselves and, as tired as the word can sometimes feel, I think we need a whole lot more of it in the world.
I like to think of a community as a root system–everything is connected to each other and working together to nourish and support each other. In terms of our ‘home’ community (whatever that may mean), we all come from the same earth and, no matter high we grow up and away from it, we can never break our ties to where we come from.
But we don’t just belong to one community. Life isn’t something that can be fit neatly into boxes and categories–it’s messy and chaotic and beautiful. And so are our communities. We don’t just fit into one community; we spend our lives weaving our way through dozens of them, leaving a tangled web of relationships in our wake. And this web connects to other webs that connect us to every other person on the earth. It’s a pretty incredible root system.
All these thoughts came to a head on Sunday at vespers as I helped lead Holden Evening Prayer, a sung service that was written at and for Holden Village, the community that I call home. As we sang, I looked around and realized how many of my communities had merged in this service–old friends from my Holden community standing next to new friends from my Boston community, members of the Lutheran community, the Marsh Chapel community, the Boston University community, my work community, and my worship community all joining together in one service. We all belonged to different groups, but the act of singing and worshiping together forged us into a new community. I realized that this service of Holden Evening Prayer is another one of those tangled webs connecting me to so many communities across space and time.
In the middle of the service after the readings, the leader says, “the light shines in the darkness” and the congregation replies “and the darkness does not overcome it” or, as my mom and brother like to say, “and the darkness doesn’t get it”. Our communities are lights shining in the darkness that the darkness can never get at. As those lights shine, we flock to them, clustering around and once that community is formed, it is never going to disappear. The members of that community may grow apart or drift away, but they will always be a part of that tangled web and they will always have a few roots that tie them to where they came from. And that gives me great comfort.
I pray that we always put more emphasis on the light that unites us than the darkness that divides us so that we never lose our sense of rootedness and connectedness to each other.