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The Gift of Community

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Lately, I am finding myself asking this question: “Is there anything from my experience of fullness of God these days that I can bring to this moment?” (Ruth Haley Barton). The healing and security of feeling God’s love that I have discovered living out of a more contemplative center has certainly been for my good. Yet, there is another yearning that has emerged as a result and that is to offer this good for the sake of others.

Jesus is about to embark upon his final journey to Jerusalem, his final act of giving here on this earth. And he feels very alone. Would anyone respond to what he is experiencing? Mary senses Jesus’ death is imminent. We underestimate what her thoughtfulness, her care for Jesus means, as “she lavishly pours expensive perfume over his body”. John 12:3 Her acknowledgement of who Jesus is and what He is about to step into offers Him comfort and strength.

How did Mary get to the place of being so present to Jesus’ need?

Maybe it was because she received these very same things from Jesus, time and time again in their relationship: understanding, listening, unhurried love. Mary and Jesus experienced what brain scientists call “mutual mind attachment”. It’s the idea that in community we actually grow each other’s brain in joy and mental health as we offer one another space to express our truest self.

Mary views Jesus’ life as sacred, understanding the ways of God at a deeper level than others. Some argued this gift of her oil should not be wasted. Yet Jesus allows Himself to receive this extravagance, to feel comfort, intimacy and affection.

Sadly, we miss out in deep relational attachment if we refuse to receive from others in our community who see our life as sacred, too.

We fear we will not be loved in all of our confusion and contradictions. We cover up our truest desires for intimacy by pretending and a stiff upper lip. We shrug off a compliment, push back the tears, cringe when we make a mistake. However, as Jean Vanier says “Love is to reveal the beauty of another to themselves.” And to help others understand “the ‘real work’ of prayer, which is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me.” (Henri Nouwen)

Mary was impacted by regularly sitting at the feet of Jesus in a contemplative posture. The beauty and transformation she experienced then reached Jesus in his deepest parts when he needed it the most. I wonder how the human side of Jesus would have fared without her gift? Let’s lean into our humanness, too, and receive the gifts that our community offers.

Here are some relational nutrients of healthy community. Which do you need? Which can you give others?

· Acceptance---Connect without judgement

· Attunement—Respond to what another is experiencing. Get “in their well”

· Validation—Convey that a person’s experience is significant and not to be dismissed.

· Containment—Allow the other to vent while staying warm without reacting.

· Comfort—Provide support for someone’s loss.

· Identification—Share your similar story.

(People Fuel © 2019, John Townsend, Ph.D.)

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