by BVM Katie Anders
The concept of community has been on my mind a lot lately. The day we are born we begin living in community, and we continue to be part of multiple communities throughout our lives. Initially we do not choose our community since everything is connected to family. However, as we grow, we are drawn to groups of our own choosing including friends, classmates, and those of similar interests or needs.
An online search of the word community brings up a myriad of definitions and descriptions. The Oxford dictionary offers two definitions of community:
1. A group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common.
2. A feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.
Using both of these definitions each of us can likely name multiple communities we are connected to, both large and small. Over the years I don’t think I have given a great deal of thought to belonging to one community or another.
Though it seems to often happen rather organically, I do not believe community happens accidentally or without self-giving. Philosopher David Spangler says, “Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.”
Even though we identify as part of a number of communities, we may still experience feelings of loneliness or separation. We are social beings by nature and yet there are times when we struggle to feel connected to others in community.
I know there have been times in my life when I desired community but found myself only in proximity to others. True community asks that we open ourselves to encounter the other and that requires time, energy, and a certain degree of vulnerability. Upon reflection I realize I’ve not always been willing to enter into the depth of connection true community requires. When we give ourselves to true community, it has the power to both hold us and shape us.
Community allows us space to make mistakes and grow from them, it provides a space with others to feel safe being who we are, and the support we receive in community helps us to keep going when another step feels like too much. We are shaped by community through our deepening relationships and the ways our perspectives and worldviews are influenced. We can also find our beliefs and/or assumptions affirmed and challenged in ways that help us to grow. Even though proximity is easier, the fruits of true community help us to be who we are meant to be.
As I begin the novitiate and continue my discernment to enter into true community as a woman religious with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my prayer is that I will consistently recognize that simple proximity will not empower me to answer my call. Rather I pray that I will grow into my vocation ever more deeply by giving of myself daily in openness, curiosity, and vulnerability to each encounter with others.
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