Community versus loneliness

This last Sunday Sarah and Karen led us for the first time. Sarah began with reading an extract from Ruby Wax’s book, ‘And now for the good news’ about our need for community, much of which made us laugh. Then Karen had us draw concentric cirles and to fill in names of those closest to us in the centre, then those near but not as close and so on. That led beautifully to prayer for those on our sheets.

Other words used are here below, as well as bread and wine words on our resources pagecalled ‘Seasons’and the reflection ‘Roots and wings’

Evolutionary sociology has determined that operate at our best in groups of around 100 people.  This number enables the maximum co-operation and a chance to acknowledge and ‘know’ everyone in the group. 

Xenophobia and mistrust arise only when resources are sparse and competition is introduced.

What does this mean for our present society where the extended family is no longer the norm and loneliness is a major problem?

Contrary to our modern thinking about ‘stranger danger’ it appears we are actually hard wired to be sociable beings, thriving best when we are in environments where both mundane and meaningful contact with others is made easy. When we talk to people we get a release of oxytocin, even just from passing small talk.

So saying hello, stopping for a moment to chat with neighbours and strangers those in our community can bring more benefits and blessings to other that we might imagine When we are smiled at it is hard not to smile in return, and the act of smiling, the muscles used, even when unintended, cause this release.

Known as the proximity exchange it can explain why lockdown was hard. It is easy to think this means we always need our interactions to be in person, however similar results are achieved using technology, anything that increases our contact, makes us feel valued by someone and making each other smile, all helps to build our community networks.

We are called to meet together

We are called to pray together

We are called to pray alone…

Though we are never completely alone, surrounded as we are by God’s presence, and by being part of a spiritual community, and fellowship of angels.

Alone and Together

As a Community we’ve always understood the need to balance ‘a prayer that is quiet and contemplative with a faith that is active and contagious’, in expressing our way for living. We believe this particular expression is a gift of God to us as we’ve increasingly understood that we all need both ‘enclosure’ (Alone) and ‘encounter’ (Together) in our lives. As Jean Vanier says “Solitude and Community belong together; each requires the other, as do the centre and circumference of a circle. Solitude without Community leads to loneliness and despair, but Community without solitude hurls us into a ‘void of words

Dutch Community De Spil put it well; ‘We eat together, even if it isn’t at one table’ – ‘We live together, even if it isn’t in one house’ – ‘We pray together, even if it isn’t in one chapel.”

This paradox of being alone together, of being present to one another as a ‘community of hermits’ is to recognise that the inner journey, the landscape of the heart is not an end in itself. All spiritual disciplines are to better equip us to engage the world of others, in the landscape of the land, our outer journey.

 We are blessed to be a blessing. We need the inwardness of knowing who we are in ourselves, in order to know whose we are in the wider world, because self-awareness increases God awareness, which in turn makes us aware of the world of others.

Did God make us for Community? Absolutely, for without togetherness, the touch of others, we’d have a greatly diminished life.

Did God make us for solitude? Absolutely, for without solitude, the time to be alone, we’d be peopled out and exhausted.

We need both simultaneously or we will be in danger of either getting lost in the maze of the inner life within us or lost in the perplexity of the noisy crowd all around us. To have both enclosure and encounter provides the necessary checks and balances so we can have the best of both. As Parker Palmer observed “It’s like breathing in and breathing out – together they give life.”

Trevor Miller

Northumbria Community

SO lovely to have Sarah and aren part of us. Thanks so much for all this!