a community must grow to live, else it whithers and dies. there is no steady-state, only constant change. a community is only composed of individuals, each of whom is changing–growing or shrinking. this is not financial growth, not money in the bank, not a growing financial investment, but growth of the heart, growth of the spirit. in fact, money in the bank and other financial securities can get in the way. material insecurity, writes vanier, leads to true growth because you trust in god for everything. but there is another paradox.
the paradox is that each individual must grow as an individual, yet remain a part of the community as a community member. paradoxes for the individual in community abound: true greatness requires humility; to truly live requires a death of ego, for ‘a community is only being created when its members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, … but simply live each day with new hope.’
creating a community, launching it, is easy. lots of energy. keeping it in orbit, going ’round and ’round the same old planet, is hard. for its members, who are human and finite, how do they grow when in orbit? how much can they grow? here’s a clue: ‘community is only being created when [its members] have recognized that the greatness of humanity lies in the acceptance of our insignificance, of our human condition and our earth, and to thank god for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness.’
‘our insignificance’? sounds kinda existential (read below how we are at the same time very insignificant and very important). what is this eternal seed?
perhaps it is ‘the seed of love’, that needs protection from ‘the powers of evil, of seduction and of oppression, that want to crush it.’ why? maybe because love appears weak, vulnerable, insecure, because it threatens one’s selfish illusions of security, invincibility, strength, and power; illusions cause one to turn away from the source of real security, invincibility, strength, and power, the source of love, to turn away from god/dess.
perhaps it is the seed of a new community’s beginning. communities, like individuals, have births and grow. this seed becomes a tree, and then new ‘seeds fall from the tree and new trees are born, and so life continues to flow and to grow.’
perhaps it is the seed of hope. in order to grow, we look for hope. we can be its source, too. ‘a community must always remember that it is a sign and … source of hope for all humankind.’
tensions are part of growth. they must not be hidden nor denied. on the other hand, they must not necessarily be rooted out immediately. they must be handled with sensitivity, for both the people and the community to grow. for people, ‘tensions and stress come from a lack of balance between difficulties … and the support [needed]…. this will come out not only in anger and irrational behaviour … but also in a great need for compensatory things such as affection, alcohol, coffee, etc.. in times of stress people need to be well accompanied if their inner pain is to become a cry for prayer and for god and for wise help, and not just for human comfort and compensations….’
satan, writes vanier, ‘is the adversary of love and communion. he hates communities where people are growing in love and in the knowledge of jesus. he does everything he can to sow discord, to create tensions and divisions, and finally to destroy communities.’ communities foster reliance on the adversary’s adversary. the truth can set you free, but like using a file on manacles, it takes time and work. sometimes it hurts, too. it is easier, more expedient, and less painful to lie. however, ‘one of the most important things for growth in people and in communities is precisely this dedication to truth, even (and especially) if it hurts.’ telling truth requires a shattering of illusions. until then one denies the truth. however, one cannot deny a crisis, which keeps presenting itself while one has illusions. vanier believes that ‘peter went through four crises while following jesus’ (which mirror those of a community):
- call–leaving home and everything
- discovery–is jesus a leader or a servant? (the foot-washing)
- rejection–jesus’s weakness and death
- denial–self-disappointment–‘that was the crisis when he lost all the illusions about himself.’
crises are needed for an individual’s growth. ‘opening to god in adoration and opening to the poor in welcome and service are the two poles of a community’s growth’; community growth also requires, vanier writes, these three things:
- prayer to god/spirit
- service to the poor
- bond to the community
more important than doing is listening. in listening we learn, we affirm. the speakers become subjects, no longer objects. but what if the people come and go, as they do in ‘out of the cold’? ‘out of the cold’ is sadly necessary, but it’s not a community by vanier’s definition. i guess an answer is that a community is a model of how things could be–it’s a source of hope (read above); it is a tree, and organizations like ‘out of the cold’ are its fruit, its seeds. compassion is infinite and needs to be found everywhere. the skills needed for community are needed elsewhere too. listening, for example, is just as important at ‘out of the cold’ and at the coffeeshop and with your son or daughter or partner or parent.
some of the wisest men i know–jean vanier, thomas berry, philip berrigan–have lived in community. though berrigan left his order to marry elizabeth mcalister, they founded a community, jonah house. even in prison, the little i’ve read says berrigan counselled, prayed, and lived in community. wherever you are, there is community, if community is what you’re after.
remember i said this growth is not financial? finances purport to offer individual security, not community insecurity. my finances are important to me. i was bankrupt. i had run-away credit card problems and no savings. now, i’m solvent, i’ve less than a hundred dollars on my credit card, and i have an rsp (albeit a small one); more importantly, i have peace of mind–i live within my means and so i can better concentrate on the essentials.but do i trust in god/dess, unreservedly? since i don’t live in vanier’s definition of a community, but in a very human-centred one, i suppose my loyalties are divided–i render unto caesar what is caesar’s and keep my nose clean. or should i? in my community, god/dess seems to use rich and poor alike. god/dess might define ‘rich’ a little differently. what might be ‘rich’ to god/dess?
in a community, money stunts growth, for it distracts–gaining it, losing it, measuring it. there are other ways that the health of a community can be measured that have nothing to do with money. it ‘can be measured by the quality of its welcome of the unexpected visitor or someone who is poor, by the joy and simplicity of relationships between its members, by its creativity in response to the cry of the poor. but it is measured above all by the ardour for and fidelity to its own essential goals: its presence to god and the poor.’
a healthy community is a growing community, one that deepens and progresses. it is a paradox, ‘but insecurity is one of the only guarantees that a community will go on deepening and progressing and remain faithful.’
a healthy community remembers the past–its spirit and tradition–evaluates the present–the society and its values–and foretells the future in prophecy. the past, present, and future form a chain. ‘we are all links…. we discover that we are at the same time very insignificant and very important, because each of our actions is preparing the humanity of tomorrow.’ as a link, we are just one of many, but without each link, the chain is broken.
growth also means loss, as members leave to establish new communities. a community is alive, and living things must reproduce, bear seeds and fruit. to live, a community requires both divine providence and human structure. but vanier warns: ‘staying open to providence demands a very great availability. it has nothing to do with hiding behind structures.’ structures are fixed, finite, frail, and they have limits to growth; providence is infinite and offers infinite growth for the taking. any takers?