Last night I realized that over the last two years, I have come to learn that there are certain blessings to living in community... I have also come to understand that there are distinct blessings to having lived in community.
And believe me that when I say "having lived" I mean it in the best sense of the phrase. Having lived means having made the investment of time and energy into a community that can only be measured in dirty dishes, television shows you'd never watch on your own, moments of intense laughter, listening when someone needs you to, and periods of heightened emotion- either communally or inside your own head.
As I sat across the table from Barbara, one of my community mates from the SSJ Mission Corps, I recognized that we had definitely lived in community. At the time that we lived together, our community was an adventure, to say the least. It's been over six months since we parted ways and I honestly don't know if there is a better way to describe our time together than as an adventure- full of ups and downs, teaching you to navigate life together in new ways daily.
Now, having lived together, I can only count the immense blessing that community has had on our relationship and my own understanding of myself. Looking back on our year, we share fond memories, repeated eye rolls, and an understanding built on having lived. That bond is deeper than most. It is deeper than I think I expected that first awkward night in community. It allows us to be real with one another, to share our own truth and to trust that the person we share with will honestly and compassionately handle what we give to them. That is the blessing of having lived in community. Having lived gives us the ability to know one another, but it also gives us the distance necessary to point to what is most important in our stories, to know one another, and to continue on the journey together.
Moving into this new year that journey continues, as does my own journey in community.
As the clock struck midnight below the starry skied ceiling of the SSJ mother house, I found my cheeks dabbed with the kisses of sisters young and old as the New Year was quietly ushered in. It was the quietest New Year I'd had in a while: a few hours of prayer and adoration as 2011 came to a close and we prayerfully considered all that had been and will be in 2012. Our prayer traced the journey and although I knelt in the chapel awaiting the new year, silently and contently focused on Jesus, the spirit of the larger community made its way in.
Here were the names of our sisters who had passed on to new life this year. Here was hope for the year to come. Here was prayer that each person present might be more aware of the Truth in their life, here, now, and always. Here we welcomed whatever is ahead as a community, united in hope, faith, and love.
As my own local community celebrated Christmas together, a simple meal accompanied by simple gifts transformed into one of the greatest gifts- presence. For hours, we sat together in our living room talking about life, telling stories, and simply enjoying the life we live together.
Having lived together now for nearly six months, I can say that the shift from simply living to having lived has begun and continues. No doubt living in community takes some adjustment, but, in this local community and on the larger scale of the SSJs in Philadelphia, I can sense a shift occurring within me. Time has given me space to find the stories of importance within myself, within the sisters I live with, and within the larger community; that time and space continues to expand as this journey continues and as it does, I sense myself settling into the journey. Not settling for or being lulled by the journey, but finding a familiarity and discovering the expansive adventure that lies ahead.
In living and having lived this journey there is something more here for me. It brings with it grace and goodness, ever deepening in prayer and practice and peace. I stand open to whatever lies ahead knowing that includes joy, understanding, sadness, and struggle. Those are not new to any of our journeys but the dimensions and depth in which they resonate all depend on our having lived. Having lived- having become accustomed to, having operated with, having truly given our selves to what and who surrounds us- we find peace, comfort, and challenge.
Having lived means giving our all for and to one another. It is the gift of community, not always readily apparent but plentiful nonetheless. It happens gradually, almost as if we wouldn't notice it but in time we do.
Beneath the starry sky.
Around a living room.
Across the dinner table.
Here community flourishes and having lived it we know that in the midst of the joys and struggles, challenges and triumphs, we grow; Knowing more ourselves and more the other, so we can continue on the journey assured that if we live with openness to God and grace, within ourselves and others, our having lived will simply be the beginning of new life.