Listenings: A Few Common Elements: Community

“Spiritual formation requires taking not only the inward journey to the heart, but also the outward journey to community and ministry” (p. xxvi).

The older I get, the more convinced I am that the spiritual life only makes sense and is possible through community.  Nouwen agrees.

We have witnessed an extreme “individualizing” of our culture, and along with it, an accompanying “privatization” in the spiritual life:  a “God and me” spirituality in general and a “me and Jesus” (notice the reversal of words) spirituality in too much of Christianity.

But when I stop and think about it, my entire faith and its related formation began and continues in community.  Before I believed, there was something/Someone to believe in.  Before I knew what to believe, the community had already amassed an enormous amount of wisdom to invite me to consider.  Even the fundamental affirmations that I make each day are rooted in the creeds and councils of those who have come before me–as they try to make sense of life and the living of it.  As Nouwen points out, community creates spirituality (p. xxvii).

But as he also notes, spirituality creates community.  When we say that we have “a heart for God,” it necessarily means that we have a heart for others, because God’s heart is for all people.  John reminded us long ago that we cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, if we do not love those whom we have seen (1 John 4:20).

In the spiritual life, community is not defined institutionally, but rather relationally—as “heart meets heart” in a recognition that we are brothers and sisters in the human family.  From that unity we find our way forward in the spiritual life.


About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church
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