The Gift of Community

One of my deepest joys is hearing about readers who are connecting with one another to pursue spiritual formation together. Just yesterday I heard about a book club that has decided to form a sacred journey group in which they can open their hearts and spirits to one another in authentic and life-giving ways. Praise God! God creates us for community. At the very beginning of creation, God declared that it was “not good” for us to be alone. God gives us the gift of walking together, of encouraging one another, even of glimpsing the formation of Christ in one another.

This is the story of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s gospel. Mary, having received the angel’s word that she will bear Christ, immediately races to see her cousin, Elizabeth. And Elizabeth immediately recognizes the work of the Spirit in Mary’s life and celebrates it. Elizabeth offers the encouragement we all need when we are waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled: “Yes, the Spirit is doing something new in you! I hear it. I glimpse it. Christ is being formed in you. And even if the promise seems impossible, I am with you to affirm it, because God is doing impossible things for me, too.”

This is the gift of group spiritual formation. This is the gift of opening ourselves to one another in community. Henri Nouwen, whose work has had an enormous impact on me over the years, writes, “How can I ever let God’s grace fully work in my life unless I live in a community of people who can affirm it, deepen it, and strengthen it? We cannot live this new life alone. God does not want to isolate us by his grace. On the contrary, he wants us to form new friendships and a new community–holy places where his grace can grow to fullness and bear fruit.”

And here’s a prayer from Nouwen, which expresses my hope for each of us as we open ourselves to God’s transforming work:

O God, when we feel isolated and want to withdraw, help us by the grace of Jesus to reach out to others.

May you, like Mary, not only have the courage to say yes to God’s work, but also the desire to seek and find the gift of companionship as Christ is formed in you.

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