African-American mystic and theologian Howard Thurman speaks often and eloquently of the primacy of community. The loneliness of the seeker for a community is sometimes unendurable, he warns us.
Thurman explains Adam’s fall as being his loss of a sense of community with the rest of creation. The fall is a fall away from the community of all Creation with one another. A fall out of community.
Thurman believes that both the Genesis Creation story and the Creation story of the Hopi people tell the story of the climate of community in which our species began and to which we yearn to return.
We are always seeking a return to our beginnings, a healing and redemptive community. But the community which we yearn for is a full community, one that includes all God’s creation, not just a segregated one of human dwellers alone. When this community is torn asunder, awful things happen within the human psyche.
Thurman actually defines sin as our being outside community.
In community, the citizen receives an integrated basis for his behavior so that there is always at hand a socially accepted judgment that can determine for him when he is lost, when he has missed the way—that is, when he is out of community. Humanity, he says, would never accept the absence of community as his destiny.
When community is missing, we are lost. Community by definition includes all our kin and thereby embraces our relationships with all Creation. We seek to belong, we long to be with others and be part of their work, their drama. Thurman saw this when he warned that
…the community cannot feed for long on itself; it can only flourish where always the boundaries are giving way to the coming of others from beyond them—unknowns and undiscovered brothers…. What we have sought we have found, our own sense of identity.
Belonging matters and reaching out to others inviting them to belong matters. One wonders what he would think of the anti-immigration hysteria of some politicians in our day.
We have committed to heart and to nervous system a feeling of belonging and our spirits are no longer isolated and afraid…. [We need to resist the] “will to quarantine” and to separate ourselves behind self-imposed walls. I this “will to quarantine” alive and well today?
In its place, Thurman talks about finding why we were born and it has everything to do with community. For this is why we were born: Men, all men, belong to each other, and he who shuts himself away diminishes himself, and he who shuts another away from him destroys himself.
Thurman believed that the Native American’s sense of belonging to the land is primal—and that this relationship cannot be broken with impunity.
As the native peoples’ land was desecrated, the self was also, and a unique form of torture, a long, slow, anguished dying took place. An ultimate abuse was enacted against the original peoples of this land.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, p. 85.
Banner Image: “Balcony Concerts to show solidarity, generosity, creativity between people even with social distancing.” Image by Catherine Cordasco for United Nations Global Call Out To Creatives – help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Do you agree that all people “belong to each other” and to shut ourselves away diminishes and ultimately destroys oneself? What other lessons touch you in this meditation with Thurman on community?
One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit