Here is how it works when we choose community. There will be people in any community who inspire us. And there will be people in any community who rub us the wrong way. Those irritating people are the ones who are the biggest blessings for us. There is a story about a rabbi who was the leader of a spiritual community. There was one member who always gave the rabbi a hard time. The other members of the community hated it.
After many years, this person died. And many people were secretly relieved that they wouldn’t have to put up with him any more. But the rabbi wept at the funeral. When they asked, he said, “That man was the only friend I had. Here I am surrounded by people who revere me. He was the only one who challenged me. I fear that with him gone, I shall stop growing.”
To choose community does not mean to accept abuse, or to let people walk all over us. It does not mean always agreeing with someone, or refraining from speaking our own truths. Community includes challenging each other, arguing with each other, and sometimes saying no. But we don’t write each other off, we don’t speak disparagingly of one another, we don’t give up on each other. We treat each other as if we were treasures to each other. Because that is what we are.
To choose community means to be glad that each other person is here, to assume that they belong here, and to revere them as a part of our family. To choose community means to hold ever ready an attitude of curiosity and respect. To choose community means to look for the insights that the other might offer to expand our own limited viewpoint. To choose community means to assume that even when someone is acting badly, they are doing the best they can do at the moment. When we can practice getting past the irritations that arise in us, we have a chance to discover the magic.
Choosing community is a form of spiritual practice because it opens us to that which is divine within our neighbor. What has been hidden is revealed by the light of love. We come to realize that we are not alone. We are surrounded by family. The divine light is shining in the threads between us, and deep within each person. Dostoyevsky said: “If you love everything you will perceive the Divine Mystery in all things.”
Quotes from Anthony De Mello, in The Heart of the Enlightened: A Book of Story Meditations, (New York: Image/Doubleday, 1991, 1989) p. 79. and Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, translated by Constance Garnett, (New York: MacMillan, 1922), p. 339.