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By Nan Smith
Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
—Colossians 3: 14-15, NRSV
So, I am excited about this upcoming weekend because I will be going on retreat with a dear group of women friends. This group started as a church book study, but quickly morphed into something much deeper and meaningful. Granted, members of this group have floated in and out as their life circumstances have changed, but one knows that there is always room at the table; there’s always an empty chair available to be drawn into the circle.
Together, we have journeyed through the varied terrain that life brings. We have celebrated in grand style and have showered blessings upon life’s many transitions.
We are strong women, independent women, diverse women, and most certainly opinionated women bound together through the dreams we carry, the anguish that has shaped us, and the rich conversation experienced around the circle. My life has been richer because of these women and the hard things have been easier to bear because of them. These wonderful women are my definition of community – community that spans the distances and differences, that accepts and challenges, and that binds and loves each of us along the journey.
I have always loved the music of folk singer, Carrie Newcomer. So often, the lyrics to her songs speak into the spaces of ache I feel at times. I particularly love her song entitled Three Women because it reminds me of this group of women and gives voice to what binds us. She sings these words in her song Three Women:
Here’s to the women who bind the wounds tight.
Here’s to the ones who sit talking half of the night.
Here’s to the love and the life that they mend.
And here’s to the strength in women holding hands.
I have sometimes wondered if this was the type of community that Jesus built with his beloved disciples. Yes, he was their teacher and Lord, but he was also the one who walked alongside them on the road, listening to their worries and fears. He was the one who laughed with them as they shared meals together. He was the one who prayed for them and held their pain in his heart. Theirs’s was a community where you knew that you were loved, held, and accepted even in the hard stuff (especially in the hard stuff).
I think we all long for that type of community in our lives. I would go so far as to say that our churches would be full, if we offered community like that.
I believe that community is the backbone of strong emotional health, both for the individual and for the church. Collectively, it can ground a person or a faith community and help enable them to endure. Unfortunately, maintaining a strong sense of community through the pandemic has been incredibly challenging. Again and again, sitting with people of all ages from the church, I have heard this deep longing or thirst for these deeper relationships. It makes sense, since so much of what we do in church is about relationships. I am not surprised that with all the isolation caused by the pandemic that there is this deep yearning for the company of others.
During our charge conference, I talked with individuals from other churches and this felt loss of community was lifted up. Church members lamented how the community of the church had shifted into something more reserved and careful – a hands-off approach, where people bumped elbows and maintained a proper distance. Some commented how community had changed completely because so many were worshiping from the safety of a computer screen.
Honestly, it causes an ache in my spirit – this loss of the collective we gathered together. This is part of why I am so excited to spend time with these women again. Having tangible community restores and renews my spirit. For now, I carry this image of that time when our faith communities will feel wholeness again. In my mind’s eye, I see each member holding the hands of their neighbors, connected and bound together in love as the body of Christ.
Carrie Newcomer, Three Women, from the Angel on my Shoulder album.