In her book Illuminated Life, Joan Chittister shares a story from the tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers that describes Abba John visiting Abba Paesius. Abba John was the abbot of a large monastery, while Abba Paesius had been living far off in the desert for over forty years. They were close and could speak openly with one another, so when Abba John approached he asked his friend, “What good have you done by living here in retreat for so long, and not being easily disturbed by anyone?” Paesius replied, “Since I have lived in solitude, the sun has never seen me eating.” Abba John paused, and then said back to him, “As for me, since I have been living with others, it has never seen me angry.”
While there are sacrificial growth opportunities inherent in retreating from the company of others, it is more often in interacting with people that our edges are smoothed, and we evolve. The word “community” gets thrown around a lot in many circumstances, but it is true that relationships have the ability to nurture what’s best in us and shine a light on the places where our souls need to expand. So while Abba John’s claim that the sun never sees him angry is a bit suspect, his point is well taken: relationships knead the heart. It is in our commitments to one another that glimpses of God’s kingdom are revealed.
The most recent CHA exercise in community was our Annual Meeting last Sunday. Between reports and numbers and questions and answers, as appreciation was expressed and important challenges articulated, our commitment to one another in Christ was evident and clear. Many thanks to all who prepared reports, ran for election to the Vestry, contributed food, set up, cleaned up, cheered people on and asked vital questions. As the old hymn says, we are the Church together. May we know Christ in this particular church through our love for one another.