Community, Safety and God
Our meeting had a retreat recently. For the first hour we shared about what we would need to feel safe during the retreat. People shared about needing to feel heard and respected. They needed to have their responses taken seriously and not judged. People shared about needing to be able to speak passionately without it being taking as anger or judgment. People spoke of needed to be able to speak up if they felt hurt by something someone said. At one point I found myself getting a little impatient. When were we going to get past this and on to the real business of the retreat. Then I realized that this was the real business. The purpose of the retreat was to explore our vision for the meeting community. I realized that all of these needs that we were expressing for the session also described what kind of community we wanted our meeting to be. We want a place where we feel respected. We need to hear each others voices. We need to express our vulnerabilities. We need to be able to express our passions. We need to recognize that we are all imperfect and sometimes we will hurt each other. When that happens we need to be able to name the hurt, reconcile and heal, and go on.
I was struck by the paradox of what we were doing. We were trying to create a community where we would all feel safe. But the purpose of the community is to be a place where we can find God. But encountering God is an inherently dangerous activity. “It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” [Hebrews 10:31] Moses asked if any mortal could look on the face of God and live. It is because of the inherent danger of what we are about that the safety of the community is so important. You would not go rock climbing without a companion and a rope. The community provides the safe place to do a dangerous thing. It provides the support and encouragement that allows us to go on.
The other irony is that the encounter with God is not dangerous to our souls. It is only dangerous to our egos, our personas, the false self we project to the world. It is dangerous to our illusions about ourselves because the encounter with God shows us as we really are. God is dangerous to the defenses we have built over the years to protect ourselves from the hurts we have encountered. But God strips all of that away from us. God will be as the refiners fire and burn away from us all that is not of God. Ultimately this is healing. In fact it is a source of great joy. It allows us to grow into who God would have us be. But it is awesome in prospect and sometimes painful in the process. And so we need safe and supportive companions as we embark on such a perilous journey. This is why community is so vital to Quakerism.