Friday, November 06, 2009

Quiet night in

Last night was quiet by comparison to many of our Thursday night 'Friendship Meals' (every Thursday we have a community open night - new friends and old invited round for a meal and to share in the life of our community). I say quiet, but it was still by general standards a fair-sized dinner party - about a score of us, all told.

We gathered together in the lounge shortly after 7 o'clock. Laughter and chatter before we sang a hymn, and one of our elders shared a few thoughts and prayed. Then into the dining room (drawn by smells of roasting chicken in tomato-pepper sauce).

But one of us stayed behind. For her sake I won't mention who it was, but she hung back and I noticed her tired and drawn face. She'd been a bit ill, she felt tired and delicate - and like the lively dinner scene awaiting her in the dining room was more than she could face.

'I just don't feel like I can face going in there and trying to make conversation' she said. 'I just feel like I want to go to bed.'

Now, of course, she could have just gone to bed - it can be a sensible thing to do when you're ill, afterall. But this particular woman is a pretty central figure in our community family. She knew it was a quieter night with a few of our core community members away or not there for various reasons and she felt that sense of duty familiar to those of us who form the hub of community life, that sense of needing to 'be there'. But she'd got to that point where she felt 'peopled-out'.

It's an interesting part of the dynamic of living in Christian community. We do it because we love - and we love more than we could naturally, it's the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. We want to be together, to share our lives, to share possessions, time - 'all things in common' as the New Testament has it. But that doesn't mean there aren't times when you run out and people - any people, even those you love and live for - are the last thing on God's green earth you want to face.

That's why it's important to work solitude and personal devotion into community life. Without solitude, no-one can live in community, or at least not healthily.

So what do you do when you've had enough of people - but it's Thursday night, you've a dining room full of people to host, and dinners on the table?

What this dear, given, loving sister did was come and eat with everyone. She was somewhat quiet and subdued and, mercifully, people seemed to pick up on this and let her eat in peace (it isn't always so! Some can be as sensitive as an unscheduled roof collapse at times...) And later on she found some solitude and space - which she used to wrap a couple of gifts for loved ones.

It can be a challenge living in community. Let no-one think it's all rosy Christian fellowship and soft-focus photography. Sometimes living in community makes you feel life you're going utterly, firework-spinningly, stars-before-the-eyes crazy. Sometimes the thought of sitting down to eat with your 'brethren whom you love and long for' is about as attractive as root canal treatment.

But in it all, in the ups and the downs - we learn love. We really do.

God, teach us silence, so that our words will not be empty, but carry power. Teach us stillness, so our activity will not be frantic, but fruitful. Teach us solitude, so that we can live in community. Amen.

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