The pandemic put us all in boxes.
It should not have been a surprise- we were already getting used to them. We had been living ever more individualised, isolated lives for decades. We no longer formed or joined clubs, or went to churches. We even drank alone. The community we make increasingly was on-line, which was better than nothing, but none of us can pretend that it is the real thing.
So much for stating the obvious.
I am an introvert and socialise in the way that many exercise – reluctantly – but I mostly end up enjoying it anyway and know that it is good for me, even though I find it exhausting, particularly if I have to indulge in too much small talk.
Nevertheless, like most people raised as an outsider, I have always idealised community. I thought of it as a secret superpower that could rescue and restore. I spent years of my life trying to make inclusive communities with others like me, discovering (unsurprisingly) that community is hard. It strips you bare. It exposes you to all sorts of discomfort and conflict. It is also often dissapointing, particuarly if you are an idealogue like I am, because the reality of these radical communities that I have longed for is that they are often mundane – boring even – riven by small injustices and petty irritations.
The question is then, do I regret all of my attempts at community making?
Not for one moment. There is no better reason for living. There is no better feeling than friendship, no better experience than one that is shared, no better place to be than a crowded fireside.
What has this to do with advent I hear you ask.
The heart of the meaning of the word is wrapped up in the very nature of our humanity. We are above all things, social. Even people like me. We are made to be with others, not alone. The meaning we find is one that we share, not one that we make alone. The things we value are things to share with those we love (and we are encouraged to love widely).
The God who was distant comes to us, in friendship, to join our fireside conversations. Not so we will be better individuals, but so we might be better friends.
If you think I overstate this, think again.
Forget friendship as a soft power, and think instead of it as a radical force that might change the world.
Sit with me and speak of the drowning
Not in sorrow, but in those stories
Through which we swim like otters
Let our words be a current
To carry us to places
Not yet spoken
Sit with me and speak of the dying
Not our own, but of last year’s light
Dimmed like an untrimmed gas mantle
But not-quite extinguished
Even sepia’d by distance, it
Still splits the dark skies
Sit with me and speak of god
Or whatever we may call her
Let us feed sacred cows
Until the new sun rising in the east
Calls us to take the knee, then
Let our breath be prayer
Sit with me and share that dream
You cherish whilst awake
Clenched like an incomplete pregnancy
For I would be your midwife
I would see the life in you (and me)
Sit with me make a new belonging
In a space that lies wide open
A place where hearts beat on sleeves
Where laughter ebbs and flows, and
Where we know love to be profane
As well as sacred
Speak to me and
I will listen