There is something very special about finding a community that fits. A group of people that supports and cares for its members. Some are small, some are large. Some emerge from our beliefs, our faith, our interests, our jobs, our struggles, our desire to learn, our hobbies, our activism, our politics, our neighbourhoods, our families. There are lots of options. Sometimes these communities have common goals and similar perspectives. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they develop for unknown reasons, or merely because we live in close proximity. We can become very close with people completely different from us, those we seem to have nothing in common with. It is a bit mysterious.
I suppose faith groups have always been seen as a kind of community. The regular meeting of people with shared beliefs, the inevitable socializing that happens, the sharing of life’s biggest moments – births, weddings, funerals. It is not surprising. There are many hymns that reflect this, as well as the idea of humanity being God’s community on earth, and all the expectation that implies. This is one of those.
This is a very old tune and very old words. The music, originally a folk tune from around 1700, dates back to 1735 as a hymn, and the words to 1723. Initially written in German by Nicolaus Zinzendorf, they were translated to English by Walter Klaassen in 1983. Zinzendorf was of noble birth, a Count, who relinquished this life in exchange for missionary work, travelling extensively, even as far as the UK and the United States. He wrote around two thousand hymns, the first at the age of twelve (although, it has been noted in a few places that not all of them were very good and perhaps, he should have written less!). He believed strongly that Christians were meant to live in love and harmony, and encouraged the concept of Gemeinde, or congregation as a community. These words speak to this.
Heart with loving heart united,
met to know God’s holy will.
Let his love in us ignited
more and more our spirits fill.
He the Head, we are his members;
we reflect the light he is.
He the master, we disciples,
he is ours and we are his.
May we all so love each other
and all selfish claims deny,
so that each one for the other
will not hesitate to die.
Even so our Lord has loved us,
for our lives he gave his life.
Still he grieves and still he suffers,
for our selfishness and strife.
Since, O Lord, you have demanded
that our lives your love should show,
so we wait to be commanded
forth into your world to go.
Kindle in us love’s compassion
so that ev’ryone may see
in our fellowship the promise
of a new humanity.
Loving hearts united. Denying selfish claims. A willingness to die for one another. Compassion. Fellowship. A pretty tall order for community members. But if we are honest, pretty close to what most of us wish for in our closest circles. That commitment to a care so deep, that all else falls away in times of joy and sorrow, in both our finest and our bleakest hours. A lovely thought that is not always easy to find, receive or provide.
Should we be so fortunate to find that special place, it must be said that is not always easy to be part of a community. There are times when our communities break. When trust is betrayed, safety eroded and fellowship unsteady. We are, after all, human. We fail. We hurt each other. We are hurt. When connections are deep, these times can be unbearable. The loss of support, the loss of contact, the feeling of being in a strange place that was once so familiar.
Yet, without our various communities, most of us would feel quite lost and alone. The value of connecting with others, despite our tendency to err, is immeasurable. It is the thing that ignites the filling of our spirits. Good communities, no matter how flawed, require us to express care. They require us to engage in conversations that matter to all involved – sometimes on subjects of great importance, other times not. But there is something about participating in these interactions that provides an opportunity to see the world through others’ eyes. To look beyond our own view to one that expands endlessly.
We all know people struggling within and without our various communities. People who can’t find their place. People who have been wounded and need time to recover. They need the care we can provide – as individuals, but also as the group. Inasmuch as there are many options for drawing us together, there are many options for what we can give when we’ve found our place. There is safety in the fellowship that can be used to provide what is needed elsewhere, and can expand the boundaries of the space. And for those that simply cannot find their community, keep looking. For the benefits of these connections are vast. The risks are far outweighed by the rewards.
What is a new humanity? Who knows. Perhaps it involves what we choose to look at and what we really see. I don’t know. But I am sure that when we connect, we walk towards something that is better than when we don’t see each other. And maybe, that’s what community really is. And maybe, when we look at the state of our world, it’s what we really need. To look, and to see. Allowing our hearts to unite. In love, compassion and fellowship.
Heart with loving heart united.