Opposites attract. A provocative opener from a pastor, perhaps, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how very much we need each other, even those who seem to be our polar opposites on various spectra, in order to constitute a full, healthy vibrant community and work toward a better world — what I would call God’s preferred future for all. In Eastern philosophy, it’s Yin and Yang. Psychologist Carl Jung talked about the importance of the integration of our “shadow” side in the development the life of our psyche (Greek for “soul.”) For now, let’s just say opposites attract.
The opposites I have in mind at the moment are the individual and the communal in religious and spiritual life. We’ve come to an individual relativism in the West over last century, particularly in what we view as the intensely private and personal realm of spirituality and religion, that says, “I’m on my own journey. My beliefs, my interpretation, my understanding — that’s what matters.” I heard a quote recently which really resonated on the topic of the interpretation of Scripture: “It’s not that I don’t accept the infallibility of scripture. I just don’t accept the infallibility of your interpretation of scripture.”
In my own church, the Anglican (Episcopal) Communion, reason has long been set alongside scripture and tradition as a “three-legged stool” of authority —don’t check your brain at the door! We are meant to reason; we are meant to use all of our God-given faculties and draw on our own very personal experiences to come to conclusions and practices that work for us.
On the other hand (here comes the opposite!) communal life is vital. Human beings are social creatures — to a large extent that has been ignored as Western culture has evolved over the last 50 years. We need one another in a supportive network of social relationships; we need a sense of belonging to a larger community (up to and including the global community); we need a connection to a larger purpose. Tradition, including faith traditions, has much to teach us. There are truths and life-ways that are passed on from one generation to another, and even as each generation incarnates them afresh in the changing world, so we do not “re-invent the wheel” of life every 50 years or so. Community, tradition, and some common understanding of truth matters.
I often wonder when I hear people say, “I’m spiritual but not religious” —“How’s that working out for you?” I am not entirely sure it is possible to live a deeply practiced spiritual life with no connection whatsoever to a particular faith tradition or a community of people who are living it out. The world religions have been the repositories of spiritual truth for millennia; the living community becomes a school of this faith as fellow-pilgrims help each other along their way. Rituals enacted for centuries are embodied anew; only in that intersection of my connection with the Divine in communion with other people are both axes —horizontal and vertical, the communal and individual — brought together. The shape of the cross embodies for me the Yin-and-Yang of this paradox: the individual and the communal are both essential to the spiritual life. Opposites attract.
If like most Americans you find the communal aspect of your spiritual life has been neglected, head on down to Grace Church on the corner of Oak and Spring, Sunday mornings at 8 and 10 a.m. We have small groups which are a wonderful source of companionship, support, and spiritual growth, as well as opportunities daily to practice meditation and contemplative prayer alongside other spiritual pilgrims. The church is open most days for individual prayer, and the labyrinth is always available. If not Grace Church, I encourage you to seek out another faith community that aligns with your beliefs and orientation. Community matters, now more than ever.