"But We Love One Another':
Excerpted from "Communities of Hope", an address given at the spring Corrymeela members' weekend on 27 April 1996.
At the end of the 1970s, I was living in a small ecumenical Christian community in an inner-city housing scheme in Edinburgh. We had moved to live together for a number of reasons: to find the support and nurture of a Christian community for the task of living and working in a variety of community based projects and churches; as a sign of solidarity with the hard pressed people of the area, involved with tenants' groups, housing and school campaigns and the like; and to be a place where the practice of prayer and witness, Catholic and Protestant together, would go hand in hand.
You can see that our objectives were modest! We were mostly young, we were very committed, and we were full of enthusiasm. We wanted to change the world - or at least that part of it we were living in.
Two years later, we were sitting in one of our regular, interminable and rather fractious meetings with our great ideals crumbling around us. There were power struggles going on all over the place. We were tired, disillusioned and disgusted with ourselves. For the past two hours we had been bloodletting, and all of us were forced to face some things about ourselves we would rather not have faced.
Someone began to say what had previously been unthinkable to us - that we had failed, that our community was fated, that perhaps we should think about moving out, moving on.
Suddenly one of our number who had been silent for a little while, broke in, earnestly and calmly, but quite firmly. "But we love each other," he said. Everyone sat very still. Each of us was recognising the truth of what he had just said.
We discovered how much we had to learn from the people around us and how little we had to teach them about endurance, resistance and hope. We had wanted to change the world and discovered how hard it was even to change ourselves.
The Moment of Naming
That flash of recognition, of being known and named, became a place, a place that we went back to again and again, to find ourselves when we got lost. It became our common story. We were people who loved each other and who, because we loved each other, could be forgiven and accepted. And each time we went back to that place and knew again who we were, we discovered a new extended identity, a new hope.
Intimacy versus Exclusion: Our Common Life
The strength of the gestalt, of the circle, can be increased by any number of factors - by an intensity or extremity of environment in which people need to be able to rely upon one another, or by external threat, or by the need for secrecy, or by the sharing of secrets. All of these applied to Jesus and the disciples.
But intimacy alone does not make a community of hope, a resurrection of community. The intimacy of people thrown together by war or other life-threatening experience may be profound. Intimacy is always exclusive. The boundaries that make it possible, that include us in, always keep others out.
This is a perennial problem in communities. Sometimes these are structural issues or issues of poor communication. Sometimes there are deeper questions about the extent to which we know and are known as persons, a desire for the knowledge which is love and not just the knowledge that is information. If the real need is the need to be recognised, then no amount of information or new technology will suffice.
And sometimes we confuse intimacy with being a community of hope. We cannot deny the need and the giftedness of intimacy. It's part of being human. It affirms us, values us. And yet the calling of communities of hope is to accept that gift of affirmation and value and take it out into the world. Not to think we can do without boundaries but also to be ready to break open our common life and share it.
It's a constant forming and reforming. We often experience it as a kind of death. But it's the death that brings new life; it's the bread broken to be shared. And I've come to believe that there is also vocation in this process, that at different times, I'm in different places, sometimes inside, sometimes outside, because I'm called to be there for some purpose which will become evident though it may not be clear at the time.
I feel I am where I am on behalf of others who cannot be where I am, and they are the same for me. I find that whole process a hopeful one, being
Communities of hope live, in the end, not by their achievements nor their power nor their effectiveness. Each telling their own story and being heard through the exchange and the gift of their broken selves in their life together and by breaking open their life to bear witness to what they have seen and heard and recognised - that in the naming they are loved, in the breaking they are renewed and that last word, the word to which they bear witness, is not death but life.
Kathy Galloway is a long-time member of the Iona community in Scotland. She is a theologian, poet and editor of Iona's magazine, "The Coracle".
Corrymeela News, Summer 96.