Very soon, on March 23, 2014, I will be celebrating my second anniversary at Z Acres. As I stand on the brink of my third year on this beautiful retreat from the so-called civilized world, I feel how deeply my roots have grown here in this relatively short time. I came here on a leap of faith, and so many times over my first two years here, I have had to trust in nothing more, nothing less than faith to get me through. In fact, I've come to believe that this is the very premise on which I live here and why I was brought here, because I also believe nothing happens by chance. There is purpose in the chaos. I am here for a reason, perhaps several reasons, and my living here is a discovery of what those reasons might be.
The day before I moved in, I stood outside on the back deck, in the sun-dappled shade of a spring sun, and I prayed: "Catch me." My life was changing in a big way with this move, and I was about to take some tremendous risks alongside getting a new address. Among them was my leaving corporate America to begin my own business even as I established myself in my new home. I was breaking away from a predictable paycheck to follow yet another dream of building a full-time freelance writing and editing service. I was going for it all. Cake and icing and eating it, too.
We have a good thing going here at Z Acres, me and Him. We're connected. But something was still missing. I'd been busy building my life, setting down roots, building my business, becoming self-sustaining. On the brink of my third year, I thought it might be time to reach out rather than in.
Out there is a community I have barely touched upon. Community ... I had been giving the idea of community a lot more thought lately. What does it mean? That saying, "it takes a village," has a lot of truth behind it. When I was young, oh I was so all-powerful. I knew it all, I could do it all, I needed nobody. My politics and my personal convictions were those of independence, and if I failed, it was all my fault and it was also all on me to pick myself up again.
Life taught me so many harsh lessons ...
One of the bravest moments of my life was when I learned to accept that now and then, here and there, I needed community. One of the hardest things to do was to learn how to ask for help when I truly needed it. Asking for a hand took a lot more courage, I found, than standing alone.
Get that hand, pull up again, and I was off and running. Being dependent for a moment in time restored me to independence. My big lesson was that circumstances sometimes take control, no matter how hard we work, no matter how right we are ... and that sometimes, sometimes we all need a hand up.
That's community. Community consists of our families, our friends, our neighbors, the village or town or city where we live, the country where we fly our flag, and, finally, the Earth where we all live together, and the mysterious and infinite Universe that surrounds us. Rings upon rings of community built one upon the other.
My own Home at long last established, I was ready to give something back. I had reached that point of interdependence, a mix of standing alone, accepting help when I needed it, and now able to reach out and take my turn at helping others. We all need to take our turn. That's how it works.
Actually, for those who still chafe at the idea of community and interdependence ... there are a great many scientific studies that show altruism is a great cure for shaky self-esteem and depression and general feelings of helplessness. Nothing lifts the spirits like helping others. It's neat, really. Reach out to give a hand and you end up helping yourself. If it suits you better, consider it a healthy kind of selfish.
I live between the much larger cities of Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids in Michigan, and so I have gotten used to going north or south to meet various needs. I've been disappointed in what I have found in churches, however, for a great many reasons. Maybe look closer to Home? Go west? I'm just a few miles from the small, rural town of Allegan, and when I did a quick search, I found many churches there, many denominations, but one in particular caught my attention. A woman pastor, nice, someone I could relate to ... too many times in my church-hopping, I found myself feeling turned away by the male dominance I found there, getting subtle messages about being less than my male counterparts in His eye. Rib and all that. Somehow, I didn't think so.
Other aspects of this church attracted me. A diverse congregation with a lot of community outreach. Finally, I had a Sunday morning to spare, with sunshine thawing the roads, and I went to visit. A greeter smiled at me as I walked up to the door and beckoned me in. A kind elderly woman took my coat when I walked in, and an elderly man hung it up for me. Pastor Karen seemed to notice me as a new face as soon as I walked into the sanctuary, and when I sat down toward the back, she made a beeline for me with outstretched hand. She introduced herself, asked my name, and by golly, actually remembered it later on. We chatted for a moment before the service began, and I told her I had read some of her sermons online and enjoyed them. She had spoken about taking care of the environment as God's gift, and she had spoken about a woman's role in the church. I had a sense she would get me ... and help me answer a few questions that had long nagged at me.
In this Sunday's sermon, as if she had heard my innermost thoughts, she spoke of community. Christ in the desert faced many temptations, and one of those was to isolate Himself. It was tempting to become self sustaining, drawn in, and not take risks on the mess of relationships with other members of the community. Community and being an active member of ours was something He expects us to do.
The church had a long, rich history, reaching back into the 1800s. I looked around to see a small congregation. Later, I would meet several members in their late 90s, while others were still in their teens. At one point, I noticed a space cut into the pews, and I realized it was for a wheelchair. Not at the back of the church. Right smack in the middle of it. I noticed a few visible disabilities among members, while the rest of us were better at hiding ours.
I didn't mean to stay. I just went downstairs to the restroom before driving back home after the service. But as I came out, someone smiled at me, someone else offered me a cookie and apple cider, and Pastor Karen popped in again. We ended up sitting at a table talking long after everyone else had left.
I told her some of the reasons I had come to church this Sunday. I shared a few things I rarely share. I asked about opportunities to get involved. I asked about the various programs, the book club, the community lunch, and when I came up with a program the church didn't currently have, the pastor suggested I start it up. They would help me.
Then she gave me a hug. I drove home smiling. It was good to get involved. To be a member of ... and to now and then say a prayer in the company of other human beings rather than trees and chickens. Not that that is a bad way to talk to Him. All His creatures. I was just ready now to get involved with some of the more difficult, two-legged ones.