by Liz Ivkovich
There is no life in Jesus without the pain and joy of sharing in His sufferings. There is also no full life in relationship with Jesus that does not include the pain and joy of life in community. To live as a Christian means to define oneself as a ‘person-in-relationship.’
We exist in relationship with God- who names us His Beloved, we exist in relationship with the Earth that He made, and we exist in relationship with the Jesus in those around us. Next to the Blessed Sacrament, our neighbor is the holiest thing we encounter every day, submits CS Lewis in “The Weight of Glory.” Intentional community is the call of every human, as every human needs to be known and loved.
Intentional community is an exercise in the favorite word of our generation; “submission.” Submission to community is a reflection of the love that God, the Creator of the Universe, shows to us. The all-powerful God released His power over us by giving us our free will. He moves towards us in love, sending an emissary- His own Son, but gives us the option to reject His outstretched arms.
In the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross and God in His offering of love, we find a model to emulate in our communities. Intentional community is a choice to open your arms, heart, and life in love and allow the broken to reject you. Though we carry Christ, and in His image are holy and wholly unique, we do not always reflect His beauty.
In our brokenness we choose to hurt each other, we choose bitterness, and we choose a lifestyle that puts a way of having over a way of being. When we choose intentional community, we say to the real people within the community “I am broken. I will let you see my brokenness, and allow the possibility that you may not love me knowing all of this pain.”
The Trinity provides us another Biblical model of community. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, each submitting to the others and giving themselves totally over to love.
Yet this Trinity, which contains all it needs, does not stop at this relationship. The Trinity pours out love upon us, while we were yet sinners, showing us how to open our arms with this as our example. A community with the Trinity at its center pours out its love with open arms in hospitality and service.
When Christians join together intentionally, to not only receive the Eucharist, but to live poured out as it is for us, they must respond to the needs of Jesus in the world. A community that does not welcome others is a community that is starving itself in selfishness.
It is a community that says to the poor and suffering “go, eat and be well, we will pray for you.” The faith of this community is spiritually dead. It is not a true intentional community unless it embraces the physically and spiritually poor.
I am part of an intentional community that is called to serve Jesus among the poor; we seek to find and to be the “Word Made Flesh.” We find ourselves around the world on the streets, in homes for the destitute and dying, hanging out in brothels, and everywhere that Jesus is found daily crucified on the cross.
Perhaps it is helpful to note Jon Sobrino‘s answer to the question “Where is God?” in the midst of the great suffering of the world. Sobrino writes, “He is being crucified with the suffering.” He calls the poor ‘primordial saints’ because they participate in the sufferings of Christ on the cross, they suffer the consequences of the sins of others.
We are a community of Bolivians, Brazilians, North Americans, Nepali, Romanians, Sierra Leoneans, among more, gathered together to celebrate the joy and beauty of Jesus among the oppressed. We seek to live a life of submission, not just to people of a similar culture and socio-economic status, but of true submission to the poor and uneducated.
The Eucharist is the great Equalizer. When we come forward, as One Body to share the Body and Blood of Christ, we are all equal. There is no slave, no free, no man, no woman, no cultural barrier; we stand in the same position before Jesus to receive the gift of the Last Supper.
The living out of Eucharistic equality and submission to people who the world considers ‘below’ us is surprisingly difficult. To say to a woman who begs on the street “Please teach me” means admitting that I do not have all the answers. It takes humility to ask forgiveness, humility to accept the gift of a meal from someone who will go hungry to feed us, humility to try and communicate in a language that is not my own.
I’m just beginning to enter into the Word Made Flesh community, and I still have stars in my eyes. When the glisten of living “in community” wears off, I will be left with a group of broken people serving among more brokenness, in a life that is painful and inconvenient. What then will I do? It is at this point that true community occurs… when in my heart I move from a position of “I didn’t choose this community” to “I was chosen for this community.”
Once we allow the Holy Spirit to make this transformation in our hearts, we see the fruit of intentional community- joy! Intentional community gives us the gift of a life that is known, love that is unconditional, and Eucharistic submission to each other and the poor.
In these things there is deep pain, and true joy. Henri Nouwen explains in his book Here and Now, “…each time we return to where there is pain we get a new glimpse of the joy that is not of this world.” The pain of submission in community leads to the joy and gift of holiness.
My community is a place of brokenness and beauty, as we live a life together that brings us closer to the heart of Jesus in the form of the poor and suffering.