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Standing Alone Together
   

by Arthur Paul Patterson

THERE IS A mind-boggling connection between creation and chaos. This unexpected synergy applies not only to creation’s emergence from the primordial chaos but is mysteriously operational when people’s spiritual foundations have crumbled. It is revealing that the Genesis creation accounts were woven together, as the poetry of the dispossessed, during a time of the exile and crisis of faith. Disorientation in communities and in individuals has a peculiar way of resulting in an inspired movement toward creativity and re-orientation.

When we at Watershed were flailing around, wrestling God, shadowboxing in the post ‘91 period, many of us felt on the verge of spiritual and emotional destruction. We reached out and to our surprise we discovered something that promised to bind us together and provide a foundation. We were like those of whom the Psalmist sings,

ark imageSome went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits' end.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

- Psalm 107:23-30

Covenant in community came forward as an anchor-like promise, a possibility for genuine security in fellowship. We realized that in order to survive spiritually, we needed to depend on our union around a common faith. This was hardly a new idea for us. We had often spoken of our need to stand-alone together but never before were we required to place our faith in this notion like we did in the dark winter of ‘91. Before this watershed, we had a translative idea about the nature of covenant in community but we did not have the transformative power to put our faith into practice. We hadn’t grasped the nature of the spiritual adhesive that would bind us together in community. Our experience of fellowship at Cornerstone and our first chaotic years as Watershed lacked a secure spiritual grounding.

pull-out quoteWe mistook covenant for an act of the will where we would make promises and keep them through single-minded resolve. We were inevitably disappointed when we, and others in our group, didn’t or couldn’t live up to these promises. This discouragement led to the sad assumption that we were not a community, at least not in our current state of immaturity. We were a group of individual seekers attempting to find something to nourish us. It was a time of questioning; the Indigo Girls’ song taunted us with the words, “How long till our souls get it right?” Covenant in community promised security but on what basis could we forge a union that would enable us to become an authentic spiritual community?

Jürgen Moltmann’s essay, "In the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit," helps us appreciate the dynamics of the spiritual adhesive that can hold us together in fellowship. This essay suggests a foundation for true individuality and strong community. The basis of this life is not found in our determined promises but in the Spirit of Life. The Spirit of Life is above all a provider of fellowship between people and God and between people and each other. She is a mediatrix, a go-between-Spirit, committed to establishing free and faithful relationships in faith. Moltmann summarizes:

Through the Spirit, we're drawn into the eternal symbiosis or "fellowship life" of the Father, the Son and the Spirit and our limited human lives participate in the eternal circular movement of the divine life. So in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit with us all, we experience the nearness of the divine life, and also experience our own mortal life as life that is eternal (1997, 90-91).

Charles Williams used the term co-inherence to describe a mutual interpenetration of personalities. In many of his novels and books he emphasized how the ability to truly enter into another person’s life is based on the principle of spiritual exchange found at the heart of Christ’s atonement. With this notion we can learn to, without fusion, identify and literally take on the pain and joy of each other. Fellowship is a spiritual union of total identification with another. The Spirit takes the pattern of Christ’s life, the way he lived and died, and applies it to our unique human situation. The life of Christ permeates our lives as we enter this spiritual atmosphere and we find the same Christic energies exchanged between us as individuals.

Williams’ ideas have always convinced me ever since I first encountered them in his work on the way of images in Dante where he declared that God is found in our experience of human relationships. I have learned more about Christ and his love and forgiveness of me by relating to Bev, Sean and Erik, and in our Watershed community, than in any academic or church setting. This is the work of the Spirit in my life, making what is Christ’s mine and vice-versa. I have learned about love, forgiveness, patience, long-suffering, kindness, truth telling, and reconciliation - from relationships that have mediated God to me directly. This is co-inherence, the union with one another we share because of the Spirit of Life.

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