Prescription for Loneliness…..”Communitas”

“Loneliness is not a function of being alone, but rather, a function of how socially connected you are to those around you.” Grace Kim, Architect
Kim designs “co-housing”, where families live in close community and share a common area for evening meals and activities. Communitas is a fancy social science way of saying “spirit of community.” For Kim, the measure of communitas is: How frequently do people eat together? She said that she knows some people in co-housing who have eaten together every single night for the past 40 years. Others have an occasional potluck once or twice a month. From her observations, groups that eat together more frequently, exhibit higher levels of communitas. It turns out, when you eat together, you start planning more activities together. When you eat together, you share more things. You start to watch each other’s kids. You lend out your power tools. You borrow each other’s cars.”
When we were a young couple we lived in a neighborhood with other families. We shared time together. We cooked and ate together regularly, had birthday parties together, helped one another with projects, talked over the fences as we worked in our yards, kept one another’s children, dropped in to visit, went to events together, etc. Neighborhoods don’t seem to be what they were in the 70’s…..Privacy fences, private garages, private lives.
Some say such days are gone for good, that such “neighborhoods” don’t exist anymore. I think that some of us do strive to preserve this spirit of communitas through certain groups in which we participate. I am in a women’s Bible study group that meets weekly on Mondays from Sept-May. During the summer we have continued to meet twice monthly to eat together and share in one another’s lives. It’s more than a social outing. It is community. We pray for one another and have ready access to keep in touch through a couple of very communicative co-leaders. It is increasingly evident that these women are in “community” with one another. There are “small groups” and then there is “community”. I see this same “communitas” among many of the women in our two UMW groups at Lynn Haven Church. They “do life” together more than simply meet. I see it in the Hardly Able Crew guys. Are we putting sincere effort into “community- making” in small groups, welcoming in our “neighbors”? It is not JUST about eating, it’s about the spiritual and emotional intimacy of being able to share the important things of life with one another, including our faith, our fears, our griefs, our joys, and more. The capacity for “connection”, for bonding in intimate friendships, (separate and apart from intimacy that is defined by sexual relationships) is a task of adulthood that Erik Erikson called a necessary stage of development. Psychologists today talk about it in terms of “attachment.” It seems that many struggle with finding and maintaining healthy and satisfying attachments in our culture, where so many people are single, mobile, time-crunched, and cautious about who to trust. Families are smaller and often geographically or relationally distant. Some seem to define friendship based on what they themselves get out of it, not what they can offer to the relationship. Sadly, that seems to be how our culture defines “love” and “attachment” in any relationship.
When our trust and attachment is first and foremost in Jesus Christ and we, like Christ, are willing to define “neighbor” more broadly, helpfully, and hospitably, community is easier to establish and sustain. Jesus told us to “Love God” and to “love your neighbor.” When asked then by the Pharisees, “Who is my ‘neighbor’?, Jesus told a story. It was defined not by what the person got out of the relationship, but by what he was willing to do to serve another.