I recently read Becoming Human by John Vanier, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite thinkers on living in community and human relationships.  Vanier founded L’Arche, a group of intentional communities that seeks to live alongside those with significant disabilities.  In this book, he suggests that being human is not a flawed state to escape, but it is the state we were created to live in, and the process of evolving into this state is something to be celebrated.  Below is my attempt at condensing and reflecting the first half of his book on loneliness and belonging.  These seeming simple concepts are overwhelming and challenging.

Loneliness and belonging are central to being human.  Loneliness is a natural and necessary rhythm of the human heart.  Loneliness is the source of incredible energy to create and speak truth, but for most of us, it is a chaotic force which shackles us through fear and exclusion.  We experience loneliness, fear, and anguish, because we are trying to fuel the idol of self, rather than seeing our “self” as a gift of grace.  The root of this idolization of self comes from our lack of communal relationships that demonstrate unconditional love and acceptance.  When we accept our “self” as an act of grace, we will see the unique and intrinsic worth in our “self” as well as others “selfs”, and we will experience a sense of belonging.

The process of belonging, of developing in-group norms and labels, can promote freedom and growth of the individual, but it often leads to prejudice and superiority over others, which ultimately leads to exclusion.  Too often, we feel the need to preserve our own self-image and we are afraid of weakening our own identify and beliefs.  Insecurity will either paralyze us or lead us into unhealthy relationships that destroy or hide our identify. As fallen creatures, we seek to overcome insecurity through power and conflict, which are forces of exclusion.  The key to healthy belonging is to understand and accept weakness.  When weakness is exposed in the context of trusting relationships, and we are loved and accepted with our weakness, rather than in spite of them, we can  more fully know ourselves and  be open to the world around us.

Healthy groups made up of healthy individuals promote belonging by living in a spirit of openness, trust, and risk.  Healthy insecurity embraces an unknown future with an attitude of honest questioning, rather than through fear and avoidance.  As we open up our “self” to others and become vulnerable rather than seeking power and privilege, we will be able to give and receive life from one another.  When this happens, we will begin to trust our own beauty and our capacity to do beautiful things.

Fear closes us down; love opens us up.

To be continued…