I have been thinking a lot about community recently. How communities form, how the members of the community support each other and what it means to be a part of a faith community.
After the Sandyhook shootings, Samuel Freedman in a New York Times op-ed, lamented about how so many different religious traditions were clearly visible and the "humanists" were invisible and actually absent from the public display of a community in mourning. Humanist chaplain at Harvard, Greg Epstein's comment is what started me on this line of thinking. He wrote:
It is a failure of community, and that's where the answer for the future has to lie. What religion has to offer to people at moments like this -- more than theology, more than divine presence -- is community. And we need to provide an alternative form of community if we're going to matter for the increasing number of people who say they are not believers.
First, I think it is so interesting that Harvard has a "humanist chaplain." Chaplain, by definition is a "religious" designation, so to have a humanist chaplain seems like an oxymoron to me, since humanism is a philosophy and not a religion. But putting that aside, Epstein is correct. One of the major things that bind those of us who attend houses of worship on a regular basis is exactly that: community.
We are a community of like-minded people, or at least like-minded believers, who come together to support each other in our commonality. There is no place else that you can experience that kind of community. Many people worship at the same House of Worship their entire lives and there is nothing like that kind of binding anywhere. Where else can one find a group of people who worship together, often share a meal together and pray together. I actually think that prayer is the lynchpin here. When people pray in community, it is a powerful action. One can almost feel the Spirit -- that sense of "Awe" and intangible mystery -- moving throughout the space. When I have visited mosques, that feeling of "Awe" is there. It is there in temples, when the ark is opened and the Torah taken out. It is there in the church when communion is served or a baby is baptized.
In houses of worship we share so many important milestones of our lives; we are a community, unlike any other. And when we suffer common losses, we find strength and support and love within our community, which upholds us and joins us together in worship and prayer, knowing that we are praying and worshiping within the same belief-system. This amazing, intangible, but palpable, "mystery" of the Holy is what gives us common ground on which to stand.
Epstein is right. Unless the Humanists and others who choose not to belong to a faith community, start forming those communities, intentionally, there will not be that sense of togetherness that comes only when a group of people join together and worship the One that they believe has a Divine connection to them. It is a connection that sees us through the events in our lives that shake us to our very core.