This reflection is excerpted from the book, Unforgettable: How Remembering God’s Presence in Our Past Brings Hope to Our Future, chapter 14, used by permission of Paraclete Press.
Years ago, I thought that if I ever wrote a book about Christian community, I would call it “The Noble Experiment.” Noble, because it involves the high ideals of the gospel, with its call to conversion, the moral life, and the love of the brethren in all its interpersonal and social implications. Noble, because it involves men and women who are strong enough to admit they are weak enough to need God and each other; women and men who have confronted their sin, asked forgiveness, and begun new lives. Noble, because of their honesty, kindness, and generosity; brothers and sisters who have discovered that keeping God’s commandments comes with the promise of abiding in his love.
Noble, but an experiment, nonetheless. An experiment because we fail at the moral life, because our characters and personalities are bruised and broken in many places, and take time to heal and often never heal fully. An experiment because we struggle with sin: our fundamental disobedience to God and the selfishness, pride, arrogance, and vanity that accompany it. Our sin and our limitations make it difficult to stay together in love. An experiment because experiments prove certain things, admit limitations, and leave themselves open to future development. Clearly, there would be no such thing as Christian community if God did not desire it: it is just too difficult. The only thing more difficult is life without it.
I have come to see that one of the greatest gifts of community is unity. It is also one of the most fragile. In a time in history that has seen its share of bizarre attempts at “community,” unity can sound suspect. However, I have lived my life surrounded by men and women who love each other with a chaste, generous love. They have been open to God and open to me. The unity we share is not a uniformity. Being of one heart and one mind (which sounds almost unimaginable in contemporary culture) does not mean walking in lockstep with one another, voting the same way, or agreeing about everything. It is not a call reserved for people who are particularly gifted or specially chosen, or for those have some inner sense of how to make human life flourish. It is about having a set of relationships that I can count on.
We are built for community. The God we worship is a community of persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three distinct persons, perfect unity. The history of salvation is that God has saved a people. No one is saved alone. Even the hermits of the desert grouped themselves in communities. I live in community because I can’t live the gospel on my own. I need the encouragement, and the challenge, of other men and women who are striving for holiness. Otherwise, I get flat. I stop seeing the grand vision of what a redeemed humanity is meant to look like. This has happened in many parts of the Church. If things remain implicit for too long, they disappear. If we are a Catholic family, a Christian family, but God is not spoken about or prayed to, and the children are not introduced to Christ or shown what loving him looks like; if there is no public testimony to him, even around the dinner table, and no support for living a virtuous life; if there is no evident life of faith, no standard of morality, then the whole enterprise can fall down like a house of cards. It cannot withstand the onslaught of an aggressively secular culture. We are witnessing this today. Christ may have won the definitive, ultimate war against Satan through his death and resurrection, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t losing the contemporary battle for the culture.
Community is a gift. People don’t form communities. God does. God moves in our hearts. He places a call. The desire to share my life with others may come from gratitude or deep need. Whatever its source, God is always on the move to draw me to himself. For many of us, community was a place where we discovered that we had a voice, and gifts. A place where we were noticed, listened to, and encouraged. Community is made up of a million small gestures that let us know we are seen. Personal spiritual and psychological growth usually comes slowly, if it is to be lasting. It begins when I have a few trusted friends to whom I can reveal myself. Being known by others is key. Many of the holiest people I know grew up in dysfunctional families. Others have substance abuse issues. Others have suffered physical violence or sexual abuse. The consequences of these issues do not necessarily disappear because I go to a healing service. Rather, the experience of God’s love enables me to take the next step in my journey toward freedom. As a woman once said at our community prayer meeting, “You wouldn’t give up on me. You wouldn’t let me give up on myself, even when I wanted to.”
The self-acceptance that enables me to move forward with my life is the fruit that comes from sharing life, speaking the truth in love to one another. It is usually not “high octane” stuff, but it is one of the greatest helps we can give each other. It is a deliverance because it exposes all the lies we carry around inside. I have seen strong men weep in pain or sorrow, or because of experiencing the overwhelming mercy of God. But most of it is quite ordinary. I do not spend my life in the heavenly realms; I spend it going to work and doing chores, meeting deadlines and taking care of my family. But in sharing life with others, I have learned that we are a lot more alike than we are different, that men who have a relationship with God struggle with the same things other men do: anxiety, lust, loneliness, greed, insecurity, fear, anger, jealousy, envy. You name it. We all share the solidarity of a broken human nature. Call it the fraternity of the Fall. But in community I experience a power for healing and change that I never knew anywhere else.
Good times and bad times. There have been lots of both. One of the main things that holds a community together is forgiveness. We mess up all the time. We need to ask, and offer, forgiveness frequently. Seventy times seven, Jesus said. The fruit of doing this, over many years, is the enormous stability that comes from long-term committed relationships. By that I don’t mean that everyone is emotionally stable. There is no such thing as a large group in which everyone is emotionally stable. Each of us has his or her areas of weakness, temptation, sin, and places where we get off center. Trauma and sickness play their part, as do family of origin and early childhood experiences. In a community that works right, we get together in our brokenness and ask for help and prayers. We are patient with each other. Over time, we begin to see that our very limitations form the pieces of the puzzle that God is putting together, and that our limitations help us to fit next to someone else’s strengths, and vice versa.
For most of us, it is easier to live in the truth and in the light when we do it together than when we attempt it on our own. When we share the experience of conversion and a hunger for more of God’s kingdom, we have the foundation of an authentic culture. A culture that honors marriage. One in which family life is treasured. One where love and joy are expressed the moment a woman announces that she is pregnant. A culture that prizes children, and one that also gave birth to two religious communities. A culture with a deep reverence for celibacy and the gift that it is to the world and the Church. A culture that is ecumenical. We, along with many others, have tried to build that culture. A culture in which everyone has a voice. A culture in which everyone can be heard. Powers and principalities work to mute our voice. Conformism works to mute our voice. Fear mutes our voice. But we encourage each other to speak… To have men and women, brothers and sisters in Christ, with whom I have been able to worship God and share my life in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in times of crisis and times of serendipity, in life and in death, has been an inestimable gift. The darkness around me is much darker than I normally give it credit for. But so is the brightness. The call to community is a call to point one another to the light. It is one beggar showing another beggar where the food is. It is bread for the journey, until we see him face-to-face.
Unforgettable Copyright © 2022 by Gregory Floyd. Used by permission of Paraclete Press. www.paracletepress.com
Unforgettable: How Remembering God’s Presence in Our Past Brings Hope to Our Future
by Gregory Floyd
Published by Paraclete Press. www.paracletepress.com
January 2022, Brewster, Massachusetts, USA
Unforgettable is a book about memory, about what stays in the mind, and why. It is a book about the presence of God in our lives and the sights, sounds, words, and experiences that become unforgettable.
Beginning with a single word he heard in the middle of the night—one that changed his life—this powerful memoir by Gregory Floyd asks the question: without memory, who are we? It is a meditation on beauty, marriage, family, and prayer, asking of the memories that each implants: what do they reveal? Where do they lead? —and witnessing to their potential to draw us to God.
“Hope, beauty, and the presence of God are made real and reachable through a life marked by pain and joy. Unforgettable is a rich experience of life in the Spirit.”Jean Barbara, President, The Sword of the Spirit
“Ever since the Lord knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139), he is there with us. Yet the constant ‘noise’ of the modern world so often drowns the voice of God who is continually and patiently beckoning us to himself. Floyd, in beautifully written prose and engaging stories, reminds us that the Lord is ‘with us always’ (Matthew 18:20) and we are never far from his love. I recommend this book to all who are seeking to discover more deeply this loving God who is ever present throughout our lives journey.”Gordon Demarais, Founder and President, St. Paul’s Outreach
“Gregory Floyd’s writing is like salve for the soul, full of love for others and a humility that comes with life’s experiences. I not only discovered many lessons for my own life, but I encountered the beauty of a God who forgets and wipes away all of my sins.”Jeff Smith, President, The Word Among Us
Gregory Floyd is Assistant Director for the Center for Diaconal Formation at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, USA. He is a coordinator of The People of Hope, a Catholic charismatic covenant community based in New Jersey, and a member community of the international Sword of the Spirit. Gregory and his wife Maureen are the parents of nine children. They live with their younger children in Warren, New Jersey.