Distance: 4.53 miles Time: 41’ 19”
I have written before about my generally solo running career. Mostly this is down to circumstances, but it also because running on my own gives me time and space to think; ‘headspace’ as it is sometimes termed, and this is actually one of the things I most appreciate about running.
In my ‘headspace’ zone this morning, I reflected on the fact of accompaniment, and on the fact that, at least in spiritual terms, running alone is not an option.
When people first start out on the life of faith, it is generally because some faith community shared the faith with them. Either directly, through personal contact, or indirectly through media, books, etc. In either case some presentation is received that has its origin in a particular faith community, either transmitted person to person, or in a crafted and created presentation medium, made to share the faith with others.
Which means that the beginning of a life of faith is never a purely solo affair; it is nearly always instigated by an encounter with a message that is the product and promulgation of a specific faith community.
This creates a great tension, for the reality of what actually happens in order to start us out on the life of faith is an encounter with the Divine; an encounter, which being beyond words, cannot be other than intensely personal and interior.
So our faith is both intensely private and unavoidably communitarian.
As we move on in faith we find that spiritual progress is likewise a communal affair. The Bible knows nothing of lone Christians living out their faith in separation from a faith community, or from the Universal Church.
To be a child of God is to be sibling with every other member of His family. And God expects, desires and demands that His family function as such; as a deeply loving, mutually committed and cohesive unit.
Any attempt to live the life of faith without reference to the family of faith is an act of rebellion against our Father; it is also to place ourselves in a position of fragility and danger, separated from the teaching, training, encouragement and discipline that our spiritual family is meant to provide.
This is possibly one of the key areas in which Western culture most clashes with the Christian ethos. The intense individualism of contemporary Western culture negates and refutes the communitarian nature of the Christian faith.
This idea of responsibility for each other, mutual accountability, is strange and uncomfortable to most contemporary Christians. Sometimes this is because of the negative examples of past abuse of authority in Christian communities, where love has not been felt to be the motivating force at work. But mostly it is because we do not want to have other people having input into one of the most personal areas of our lives, neither do we want the hassle and responsibility of watching over the spiritual lives of others.
In a real sense we all know ourselves to have enough on our plate trying to keep ourselves on track spiritually and we feel no ‘moral authority’ to go poking our noses into other’s people’s struggles and difficulties.
But as Luther famously wrote, the answer to abuse is not non-use but right use.
Given that loving community creates a plausibility structure for the gospel message, our failure to create this will only serve to undermine any attempt we make to reach others for God.
Community is not an option.
We do not run alone, we are not permitted to pretend that we do.