Vishvapani was giving another ‘Thought for the Day’, this time on the subject of community.
It was the weekend that Buddhists come together to celebrate the sangha, the community, and he argued that we always need to balance our own needs with the needs of other. He was speaking in the context of the distribution of vaccines for Covid-19 and wondering whether the richer countries would get vaccinated ahead of the poorer ones. He warned, however, that, “No country can be secure while the virus is unchecked elsewhere.” He went on to say that, “Buddhist ethics teaches that helping others and helping ourselves are really the same thing,” and he reminded us that we’re all interconnected and that what happens to one part of a body affects the whole. There are echoes for me here of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 12) in which he uses the image of a body with its many diverse but equally-important parts to describe the Church. Paul goes on to make the interesting point that, “It is precisely the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest which are the indispensable ones; and it is the least honourable parts of the body that we clothe with the greatest care.”
The word ‘community’ popped up on Radio 4 again the following day in the Sunday Service which was from the Student Village in Manchester (albeit ‘virtually’!). A first-year student spoke of how she had been grateful to meet one or two kindred spirits and to find a sense of community even when nearly all of her lectures and social events were on-line. She mentioned as well that many new students were not so lucky and were feeling very isolated. The preacher at the service spoke of how we are, “Made for relationship and intimacy, and to sense a belonging to something greater.”
A bit later that day I was at an on-line Mass celebrated by an old friend David Standley, who is one of two Fr Davids in L’Arche who married Yim Soon and I. David has been celebrating a zoom Mass each week with a group that includes members of the L’Arche London community, where Yim Soon spent a year in the 1980s, and former parishioners of his. We had been invited to help on this particular week with singing and reading and it was a joyful gathering. Speaking about it over lunch, Yim Soon said she’d felt a real sense of community. That had been my experience as well, as I’d looked around the screen seeing some new faces as well as a couple of people I’ve known for decades. It was very prayerful and I must say I do prefer attending Mass whilst sitting on a comfy settee rather than a hard wooden bench! There was also at least one participant with a cup of tea in hand. And why not! After the Mass there is an opportunity for those present to share a bit of news or to give any prayer requests. It all adds to that sense of belonging, both within that little ‘zoom community’ and to a far greater body.
My own life has been infinitely enriched by the many years I was part of a L’Arche community, and I can concur with what the student pastor in Manchester said. We are indeed made for relationship and for intimacy and for a sense of belonging to something greater. I’m grateful as well to belong now of an organisation that reaches out to some of those who, due to the pandemic and the lockdowns, have been starved of relationship, intimacy and community: be they someone in prison who has no visitors or an elderly person who’s confined to their flat. When one part of the body is in pain the whole of the body feels it. And as Vishvapani reminds us, when we help others, we’re really helping ourselves too.