The New Communal

The New Communal

Originally published onDevotion.al

Psalm 133; Daniel 1:1–21; Acts 2:42–47

Most of us have at least one food dislike. I read this story of Daniel and I’m not sure how I would do living with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Only vegetables? Eventually, I suppose, I would get accustomed to it, but…just ew. Vegetables.

At this point in my family, there is tension over vegetables. One member has gone vegetarian (mercifully, not vegan). You can imagine the dinner difficulties between that person and myself. Finding ways to eat together becomes challenging. Eating together is one of the big features of communal living.

Even in monasteries and convents, meals are more communal than worship and prayer time (usually). There is just something about it that breaks barriers. Greatly dysfunctional and unloving families can actually get along while food is being consumed.

It’s not hard to imagine that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah ate in the presence of the other “competitors”, but were viewed as strange due to their lack of meat and wine consumption. That probably solidified both their relationships with one another. It also likely reinforced their “Jewishness”. Communal activities are significant in forming mutual identity. It is no coincidence that the church grew despite opposition. Communal identity was formed through worship and daily meetings.

This is one of the biggest issues facing the US at this point…a lack of formative communal activities. The formative piece is important. We are all part of various communal activities. It could be walking the neighborhood and greeting neighbors. It could be sitting in the same season ticket seats for a sporting event (Go, Tips! Go, Kraken!). It could be leading or participating in community fundraisers. There are so many options!

The freedom of choice also means that people may have a singular common interest, but not any others. When you have a communal activity with one group during a set time (like a hockey game), that doesn’t mean you will have communal time with those people at other points. In fact, you both may have other competing communal activities.

The time of COVID has had some dramatic effect upon this. People have become more isolated than before. Children who used to play together were often prevented from doing so. People have been consuming all sorts of content to fill the “gaps”. Most of this consumption was alone…sort of.

What it takes to build a communal identity hasn’t really changed, but the modes have. People are building real relationships through the internet (not Facebook “friends”, Twitter “followers”, or YouTube “subscribers”). They are forming identities on and through the internet (extremist and conspiracy theory groups are prime examples).

It is hard to grasp how people will form communities without the frameworks that we are familiar with (in-person church, sporting events, potlucks, etc.). The question isn’t whether, it is how.

※Reflection※

  • What communal relationships and identities can you think of for yourself?
  • How were these relationships and identities formed?
  • Do you feel as connected to these relationships and identities as you have before? What has changed? What has remained the same?

※Prayer※

Almighty God, you show those in error the light of your truth so that they may turn to the path of righteousness: Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Easter Thursday Collect, Book of Common Prayer 2019]

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