catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 9, Num 16 :: 2010.09.10 — 2010.09.23


Know and be known

On a weekday evening, eight housemates gather on the back deck of a house for dinner.  The picnic table is set, pitchers of water are waiting to be poured, and someone starts bringing out four giant, homemade pizzas.  Once we are all outside, we say a brief prayer and commence eating, passing dishes, laughing and telling each other about our days at work.  Welcome to community.

In reflecting upon my experiences living in intentional community, the phrase “know and be known” comes to mind.  I’ve learned that sometimes it is essential to abide with others in order to learn important lessons about yourself — lessons that cannot be learned in solitude, from your family, or even from your closest friends.

Primarily, the phrase “know and be known” is considered in relation to others — I know them and they know me.  This knowing of the others and being known by the others is the essential, first level of building and sustaining an intentional community.  Often it is fun and exciting at the beginning, as people pour a lot of energy into this knowing. Six months later, it can be a completely different scene: lower energy levels and less voluntary investment into the community.

During the lag times, however, a secondary level of knowledge and growth occurs — knowledge of oneself.  In my communal living experiences, the down times are the periods when I transition from questioning others’ motives and actions to looking at my own.  These periods are the hardest for me.  On one level it appears that the community is regressing (even though, in truth, it is just stabilizing), and I start, again, the process of knowing myself.

Living in community taught me fun, positive things about myself, but not without a serious dose of hard lessons.  I like to cook for large groups.  I value communal prayer and singing.  People appreciate my handwriting!  Through community, though, I learned that I tend to assume the worst.  I can be really stubborn.  I am more likely to shut down or retract from communal life than join in full force when things go awry.

As I recently considered these experiences, I watched the movie Where the Wild Things Are for the first time.  I was surprised that so much of the film’s plot resonated exactly with my thoughts.  This little community of wild things, along with Max, tries really hard to build something significant together, something bigger than the sum of their selves. The process, inevitably, does not work perfectly and rage and hurt ensues.  Ultimately, Max has to face himself — he is a boy, and because of that knowledge, he has to leave.  Knowing and being known, to others and to oneself, is hard and it hurts, but it is ultimately rewarding.

Now, over a year out of college, I find myself freshly relocated to my parents’ home, along with my older brother.  Through interviewing for jobs and moving home, I now recognize how useful knowing myself through community really is for living in today’s world.  My family is now tasked with figuring out how to live together all over again.  I am determined to put my lessons learned to work and to continue to grow, because what community needs to be more intentional than a family of adults thrown back together?

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