Accepting the Polarities


We must learn to embrace the tension between solitude and community.

Comparatively speaking, the Old Testament lays more stress on corporate life while the New Testament more fully develops the personal dimension in addition to the social dimension of life in community. But both Testaments affirm the personal and the corporate as well as the inextricable relationship between the two. The personal inside-out transformation that is realized through the presence and action of Jesus is meant to reconcile and renew our relationships with others. Since spirituality does not flourish in isolation, the corporate process of discipleship should inform and supplement personal discipleship. Unfortunately, there is a natural tendency to be pulled toward the extremes of individualism on the one hand and of institutionalism on the other. The individualistic extreme minimizes the value of life in community, while the institutional extreme causes the person to be lost in the service of the institution.

It is best to avoid the two horns of this dilemma by embracing the both-and tension between solitude and community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it well in Life Together:

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refuse to be alone you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.

When we accept the polarities of solitude and community, we discover that our personal walk with God is nourished in communion with others, and that this life of unity in diversity and oneness in plurality is a reflection of Trinitarian life.

Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth

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