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Reflections from Rev. Alan Taylor

Cultivating a Community of Connection
Rev. Rev. Alan Taylor, Senior Minister

Even after the worst that can happen to us, it is possible to discover the power of community and connection.

Sherri Mandel tells a story about the power of human connection a couple months after her 14-year-old son, Koby, was killed. She writes about going out to dinner with her husband for their wedding anniversary. She says, “I can’t say we celebrated, because we were too sad. When we walked into the restaurant, the smiling waitress with her shiny, black hair had a spirit and effervescence I could only admire. I thought to myself, she has no idea of the pain I am living with, the weight of what I carry.”

As Sherri and her husband ate their meal, they realized that the restaurant would be a good place to commemorate what would be Koby’s upcoming 15th birthday. They talked with the manager about their thought of taking 15 disadvantaged youth to mark their deceased son’s birthday. The manager said that he volunteered at a center that helped teens from poor, broken families, and he thought that the teenagers would appreciate going out with them. The idea was taking form through genuine conversation, a genuine encounter. They hadn’t thought about taking teenagers out for a meal, but it made sense. They thanked the manager for this conversation and then Sherri’s husband said: “Do you know the Goodman family? They live around here. They lost their 16-year-old son, Tani, this year in an accident — we went to the shiva — and I wanted to know how they are doing.” The manager responded, “You can ask them yourself. Your waitress is their daughter.” Sherri writes, “I looked at her, at her beauty and her spirit, and I thought, “You never know what’s going on inside a person. I had misjudged her.

When she came over to the table, we told her of our loss, and she shared her own. As we spoke, I realized how much of life is hidden. We don’t see what’s inside of people.” As they shared their feelings, Sherri and her husband felt less isolated. The pain lifted for a moment. They knew they were not alone. As Sherri says, “Healing may occur when we reveal what’s hidden inside of us. It brings us closer to others.” I think this is what Jesus was saying in the Gospel of Thomas when he said, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.”

The power of community and connection can emerge at the most unexpected places, in the most unexpected times, The power of community and connection brings healing to even the most devastated of human hearts. It always comes through a genuine encounter. Sometimes it comes as a form of grace like in Sherri’s story, but it is possible to increase the odds of making this kind of grace happen. And that is what a lot of authentic religion looks like.

As the great Jewish sage Martin Buber notes, “The nature of true community, of a strong and vital religious community, is the story of welcoming and of radical hospitality. Religion is not an intellectual exercise. It is about encountering the holy as we move through our lives, encountering the spark of divinity through relationship and responding to the hopes and dreams that we truly share.” Buber summed up his philosophy with five words: “All true living is meeting.”

May we all cultivate genuine religious community.