Kathleen Norris commented once in an interview that we create community wherever we are. The thought caused me to pause, because I realized that so much of my understanding of community had been based on my rich, rural upbringing in the Mississippi Delta. A place where farm-life, church and going to Parker’s Drug store and the Post Office (along with a variety of other places) were so intertwined that it was hard to distinguish one from the other. Forget six degrees of separation, for those living in the Delta it was one or two degrees, at most. (And which in all honesty is why everyone in the Delta knows the Mannings – as in Archie, Olivia, Cooper, Peyton, and Eli – personally. But I digress.)
In the years, decades in fact, since I’ve left the Delta I thought I had been searching for community. But somewhere along the way I began to realize that I was experiencing what I had been seeking and that these experiences were as varied as the people who filled my world. In truth, “community” is not even found in scripture. The idea is there, but not the word. And likewise the definition for community according to Wikipedia falls far short of what I believe most people are long for. But there is a word for people of faith that embodies community in the spiritual sense. The word is koinonia. It appears 19 times in most editions of the Greek New Testament and is translated in the New American Standard into the English words contribution, fellowship, participation, sharing.
The word has such a multitude of meanings that no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness. It is a derivative of “koinos”, the word for “common”. Koinonia is a complex, rich, and thoroughly fascinating Greek approach to building community or teamwork. (wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinonia#New_Testament_usage_of_koinonia)
My longing has always been not to just be a part of something or some group, but to belong to a group in the active sense – to be vital, necessary, needed, serving, giving, living. I’ve never had a desire to simply show up and be counted, but rather to be counted upon.
In the context of outer goodness, translated into English, the meaning of koinonia holds the idea of joint participation in something with someone, such as in a community, or team or an alliance or joint venture. Those who have studied the word find there is always an implication of action included in its meaning. The word is meaning-rich too, since it is used in a variety of related contexts.(wikipedia.org/wiki/Koinonia#New_Testament_usage_of_koinonia)
Just the other day a friend who recently moved related to me that her family at long last is experiencing community. When I asked her how this had come to pass, she mentioned among other things – giving fresh baked bread to neighbors, serving on a community farm, caring for their newly acquired home and land, and enjoying fellowship with other families. I was struck by the fact that these were all active ways of connecting with others, all classic examples of the type of community experience that scripture points us toward – kononia.
And so I wonder…how is community or better yet, koinonia, being experienced in your own life?