Twice a week my school convenes together for community gatherings. The topics of these meetings are diverse and often eye-opening. Some days, people will share personal stories or areas of wisdom and other times the conversation will focus on issues that currently impact our world.
Last semester, I was particularly moved by the events of one of these gatherings. Different staff and students were sharing their experiences of “being welcomed home.” I must first mention that I found it very interesting that each person that spoke interpreted this subject differently. However, it was the interpretation of one of these individuals that really struck me. A woman shared how she had been powerfully impacted when she found a church body that embraced her love for liturgies. She described in great detail how she had felt her senses come alive and a deep connection to those worshipping around her. As she spoke, I started reflecting. I thought of my last two years at a Catholic high school where I found myself frustrated with the repetitive lyrics and difficult melodies of liturgical songs. I also remembered determining that only ancient centenarians would enjoy liturgies and that everyone else only sings them to maintain tradition. To sum it all up, I have never had a keen interest in liturgical songs, and I am clearly gifted with an overwhelming amount of grace and understanding!
But as this woman shared her story, her passion seeped through her words into my heart. I felt a deep appreciation dawning on me not just for this woman whose love for something was so genuine and impassioned but also for something I previously had held distaste towards. It was like I had a sudden eureka moment - to something that should have been obvious - as it occurred to me that there is value in things that that I struggle to find beauty in. As we began to sing a contemplative song, my heart began opening up to something new and I was moved by something that I am not naturally wired to. However, as I left the gathering that day, I realized that there was more I could learn from this experience. I thought about the difficulties of community and having relationships with people who are different.
Often as humans, we like to enclose ourselves with people who are like-minded and who share similar perspectives, beliefs, and opinions. While at its surface this is not wrong, it can easily lead to bigotry and intolerance. In my own situation described above, I had primarily surrounded myself with those that complimented my own tastes. Not only did this lead to the exclusion of many beautiful avenues but I began to believe others were wrong for having a different attitude than my own. I have seen this very thing happen too many times on Facebook comment threads where one comment creates an explosion of outraged people who write inhumane things and fail to see the other person behind the screen.
Nowadays it is so easy to enclose ourselves in the safe and comfortable. The real challenge comes from engaging with and maintaining respect for someone that has different opinions than you. I am under the impression that community is at its fullest when it breaches into areas of unknown and difference.
As a final word, I think it is important to remember that community is not just the often thought circle of friends, family, and neighbours. Community can be found and created in our cities, our countries, and it is especially needed in our world. Go and have the hard conversations and get to know someone that is different than you. Listen before speaking, include “them” and don’t just stick with “us,” open your hearts and minds to learn from things that you are not automatically attuned to. You never know, it may just open your horizons to something really beautiful.
WRITTEN BY / Caitlyn Gillingham
She lives in Winnipeg, MB and is a third-year Social Work student from Booth University College. Caitlyn loves working with youth and other cultures, being in the outdoors, and trying new doughnut flavours at Oh Doughnuts.