As a teacher, I have come to treasure the final moments of the last day of school (and it’s not only for the obvious reasons!). As the final group hug disperses, we head out of our classroom one last time. As dismissal is called over the loudspeaker, children burst out the doors, scattering like ants toward the great expanse of freedom and fun. With a lump in my throat, I make my way to a grassy spot at the front of the long line of buses to wave them off into their summer glory. This is where I have my moment. As I wave to the buses, shedding a tear or two (yes, I’m a last-day-of-school-crier), I reflect back on the year and the community we formed. We loved, we laughed, we struggled, we learned — with and from each other — and we had the remarkable opportunity to share these moments of our lives with one another. A sense of community has become something I intentionally work to develop among my students and it is amazing to watch us transition from strangers to companions. Community has the ability to inspire and transform all of us and I have witnessed its power in my life both in and out of the classroom.
For the longest time I felt like my spiritual strength was only valid if it could be maintained independently. That only my private spiritual self revealed my true relationship with God. With feelings of futility and at times even shame, I felt that my faith amounted to nothing if it couldn’t hold up to my moments of doubt and struggle. I’m not sure where I came up with this idea, but over the years I’ve come to discern a different understanding of my faith.
We are made in the likeness of God, which means that we are made to be with others. God is Himself a model of community and we are invited not only into communion with Him but also with one another. My faith, then, is far greater than my personal acts of spirituality. My faith becomes a continuous journey of serving, loving, wondering,
struggling, challenging, encouraging, and growing with others. Community is at the core of a life with God.
As I’ve struggled to embrace this notion, my interest in cognition and development has led me to understand that even biologically speaking, we are designed for relationship with others. Many developmental functions depend on human interaction. We develop language by observing and mimicking the language models in our environment. Children who grow in social isolation, either because of abandonment or neglect, do not develop the language patterns necessary for speaking and communicating. Likewise, attachment theory suggests that healthy social-emotional development depends on loving and nurturing interactions with others. Many developmental studies reveal that these
responsive interactions with our caretakers are critical to our wellness and survival. Essentially, from our earliest moments of life we enter into human connectedness that colors the very nature of being human. Spiritually and biologically there is no mistaking that we are hard-wired to be in communion with others.
Throughout my life I’ve been blessed to be a part of many faith communities. In high school and college I experienced radical personal growth as my peers and I struggled with
the harsh realities of the world and tried to figure out how we were to be servants in the midst of it. Where was the grace amid the mess and how could we stretch out our arms to become a part of it? As an adult I continue to be blessed by relationships and communities that challenge and inspire my faith.
The value of sharing in the communal search for God is one of my favorite parts about being Catholic. The enormous community of believers — friends, neighbors, visionaries;
living and deceased; known and unknown — who walk this road together. Amid the pain and confusion, joy and hope, we fully become ourselves by being with others. From the time he was born, Jesus’ life was full of gatherings: pilgrims came to visit, crowds formed to listen, meals were shared, voices joined in prayer, friends held each other as they mourned. And we continue this communal spirit in our own time as we too join together in crowds, in pairs, and in small communities of faith. Together we gather around Christ to try to figure out what it means to live in His spirit. This has become my understanding of faith. A faith that presents all of us with the challenge to love one another as we have been loved. We join hands to attempt this mighty task with hope, joy, doubt; when broken, seeking, wondering, listening, desiring; but most importantly, we do so together.
Diana teaches third grade in the Montgomery Township School District (Skillman, NJ).