Welcome to L’Abri. The floors squeak and the walls are thin. Opening a window is loud. Opening a door is loud. Closing doors and windows is loud. Everything is loud. No action is quiet or discrete or private. If you choose to live here, you have chosen to live in community; there’s no getting around it. You may be able to choose at times how much you wish to be immersed (for example, most of the people in the house have gone out for the evening and I am taking advantage of the silence to write out these thoughts), but even so, every action I choose to make affects another and likewise I too am constantly affected by the actions and choices of others.
I was studying in the library yesterday afternoon and got up to close the window. It creaked and banged. It was loud. The guy sitting next to me was giving me a hard time: ‘Shhh! I’m trying to study.’ I smiled and said, ‘There’s no such thing as being discrete at L’Abri. You’re forced to be in community.’ ‘You’re forced to be honest,’ he replied. As I sat down I thought for a moment and whispered, ‘Same thing.’
I just finished reading a book by Luke Johnson called, Faith’s Freedom, which honestly wasn’t that great; however, he does make some excellent points about the role of community in the exercising of our faith. He speaks of God as “Other,” the Transcendent One who is other than every created thing. Other people are also “other” and God uses the otherness of both people and himself to invade our lives, causing us to step out of ourselves and our projects/plans/goals and make room for others’ projects/plans/goals. Johnson writes, “… Other breaks the plane of everyday life, shatters the veneer of predictability, and challenges the presumption of human control” (53).
I’ve been confronted by community before where I was forced to learn things about myself and about life, but this time I think I’m ready to be a bit more intentional about how I live my life within the context of community – a bit less scared to be honest, imperfect, ontological, a bit less scared to be. I’m practicing apologizing. I’m working on being OK with learning by trial and error. (How else do you learn? I know…) That is to say, realizing how silly it is to think I ought to be able to do things I’ve never done before perfectly – working so much in the kitchen is helping me here. Cooking is also helping me to expand my creativity, learning to take creative risks and make mistakes.
So far I have made chocolate-chunk cookies, homemade bread (oven-baked, no bread-maker), and cream spinach soup, all from scratch, and people not only ate them, they liked them! Actually, I was only supposed to be stirring the soup when the person who was really creating it said to me, ‘Have a taste and see what needs to be added.’ I replied, ‘I’m pretty good at stirring, but I’d better leave the taste-testing to you.’ She looked right back at me, smiling and completely un-phased and said, ‘Nope. You’re in charge of the soup right now.’ I just continued looking at her. Not missing a beat, she almost sings, ‘You can do it; just play with it.’ I thought to myself, She’s calling me out of my perfectionistic, non-risk-taking self and into risk and faith, creativity, ontology and play! Well, there’s just no arguing with such a call and I wasn’t about to refuse it, so I took the spoon from her hand, took a deep breath, and tasted the soup to, “see what needs to be added,” as if I could even tell the difference between the spices on the counter. Nonetheless, I carefully lifted each spice to my nose and after having another taste decided to add more nutmeg. I stirred in the reddish powder and took another taste – delicious! How ‘bout that.
This experience with the soup reminded me of a discussion we had earlier in the week during lecture. We all had read the first chapter of A Disciplined Heart by Caroline J. Simon. The book pursues the ideas and connections between love, destiny and imagination. The first chapter sets everything up by providing definitions for the language Simon uses for the rest of her book; about love and imagination she writes, “Imagination is the capacity to see what may not yet appear but should. Imagination, then, when directed toward persons, amounts to insight into someone’s destiny” (16). The workers and helpers and students at L’Abri are, in Simon’s language, using their imaginations to encourage me in friendly love towards becoming who I should be (both in and out of the kitchen). That’s the definition of hospitality.