Talk about a magical way of cultivating community. Host a circle in which people are invited to put forward the gifts they wish to give to others, as well as the needs, wants and likes they desire to make known. Then see what happens.
Last Saturday evening I joined a gathering that had emerged — I want to use the word magically again — out of just such a circle.
Because someone offered a dehydrator that had been sitting mostly unused. And because someone else said her apple trees were dropping an abundance of fruit that she could never take care of herself. And because another participant said he planned to open his home for a gathering any way — we all went to the home of Luke Lee Burton.
About a dozen people who, in many cases, had been strangers until not too long ago, found ourselves taking care of an apple harvest together. Nobody was an expert canner or juicer in the room, so there was lots of co-learning — one person sharing what he knew about how to work his dehydrator, while another offering her take on the ins and outs of apple-saucing.
“The applesauce will taste better because of the music.”
By six in the evening, the fragrance of applesauce bubbling on the stove hung thick in the room. Every so often, the whir of a juicer muffled the scattering of conversations taking place in different parts of the house — at the table, where slicing and dicing were occurring, in the living room where those taking a break lounged on sofas. At one point, Luke shared his gift in music making and the cascade of live piano refrains drew murmurs of appreciation. The applesauce will taste better because of the music, one person said.
Later, a fire in a fire-pit brought by someone else because Luke doesn’t have one inspired the singing of old campfire songs and taking moments to bend our heads back and stare straight up at the stars.
One of the big a-has for me in all of this was just how both beautiful and messy being part of a community can be. I already knew this. But I really felt it again in that experience. For me, the messiness came out partly in how I personally felt less present for most of the evening than I wanted to be because of a pressing family concern. I know I missed out on a deeper experience of the gathering as a result, but I also know it was mostly okay. This community was big enough to hold my distracted self.
I also worried about leaving Luke’s house with blobs of applesauce dotting his cupboards.
And at one point the smoke from the fire made my eyes burn so much I had tears streaming down my face.
But as I suspect we also all know, we miss out if we expect and only embrace the nice feelings and spotlessness in the experience of community.
Aukje Byker mused at one point in the evening, she feels much more comfortable having people over if her visit to their home reveals they’re okay with mess.
I think her reflection is a fitting way of being for any of us yearning to belong to always consider.
If I’m okay with my mess — inside and out — that gives you permission to be okay with your mess. Not to say we never try to deal with our mess. I know both I and others benefit more from my presence than my distraction. And I’m sure Luke and his family would enjoy fewer applesauce smears next time, if there is a next time.
But even if all that stuff is taken care of, there will always be some other mess in community.
So maybe it’s about finding new ways to deal with mess — ask what gift it brings, perhaps or see if there’s anything remotely funny about it (as Luke did about the applesauce blobs at one point).
Then we can join another gifts and offerings circle, wait to see what it magically unfolds and embrace the experience that follows — burning eyes, imperfect selves and all.