How can we be true to ourselves?
And how can we live in ways that are true to what we believe?
And how can we mix up our inner and outer worlds, so we are not compartmentalised like a waffle, but rather, more like a bowl of spaghetti?
These were just three of the questions posed to us at a weekend conference I’ve just attended, as one of 80 from my church, St Mark’s in Leamington Spa, at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.
And in between enjoying the beautiful gardens in the sunshine, drinking in the bar, wandering by the lakes, going kayaking, cycling or walking, we listened to an excellent speaker, Annie Naish from the Lee Abbey Community.
The theme was Authenticity.
Annie invited us to consider how as members of a Christian community we can be “real” with each other, our authentic selves, sharing our sorrows and troubles, recognizing we are all wounded people, and that we all need each other.
To illustrate our need for community, she played a video clip from the BBC TV documentary narrated by David Tennant, showing the solitary Emperor Penguin in the icy wilderness of Antarctica, who became separated from his community, but struggled on alone until he reached them again – and the life-saving comfort of their body warmth.
And just so, said Annie, should we live this out, through our relationships with each other in our community: by showing sincere and practical love; looking for the good in people; putting others first; being willing to be vulnerable; listening; and showing humility and practising forgiveness.
Anybody who ever seeks to understand this life and our place in it, will have to engage with this search for our true authentic selves.
This is the work of a lifetime, and it runs through many religions and faiths, through psychology and philosophy, through psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and counselling.
Annie herself lives as part of the Lee Abbey Community, and every member has to work through their relationship with each other within the community. Churches, said Annie, should be full of wounded people, places where people can weep, and share the tough times they’re going through. The authentic Christian life is “systematically unsafe”. It’s a risky business, and sometimes it’s like a bungee jump over white water rapids. And she showed us a breathtaking video clip to demonstrate this.
Annie suggested we should be intentional. An authentic Christian faith is a long obedience in the same direction.
And if we are to be authentic in relationships, we have to bring what is hidden into the light. It’s costly, because we’re vulnerable.
Annie gave us practical guidance. We have to listen and reflect before leaping to self-defence. This applies in many situations in life.
Annie called for us to think of everything we do as a task done through relationship.
And the goal for each of us, as Elrond said to Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” , is to “Become all that you were born to be.”
4 thoughts on “In Search of Authenticity: Our True Selves and Our Essential Need for Community”
I have at last got round to reading this again, and to responding to this.
What a wonderful weekend it must have been, the speaker resonates with me wholeheartedly! This idea of vulnerable community is I think key to becoming Christ followers in the deepest way.
How oh how does one get to that point though with a significant proportion of a church! I am sure it starts small, and we work towards gradually increasing the pool of people willing to go on this pilgrimage.
By the way, i liked your phrase – a long obedience in the same direction. Eugene Paterson has written a book of that name which looks at some of the psalms. I wonder if you have come across it – I used it when looking at some of the psalms of ascent with home group in Orpington.
All for now,
Thank you for your comment Freda. Yes, “a long obedience in the same direction” sums it up perfectly. This journey of authenticity is, I believe, key to so many of Jesus’s teachings – including the message behind the story of the Good Samaritan – substance, instead of an empty shell (just as you said in your excellent talk at Northborough!)
What a beautiful place it looked very interesting and relevant. All communication is valid and learning from each other is so good,and what better in such pretty scenery