human connection.

Some of you may have already seen this excellent video that points to a recent study that confirms what so many have known intuitively–the root of all addictions is disconnection. It’s really worth the time to watch it and reminds me of what one of my favorite theologian-practictioners in the whole-wide-world, Jean Vanier, has been saying for a long, long time:  “We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity. We all have wounded, vulnerable hearts. Each one of us needs to feel appreciated and understood; we all need help.”

He also says, “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefor unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death.”

And while we are made for connection, while we thrive on connection, many of us live in a Western mindset (and often church culture) that perpetuates disconnection.

That creates an us and them, and we’re not like “them.”

That highly values independence, not interdependence.

That tells us to figure things out on our own because others can’t be bothered. That if people really knew us, they wouldn’t love us.

That our struggles are our own spiritual problem that we need to sort out with God and God alone.

That people only want our good and are afraid of our bad.

That we are only valuable when we have something tangible to offer.

That our worth is conditional.

In early November I had the incredible privilege of spending several days with the Tacoma Catholic Worker up in Washington. My friend Mark Votava coordinated it and I had such an amazing time meeting so many incredible people and facilitating round table discussions on a variety of topics from Down We Go and the blog. I also spent a day at L”Arche, which was one of my long-time dreams (the picture is from the farm there).

I learned so much from this trip that will linger forever.  These makers-of-peace center their work on the thing that I think is the most important thing of all–human connection.

Where human beings are seen, really seen.

Where dignity is restored through simple acts of kindness and love.

Where God’s image in men and women of all shapes and sizes and experiences is called out.

Where connection isn’t fostered through some kind of whiz-bang wow program but through the fine art of simply showing up with all we have to bring to each other–our presence.

It is truly what we each have to bring to others–ourselves.

It’s too hard to share all of the ins and outs of my time there, but a few things stood out so clearly to me:

  1. God’s Ecunemism. People of faith across a wide variety of faith traditions–from Jesuits to Roman Catholics to Evangelicals to Presbyterians to Lutherans to not-sure-what-to-call-themselves-these-days who care deeply about the poor and marginalized. They cross all the barriers and find what they have in common–a love for people and a desire to reflect Christ’s love in tangible ways.
  2. The cost of this-kind-of-justice-work.  Presence is actually tireless work. It’s thankless work. It’s never-ending work.  Some of these people have been rooted there for decades, in some ways doing exactly what they did when they started.  Making a difference in ways that don’t often get noticed. And over time, presence often leads to activism and we end up advocating for change against systems that are horrendously slow to change.
  3. Human connection is the most precious gift.  One of the guests at Tacoma Catholic Worker was offered a room when he was in the hospital recovering from a chronic and debilitating illness with no where to be discharged to.  He now has friends, a community, a safe space. He is coming back to life. At L’arche, I witnessed what can happen when the most severely disabled have purpose and people who care and are present in the midst, not to “change” them or “bring ministry to them” but to be with them as friends and co-laborers and human beings.

Oh, there are so many obstacles to human connection. It’s messy. It’s vulnerable. It’s taxing. It doesn’t have clear “results.” It often doesn’t make practical sense. It’s actually a pain in the ass sometimes (we call that a PITA).

But it is the most basic building block in all of creation–the thing that crosses socioeconomics, religion, education, color, and everything in between. It’s why I think God came-in-the-flesh through Jesus–to show what was possible and invite everyone to the party.

Because human connection is a place where everyone can play. We don’t need a seminary degree or counseling experience or some secret-skill-that-somehow-you-were-supposed-to-learn-along-the-way-and-never-did.

We just need courage to do it.

To show up.

To care.

To tell our own story.

To listen to someone else’s.

To make space for conversations.

To call when we don’t feel like it.

To check in when someone’s on our heart.

To look someone else in the eye instead of at our phone.

To just be “with” someone instead of doing something “for” them.

To laugh.

To cry.

To get mad on someone else’s behalf.

To offer a cup of cold water.

To not know the answers.

To not try hard to know the answers.

To just play a small part in lessening the loneliness, someone else’s and our own.

I make so many things complicated. If there was one takeaway from my time up north this fall it was this–simple human connection is one of the greatest gifts we can offer, one of the greatest gifts we can receive.

Extraordinary is overrated.

It makes me think, yet again, of the profound words of Jean Vanier–“All of us have a secret desire to be seen as saints, heroes, martyrs. We are afraid to be children, to be ourselves.” 

The world is crying out for men and women who are willing to be ourselves, bravely offering that self to others so they can be themselves, too.

//

ps: I forgot to share last week that I have post up at SheLoves Magazine for advent. It definitely dovetails into human connection, too–She Just Keeps Showing Up.

Also, it felt far away but now it’s just 6 weeks away. I’m excited to be down in Houston at the end of January for a Faith Shift Processing Party at St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church. All are welcome so feel free to pass on the invite.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

6 Comments

  • To be alone, to feel abandoned… damages our well being more then any other form of physical or mental assault. (Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Peter Levine) We need connection like we need air! People feeling warm, safe and welcomed!!! You do that well Kathy!

    Reply
  • Thank You Kathy for the kind words! It was so wonderful learning from you! I love the TED talk video about how addiction is about disconnection. That seems to be so true in true in our world. Human connection is such a profound message these days. I think it might be the essence of the goods news rather than abstract theological ideas. Love, connection, solidarity, compassion, empathy, listening – it is amazing how we detached God from a lot of this to a cultural conditioning that builds on the false self.

    Reply
    • thanks, mark, it was such a gift to me. i like this line “i think [human connection] might be the essence of the good news rather than abstract theological ideas..” love.

      Reply
  • Excellent post! Great TED talk.

    I’ve often been suspicious of this. Face book, Smart Phones, etc, etc and yet we’re the most disconnected generation. That stuff can be useful, but frequently it is a replacement for real relationship & connectedness. Many people I know tell me they have 0, 1 or 2 at most “real friends” (their term). Who is there when you’re really down & out. Dare I say it’s never those folks who want to argue theology online or your Facebook “friends”. We need fewer speeches, fewer sermons, and more real connections?

    Reply
    • i loved that TED talk and yes, it is so sad, the lack of human connection that exists, the great loneliness. it make me think of what dorothy day says, “we have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”

      Reply

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