This is the time of year we celebrate those who are graduating from high school and college and moving on to the next step in their journey. For 22 year-old Marina Keegan, that next step was a job in New York City with The New Yorker magazine. She had just graduated from Yale where she wrote for the Yale Daily News. Her passion for writing was obvious to all who knew her, and she was taking that passion with her to her new career. But just days after graduation, on May 26th, she died in a car wreck.
This tragedy became a national story when people around the country discovered her final column for the Yale Daily News, printed in a special edition for commencement. I discovered it through Twitter, and it touched me deeply. I have a daughter who is just two years away from heading off to college, and a son who is not far behind her. I first read the column as a parent, and it led me to thinking about Marina's parents - how proud they must have been of her, and how devastated they must be at her passing. I prayed for them at that moment, as I am sure many others have done and hopefully are continuing to do.
But then I re-read the column, this time as a pastor. I just kept reading the first few paragraphs over and over, and I just can't seem to get them out of my mind. Here's the section I am referring to, for those who have not yet read it:
We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life. What I’m grateful and thankful to have found at Yale, and what I’m scared of losing when we wake up tomorrow and leave this place.
It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team. When the check is paid and you stay at the table. When it’s four a.m. and no one goes to bed. That night with the guitar. That night we can’t remember. That time we did, we went, we saw, we laughed, we felt. The hats.
Yale is full of tiny circles we pull around ourselves. A cappella groups, sports teams, houses, societies, clubs. These tiny groups that make us feel loved and safe and part of something even on our loneliest nights when we stumble home to our computers — partner-less, tired, awake. We won’t have those next year. We won’t live on the same block as all our friends. We won’t have a bunch of group-texts.
This scares me. More than finding the right job or city or spouse – I’m scared of losing this web we’re in. This elusive, indefinable, opposite of loneliness. This feeling I feel right now.
Marina found a place "with an abundance of people who are in this together," and she described it as the opposite of loneliness. Wow - what an amazing word picture. That phrase is a powerful description of what she was looking for in the real world. It's true of all of us, I believe. We all want what she's describing, we all want to love and be loved, to know and be known, to care and be cared for. We were created for community, and we yearn for relationships.
The Bible actually has a word that fits her phrase, the opposite of loneliness. It's the Greek word koinonia. In the New Testament Greek Lexicon, here are the words used to define koinonia: Fellowship; association; community; communion; joint participation. There's an intimacy associated with this word, and it's used to describe how the early Christians saw one another as they were forming their community. Take Acts 2:42-47 for example. Luke writes this:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity, all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
This is how the church started, two thousand years ago. This is how the church should still be today. This is what will heal hurts, meet needs, save souls, bring light into people's darkness, provide a way home to those who are lost, offer grace in this midst of judgment, love in the midst of hate, and community in the midst of loneliness. The church can and should be the opposite of loneliness, through the power of the Holy Spirit. May it be so for us, and may none of us stop until we get there.