I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community, and spiritual communities in particular. Sometimes it seems like the spiritual path is one that we’re told to walk alone – solitary prayer, meditation, etc…and, to be honest, I’ve often thought that, too. But, I think community is at the heart of any spiritual journey.
This was brought home to me lately when I started playing an online video game. When I bought it, I didn’t realize it was meant to be played with other people. At first, I resisted. I was determined to go it alone, thinking, how hard can it be?
It was very hard.
I died, a lot. I got confused. There was so much to figure out. Even with Google I was struggling.
I was on the verge of quitting when I found a Facebook group for the game and asked a question that had been plaguing me for awhile, identifying myself as a newbie. I received an answer – and an invitation to join a guild. Those are in-game groups of people who play together.
Reluctantly, I joined. Then I studiously avoided the guildmaster for a week. I still wasn’t sure I was a guild person. Eventually, though, I started chatting with him. Then I joined the guild on a group dungeon delve.
And I had so much fun.
Suddenly, the game made sense. And I met people who have become really good companions. The guildmaster made me some equipment to help me level up my character. Another guild member showed me how to play better. I’m still happily playing, learning and joining the group on dungeon excursions and other explorations.
The guild community saved me and kept me from quitting. If I hadn’t taken a risk and reached out, the game likely would be gathering dust on my console’s hard drive.
Playing in a guild has also taught me about what it means to be in a community, particularly:
It’s OK to ask for help. When I was new, I was afraid to ask for help, thinking I’d look bad. In fact, people on the game expect you to ask for help if you’re new. It’s hard to learn, and many love to guide and support new members. That was a huge mental shift for me, as I’m normally a really independent person.
Give back and support others.Usually the people who helped me didn’t want anything in return. But I came to realize that I needed to pay it forward. So, now I answer questions on the Facebook group and offer tips when grouping up with new players. I also send people equipment I pick up that I know they need.
Everyone belongs. Our guild’s events are almost always open to everyone. There are some exceptions when we play content that requires a certain level or is really difficult, but that’s rare. Any guild member can join, have fun, and support the group.
Some people might scoff at an online game being real community. I may have once been one of those. But playing with my guild has taught me a lot about community, and myself. And I think the lessons I’ve learned can be applied in the offline world – in our churches, cities and countries -- where we seem to be struggling lately with the concept of community and what it means to journey in this world together.
As my guild has taught me, going it alone will only take you so far. It’s important to be in community – and be community for others.
Kevin Aschenbrenner is a Victoria-based writer, poet and communications professional. He holds an M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from the Sophia Center at Holy Names University in Oakland, Calif. He blogs at www.dearpopefrancis.ca.
You can read more articles on our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking, HERE
* This article was published in the pront edition of the Times Colonist on Saturday, July 13th 2019