This past weekend, my congregation, the Lake Street Church of Evanston, celebrated its 150th anniversary.

By their very nature, anniversaries evoke nostalgia.

As I reflected on the history of Lake Street Church I remembered the colorful characters I have known throughout my 28 year tenure. Recalling this parade of parishioners, the power of life shared and remembered opened my heart.

Then it occurred to me.

Our 150th anniversary is not merely about an institution that has survived 150 years, but about, as the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament puts it– our “cloud of witnesses”, past, present and future. This anniversary has been a celebration of the enduring journey of a spiritual community. The spiritual community of Lake Street Church has repeatedly found its way and lost it, found it and lost it again—over and over again this has been the case. And yet, somehow this spiritual community has endured and is at the moment, thriving.

What does it mean to be a spiritual community?

Being a spiritual community is not about the destination but the journey. This is not just a cliché, it is the experience of all who live in community.

But finally, the point is that being in spiritual community is to know that we do not take this journey alone.

Eighty years ago, George and Ira Gershwin wrote the song, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” The song is sweet and touching, so much so that over 70 famous artists have recorded it. This song strikes a chord because we all need someone to watch over us.

Innate to the human experience is the need to know we are not alone. We need to know that when we are down, someone will take us by the hand to help us up. We need to know that when we are in tears, another will dry them. We need to know that when grief breaks us open, there are others who will surround and hold us with loving kindness.

Sometimes we think we need for others to solve our problems, remove our pain and deliver us from our suffering. We think our deepest fear in life is that reality will not conform to our expectations. We think our deepest fear is that life will deal us a bad hand. But this is not our deepest fear.  Our deepest fear is that we will end up alone.

By standing with us, the spiritual community reminds us we are not and never alone.

The spiritual community blesses us in our strength—blesses us in our weakness—blesses us in our wholeness and in our brokenness.

But it not only blesses us—it also stretches us.

Living in community stretches us to remember it’s not all about me, it’s always about We. And here’s the spiritual paradox. It’s only when we become larger than ourselves that we become our true selves.

Living in a spiritual community corrects our vision. Living in spiritual community helps us to see life from a different angle.

Life inevitably brings unbearably painful experiences, disappointment, grief and disillusionment. But to live in a spiritual community is to remember that beneath the broken surface of our lives there is a hidden wholeness.

We are conditioned to seeing life through the eyes of the small and separate self.

But if we look deeply we see deeper truths. If we look deeply and stand together we will not fall apart because we see the whole is in every part. Life is unified, complete, it is already whole.

Everyone is a part of the Whole. The Whole lives in every part.

We live our many lives, but in some inexplicable way there is but one life being lived through all of us.

Time and time again people approached Jesus saying, “I hope everything will be all right”, and Jesus would answer, “it already is. The realm of God is in your midst already. Wake up.”

The word Guru, comes from Sanskrit, the classical language of India. It means “dispeller of darkness” or “giver of light”. Over the years I have had the good fortune of being in the presence of several illumined gurus. When one is in the presence of a true Guru, typically, the mind becomes quiet and the heart opens. Often there is the feeling of intoxication—not like one gets from alcohol or drugs—it’s an intoxication of bliss—nothing to be anxious about—nothing to fear—it’s the intoxication that comes from seeing the innate beauty and unity of life.

The Guru is not the message but the messenger, the divine torch bearer that shows us the way to liberation.

In its highest and best sense, the spiritual community is a guru.

The spiritual community keeps reminding us that not one of us has all the Truth. It reminds us that we are only close to Truth, close to God, when we are close to love.

This is my experience.

And yours?