Between Coziness and Challenge

A couple of months ago, my mom gifted me a book titled The Book of Hygge: The Danish Art of Contentment, Comfort, and Connection. Kind of obscure, yes? Danish culture is not something I am familiar with, nor is it part of my family background (though it is part of my husband’s). Even so, my mother found the concept of hygge (pronounced “hoo-gah”) fitting for my personality and many of the things I care about. According to the book’s author Louisa Thomsen Britts, hygge is a “a quality of presence and an experience of belonging and togetherness. It is a feeling of being warm, safe, comforted, and sheltered… it is an experience of selfhood and communion with people and places that anchors and affirms us, gives us courage and consolation.” It is a familiar feeling or experience for many of us, but hard to describe. As I sat down to write this, I realized how many concepts of hygge--including ritual, belonging, building egalitarian society, and creating shelter for one another--were cultivated during my time with the Life Together community.

Nearly six years ago, Life Together greeted me with its intentionality, my eyes bright-eyed and my tail bushy. I was a recent college graduate and packed my suitcases with nearly all my clothes, books, and idealism. This was the community that finally felt like it perfectly fit- a place where I could be authentically Eva and both pray and sing and be weird and hit the streets unabashedly. I was gonna’ learn about how to change things here.

And learn I did. Through my experiences in intentional community (including the fights about dishwashing and chores), at Grace Episcopal Church in Medford, and as a recruitment coordinator during my Emmaus year, I learned how to live in this liminal place between the unconditional coziness, this hygge of God’s love and grace that is ever-present in the world, and the challenge and urgency to embody an alternative to the systems of domination, empire and oppression that also shape our lives and encompass our world. This challenge is not a cozy one, and indeed it must not be. Hygge is in many ways a privilege afforded to too few.

A lot has happened in my life since completing my Emmaus year with Life Together: attending seminary at BU, getting married (an event that included many of the precious housemates and friends I made during my Life Together years, several of whom gave of their time and creativity to make it a wonderful day); moving across the country to return to my hometown of Dallas, Texas and continue the ever-unfolding work of spiritual activism and ministry discernment. And yet it is often in the quiet, mundane moments when Life Together’s impact shows itself most clearly to me. When I pick up the 2014 facilitative leadership training booklet to guide me in creating an agenda; or light a candle at the tiny “meditation station” in my apartment; put a kettle on for tea before I take some deep breaths; attempt a nonviolent conversation with a loved one; or draw attention to systems of power that might be at play in work interactions, I am practicing (and I really mean practicing, because this stuff takes a lot of work and failed attempts) some of the values that shaped me in tremendous ways as a Life Together fellow.

How can the best of our religious traditions and ways of being offer something meaningful to the difficult, rocky places of life and reality? Life Together modeled a kind of church for me that I rarely experience, for so often I find church to be a place where being nice and pleasing for the sake of maintaining a false sense of comfort and status quo (a very “un-hygge” comfort) is worshiped above a Love that calls us to live simply and love in a way that turns things upside down. Thank God Life Together both held me with such tenderness and also made me uncomfortable more than once. Thank God. I pray for continuous encounters of coziness and challenge as we stay the course on the journey toward liberation and hygge for all.