The other day I was sorting through some booklets about a range of subjects and two particularly attracted my attention. The titles of these two were: ‘From Loneliness to Solitude’ and ‘The Gift of Joy’; seemingly quite unrelated, until I started reading them.
For the last thirteen weeks things have been rather different for all of us. We can’t meet up in the way that we could and can’t meet others in work or social activities in the usual way. I know that lots of us have found that really hard. In some sense we feel we’re no longer the people that we were. Sadly, the loneliness that’s long been a problem in our society has also increased markedly with ‘lock-down’ and ‘social distancing’.
The author of ‘From Loneliness to Solitude’, Roland Walls, was Priest-in-Charge of the Rosslyn Chapel in the 1960s and subsequently went on to found a Monastic Community in an old miners welfare hall in Roslin, just around the corner. He writes in 1976:
“Loneliness is the biggest, most extensive personal problem of our cities and while ‘telly’ and radio help to keep you in touch with the world, the daily screenful of busy, exiting, active people is in such strange contrast to the armchair, the biscuit on the plate and a mug full of coffee; it makes it worse to be alone in view of so much happening.”
If he were writing today, he would doubtless have included social media and all the other digital ‘communication’ tools that serve to keep our daily screens full. He goes on to say that we’re lonely because we’re made for ‘infinite possibility’ and at times we experience the painfulness of emptiness, because there’s a void ‘aching to be filled’. Whatever we may think and whatever we may try, that void can only be filled by God. It’s a God-shaped hole if you like. However the response of most of us to that void is to try to fill it up with busyness, but that doesn’t work, it just covers it up, but it’s still there just as empty as ever.
At this point, we shift our attention to ‘The Gift of Joy’. Curtis Almquist, its author, tells us that “Joy is something of a rare commodity” and the primary reason, he says, is that “Joy takes time”. He talks about an old ‘monastic insight’ that to find joy you need to do one thing at a time. When you’re walking, just walk; when looking, just look; when listening, just listen. Whatever you’re doing, having a cuppa, watering the plants, stroking the cat, just do that and savour it. Quite the reverse of busyness.
Be present in the current moment, don’t dwell on what has or has not happened in the past or worry about what’s to come, just savour the smell of the flower, or the sound the birdsong, or the taste of your lunch. Whatever happens next can wait whilst you enjoy the present moment. Joy also requires us to accept what is and not grieve for what is not. To experience joy we have to accept how little of what happens in our lives we have real control over and be comfortable with that.
That lack of control is glaringly apparent to anyone who had any plans prior to March this year. As one version of the Serenity Prayer goes:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time,
Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it be,
Trusting that You will make all things right. Amen.