On Loneliness

Enlight144

Photo of an Arkansas dawn by Steven Nawojczyk

I have always hated feeling lonely. Being alone meant sorrow for me, and in my younger years, I did everything I could to avoid spending time alone, trying to keep loneliness at bay. The more people I could have around me, the more alive I felt.

And then I began to experience the deep loneliness one can experience even when surrounded with people. That is to me the most painful loneliness of all β€” being lonely in a crowd, suddenly coming face to face with my emptiness, discovering that no one is ever truly present with me.

Growing older has taught me that being alone is actually life-giving. Sometimes being alone brings the kind of silence we need to draw closer to God, hearing the sacred whispers that reach the depths of the soul. Silence can bring a more intense awareness of the bursting life all around us, the rise and fall of the cicada’s song in the summer, the sweet music of birdsong, the delightful sound of fluttering hummingbird wings, the silence of the night broken only by the sounds of katydids and crickets.

I recently read these words from the children’s fantasy novel, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.

Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.

― Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

It truly is beautiful . . . being alone with silence complete enough to listen and to truly hear. It is one thing to be alone, but quite another to be alone with God. Being alone with God is being in the silent, sacred place where the soul meets its creator. It is finding the quiet, holy place of falling into the arms of a God who abides and protects. It is coming near to the β€œmercy seat” where disconsolate seekers bring their wounded hearts. It is sitting in the place where we learn that β€œearth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.” *

I have learned, even in my loneliest times, that there is abiding truth in the words of philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich.

Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone; solitude expresses the glory of being alone.

Being alone taught me that, even when not one human soul is around me, I am never truly alone. And I rest my hope in these words, β€œIn life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.”

Amen and amen.

 

β€œCome, Ye Disconsolate,” Lyrics: Thomas MooreΒ (1779-1852); Altered by Thomas HastingsΒ (1784-1872); Music: Samuel WebbeΒ (1740-1816)

Please enjoy this beautiful hymn presented by the Baylor University Men’s A Cappella Choir at this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mNqzhfB4y1I

Advertisements

Struggle and Wonder

Enlight119

Aging, they say, is not for sissies. The person who coined that statement must have known about the many ways getting older would take its toll. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, our lives change,

We have at least two ways to live through these days that bring aging’s challenges. We can languish under the weight of life, fighting through every day to maintain our elusive youth. Or we can live deeply, embracing the sweetness and the sorrow, and savoring the memories that have brought us to this time in our lives. We can hold on tightly to the “small bagful of stars” that make our every moment a wonder.

Bishop Steven Charleston speaks great wisdom, describing a “place of struggle and wonder.”

We do not have long to linger in this place of struggle and wonder, surrounded by the clamoring throng, or sitting silently beneath the moon. We have only a measure of moments, a small bagful of stars, to spend here among the laughter and sighs, before the days of our counting are complete. Let each one, each day, each moment be lived then, as if it was the only hour creation will ever know, lived in as deeply as love will allow, lived in for all of its sweetness and sorrow. We do not have long to linger, but we have forever to remember.

Struggle and wonder, sweetness and sorrow . . . inextricably joined, woven together to create the tapestry of our lives. And so we grasp the struggle and cling tightly to the wonder. We welcome the sweetness, knowing full well that the sorrow is a necessary emotion of a life well lived.

We have forever to remember the struggle and wonder that swaddled us, abided with us, made its home within us, and fashioned our wondrous lives.

And this is God’s good news for us.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face struggles of many kinds,Β because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.Β Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

A Syllable of God

 

image

I long for a space of deep listening, but in my humanity, I can’t get there. My mind is too busy with mundane things. I can’t seem to still my soul enough to truly hear God speaking to me. I could surmise that the reason I do not hear is because God is not speaking. I could settle for a silent God that is simply not communicating with me.

But my faith knows better than that. The years of my journey of faith have taught me that God is speaking far more than I am listening. It is my task to find a space of stillness, to put my heart into that good place of solitude and peace. It is my task to get to that place that allows me to hear God’s promptings.

Author and contemplative Macrina Wiederkehr describes this for me.

And don’t we all, with fierce hunger,
crave a cave of solitude,
a space of deep listening –
full of quiet darkness and stars,
until finally we hear a syllable of God
echoing in our hearts?

And so I continue, searching for that “space of deep listening full of quiet darkness and stars,” listening for that syllable of God.

My New Normal

image

Do you ever wear an “I feel good” mask? I certainly do, trying to convince everyone that I feel,physically strong. Keeping up that image can be exhausting.

Maybe it’s time to admit that trying to appear to feel good all the time is a burden. It’s even a burden to pretend I feel good. The reality is that I have end stage kidney disease and, because of that, I push and push to feel normal again, to have the energy I used to have. I seldom admit the feelings of deep-down fatigue I experience. I struggle to keep a pace that makes me feel as strong as I used to be. I simply have not embraced or admitted my “new normal.”

Even with my family, I often try to present a good front. And sometimes, I just long to be honest about how I feel with them, and with myself. The truth is that I’m afraid if I give in to my real feelings, my strength will go down even further. So I am compelled to push myself, sometimes at my own peril. I think my husband, in fact, is the only one who knows how weak I really feel.

Still, I rest in my faith in God, who knows me better than I know myself, and who gives me strength when I am weary. One of my favorite Scripture passages never fails to bring me hope.

He gives strength to the weary,
And to them who lack might He increases strength.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble and fall:
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not become weary,
They will walk and not faint.

– Isaiah 40:29-31

On my harder days, I will lean on the promise of that Scripture. But I also want to make peace with my “new normal” and be honest enough with myself to determine what it really feels like. My life is far from over, but it is different, and I need to embrace that.

Sitting in My Own Silence

image

It’s a day with no words. I have contemplated hope, grace, kindness, worry, faith. And yet I have nothing to say. Perhaps my lesson is to listen, to sit in the middle of my own silence, to wait on words from God. And so today, I recommend to you a time of quiet meditation sitting in your own silence.

I think our deepest love finds its voice when we have run out of words to express it. There is no language that can capture what a lifetime has brought to be, the private journey of a single soul through the twists and turns of time. We are the sum of what we feel when feeling defies reason and runs to places no logic has ever seen. As careful as we are to wear our masks among the crowd, alone we know the untamed extravagance of a spirit that wants to care more than to control. So let us, each one, in silence share our truth, seeing in one another’s eyes the mirror of our own silent story. Β  – Steven Charleston

Words are not always needed. Apparently I need to rest in this present reality. Perhaps I need to refresh and refuel and allow something fresh and new to rise up in me. Until then I have no riveting subject to write about, no words to share. And that’s okay.

β€œIn Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”

― Rumi

Serenity . . . The Peace of God

image

Even in retirement, I find it difficult to set aside quiet hours, hours of peace and serenity. I tend to get caught up in current politics, the news of the day, and all of the interruptions that come up. Yet, I need quiet time. I need times of reflection and contemplation. It is during those quiet times that I find the peace of God. I find serenity and find myself dreaming new dreams again.

Bishop Steven Charleston writes about the gift of God’s peace that waits “beyond the clam our of the day.”

Quiet the hours that surround us, still the moments through which we pass. The peace of God is a gift, freely given, to any and to all, waiting just beyond the clamor of the day, available to whoever will receive it. No illness or strife, no worry or hurt can keep this calm hand from reaching us, no distance, no time. The feeling of what is holy is serenity, an assurance that love will never be lost, that mercy is as certain as forgiveness, that none of us has walked this way without reason. Heaven waits behind closed eyes, the other world of what is now, the blessing we were born to live.

Indeed, we were born to live this blessing and to find what is holy in our times of serenity. And so I work to keep out distractions and worries, reaching out for the calm hand of God.