I’ve been working my way through a collection of sermons by Rowan Williams—the theologian and former Archbishop of Canterbury—entitled A Ray of Darkness (Cowley Publications, 1995). I’ve written about his reflections before. Recently, I happened to read one dealing with what it means to be alone.
The bishop points out something that I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks: he argues that coming to terms with our inherent loneliness is necessary for the task of being in community. Allow me to quote him at length here:
“If we can trust that truth has a home, an objective place in the all-perceiving mercy of God, then our hidden life is “hidden with Christ in God.” What’s more, if I can see my reality thus, I can see yours and everyone’s in the same way. I shall see your elusiveness, your mystery, your terrible singleness and solitude. And because your solitude, like mine, belongs to God, I shall stand before you as I stand before God. You are holy, as God is holy, and you are unknowable and unpredictable, as God is. I must therefore give up and put away all hopes of trapping you in my words, my categories, and my ideas, my plans and my solutions… I shall see your boundary and recognize that love and fellowship are realities I do not constantly have to preserve by my efforts, by struggling to say and know everything. We meet in God, in whom your solitude and mine, your truth and mine, are at last at home” (125f).
What a beautiful way of naming the mystery within and without… what a hard word to live out. It is not our tendency to cherish loneliness this way, to pay it the respect it deserves in us or in others. But if the bishop is right—if our truth finds its home in God—then we might be able to approach one another with curiosity rather than fear, with wonder rather than anxious expectation. If the bishop is right, it might just be possible for us to appreciate the gifts we each bring to the table.
This is a difficult task. (As I’ve said many times before, many things worth doing often are.) We bring baggage with us; we long to be understood and loved; we have been hurt too many times before. But if we believe that we are loved—if we buy the message of the gospel wholesale—then isn’t there something in loneliness that we might cherish? Is it possible for us to love the God in whom our loneliness rests?
—Fr. JavierTags: From the Clergy, Hope for the Journey