Sunday, April 15, 2007
Loneliness - the window to belonging?
'Don't lose yourself, don't let yourself be lost'
What is it about 3am? Sleep will not be mine tonight so I am just going to type and see what happens. Normally i know what I want to write about, but if I'm honest, i have no idea where I going with this post.
I have so much stuff, so many issues raging through my head, all vying for position, I'm not sure this will be the most coherent piece of writing I've ever accomplished.
But maybe that's not such a terrible admission. Maybe we should admit a little more than we do that most of the time our lives are rather confused and a little messy. Lots of events recently remembered have caused me to take a hard look at my life and faith - generally, no, specifically, because they are both a little messy.
Whether it was the birth of my children, or the tragic death I recalled yesterday once more of Brother Roger of Taize, or the crazy homeless guy called Warren I met in London who had stitches all over his face from a knife wound, or whether it's just the simple fact that we haven't got life quite figured out the way we'd hoped by now - all of these things and, more importantly, how we work through them, are, and will be, a little muddled, maybe even chaotic.
And maybe (I'm using that word a lot at the moment) we should start not only admitting our chaos but also embracing it a little. Let me use a couple of the above moments as an example. A while back I was sitting at a wine bar by Liverpool Street Station enjoying a chilled glass or 3 of Sauvignon Blanc enjoying the spring sun, when I noticed an unkempt man heading in my direction. He was trying to talk to the other people enjoying the sunshine and their wine, but no-one even looked his way.
As he approached me, I saw that his face was covered in stitches. I asked him how it happened - he told me he had asked someone for some money for food, that an argument followed and that a man produced a knife and sliced open his face.
I asked him to sit with me.
We talked for a good hour, and there he spilled his story (and it was pretty disordered), but more than anything I realised how lonely Warren was, how he longed more than anything for community and belonging.
Brother Roger founded founded a community of monks in Taize, in eastern France (that became a remarkable ecumenical movement) because of this type of loneliness. In this community, he encouraged people to embrace their loneliness by dovetailing it with solitude because this, he believed, would become the doorway into community and belonging. What do I mean? Well, the writer Alain de Botton in his work often talks about the pleasure of sadness. Now, he is no manic depressive who wants us all to be miserable for the sake of it. Rather he believes that sometimes our transient state of being, our own failings, griefs and disappointments - however bleak they may seem - may acually console us.
Why is it that when we are most sad, sad songs and melancholy works of art are the very things that comfort us? Maybe they invite us to feel empathy with those whose stories are being told in their isolation. For what it's worth, I think that sensitively saturated works of art serve as an omnipresent symbol of an emotional texture of the person we want to be and feel deep down, somewhere, we are. It is a feature of love overcoming loneliness and one with which we should all, in whatever way we can, assist.
I remember many mourning the tragic passing of Brother Roger, primarily because he in some small way allowed them to belong. there are many Warren's who wander the streets of big cities around this world who ae lonely because no-one notices. maybe we need to start noticing a little more than we do or, as Marcel Proust suggests, that our lives shouldn't be about looking for new landscapes, but rather seeing the one we belong to with different eyes.
I have often felt lonely, even when I am not alone. Yet my faith gas always supported me through some pretty obscure, surreal, lonely and difficult times and actually I am no longer afraid to need it. I am ceratinly no Saint, but i do feel his presence in those quiet moments when I am still enough to listen - and it means the world to me.
Perhaps more than ever, no matter where we find ourselves in the wild, crazy, painfully beautiful adventure called life, we should all spend more time, occasionally, searching for His pleasure...........