Sunday, August 26, 2012

Lonley Day

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to feel completely alone, even while in the presence of hundreds of people?  You walk through bustling crowds, all the while feeling like you are surrounded by some kind of invisible cocoon.  Everyone seems to have purpose, direction, importance; none of which seem to be connected to you in any way.  Inwardly, we can feel utterly alone, even though our external surroundings reveal anything but.  Henri Nouwen says in his book, The Wounded Healer:

"We live in a society in which loneliness has become one of the most painful human wounds. The growing competition and rivalry which pervade our lives from birth have created in us an acute awareness of our isolation. This awareness has in turn left many with a heightened anxiety and an intense search for the experience of unity and community. It has also led people to ask anew how love, friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood can free them from isolation and offer them a sense of intimacy and belonging. All around us we see the many ways by which the people of the western world are trying to escape this loneliness….

But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon – a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding. The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain… We easily relate to our human world with devastating expectations. We ignore what we already know… that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence."  

Loneliness can be both a blessing and a curse.  And this is possibly why so many of us avoid community.  For it is when we are thrust into community that we are confronted by the fact that isolation can no longer coexist with healthy and loving community.  We are drawn to explore what has caused us to embrace isolation in the first place, and this usually means having to face some demons that we've avoided for a long time.  In many ways, community is the antithesis of isolation; still promising troubles and even pain, but also with the promise of unity.  

The above video by System of a Down seems to really seems to capture the feeling of isolation that exists in so many pockets of our culture today.  Only when we decide to come out of our self-made cocoons, will we begin to see that real community is possible.  But we have to take the chance together.  Community cannot be accomplished within the vacuum of self, but can only be found when we join others in mutual isolation.  Then we begin to realize that we not only share some of the same sort of feelings, but also begin to see our feelings of isolation diminish.  Community is a picture of life in it's fullness.  Isolation is a shadow of death. 

Although the world around us can encourage isolation, especially as technology seems to draw us further inward, I don't believe that this is what God created us for.  I believe that God created us to live in healthy communities together, sharing our life journeys.  Especially for those that follow Christ, community holds a special place of importance because we are part of something larger:  the Body of Christ.  Rather than figurative, this is a living breathing organism that only functions at full capacity if all members are fully connected.  This is why isolation can be so debilitating.  When we are removed from the living Body that we are naturally supposed to be part of, we feel the pain of separation, just as one would with the loss of a limb or an internal organ.  When isolated, we feel sick, irritated, angry, frustrated, sapped of energy and less than human.          

In the Gospel of John, Jesus paints one of the most beautiful pictures of community found anywhere.  When Jesus says,"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”, it is not simply a sentiment that the disciples were to carry in their hearts for one another.  But this command comes after Jesus humbles Himself to wash His friends' feet.  He calls His friends to "love one another" only after He has physically shown them what love really means.  And that kind of love cannot exist in isolation, but only within the presence of loving community that is willing to put others first.     

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