A common theme from the last few weeks of news articles and essays and reading points to the issue of loneliness as a real fruit of our modern era. I suppose we’ve known this since the release of Bowling Alone, at least. But loneliness has its many facets, makes appearances in surprising ways at every stage of life.
The folks over at Comment Magazine are putting together a summer issue dealing with loneliness and social isolation. They’ve already posted this editorial from James K. A. Smith and this essay from Wesley Hill about loneliness and celibacy. It is good to see difficult things addressed well.
Henri Nouwen also has something to say about loneliness in his collected writings on Spiritual Direction. From the chapter on “Who Will Answer My Questions?” Nouwen writes
To live the questions requires that you first look within yourself, trusting that God is present and at work within you. This is a very difficult task, because in our world we are constantly pulled away from our innermost self and encouraged to look for answers outside of ourselves. If you are a lonely person, you have no inner rest to ask, wait, and listen. You crave people in the hope that another will bring you answers. You want them here and now. But by first embracing solitude in God’s presence, you can pay attention to your inner, clamoring self before looking to others for community and accountability. This has nothing to do with egocentrism or unhealthy introspection because, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice to a young poet, “what is going on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.”
Sobering words, yet true. And they hold out the hope of being some kind of corrective for a society and culture of growing loneliness.
You can learn more about Comment Magazine here.