Page 9 - PT Spring 2017 spreads hires
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By Eva McIntyre  counsellor or spiritual director? If we ask ourselves these   sense our belonging? How do we stop ourselves from
        questions, we can then make an informed decision as to   experiencing this process as either ‘There’s something
        what to do with a bout of loneliness – to address it by   wrong with me’ or ‘They’re all horrid and ignoring me’?
        seeking company, or to sit with it and find out what waits   Affie doesn’t overthink it: she moves round, trying new
        for us beyond the loneliness.                        things. There’s a beautiful story about Affie the Arab. One
          Back at the beginning of Lent, we had the story of Jesus   day, all the herd was gathered around a pile of hay and Affie
        taking himself off into the wilderness  where he looked   was at the back, bottom of the pecking order and unable to
        the loneliness of his mission square in the eyes and faced   get to the hay until the others had their fill. In his pen next
        down his ‘demons’. A courageous and gruelling time: he   to the herd was Alfie the pig.
        never promised us it would be easy, after all. He comes out   Alfie saw Affie stuck at the back on her own, and he
        of the wilderness a different person; more complete, more   poked his head through the fence, pulled a large mouthful
        integrated, more ready to face the world. For most of us,   of hay from the pile and carried it down to where Affie
        this process is undertaken in stages throughout our lives   was, dropping it through the fence for her. Soul friends can
        and not through a short, deep immersion.             come in unexpected guises.
 Exploring aloneness and   the road narrow that leads to life, and few find it. They   ones we inhabit, each person is a wonderful, unique and
                                                               In that farmyard, just as in communities such as the
          In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says that the gate is small and
                                                             precious gift of God. We enrich our community through
        don’t find it because it’s tough and they are scared to stay
                                                             our belonging, and we can only appreciate real belonging if
        with the discomfort, so they never discover their own
 loneliness in our lives  depths and resources; they stay in the shallow waters of   we have experienced loneliness.
        their souls. The poet W H Auden observed with exquisite
                                                               If you despair over your feelings of loneliness, it
        insightfulness ;
                                                             becomes harder to hold on to this truth; that without your
          ‘We would rather be ruined than changed.
                                                             be so much poorer and incomplete. As A M Allchin says,
          We would rather die in our dread                   uniqueness and your belonging, the community would
 A place to avoid, or an opportunity to embrace   Than climb the cross of the moment  ‘For a human being is not an individual, but a person:
 and strengthen our faith?  And let our illusions die.’      not a replaceable part of the whole, but a unique and
                                                             unrepeatable being in whom the whole (all humankind and,
          The phrase ‘the road less travelled’ has become a cliché
        but one that sums up what Jesus is talking about. Do we   indeed, all creation) is mysteriously present.’
        want to travel on the surface of our lives or do we want to
        go deeper where the challenges are rich but will disturb us?  The same – but different
                                                             It could be said that loneliness and ‘aloneness’ are the same
        A sense of belonging                                 thing, and Christians are splitting hairs when they claim
 oneliness is a powerful topic and   friendships or due to activities or roles. The greater the   It’s important here to go back to the herd. If we wander   they are different. Well, splitting hairs can be helpful when
 one we tend to avoid talking   anticipation of belonging, the more acute the sense of   off and plunge ourselves into the very depths of loneliness   we are trying to understand why we can feel differently
        without the support of our community, we are likely to
                                                             when we are apparently in the same situation. Why is it we
 loneliness can be when it’s dashed.
 Labout very much. In fact, it seems   I’ve been watching and learning about the reality of   find the depths too much, and sink. Loneliness is only   can feel quite content and close to God while alone one
 to carry an element of shame: it’s not   another herd animal; horses. And I’ve learnt a lot from   productive if it is experienced in relation to its opposite: if it  day, and desperately unhappy with the same circumstances
                                                             on another?! There is a long tradition of using the word
        is experienced in contrast to belonging.
 them! They are profoundly connected to each other; so
 something people like to admit to   much that they feel each other’s feelings: that’s vital in the   This sense of belonging takes me back to that herd   ‘aloneness’ among hermits and solitaries: people who
 publicly because it might get them   wild so that, if one horse sees a predator, they all pick it   of horses I was watching. A small Arab horse called Affie   choose to spend a great deal of their lives alone in order
 up simultaneously. They also have their own boundaries
        was trying to work out her place in the herd; where did
                                                             to focus on their connection with God, and a profound
 labelled as ‘sad’ or ‘a loser’. Of course,   and are very clear about their own space. They are both   she fit in? Who was special friends with whom, and was   prayer ministry for the world. This aloneness isn’t free from
 separate and a community – and, indeed, it’s what is best   there a particular Affie-shaped-space in the herd for her?   periods of loneliness, but it is an active way of being and not
 this is nonsense; society failing to deal  for us humans too. But if this fine balance is disrupted, we   Loneliness and discomfort isn’t only about being on our   simply an absence of company.
 with a basic human emotion – society   feel that loss: we feel lonely. It’s perfectly normal and it’s   own, we sometimes feel it most acutely in the midst of   Mother Mary Clare SLG puts it like this:
 isn’t good with emotions generally.   important because feelings are a source of information and   the herd. Where do we look for our place? How do we   ‘Like the solitary sailor, we deliberately choose our
 we need to ask ‘Why am I feeling lonely at this moment?’
                                                               aloneness as part of a personal quest. We are people
 Loneliness is a significant part of                           engaged on a search. It is always a search for God, but
 being human; we are herd animals,   Getting to the source     it is also a quest that brings us to a place of exposure
                                                               to a deep, heart-searching, listening awareness of the
 It may be a straightforward case of not having enough
 we belong together and we need to   human company, and the best solution is to find ways to   fundamental, crying need of the world.’
                                                               This choice of lifestyle is not running away, it is more
 feel a connection with others to be   increase that interaction.   like running towards. There is no hiding place from the
 For some this is more difficult to remedy than for others.
 fully ourselves.   Or it may be that something has become unbalanced in us   thoughts and feelings that can be avoided through busy-
 and we need to address what the loneliness is pointing to:   ness, in company, or the use of social media.
 We tend to have notions about Church communities being   am I yearning for company in order to hide from something   Well, this is a particular vocation, a very specific choice
 better at ensuring everyone feels they belong, but this   in me that is making me uncomfortable?   of life – not one many of us are likely to follow – but there
 perception frequently doesn’t prove to be the case when we   Is there something I don’t want to address? Is there a   might be useful insights we can gain from it. How can we
 scratch beneath the surface.   neediness in me and am I trying to get other people to fill   find this rich experience of periods of aloneness in our
 While many churches make an effort to welcome   this need, rather than address where it is coming from,   otherwise busy, even crowded, lives? How do we gain a
 everyone, the sense of truly belonging tends to be true   and what it’s about? Or has a major life event caused this   stillness; a quietness at our very core, when we are pulled
 for those in particular groups, whether because of specific   loneliness, and maybe I need to work through this with a   about by the demands upon us in our daily lives?

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