Loneliness can be an even bigger secret and source of shame than sexual dysfunction. Social statistics – and government responses to them out of concern for mental health – suggest that an accelerating number of people, young and old, report that they feel disconnected from others, unloved and with no one to share with. It is an awful thing.
When we feel lonely – and, if truth be told, loneliness is part of the human condition – we realise that we do not and cannot exist independently. We feel false, unreal, odd and out of place because the truth is that we have no wholeness sufficient to itself. ‘No man is an island’. Yet it is also painfully true that there is something in each of us that cannot be as fully shared and revealed as we would like. Loneliness can open up even in the most intimate and loving relationships. Often when we want to be most open and clear we find it doesn’t work.
When we enter Holy Week we will notice this in those parts of the story where Jesus is shown in his terrible isolation, misunderstood by his friends, rejected for false reasons by his enemies. Not surprisingly when this appears in ourselves many try to gloss it over, become busier, look aghast at an empty space in their day or week, join more online networks, seek any form of escape. But community is not everything. It does not work, any more than marriage can, for people who fail to face their loneliness.
If we see ourselves running away from our loneliness, ashamed of it and secretive about it, we should also see how we are not learning the lesson it is teaching us. For his followers, Jesus is the master of loneliness and, seeing that, we might emerge from isolation into love. In his confrontation with his loneliness he was deeply silent. He did not blame his disciples who let him down or the powerful who abused him. His last words show that it was not the silence of bitterness but of love.
Silence is terrifying to our culture. The more lonely we become the more we turn up the volume of life and, as in evident in the over-sexualisation of our world, the intensity of distraction. We need to allow ourselves to be silent. Simply let ourselves be silent. Doing this with others – at times making silence, not talk, the real work of being together – intuitively allows us to see the loneliness of others without being frightened by it. We shall see that in this loneliness is our potential for God and so we begin to look at each other with gentler and wiser eyes. The pain of loneliness gives way to the clarity of solitude and we become solitaries in a common love.