Posts Tagged ‘solitude’

Hold On and On Hold

As I predicted, unresolved issues that get swept under the carpet, continue to inflict damage on the church: broken relations, distrust, evasiveness and more questions.

My only recourse is to hold on to the mercies of God and continue to patiently wait upon Him in prayer. In the meantime, I need to put myself “on hold” from all my church activities other than prayer and the bible study class I am leading. I need to have time and space to hear from God and discern His will for the church.

Nouwen’s words seem especially relevant to me during this time:

Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger. Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure. Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life …

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“The hunger for a feeling of connection that informs most everything I’ve written flows from a common break in a common heart, one I share with everyone I’ve ever really known.”

– Jeff Nunokawa, The Note Book

Since early 2007, Jeff Nunokawa (Princeton English professor) has posted daily meditations in the Notes section of his Facebook page, and 250 of his most popular reflections/essays were collected and published as a book in 2015. What motivated him to keep up this daily practice? The introduction to his book may give us a clue:

The lives we lead together, sometimes in the middle of the night, or of the day, when we least feel like we’re together: when we feel most separated from the lives of others, most separated from the social world that we love and wish to be loved by in return. …

All of us, I suppose, have encountered some form of the feeling of loneliness confessed in Lamb’s bachelor essay, and sought one way or another to address that feeling, by finding some way of addressing others whom we can’t, for one or another reason, face—sometimes writing across distances so long that we can’t possibly expect to know for certain whom we are reaching, or even that we are reaching anyone at all.

I can relate to and resonate with what Nunokawa writes: I too encounter loneliness, often and especially, in the middle of a church service. As I sit confined in my pew, staring at the backs of the heads of the people in front of me and struggle to remain engaged as the preacher undergoes his monologue, often an overwhelming sense of sadness and loneliness will wash over me. Soon, I think to myself, the service will be over, and people (my brothers and sisters) will scurry about their way. And I may never once have any meaningful interaction with some of them that day, that week, except for perhaps a fleeting hello or good-bye.

Perhaps this is why I resumed blogging again when I came back from exile and began immersing myself in church life again. I had to find a way “to address that feeling”, so I would add my Amen to what Nunokawa asserts: “I know as well as I know anything that the loneliness at the heart of my project is not mine alone.”  Truth be told, that is a large part of why I blog, due to the scarcity of genuine fellowship, though not from want of trying on my part.

The NT contains over 50 one another commands that require a relational and mutual context within a faith community in order to obey them and enact  them. Yet, I find I am largely unable to because of the lack of connection with many of my brothers and sisters.

Nunokawa asks, Why this overmastering desire to communicate with others? yet I’m not sure many of my brothers and sisters share that desire—at least inside the confines of the church building and the church service. Outside this artifical structure of space and time that are mistakenly thought of as church, things are better: I know many of these same people are able to open up more and allow for some connection. Clearly, we need to move from being largely passive spectators to more active participants if we are to have deeper spiritual conversations with one another.

Near the close of his introduction, Nunokawa ponders:

Sometimes I’ve wondered why so many of my morning compositions have felt like small acts of mourning something mildly big. What is the particular loss that generally marks and motivates what I’ve written over the course of our correspondence? Partly it is the loss of a once-crowded social world that I’ve already mentioned. But what I have written also marks the loss of something more intimate than that: the youthful hope (at least it was the hope of my youth) to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole.

There it is: the loss of something more intimate[and the desire] to have and to hold (and so to be held by) some continuous connection with some other party that would make both of us whole. Yes, yes we come to our Sunday gatherings to connect with God, but to also connect with one another (κοινωνίᾳ). Church is like a jigsaw puzzle with many unconnected pieces, and I seldom seem to fit in. How I long to see all the pieces fitted together in their proper place so that we can all behold the beautiful picture as a result.

“For the body does not consist of only one part, but of many. … God has arranged the parts, every one of them, in the body according to his plan.  Now if all of it were one part, there wouldn’t be a body, would there? So there are many parts, but one body.”

1 Cor. 12:14, 18–20; ISV

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Disappointment and disillusionment have come to visit me again. In a big way.

I want so badly to believe that
There is truth, that love is real
And I want life in every word
To the extent that it’s absurd

“Clark Gable”, The Postal Service

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The Weight of Wait

By nature, I am a problem solver. However, I’ve had to learn again and again, especially in this season of change, that I need to wait. The burden, מַשָּׂא, of the needs all around me weigh heavy upon my heart, and my natural inclination is to rush out to meet those needs. However, there are often obstacles, especially when the problems are structural and systemic.

There seems to be some frantic and frenetic busyness born out of impatience or insecurity. There are fences of fear that seek to contain and constrain; there are gatekeepers and guardians. Thus shut out, I am reminded that I need to let go of my desire (however well-intentioned) to rush in and fix the problems, even though it is hard to silence the prophetic impulse to speak into the situation.

If we are wise enough to pay attention to the quieter voice,
it might sound something like this:


These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
This opening to the life
we have refused
again and again
until now.

Until now.

– David Whyte


I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

– T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets, “East Coker III”


Solitude. Silence.

Be still my soul.

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We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we’re not alone.
– Orson Welles

Lately I’ve been unable to fight off this forlorn feeling of futility and forsakenness. God seems unreal and my friends seem so far away. That’s why I could not find the faith and fortitude to face my brothers and sisters these past 2 Sundays. Then I came across this:

All of us are hurting. All of us have our own stories of pain, and we’d be so much better off—all of us—if we’d just trust each other with a little honesty. …

And sometimes, it helps to just know you’re not on this journey by yourself. …

A lot of people work hard to put on a good face and keep up illusions that everything is fine. …

Church should be the one place you don’t have to pretend. Church should be the one place where it’s OK to say, “I’m having a bad day.”

Church should be the place where you can sit next to a friend and let them know you’re with them and that they’re going to be OK, and not have to use a lot of words. It should be a place where you can simply say, “I’ve been there too…”

Sometimes, all you need is to know you’re not alone. Church should be the place where you know that.

Bingo! I am tired of pretending and I’m tired of seeing other pretenders. Why can’t we remove our masks and be honest, open and vulnerable with each other? Surely I can’t be the only one who yearns for genuine relationships, who longs for the real thing?

I came across a fallen tree
I felt the branches of it looking at me
Is this the place we used to love?
Is this the place that I’ve been dreaming of?

Oh, simple thing, where have you gone?
I’m getting old, and I need something to rely on
So tell me when you’re gonna let me in
I’m getting tired, and I need somewhere to begin

And if you have a minute, why don’t we go
Talk about it somewhere only we know?
This could be the end of everything
So why don’t we go
Somewhere only we know?

–Keane, Somewhere Only We Know

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Busyness and Being Still

As I slowly get more involved with church life, I feel simultaneously exhilarated and (emotionally) exhausted. From attending church only once every 4 – 6 weeks 18 months ago—and only at the behest of my wife—to looking forward now to being with my church family every Sunday plus:

  • LifeGroups,
  • choir (on an ad hoc basis),
  • setting up our church’s information portal,
  • weekly meetings with our lead teaching pastor,
  • semi-regular meetings with our pastor of care,
  • Alpha,
  • and sitting in / helping out with the youth Sunday school class (and hoping to mentor our youth (“next gen”) pastor)

Of course, I need not mention my duties as a full-time employee, father, and husband. I am also a member (and executive officer) of 2 Toastmasters clubs and a board member of a ministry. On top of all that, renewed biblical and theological studies in earnest. This would explain why my blogging output has diminished considerably of late!

Clearly, such a pace is not sustainable or advisable. Obviously, I need to align my church activities more along my spiritual gifts; but, in practice, that is not always easy. On the one hand, I have to wait upon the Lord for opportunities to serve with my gifts; on the other hand, I feel burdened to help out wherever and whenever I can—woe is me!

The discerning reader will rightly wonder where there is space in my life for solitude and prayer. Such is my dilemma … Martha or Mary?

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– e.e. cummings (from 95 poems, 1958)

This poem captures how I felt this past Sunday.

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