Rowan Williams on Solitude

Rowan Williams on “the loneliness of each one of us”

The following is the opening of a characteristically excellent sermon from Rowan Williams. I wish I could post the sermon in full, but I’m sure the publisher would frown on that. It’d be worth seeking the text out to see how Rowan concludes the reflections he starts here.

There are plenty of subjects that Christians seem to treat with a consistent lack of seriousness, with a painful lack of imagination and sympathy. One such subject is loneliness. Most of the time we are so caught up in a bland rhetoric of “communion” and “sharing” that we fail utterly to confront that more puzzling and disturbing fact of irreducible human isolation. “We pray for the old and lonely” – words heard quite frequently in intercessions, implying that loneliness is an unfortunate condition from which some people suffer, like diabetes or color-blindness. But what about the loneliness of each one of us?

Loneliness has little to do with what we do or where we do it, whether we’re married or unmarried, optimists or pessimists, heterosexual or homosexual. Loneliness has to do with the sudden clefts we experience in every human relation, the gaps that open up with stomach-turning unexpectedness. In a brief moment, I and my brother or sister have moved away into different worlds, and there is no language we can share. It is when I see what my words or actions have done to someone else, or when I realize what picture someone else has of me. It is when things that matter to me are met with polite incomprehension, and when I cannot hear and understand the importance of what someone is trying to tell me. It is – recalling an experience I can’t forget – sitting on the floor with a nine-year-old child of normal intelligence and trying to understand what he is saying. Because he is hopelessly spastic and can’t control his tongue any more than he can his head or his limbs, I can grasp only one word in ten, and he stares at me desperately and furiously, willing me to understand with all his might, and I can’t.

from “Being Alone,” in A Ray of Darkness, 3rd Ed., (Cowley, 1995), 121.

P.S.  For the Rowan enthusiasts out there, you can now show off your admiration for the Welshman with this t-shirt.

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