Aloneness

markhoward01

Edition two:

Aloneness

editions • Glimpsing God 1


© The Shoreline Consultancy 2015

Conversation 3 ­ Being Left.indd 1 31/03/2015 10:00

wallet.indd 1 31/03/2015 10:05

creative space

reaching out

Aloneness

conversation two

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

Aloneness

conversation three

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

Aloneness

conversation four

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

Aloneness

conversation five

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

living alone

Aloneness

conversation one

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

Aloneness

As the title Aloneness implies, this collection of readings and

images explores different aspects of what it is to be or to live

alone. Consideration is given to both positive and negative

characteristics of the experience. Our need for solitude – to

pray, to find or renew ourselves, or to be creative – is balanced

by our having to face periods of enforced isolation. Yet even in

such difficult circumstances, we may discover the surprising

flowers of winter and grow once more in faith, hope and love.

essential you

⟢ ⟡ ⟣

Aloneness is the second of a series of resource packs

designed to invite personal reflection and promote spiritual

conversation in a variety of settings.

choosing solitude

Christian belief suggests tha there is something

essential about each one of us known only to

God. Indeed, one of the big challenges we face

in life is discovering our own unique identity.

This acquisition comes not only through our

experience of the world in which we find

ourselves, but also through ou relationships

with others. It is almost as if we have a secret

name that we are seeking and this search

requires patience and attention, something which

the increasing distractions of the everyday can

disguise and prevent.

We are grateful for the sponsorship of this resource by

Methodist Women in Britain who suggested the overall theme

and also contributed to its production.

Within the mixture of ingredients required to

develop a balanced life, there is always a place

for solitude. Finding time to reflect and sift

through what we are experiencing is an important

part of recreation and renewal. Ye the benefits

we gain are not confined to ourselves – those to

whom we return may also appreciate time and

space to notice and consider.

w

The choice of solitude has always formed part

of spiritua living. In the Gospels we find Jesus

himself, in the middle of his public ministry,

deliberately going off on his own to think and

pray. In imitation, many Christians through the

centuries have established their own patterns

of aloneness, seeking a suitable time and an

appropriate place to be attentive to the Divine.

Aloneness

being left

Conversation 2 ­ Choosing Solitude.indd 1 01/04/2015 10:18

For most people self-discovery is two-handed.

There is great joy to be had, but also, sometimes,

painful dawning truth. Yet our emergence from

behind the labels and the false-selves that we so

easily accumulate is always a reason to celebrate.

The ending of a relationship can be the most

difficult challenge for a person to face. Whether

it comes about because of bereavement, the

fracture of a friendship, or the dissolution of a

partnership, the sense of pain and loss bears a

similar quality. The shelter of friends and family

may help to lessen the inevitable grief, but there

is still a personal journey to be undertaken

through the bleak streets of loneliness and

isolation until our hearts are lifted once more.

The need for resilience during these times is

self-evident, but there is much to be learned from

loneliness. While it may be painful and difficult,

there is always room to be surprised by the

unexpected gifts of winter – unseasonal flowers

of wisdom and resolve, a deepening of faith and

the gradual unveiling of a peace that surpasses

all understanding.

creative space

There is something abou the creative process

that requires room to unfold. We dream of how

something could be, before embarking alone

through periods of waiting and working. Some

parts of the process are outside of our control,

whereas others demand our full and focussed

attention.

For people o faith, all creativity is rooted in God,

for even the capacity to be creative is recognised

as a gif that we can either nurture or neglect.

The bes that emerges from our efforts is rightly

termed ‘inspired’, but this is no to diminish the

necessity of our involvement. Although some

of what we create arrives swiftly and without

fanfare, we are often called to struggle with the

birth – working and reworking on something until

it conforms to the way we feel it was mean to be.

before God

Aloneness

conversation six

living alone

Aloneness

More and more people within our country today

are living alone. For some this is a conscious

choice, as they prefer the freedom of their own

space to sharing it with other people. For others,

however, it is an unfortunate occurrence, a

burden to be endured, or a change in life to be

managed. Some individuals find they have to

endure a difficult period of adjustment, perhaps

when children have grown up and gone, or longterm

partners have departed.

conversation seven

reaching out

Whatever the circumstances, there seems to be

an ar to living on your own. Choices need to be

made in establishing patterns of time, interest

and energy suitable to your own disposition

and wellbeing. The joy of your own space has

both inward and outward aspects and there is

a spiritual dimension to finding contentment in

your own company.

Conversation 4 ­ Creative Space.indd 1 31/03/2015 10:00

before God

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

All forms of human communication are attempts

to bridge the gap between our separate selves.

Although it appears that we are essentially alone,

we have a profound need to connect with others

so as to be loved and accepted for who we are.

For even those most naturally suited to solitary

patterns of living require significant positive

interaction with others if they are to be fulfilled.

essential you

choosing solitude

being left

creative space

living alone

reaching out

before God

That we are known and infinitely beloved is

central to the Christian story and through prayer

we seek and find the reality behind this assertion.

In doing so, of course, we must also face

ourselves, our hopes and fears, our faithfulness

and our contradictions. Yet as we bring our

everyday questions and concerns to the God who

loves us, we gradually learn to listen and to wait…

One of the best and most inclusive ways

of describing spirituality is to use the term

‘connectedness’. Such a designation invites us to

reflect on our relationships – to ourselves and to

others; to creation and the movements of society;

and to the person of God. A healthy spirituality

seems to be one that has a lot of positive

connections all rooted in trust and gratitude.

Making connections and building communities is

a the heart of the Christian calling.

Conversation 5 ­ Living Alone.indd 1 01/04/2015 10:17

Christian tradition has thrown up many examples

of people over the centuries who deliberately

Conversation 6 ­ Reaching Out.indd 1 31/03/2015 09:59

www.shorelineconversations.com

Conversation 1 ­ Essential You.indd 1 10/04/2015 09:41

Aloneness

chose to devote the greater proportion of their

time and attention to this solitary activity.

Although we may only find stillness irregularly,

we can be encouraged by their witness. For

strangely, perhaps, those who do char the

inner depths of the soul report discovering the

essential one-ness of everything and a profound

interconnection between everything that lives.

Conversation 7 ­ Before God.indd 1 18/05/2015 12:33

Aloneness

As the title Aloneness implies, this collection of

readings and images explores different aspects

of what it is to be or to live alone. Consideration is

given to both positive and negative characteristics

of the experience. Our need for solitude – to pray,

to find or renew ourselves, or to be creative – is

balanced by our having to face periods of enforced

isolation. Yet even in such difficult circumstances,

we may discover the surprising flowers of winter

and grow once more in faith, hope and love.

Aloneness is the second of a series of resource

packs designed to invite personal reflection and

promote spiritual conversation in a variety of

settings.

We are grateful for the sponsorship of the

resource pack by Methodist Women in Britain who

suggested the overall theme and also contributed

to its production.

Forthcoming packs and Editions in the series will

include Journeying Spiritually with Children and

Soul Talk. Also available is Glimpsing God.

Aloneness is available now for £10+p&p from

www.shorelineconversations.com

© Shoreline Conversations 2015

Published by Shoreline Conversations

Venture House

93 Telegraph Road

Heswall

Wirral CH60 0AE

w: www.shorelineconversations.com

e: info@shorelineconversations.com

Edited by Lynne Ling

e: lynne.ling@shorelineconversations.com

t: 07734 607486

Design by 25 Educational

w: www.base25.com

e: mark@base25.com


Edition two:

Aloneness

Welcome to our second issue of Editions, created to complement the

conversation packs we will be producing at regular intervals over the next

few years.

r

Jennifer Kavanagh is a Quaker, a writer and someone who champions

the simple life. She tells how changes in her life circumstances led to

fundamental decisions about how and where to live.

y Jill Baker was president of Methodist Women in Britain from 2011 to 2013

and now leads women’s retreats to Lindisfarne. She reflects on different

stages in her life which have alternated between busyness and space and

time alone.

i Jonny Wilson has just completed a BA in Contextual Theology, and put his

book learning into practice when he went on his first silent guided retreat

– he tells us how he got on that first time with freshness and humour.

a Ruth Harvey wrote in Editions 1 about her early childhood on Iona. Here

she reflects on aspects of life since – times alone when as ‘an extrovert at

heart … all the synapses in my body yearn for real-time connection with

others’.

I am fascinated by the stories told in these pages, all with the simple brief

‘please give a personal account of aloneness’. I love that we have both an

introvert and an extrovert declare themselves! I love the sense of learning over

time, and I love the account of meeting a new friend Jesus on retreat.

What would you write given the same brief as our contributors? I would welcome

your responses to these stories and to the accompanying conversation pack and

will share a selection on our website.

Lynne Ling

Editor

editions • Alonness

e


I FINALLY UNDERSTOOD IN

MY HEART, IF NOT IN MY

HEAD, THAT I NEEDED TO

ACCEPT MY ALONENESS

r

Shoreline Conversations


The silence of

solitude

Jennifer Kavanagh has discovered the difference between loneliness and solitude

About twelve years ago I sold my flat, gave away

many of my belongings, and embarked on a

nomadic life. My conscious aim was to live more

lightly on the earth, to go where I was led. It was

only in hindsight that I realised that at the root of my journey

was a need to move, as the Dutch priest, Henri Nouwen,

puts it 1 , from loneliness to solitude.

My life has been very peopled – with family, friends, and

with partners. After a long marriage, children, and two

six-year relationships, I finally understood in my heart, if

not in my head, that I needed to accept my aloneness - and

learn not only to live alone, but live without the support of

a significant other. A recently reclaimed faith had brought

me to the still worship of the Quakers; I hoped that allowing

myself to be alone with that silence might bring me to a

more contemplative life.

And so I advertised for a “hermitage”. It took me initially to

an attic flat in Stroud, before a couple of months wandering

in the Outer Hebrides, a brief period on a Native American

reservation, and five months in a little wooden house by

the sea in Dorset. Although I struggled to let go of my

attachment, I revelled in the freedom of my new life.

Though I continued to seek for other diversions to fill the

void, I found periods of serenity and short bursts of joy.

Eventually I learned that I had to sit with my yearning and

inaction, to go through a boredom threshold, in order to

emerge with a sense of timelessness.

In the Outer Hebrides, after a walk on a wild South Uist

beach, I wrote in my journal:

Completely alone, a sense of self in the solitude. It is

what this trip is about: to find that sense of interior

self. A real consciousness of self without that barrier

confusingly called self-consciousness which is about

worrying how one is perceived. To obtain the former

is why I am here, stretching the solitude, what I found

in the desert, what I find so hard when living with, or

even next door to, anyone. Worry about being heard,

interrupting anyone. The joy of liberation at real

solitude, paradoxically “losing oneself” as in music or

a good book. No interruption of sound or sight, just the

natural world and myself in it, part of it. Thank you,

God. But, so close to that joy is sadness - part of the

same non-duality; also, more mundanely, a yearning

for someone to share it.

A year later I found my own hermitage; it’s in the city, and to

my surprise I’m still here.

My old central London office is now a flat. I came here over

ten years ago, intending my stay to be a short one. But it’s

become my own little place. It’s a space of extraordinary

quietness, with a precious patch of sky amid the brick walls

to the rear, and a womb-like enclosed sitting room, where

I can write and be. People-watching has replaced my joy

in the natural world. I am an observer, yet part of all I see.

I am active, engaged, among people much of the time,

but no longer either attached or lonely. Looking back at

my journals from ten years ago, I realise how much more

settled I am in solitude, no longer yearning for this or that,

though still trying to find a good balance between stimulus

and a more contemplative state.

I am active, engaged, among

people much of the time, but no

longer either attached or lonely

Some years ago, at a session of Quaker Quest, an outreach

programme where people can learn about Quakers and

share their spiritual paths, small groups were addressing

the question “What does the word God mean to me?” In my

group a middle-aged woman shared her experience.

When I was nineteen, I had a stroke. I was in a coma

for months. I could hear everything that was going on,

but no one knew it. I couldn’t communicate in any way.

I felt enclosed in a bubble, and I was so lonely. Then

God came into the bubble and sat down next to me.

The silence that followed her revelation was filled with our

wonder and the movement of our hearts. Such a beautiful

image. At times of loneliness, it has returned to me as a

confirmation of what I found in my wanderings. That we are

never alone. In our own bubbles of preoccupation, all we

have to do is create a space for God to enter in.

1

In Reaching Out. London: Fount paperbacks, 1987

editions • Aloneness

t


Diary of a surprised

introvert

Jill Baker looks back on her life and shares some key moments of self-discovery

my feet are set on the road to

discover how aloneness could

feed and restore me

6 y

Shoreline Conversations


1959-1994 (or thereabouts)

I grew up getting acquainted with a sociable, extrovert God

who wanted to converse with me all the time – I prayed and

God, in return, talked to me, inspiring me with wonderful

stories, sending prophets, priests and preachers to help

me understand how to live. I prayed for ideas and, as ideas

were given, acted upon them – making sure I was a busy,

useful, innovative, engaged Christian. Home could, at

times, be quiet and reflective, but church was a big, noisy

family where I learned that God thrived on company, so

presumably I should too. The following years of student life,

Christian Union, marriage, buying a house, getting involved

in the local church, giving birth... all continued in the

direction already set – faith was essentially something to be

worked out with others, in groups, worship, programmes,

holiday clubs, conversations.

1994-2001

In the midst of the crazy, noisy years of child-rearing, comes

the gift of a new nourishment; evening after solitary evening

on the balcony of an isolated rural Caribbean manse

– children in bed, husband at one meeting or another,

and just me, with a diet of moonshine and aloneness...

journalling my life away, journalling my life closer. I begin

to sense a God who has now grown up enough to sit quietly

at my side and make no additional demands on my overtired

body at the end of a long day. My feet are set on the

road to discover how aloneness could feed and restore me.

The scratching of a pen in a notebook against the chirping

of crickets and tiny frogs on countless tropical evenings

becomes the climate in which I can make sense of a new

culture, sense of a God who is much bigger than I had

ever guessed and sense of where I might fit into this wide

horizon.

2001-2011

Back in the British connexion... so many more distractions

here – meetings in the home, parties, TV, boys entering

teenage years and no longer in bed by 7pm, caring for

elderly parents... Where are those precious evenings?

Being led through the Myers-Briggs personality testing

gives me permission to “come out” as an introvert – it is

such a relief to understand, at last, that I really do need that

space. Now the challenge is to build a life which makes it

possible. Aloneness is still a tightrope; attending an African

Methodist Conference I am taken to rented accommodation

and told to rest until I am collected “later”... I rest for a

while, I read my book for a while, I catch up with my journal,

I sit on the doorstep to feel the warm sun, I watch the

insects, I send my daily allowance of one expensive text

message home, I try to pray, but fail, totally distracted by

my own aloneness. Will no one ever come to collect me?

A minor test of aloneness compared to what was to come.

2012

Half of my heart has been clawed out of my chest; breathing

is as much work as I can manage today. Opening my eyes

I see only empty spaces, closing them only deep dark

wells into which soon, inevitably, I must fall. Grief must

be the hardest aloneness of all. The void in my life has

a very particular shape, the void in my life is the shape

of my eighteen-year-old son, Peter, who has died by his

own hand. Every grief is different, but every grief is about

learning to live around a chasm which constantly threatens

to engulf the griever and every griever must learn to do

that alone. Others grieve, others grieve for Peter, but each

of us does so in our own way. I am alone in this grief as

never before; Peter was part of me, I was part of Peter. The

tearing of the fabric of this relationship is very hard to bear;

this aloneness is very hard to learn. This aloneness will be

with me until I too have died.

2015

I sit on a swinging seat under a cold, clear blue Atlanta

sky, tinged with pink at the horizon as the sun sets on a

February day. Between lectures, meals, group times and

worship I have been given time for silence and I feast upon

it, amazed at my newfound ability to sit still, to say nothing,

to hear nothing, to think nothing, simply to be alone. Alone,

yet dimly aware that I am not alone.

amazed at my newfound ability

to sit still, to say nothing,

to hear nothing, to think

nothing, simply to be alone

editions editions • Glimpsing • Aloneness God u7


Daisies and

stones

Jonny Wilson began to see Jesus as a friend while on retreat in North Wales

Learning about Christian spirituality and about being

on retreat is very different from actually going on

retreat. I made my first retreat in 2013 after finishing

the first year of my contextual theology course. My

favourite module was entitled, ‘Growing Relationships

with God’ in which we considered ideas such as the Desert

Fathers and Mothers and Lectio Divina as well as retreats.

Growing up with a very rigid Christianity, these new – yet

old – ideas were resonating with me in deep, refreshing

ways. I just had to experience what time spent alone in

silence with God was all about which led me to St. Beuno’s

in North Wales.

The first few days were slightly disorienting. ‘What do I do

all day? I know there are meal times but there’s a lot of

hours to fill besides that. What happens at meal times? It’s

going to feel weird just sitting in silence opposite someone

whilst they eat. What do I do at the Eucharist? I’m not a

Catholic, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.’

Thankfully my spiritual director was excellent at guiding

me gently to find a rhythm. It was a real battle though

and my director kindly reminded me that falling off a bike

requires getting back on again. Just as the idea of cycling

isn’t a write-off after not mastering it first time, nor is the

day ruined because a flow isn’t found immediately. Finding

a rhythm that wasn’t dictated by the regular routine of

morning traffic, work meetings or household tasks was

strange initially and yet, slowly, almost as each minute

slipped into the next, quietly liberating.

I began meeting God in Jesus and seeing him as a friend

for the first time. I sat with my new-found friend on many

different benches around the grounds and spoke about the

relationships in my life. He was gentle, funny and insightful

in what he prompted in me. We even made up a game

together.

I went home feeling lighter, more

hopeful and having met a very real,

personal and caring God

Never in my life did I imagine sitting on a bench in the Welsh

sunshine inventing a game involving daisies and stones with

my new friend Jesus! It was either madness on my part or a

new-found beauty that was previously hidden.

I went home feeling lighter, more hopeful and having met a

very real, personal and caring God in just a matter of days.

As part of the ‘Growing Relationships with God’ module

we examined the idea of a ‘rule of life’. Going on annual

retreat was something I committed to as a result of that

first retreat. The life it contained I had never experienced

elsewhere before.

In 2014 I booked into St. Beuno’s once again. When I

arrived the sun once again was shining and the sunset that

evening was glorious. I could not remove the grin from my

face. It felt so good to be back and I was looking forward to

catching up with my old friend Jesus. That night, however,

the loneliness began to feel more like an unwelcome guest

than a positive presence.

I had been working alongside my studies in my second year

at college which resulted in little spare time in the leadup

to going on retreat. I thought all would be well once I

got back into the silence but having handed in end of year

assignments on the Monday, a very difficult conversation

on the Wednesday and then heading away on the Friday it

was all a bit much. I slept terribly the first night and the

following day restlessness grew into anxiety and being alone

in silence felt like the last thing I needed right then. 24

hours after arriving, I left.

What did it all mean? I realised that I needed time to

prepare to enter into the silence. The speed with which

I was operating before retreat coupled with not enough

time to slow down before going meant the transition from

busyness to stillness was too much for me to handle. God

still met me in the distress and questioning of why I couldn’t

stick the silence the second time round after enjoying it so

much the first time. Gerard Hughes’ throwaway line in God

of Surprises, “the answer is in the pain...” summed up my

second experience of retreat.

I’m looking forward to my third retreat this year however.

Lessons have been learned and the joy of being alone with

God is too good to miss out on.

8 i

Shoreline Conversations


never in my life did I imagine sitting

on a bench in the Welsh sunshine

inventing a game involving daisies

and stones with my new friend Jesus!

A native of Northern Ireland, Jonny

has studied in Manchester alongside

working for the Boaz Trust with

asylum seekers and refugees.

The Retreat Association publishes a

handbook of information each year

listing the programmes and facilities

of over 240 retreat centres – available

for £8 + £2.50 p&p from:

The Retreat Association

Clare Charity Centre

Wycombe Road

Saunderton HP14 4BF

t: 01494 569056

w: www.retreats.org.uk

e: info@retreats.org.uk

editions • Glimpsing • Aloneness God o 9


Glimpses of

aloneness

Ruth Harvey shares the lessons aloneness has brought her

Isobel was over 70 when she first lived alone. All her

life, in a busy family, as a student, as a young wife and

mother, as an active volunteer, she had lived with others.

So when she found herself alone at the graveside of her

beloved, this is what she said: ‘Don’t wait until you’re a

widow to live by yourself. Make sure that at some stage in

your life, you choose to live solo, you choose to experience

what it is like to live alone.’

I have never relished time alone. The thought of a silent

retreat, or a whole day to myself has never drawn me.

I suppose I’m an extrovert at heart, someone who finds

energy from being with others. And while I have learned

to spend time alone, and can see and feel the value, all

the synapses in my body yearn for real-time connection

with others. Given the choice of an empty or full railway

carriage, I’ll choose the one with people. Playing an

instrument only came alive for me when playing in

groups. The thought of dancing alone always seemed

strangely odd. Cooking a meal for one rarely worked.

10 a

Shoreline Conversations


The rock climber is alone. Tiptoeing between cracks,

holding on for dear life, at once thrilled and terrified by the

utter solitude. Held in place on the rock-face by walls of

thin air and skilled strength, no one but the lone climber

can determine the next step. A partner, present at the end

of the umbilical rope, is also distant leaving the climber

alone, dance-clinging on the vertical stone.

I turned the corner in the airport, heading up stream

with the masses to the departure gate. I was alone,

heading off, to spend the best part of a year thousands of

miles from home. My whole body was racked with grief

and awe. The finality of turning that corner and feeling

alone in the midst of millions remains touchstone: in the

absence of familiar faces and souls, I felt the bond and

richness of love.

There are many remarkable facts about pregnancy and

childbirth. One is that two hearts beat in one body. Another

is that childbirth is a bit like rock-climbing. The utter

lonesomeness of the contractions engulfing all, compelling

this one out of the two. And the partner, at the side, offering

words of encouragement and strength, but unable to join

in the journey. The labourer, like the climber, attached yet

utterly separate, dance-clinging to the rock face of this

labour of love, adjusting each muscle with precision and

instinct, planning the next move, aware only of the power

and the strength and the agony of clinging, and letting go.

I may not feel I have a voice at the centre

of government, but I surely have a voice

within the citizens’ political movements

and the faith networks speaking

for Gospel-politics of justice, peace,

reconciliation and solidarity and love.

The body politic is like the body of Christ – we celebrate

our differences, and, with our diversity, remain united.

I have lived 30 miles south of the country of my birth

for most of my adult life. At once at home and alive in

my chosen land, the separation, and the isolation I still

feel was underlined in not having a vote in the 2014

Referendum. The result of the 2015 General Election

left me feeling even more isolated. Until, that is, the

passive sense of ‘having been abandoned’ was replaced

by the active remembering of my own choice, and my

own voice. I realised, through the pain of separation, how

utterly connected and united we remain. I may not feel

I have a voice at the centre of government, but I surely

have a voice within the citizens’ political movements

and the faith networks speaking for Gospel-politics of

justice, peace, reconciliation and solidarity and love.

Sitting on a pebble beach, on the shores of the freezing

North Sea, in a land where all language is foreign, and

isolation feels complete. Searching, drilling deep down

into the shingle and finding a tiny shiny slither of stone,

sparkling like a gem. Noticing the curve and the corner,

each unique particle of that fragment of the earth’s core

– the insignificant beauty. Eyes lift from the particular

and settle on the 100 mile horizon – over oceans of

unremarkable drops of water, noticing the curving horizon,

the transient movable edge that dips round the earth and

connects, gravity-sensitive, each blessed particle.

editions • Aloneness

s


In solitude we discover

that being is more important than having,

and that we are worth

more than the result of our efforts.

In solitude we discover that our life

is not a possession to be defended,

but a gift to be shared.

It’s there we recognise that

the healing words we speak

are not just our own

but are given to us:

that the love we express

is part of a greater love;

and the new life we bring forth

is not a property to cling to

but a gift to be received.

Henri Nouwen

‘Out of Solitude’

Ave Maria Press 2004 www.avemariapress.com

12 Shoreline Conversations

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© The Shoreline Consultancy 2015

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