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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Conversation 1 Essential You.indd 1 10/04/2015 09:41
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
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
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
© Shoreline Conversations 2015
Published by Shoreline Conversations
93 Telegraph Road
Wirral CH60 0AE
Edited by Lynne Ling
t: 07734 607486
Design by 25 Educational
Welcome to our second issue of Editions, created to complement the
conversation packs we will be producing at regular intervals over the next
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
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
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.
editions • Alonness
I FINALLY UNDERSTOOD IN
MY HEART, IF NOT IN MY
HEAD, THAT I NEEDED TO
ACCEPT MY ALONENESS
The silence of
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.
In Reaching Out. London: Fount paperbacks, 1987
editions • Aloneness
Diary of a surprised
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
Saunderton HP14 4BF
t: 01494 569056
editions • Glimpsing • Aloneness God o 9
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.
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
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.
‘Out of Solitude’
Ave Maria Press 2004 www.avemariapress.com
12 Shoreline Conversations
© The Shoreline Consultancy 2015