We are more alone and less alone these days than ever before. Humans have always lived in communities, in tribes, in families — for protection, for food, for companionship, for love. In the twenty-first century urban living is the norm, with large populations of people gathered around a commercial/communal core.
But even as we live lives more closely packed, we are more solitary. Education and economics have made it possible for more people to “make it” on their own. What for centuries had been the culturally and economically determined “norm” — to marry and produce a family in order to survive — is no longer viewed as a necessity. In America, the new norm is singledom. Half of all adults are unmarried, and 15% of those singles live by themselves. In Scandinavia it is estimated that by 2020 half of all “households” will be occupied by only one individual.
But singledom does not mean we are alone. Who out there today is not umbilically connected to the “social network?” E-mail, Facebook, ebay, Instagram, whoever and whatever dot “com.” We are never alone as long as the power grid is up and running. And it is not just when we’re avoiding work or annoying chores by going online. The online “Kindle” advertises itself as the “campfire,” showing a wilderness camping family happily downloading an electronic connection while snuggled in front of a fire in front of their tent. Out-of-bounds, crazy skilled skiers and snowboarders carry cell-phones with tracking beepers in case their off-line adventures cross the line and get them into trouble.
“Getting away from it all” never happens anymore.
The newest “apocalypse” series “Revolution” posits the ultimate disaster of a world, not infested with outer-space invaders, not poisoned by nuclear fallout, but a truly horrifying scenario — a world “gone dark.” In other words, a world without the power grid, a world where we are cut off from all of our electronic connections.
How “alone” would you be in such a place? Do you have commitments and connections that would help support and sustain you without the benefit of electricity? Can you find solidarity in genuine solitude?
In today’s gospel text, Mark 7:24-37, Jesus seeks solitude and embraces community in the same breath. Leaving “kosher” ground, Jesus travels into Gentile territory. Yet while he is isolated from his “tribe,” from the ritualistically pure community carved out by observant Jews, Jesus has no problem reaching out to the Father. Jesus finds God in time alone or in time together, no matter what the physical circumstances.
Camped out in a “heathen” home, Jesus sought solitude so that he could experience the personal solidarity of the divine-human relationship. Jesus was the only human who has ever gotten that relationship right. When the incarnate Christ singularly sought to speak with God the Father, there was no disconnect.
God created human beings out of divine pleasure so that we could be in God’s presence — so that we might be in a unique and personal relationship with God. One-on-one. God to A-dam. The face-to-face presence of one person — that was God’s final creative desire.
As the incarnate divine, it is this special connection that Jesus represents in complete perfection. And when Jesus himself needed to re-boot that connection, he went apart — so that he would not come a-part. Jesus did not seek solitude to shut out the world. Jesus did not seek solitude to be solitary. Jesus sought solitude to be in solidarity with God. Jesus sought solitude to up the amps of God’s presence. In his alone-time Jesus never was truly alone, or lonely. It was when he was alone that Jesus stood most fully before the Father and felt the fullness of divine love.
We mistake solitude for alone-ness. We think solitude is solitary. The truth is solitude is relationally charged, since it is time alone with God, which is the relationship for which we were created.
Outside the garden the rest of humanity has a fractured view of solitude and aloneness. We crave the internet connection because we think that when the power goes off . . . the power goes off. Not so. When we stand before our Creator, the power goes on full force. The power of connection. The power of relationship. The power of love. If we can find the time to stand alone and in prayer before God — we are never alone. We are plugged into the life-sustaining force of the universe. We are interfaced with our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
Have you ever reflected on the fact that . . . There are no chairs at the Lord’s Table? The posture of faith is not sitting, but kneeling down, standing up or walking toward. Where you find “sitting” most often in the New Testament is in the context of heaven. But God gives us earnests of eternity, foretastes of the future, when we, like King David, “went in and sat before the Lord” (1 Chronicles 17:16).
It’s these sit-down sessions, these sit-down solitudes with our Lord that enable us to stand up for truth, walk toward each other in need, and kneel down in service to the least, last and lost. It’s these sit-down solitudes with God that stir our souls to sing, in the music of Porgy and Bess, “Oh, Lord, I’m so happy that I can’t sit down.”
The longest living and largest living things still on this earth don’t swim in the oceans. They stand in the forests. Redwoods grow to immense size, their girth recorded by countless of photos of cars being driven through tunnels bored through their trunks. To grow to those immense dimensions takes centuries, not seasons. Yet Redwoods don’t have an enormous single taproot that anchors them into the earth. Trees that grow that way inevitably get shoved over, uprooted, by some random great gust of wind when the soil is drenched.
Redwoods survive and live to grow to great heights, because they spread their roots out. Redwoods create a network, and “internet” root system, holding each other up, strengthening the soil in which they are standing. They are singular, but they are completely connected. They are alone, monarchs of the forest, but they are kept upright and strong by their relationships.
When I was growing up the #1 column in the newspaper was not the editorial, or some political commentary, but “Dear Abby.” Most people picked up the paper off the porch, and opened it to read “Dear Abby.” Even men sneaked peeks at the advice column before checking the sports section. The advice column was written by Pauline Phillips, who picked the pen name Abigail from the Book of 1 Samuel as her first name in “Abigail Van Buren.”
One of the columns I saved and stuffed in my Bible was from someone who signed her letter “Depressed.” It read:
Dear Abby: About a month ago we had a flash flood, and I lost nearly all the treasures I had saved for forty-five years. Albums filled with pictures and snapshots, letters, clippings none of which can be replaced. I had them stored in plastic containers, and when I opened them, all I found was mud and water! Part of my life is gone. I am heartsick over it. I am sixty and have had a very happy life. Our children are married and gone, and there are just the two of us.
I’ve tried to keep busy and not dwell on my loss, but it is on my mind constantly. I wish I could forget this terrible nightmare. Somehow I feel that you can help me. Abby, have you ever lost any of your treasures? And if you have, how did you get over it?
Here is “Dear Abby’s” response:
Yes, dear, I lost my beautiful mother (she was only fifty-seven), and a few years later I lost a wonderful father (he was sixty-two). And not a day passes that I don’t thank God for letting me have my parents for as long as I did. I know many who were not nearly as blessed as I, and I think of those who have survived a far greater tragedy -losing their children. Now, what were you saying about clippings and pictures and other ‘treasures?’
The ultimate “treasures” in life are our relationships our relationship with God, with each other, with ourselves, and with creation. Today, turn to someone special, look them in the eye, and say, “You’re a treasure.” And the next time you’re alone with God, greet your Creator with these words: “My Lord, My Treasure.”
Taken from www.sermons.com. Used by permission.