Wednesday, April 22, 2020

"Where Is Everybody?"

A church friend made us face masks.

Sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic has, for me, alternately prompted feelings of loneliness, boredom and its more pronounced version, ennui, as in, “What’s my motivation?”

To distract myself one afternoon this past week I clicked on the original Twilight Zone series and happened on to its very first episode, titled “Where Is Everybody?” It’s about a man wandering around an unfamiliar town looking for its inhabitants. He has no memory of who he is himself, yet has a sense that someone is watching him.

To happen onto this guy’s predicament as I am missing friends and family and various activities, I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone as he asks, “Where is everybody?”

Last week I had another Twilight Zone moment watching an episode of Amazing Stories. A woman wakes up from a six-year coma and mysteriously has the urge to call a phone number, which happens to be mine, area code and all, but with the “555” exchange used in fake theatrical phone numbers. (Cue Twilight Zone theme now!)

I am rereading Henri Nouwen’s early work, Reaching Out: Three Movements of the Spiritual Life in preparation for leading a spiritual formation course on Nouwen in the fall. A contemplative retreat I was to co-lead next week has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, so I’m not sure whether the Nouwen weekend will be held, cancelled, rescheduled, or moved online.

The first movement Henri describes, “From Loneliness to Solitude,” certainly seems to fit the moment.

More so then than now, I was lonely when I first heard the lecture that became “From Loneliness to Solitude.” A fellow student at Yale Divinity School played me his recording of the first presentation in the class that he was taking from Henri. Having left behind family and friends and a boyfriend as well as my home state of California, I was extremely lonely.

Henri’s words spoke directly to my experience: “We look for someone or something to take our loneliness away. But then we realize that no one and no thing can ever take our loneliness away—we must allow it to be transformed into a creative solitude.” For Henri, that transformation was possible in the presence of God.

That was easier to hear and believe in my hopeful early twenties than it is as I approach 70 years of age and share a demographic particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, an age and demographic that already translates into many lost family members, colleagues, and friends over the years. But I have found it to be true, over and over again—and look, this post is a concrete example of creative solitude! Thank God I have all of you to write for, many who may be experiencing something like this.

For me, a creative solitude means a more gracious reaching out, not one that grasps but one that welcomes with open hands.

In Nouwen’s words, “The movement from loneliness to solitude…is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit, from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” (Reaching Out, p 23)

Henri quotes a student, “…then time loses its desperate clutch on me. Then I no longer have to live in a frenzy of activity, overwhelmed and afraid for the missed opportunity.”

Then sheltering in place may become sheltering in peace.

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Copyright © 2020 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite.

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