Letter from St Mark's House

St Mark's House

February - March 2018


Dear friends

“Our language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone … the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” (Paul Tillich)

The pain of being alone is recognised in the appointment of a Minister for Loneliness and, as Theresa May observed in announcing this, “For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life.” The paradox is that in our most inter-connected society people are estranged. Loneliness is a problem for millions, regardless of age, and has grown with the changes in our patterns of living, communicating and family life. It is possible to be with people yet still feel lonely - perhaps the hardest form of loneliness. The Italian hotel brochure states with unintentional irony: "This hotel is renowned for its peace and solitude. In fact, crowds from all over the world flock here to enjoy its solitude.

Whereas loneliness is a passive situation, often arising from our circumstances, solitude is an active decision - being alone without being lonely. Lent is that time when we remember Jesus’ solitude in the wilderness as he embarked upon the road to the Cross. The sense of loneliness we experience is often, at heart, an expression of longing for an intimacy that only God can satisfy. This is one reason why Jesus regularly withdrew into the desert: to have time with his heavenly Father. If he needed that time with God, how much more do we. If anyone could say they understood loneliness, it was him: no one on earth could put an arm around him and say, “I know exactly what you’re going through”. At that time his comfort, in warning his disciples, was to say "you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16.32)

But then that comfort was torn from him in that terrible cry from the Cross, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Jesus doesn’t just understand our loneliness; there he was destroying it. Because he was ‘God-forsaken’ as he bore our sins, we are no longer estranged from God, but members of God’s family through faith. To us the risen Christ says, “I am with you always.” “Where a people prays, there is the church; and where the church is; there is never loneliness,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Pastor imprisoned and finally executed by the Nazis for resistance to Hitler. He wrote from prison of the agony of loneliness and the answer he found that strengthened him to the end:

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine!

In His family

Nick and Harriet