I just break down as I look around
And the only things I see
Are emptiness and loneliness
And an unlit Christmas tree.
These poignant lyrics from a hit 1974 pop song resonate with too many people when aired anew in Britain each December (“Lonely This Christmas,” Mud). For instance, almost 4 million seniors in Britain see the TV as their main source of company, according to Age UK.
But TV is not the only available companion in such lonely homes. At any time we can seek and experience God’s presence through making space for “sacred solitude.”
That phrase was penned by 18th-century English poet Edward Young. And as theologian Paul Tillich has suggested, there is a distinction between loneliness and solitude. He wrote: “Language has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Seeking God in silent prayer opens our hearts to spiritual reassurance that can lift the gloom of loneliness with the healing realization that we’re never truly on our own, because God is omnipresent, ever present.
Admittedly, when we yearn for a touch, a hug, or familiar laughter, “sacred solitude” might sound rather abstract. Yet it offers us the un-aloneness of communion with the Divine, in which we can feel God’s all-encompassing love taking away any sense of being separated from good.
This love of Deity and its practical healing impact were most vividly experienced and expressed by the man whose birth is celebrated each Christmas, Christ Jesus. His healing love enabled many, whose illnesses left them isolated from others because of the customs of their day, to find a place back in their community. For instance, a hemorrhaging woman whose 12-year “issue of blood” would have ostracized her from family and society reached out to Jesus, and was immediately healed (see Mark 5:25-34). Her restoration to health removed the very reason for her isolation.
Such a turnaround points to an underlying reality in all such situations: that rather than being the isolated individuals we can sometimes seem to be, each of us is God’s creation, representing the fullness and the consciousness of God’s love.
If that’s truly what all men, women, and children represent, then any sense of lack, including the specific lack that is loneliness, is an impostor. It’s one aspect of a mistaken sense of ourselves as being material rather than spiritual. Contrastingly, an aspect of being spiritual – made in God’s likeness, as the Bible puts it – is having the constant companioning of the ever-present God. And when we glimpse what it means to us that this companionship is forever established and responsive, tangible evidence of human good comes to light.
I saw this happen for an older woman living alone and struggling to cope. I was one of several people helping to care for her, and one afternoon I felt inspired to read her a particular article based on Christian Science ideas. I can’t recall the theme of the piece, but I can still clearly remember how uplifted her thought seemed after I had read it. She felt God’s tender care. The room seemed to be filled with the presence of Love.
I felt the divine Love that is always with us had been revealed to her, and a practical solution to her need for loving company followed. The next day she received an unexpected visit from relatives she barely knew, who asked her to come and live with them. They wanted a companion for their loved dog because of their busy daily schedules. She was thrilled and took the opportunity to join this loving couple in their home. While there are many ways companionship can be felt, this perfectly met her need. I saw her a few months later and she was the picture of happiness.
God’s ever-present goodness is our greatest companion at Christmastime and at all times. When, in sacred solitude, we open our hearts to this healing presence, loneliness is eased as the love of divine Love becomes truly tangible, wherever we are.
Adapted from an editorial in the Dec. 11, 2017, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.