Just under 2 weeks ago I watched a programme all about loneliness. Perhaps you saw it too. It was late on a Monday night, and it followed a documentary about the Aberfan disaster. You’ll no doubt have followed the half-
The famous poem goes like this:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
So, as we gather here, in the shadow of the anniversary of Aberfan, and with Donne’s words ringing in our ears -
Others are lonely too, mind -
Some of the people in the programme spoke of how they have kept busy, joined clubs, made new friends, and of course enjoyed the support and company of sons, daughters, grandchildren and family. But it’s never the same. No-
The documentary left it at that, really. There was no note of hope, or glimmer of light, or sense of journey for anyone. It was simply a factual presentation involving people who were willing to talk is out being lonely. One man said he had agreed to be interviewed because it meant he would have some company from the TV crew. But there was no hope or solution offered.
Simultaneously, you might not be surprised to hear, there was no spiritual dimension to any of the stories told. No-
And yet, at this All Souls’ time, thousands of people gather in churches, just like us, to remember loved ones, to give thanks, to look around to see who is in the same boat as them and to inch forward on that slow journey away from utter loneliness. This service is a kind of ark, in which we gather to navigate the sea of loneliness and loss, and we do it, not two by two, but one by one. But we are one by one together. And as we sail forward slowly, we are sailing towards them, in that other realm where reunion in love is far more than a possibility. It is more than a possibility, it is a reality born from hope. A sure and certain hope -
They say you can’t take anything with you when you go -
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me.
Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Most people stop reading there. But Henry Scott Holland, did not finish there. No indeed, he had a few more lines to add, without which his poem lacks comfort or hope – hardly makes sense, in fact. In the letter to his wife, written in order to ease her inevitable loneliness, he carries on in these words:
Nothing is past; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before only better, infinitely happier and forever we will all be one together with Christ.
‘We will be one together with Christ’, he says. This us what this famous passage means. In death, as in life, no-
So, if you are lonely sometimes -
So may you be blessed with the deep joy of hope, and the comfort of faith, today and every day.
The Revd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 30/10/16
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