Saturday, 7 May 2016

Alone Again (Naturally)

Back in 1972, my friend Susan and I were constant features of the Newburn Swimming Club (Under 14) team in the west of Newcastle; she on girls' backstroke and I on the boys' freestyle. We were great friends; not hindered by the fact that her older brother played in goal for Blyth Spartans, a hero of their FA Cup runs at that time.

However, there was one thing about Susan that I couldn't immediately appreciate. That was her deep admiration for the works of singer/songwriter, Gilbert O'Sullivan....and in particular for the song, Alone Again (Naturally). It is the story of a young man, jilted at the altar, who in deep humiliation finds himself feeling completely alone.

Listening again forty four years on, the song has a real pathos, its full of charming innocence too. Yet, the 'naturally' suffix is ironic; typifying the common conception that to end up alone is somehow, well, a failure.

The current chapter from 'Celebration of Discipline' looks at Solitude from a very different standpoint, and challenges that conception in two ways.

First, that Solitude and Alone-ness are not the same thing. Solitude is a 'state of the heart that can be maintained at all times' (p120). Jesus sought that type of solitude in countless ways.
Second, that Solitude is the opposite of failure, it is the essential precursor to a 'deeper, fuller exposure to the presence of God' (p133).

I asked a friend today whether, as a married man with young children, he ever craved Solitude. He replied that he could find that in a relationship where silence was not an embarrassment, and being together and 'spiritual solitude' were both simultaneously possible. There are real encouragements for us there, whatever our status, and wherever it is we find ourselves.

Gilbert O'Sullivan found himself, in his jilted and 'alone' state, feeling that he had also been abandoned by God.  Foster claims something rather different for us. That Solitude, far from an divine desertion, is the very gateway for knowing God.

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