Tuesday, 19 February 2008

... but never alone

At first glance it is not surprising that we can be supported, encouraged to persevere, and enabled to accomplish things that would otherwise remain undone, or even un-attempted, by the mere knowledge that others are thinking and feeling in ways similar to our own experience. There is no element of surprise because we tend to have inbuilt assumptions that these people are close by, and that even if we do not really know them we know their names, and if not that we see them or hear them – at least occasionally. It is unexpected, however, to find that same sense of support and encouragement when our knowledge of such like-minded persons includes the fact that they are not only unknown, but unheard, unseen, and possibly living their lives in unknown and distant places. Such is the all-encompassing and instant reach of the internet; and such is its potential for anonymity.
It is, however, only a momentary surprise, because while it is our knowledge of the existence of these people that brings it in the first place, that same knowledge instantly dispels and banishes the surprise with its inherent comfort and feelings of shared experience. It brings something we long for, perhaps unconsciously, and it provides something we need. A satisfied longing or need invariably counters, and at the very least diminishes the feelings that preceded it, whether they be the longing itself or the immediate response to its satisfaction.
This points to fundamental differences between our physical, our emotional and our spiritual needs.

Where physical help is required, as in the provision of goods or services, we need to have people coming to us and working close to or alongside us; without this closeness, help can be neither given nor received. The victims of natural disasters, war, terrorism, ethnic and sectarian hatred, all need to have others bringing the food, water, clothing and shelter that they need. There are those who give and send but their generosity alone is not enough. Someone has to deliver what has been given: someone has to actually go to the people in need before they can realize that help is coming. In such situations there is of course a corresponding need for emotional support, and this can come through those who have brought the physical help.

When our need is solely for emotional support, in situations other than where much of that need stems from physical desperation or deprivation – through having no food or water for our children, for example – we do not have that same urgency of need for the physical presence of people; we may desire it, and we will always benefit more from having it than not, but, it is not absolutely essential. We need to talk to people, the right people, and if they are unable to be with us we are still able to benefit from their listening and their reassuring input via the telephone, especially in this age of mobiles, and through email, the ability to chat via our computers, video links and so on, and for those who are not part of this technological advance, the telephone land line is still as straightforward as it was, and letter writing remains as an effective and personal way of making thoughts and feelings known.

Clearly our spiritual needs will frequently overlap with our emotional ones, as do these, in turn, with our physical circumstances, but the need for the physical presence of others is related to our worldly weakness and our natural tendencies, not to our supernatural confusion and our spiritual doubts or emptiness. Unless we know who to talk to and who will be able to guide us, we have no more chance of finding what we need with a person known to us than with a complete stranger. That does not mean we can walk down the road sticking our thumb out and hoping someone will stop and take us to our destination. They will be going where they are going, and they have come from wherever they have been. They don’t know where you are on your journey; they don’t know where you have been, and they don’t know where you are going. They certainly don’t know where you are meant to be going.

It is the stranger who makes known aspects of his or her spiritual life that resonate with our own, who is no longer a stranger to us. Simply knowing of the existence of that person with their inner life so similar to our own, lays a foundation for our security in what had been only loneliness and doubt. To expand this awareness until we not only suspect, but believe in and sense the presence of many such people in the world around us, is to realize that we are not alone in our search. Though remaining for the most part unseen and unknown, the knowledge of their existence assures us that we are in good company. It is from the relative stability of this low-key sense of union of purpose and direction, that we are enabled to calm ourselves sufficiently in faith, in trust and in prayer, to sense the reality of our only real and ever-present companion.
He is the only real teacher and guide, who, though seeming to be a fellow traveller walking with us every step of the way, is in fact the one we strive to follow. We find ourselves in a place of safety, and it is in this gentle embrace that we hear His words; we come to know that He is speaking, not only to others, but to us.

‘And look, I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.’ (Matthew 28:20)

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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