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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 2nd May 2021.

‘Loneliness, Isolation and Solitude’

I was led this week into thinking about loneliness, isolation and solitude as a result of reading an article in last week’s Sunday Times. I will come back to it. But first some thoughts on these three words.

Loneliness, isolation and solitude are all words suggesting being on one’s own, but they have different connotations.

Loneliness is when we are on our own and desperately miss having company, someone to talk to or to be with, someone to break the loneliness of our daily routine, or someone to look forward to seeing or speaking to on the telephone. Due to the pandemic of the past year, there have been many people feeling lonely, because they have not been able to get out during the restrictions, and other people have been unable to visit them. It has been particularly difficult for people who have had a partner or other family member in hospital or in a home where there have been restrictions on visiting. Even without pandemic restrictions, there are many people who suffer from loneliness. One of the tragedies of loneliness is that people can feel unloved, that no-one is bothered about them.

Isolation can mean being on one’s own as a result of one’s own decision or the decision of someone else. For example, someone who decides to go and live on a small Hebridean island will create self-imposed isolation. On the other hand, someone who has tested positive for Covid 19 will be required by the Government to isolate for a period. The danger of both loneliness and enforced isolation is that they can lead to depression or despair.

Solitude is usually something that we normally seek. Sometimes we need our own space away from people, for example, to think or to work or to pray. The writer of the article in last Sunday’s Times, which I mentioned above, said: “It is a paradox of the modern world . . . that there is too much loneliness and not enough solitude. On our crowded planet it is easy to feel disconnected and isolated, yet hard to be totally alone.”

Sometimes we want to be alone, but find it difficult. I expect that some people who have had to work at home during the pandemic have found it hard to be alone to get on with their work, when there have been interruptions from partners, children, family pets or domestic problems.

Jesus himself often sought solitude. The classic instance was when he spent 40 days in the wilderness, before beginning his ministry. There were also several other recorded occasions when he sought solitude, usually to pray, but sometimes just to get away for some rest from the crowds who followed him.

Solitude can also be helpful to us. We sometimes need time to think on our own, in order to make major decisions about our lives, without interruption and without other people trying to influence us one way or the other.

There are other reasons for wanting to be alone. Many of those involved in the creative arts, such as writing and painting, often need to shut themselves away in order to be creative. A well-known example is the poet William Wordsworth. He spent a large part of his life wandering the Lakeland fells alone, seeking solitude, for inspiration for his poetry. Solitude would provide him with thoughts and memories that he would take home and turn into poetry. His most famous poem about the daffodils ends with these words:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

So how can we help those who suffer from loneliness or isolation, or those who seek solitude? Well, for anyone whom we know to be lonely or isolated, it is the easiest thing to pick up the telephone, or send an email or card, or perhaps even make a commitment to contact them at regular intervals, in order to give them something to look forward to. For those who seek solitude, we must respect their need for their own space.

I can offer you no words of advice from scripture this week, in the sense that the three words – loneliness, isolation and solitude – do not appear in the Bible. But I suggest that if we regularly give ourselves some special time and space (solitude) for thought and prayer, we may be able to think of ways of helping those who experience loneliness or isolation. Defeating loneliness and isolation is about remembering those who are lonely, and doing what we can to help them feel less lonely. It’s all about caring about and loving our neighbour. Acts of love can be the antidote to loneliness and isolation.

Fr. Ray