Sermon for Sunday March 29 2020

Sermon – Solitude
This is a sermon on Solitude. It is the fifth in this series. The first four have been on Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and Meditation.
This sermon may seem redundant at this time in our world, but it really isn’t. When I first wrote this title, I mistook it and wrote Isolation. They are not the same at all. A lot of you are in Isolation with others, but wish you were in Solitude. Especially after you cut your own hair or scrape the “My kid is an awesome student” sticker off your mini-van.
One of the key points in couple counselling occurs when the two people retire and they are both home. Totally new schedules and patterns are needed as life changes. I can only imagine how much more intense it is when suddenly the whole family is home -and can’t go out much. Lots of strain.
But Solitude is not the same as Isolation.
The word Isolation implies that you are alone, physically and/or mentally. Isolation can be created by someone or something else.
One of the great fears of this virus is that you will have to be isolated, when no one can visit you and you will be too sick to use things like social media. At the moment hospital visits are off except in dire situations and even then maybe not.
That is isolation.
Solitary confinement in prisons was the ultimate isolation and was eventually considered inhumane. A couple of years ago the federal prison system was changed from “Solitary” to “Segregated cells” which is quite similar but means the inmate can get some contact for 4 hours a day. But not all isolation is imposed by outside yourself.
Sometimes it is caused by a need to reject other people; a need to cut yourself off from the rest of the human race. This can be from an emotional trauma or just a part of your personality. But this sermon is not about isolation, it is about the benefits and spiritual growth of Solitude.
People often say they can find god in the forest better than church. I would say that both are necessary. Being together with others and sharing the collective wisdom and stories of thousands of years of insights is vital to growth, but spending time in the forest has equal value. We should seek to improve ourselves in three areas of relationship; with ourselves, with others and with God (whatever definition you use for God). Solitude does two of those directly; ourselves and God. Ultimately it will improve our relationship with others as well.
Virginia Woolf, in her book “A Room of One’s Own” gives a long meditation on a writer’s need for solitude. Many other poets do as well. May Sarton says “alone, one is never lonely” and William Wordsworth writes about “the bliss of Solitude” in his praise of the need for it. Marianne Moore writes “the cure for loneliness is solitude”
It is well recognized that Solitude is valuable.
One of the most famous hermits was Alexandra. He lived in the fourth century in Egypt. After his parents died he inherited a vast fortune. He spent time partying and having fun but was unsatisfied. He heard a passage of Scripture where Jesus says, If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and come follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)So he sold everything and moved to the desert. He basically became one of the founders of monasteries. Unfortunately for him his quest for privacy became so popular that he had to move several times. People searched him out so they could be like him which really is an oxymoron.
Skellig Michael is an island 11K west of Ireland. It is a desolate place where monks, beginning in the 6th century went to live in order to get away from the world. Some of the writings suggest that they believed that they were halfway to God. The monastery building is extremely remote but, tucked away in an almost inaccessible area is the hermitage. Obviously some people wanted the ultimate solitude.
When I was young I remember a minister coming to visit. He told a children’s story about when he grew up. He said that he could recall when the first radios were put in cars (1930 for AM and 1952 for FM). He ranted for a while about how this was destroying our ability to interact with others in the car and radios should be banned. He also said it was good for us to turn off the radio every so often and just spend time with our thoughts. The last advice may have had some merit.
We have difficulty with Solitude as we are so busy with the constant barrage of noise and info that silence seems unnatural. Often we are scared of being alone with ourselves – someone we hardly know. But every so often it is a good practice. There are benefits.
First: Solitude helps us to get to know ourselves. It gives us time to discover our skills and thoughts. At times we are influenced by the pressure of those around who want us to live like they do, but we can’t live someone else’s life. Each of us is unique. Only we, really know ourselves. If we understand who we are then we can have a better idea of our life’s work and we can plan better. We can make better use of our skills. This will also help us in our relationships with others as we know where we are coming from. Our decisions will be more genuine if we have spent time discovering ourselves.
Second : Solitude allows you to be creative. It allows you to think outside the box. Artists often spend time alone and usually need silence when they are creating so they can search out their inner ideas.
Historically, dominant governments have been wary of artists because a true artist comes from a non-partisan perspective. They often challenge the status-quo.
Solitude also may boost your productivity as there is no one there to interfere. (Providing you are a self-motivator)
Third Solitude helps you to develop your inner resources. You can find the depth of your strengths and realize that you are a complete human. When you are not with anyone else you don’t have to compare with anyone else and you realise that there is nothing wrong with who you are.
Finally Solitude helps you build a union with a larger, higher power that is commonly referred to as “God. Unfortunately the image of God has so much baggage and years of convolution that getting a clear image of your relationship can be difficult. In the Old Testament God says “Be still and know that I am God” There is a lot of wisdom there. This is what happens when people walk in the forest and say they feel God. A non-descript god; a god that is beyond definition. At this point you realize that you are connected to the universe. You realise that you are connected to the power of life. This can be very empowering for you.
Solitude is not loneliness. Solitude is not isolation. When we remove the artificial stimulus and commotion, then Solitude gives you the opportunity and the joy of knowing that you are a complete human being and you are not alone.
Practicing Solitude can be an amazing spiritual exercise. It takes practice. At first the silence can be deafening. It takes planning and it can be difficult to get away. (Unless you ride a motorcycle and take 3 days to get a loaf of bread – just saying)
It does take conscious effort but the alone time will enhance your spiritual and personal life.

Fear mongering a concern

posterboyYears ago I was phoned from a garage by a woman who was very upset. She had taken her car in for an oil change and was told that it was not safe to drive. The repairs would be about $2000.

I knew that her car was reasonably new so I went over to see what the problem was.

This shop was part of a chain. The man in the front office explained that her transmission was about to fall out of the car. I requested to see it.

After much angry hesitation he showed me the defect. It was a slightly worn rubber grommet, through which a wire was running. It had nothing to do with the transmission and was in no way unsafe.

As I left the premises, after explaining my disgust at their attempt to rip off an older woman, the man turned to her and said: “Well, I guess if your minister doesn’t care if your transmission falls out and you are pole-vaulted to your death on the 401, why should I care?

He tried desperately to instill fear in her so he could control her.

We are seeing the same tactic being employed more and more by all avenues of life. Advertisers tell you to be afraid of home invaders and broken sidewalks, etc.

But the major concern I have is the emphasis lately to be afraid of other races and religions. We hear the word “terrorist” more and more. The more we become afraid the more we can be controlled.

Christ calls us to love our enemies and overcome fear with love. Christ calls us to be individuals and think for ourselves. Christ calls us to “Be Not Afraid”.

It is a challenge but it is the only way to raise ourselves and others to an abundant life.

Some Assembly

By the time you read this article, Christmas will be over. Some things will remain, some won’t. Those that don’t remain are the batteries that did not come with the gift in the first place and because you had to buy them at the corner store they only lasted a few hours. The thing that will remain is the effect of the worst three words at Christmas: not “Oh how lovely” but “Some assembly required”.

That statement applies not only to Christmas but to the rest of the year. The god Janus in ancient Rome was the god of passages. He often sat midway in a door or gate, looking both directions. This two-faced god was not an indication of their awareness of bipolarism. Rather it symbolized that we look forward to new beginnings but also bring with us the baggage and experiences of the past. Those experiences are the building blocks of the assembly that is required.

When dealing with the baggage we need to know that first it is ok to question. We have physical, emotional, spiritual and mental accumulations. As we have grown, we have discovered that not all still apply or are useful but, we are afraid to part with them. Sometimes we are afraid because parting with issues leave us with empty bags and it’s scary to search for what is truly ours. Sometimes we have been ingrained with certain restrictions by society or individuals that have kept us limited. Science, religion, education, culture, parenting and even friends have all contributed to the luggage we carry. Some good and some bad.

It is also Ok to doubt. It is Ok to realize that others have not lived your life. It’s your life not theirs. It’s fascinating at weddings to watch and see who is trying to control the situation other than the bride and groom. I always tell them “It’s YOUR wedding. Do what you want.” Same with life.

Some toys like the old model planes come with instructions and while you assemble them, they have your attention. However once they are assembled, you put them on a shelf and occasionally view them. Some toys have endless possibilities. They are the ones that can be reassembled in many different ways. They are the ones that keep your attention. The more you reassemble your life, the more fascinating it becomes.

Finally, look ahead at the New Year as an opportunity. If there is baggage that is holding you back; let it go. Look back at it and watch it disappear in the mists of time. Then turn your head toward the newness and discover who you are and who you can be.

Some assembly is still required.

Christmas reborn

A first blog on a new website and Christmas is coming. If I put those thoughts together it could sound like the beginning of a bad joke.

Hopefully what I write isn’t a bad joke although I am sure that at times you will hope for a punch line.

There is a similarity between these two seemingly remote ideas. It can be summed up in the word “new”.

When the idea of computers, websites, etc., was introduced there was great resistance by many. For some it was the dawning of a new era and great possibilities. It represented new ways to search out and view the world. For others it was a threat to all they had learned.“Why do we need something new?” was often the cry.

That similarity extends to Christmas and the present day churches as well.The birth of Christ represented a new and in some ways different understanding of God. The established church of the day was being challenged. The church of today is being challenged. In recent years there has been tremendous change and challenge to the traditional understanding of God and Jesus.

In the Churchill and Gilford churches we no longer subscribe to a fear-based religion but rather a love-based one that welcomes all. As we welcome Christ at this Christmas time let us also welcome the opportunity to search out old and new meanings of our church and our faith.

Merry Christmas, Glen