A few thoughts on "social distancing" from a self-confessed introvert
If, just a few weeks ago, you had told me that I didn't have to go to any more meetings where everyone present felt the need to express an opinion on every subject or, that I didn't need to go to some social gathering where I was expected to make small talk with people that I do not know, I would have been a very happy fellow. As Judi Dench said to Geoffrey Palmer, "you don't do chit chat do you?" to which he replied, "I don't even do chit."
Please don't misunderstand me. I love to get to know people, to hear their stories and learn about their lives. I treasure my family and friends. Serving in communities of faith where folks worship, pray, struggle and grow together continues to be a blessing for which I never fail to give thanks. But, it all takes effort and as an introvert I need time and space away, to think and reflect and just rest. That's where I find the energy to engage. An extrovert, I am told, feeds off the energy of others and is happy to stay at the party until the host hints it's time to call it a night, by which time I may have already said my goodbyes.
You see the question is not whether we like people or not. The question is, from where we draw our strength, our courage, our joy, our curiosity, and ultimately our peace.
Let me suggest another possibility, what Henri Nouwen calls “A Receptive Solitude.” Solitude does not mean loneliness or isolation, just a couple of weeks ago I preached about the terrible rise in loneliness among us and the awful hurt it causes.
For Nouwen, solitude is "a tranquil center; that precious space where we can discover the voice telling us about our inner necessity."
Solitude is about listening. Whether we consider ourselves introvert or extrovert, we all need to find a way to listen to the authentic source of our energy, the spirit of the living God that lives within each one of us. Especially in these very troubling days, we need to be still and attentive to the voice that gives comfort, solace and lasting peace.
Solitude, of course, has the same root as "solo." Think of a beautiful solo voice ringing out so that nothing else can be heard. For me, it's like a packed church on Christmas Eve, all the choristers and clergy, people of every sort and type are there, then a lone beautiful voice, usually that of a child, sings the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City." That one voice is all that is heard and everyone hears it in their own unique spirit.
Finding solitude in these very difficult days is hard but essential. Learning to listen to that one voice that tells us that we are not alone, that we are loved and cared for, that we are held and sustained by the never failing Grace of God is what we all need and long for.
That voice does not remove us from others but in the end draws us closer. Thomas Merton, living as a Trappist Monk in contemplative silence said, "it is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love others."