SOCIAL ISOLATION: A NEW WAY OF LIVING?
Social isolation is defined as having little or no contact with other people lasting for extended periods of time. It is something that Emmanuel Church has been conscious of for a while as a major challenge in our modern communities, and even more so at this particular time.
There are many causes of social isolation, such as advanced age, medical issues, immobility, fear, broken relationships, death of friends and family, geography and accessibility.
Essentially, social isolation is a loss of community and connection, a fundamental human need in itself. It is something that Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher and theologian, recognised in his seminal work ‘I and Thou’ when he said ‘all living is meeting’.
The connectedness which we all crave was provided for us in the beginning. All the way back in Genesis we see God providing relationships, with Himself, with other humans and with the physical world. In fact, these domains of connectivity are summed up in that wonderful blessing of Aaron to be repeated over and over to God’s people… Shalom, or harmony, in all our relationships (Numbers 6.22-27). It is something that God wants us to have.
Social isolation and aloneness seriously impacts our quality of life and keeps individuals from becoming all that they can be. Yet the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures create a tension in our minds. In Genesis it is written, “it is not good for man to be alone” (2:18). But in Matthew 14.23, we read: “After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.”
If Jesus sets an example of being alone and being renewed, and Genesis tells us it’s not good to be alone, which of these are the way we should go?! The answer, frankly, is that there is value in both solitude and being in community.
We tend to forget that many groups of people have lived their lives in isolation, sometimes by personal choice. For example, the Rule of St. Benedict structures this in for the monk, who spends much time alone with God and in reading. But the monk also needs time in community and the Benedictine model of rhythm provides for that as well.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
For those in social isolation, the balance of life is upset. Those in social isolation are too alone, too cut off from conversation, community and meaningful connection. So what do we do?
First, recognize that there is a value in being alone.
A wise person once said that being alone is not the same as loneliness. It can also be the blessing of ‘solitude’.
Now of course this is not for everyone, by nature.
In this world, generally speaking, we are either extroverts, getting our energy from being with others, socialising etc, or we are introverts, sustained by being quiet. Obviously, the latter can more comfortable than the former in isolation.
For extroverts, imposed social isolation is painful, and can even bring with it deadly temptations during the present pandemic.
Perhaps, during this time of imposed isolation, rather than raging at the inconvenience, we can stop and learn to connect with ourselves and to go deeper with God.
We are assured that is a whole universe within as well as without. So discover, read God’s word, reflect, take stock. Give your soul the chance to catch up with your body. You may be surprised how energizing it can be!
Second, realise that there is a value in being together. In fact, God has called us to ‘meeting’, the idea that lies behind our modern word for ‘church’, and that is why Emmanuel Church is making every effort to ‘connect’ in new ways.
Now I am a natural introvert, and love to get away for silence and reflection. It’s in my nature.
But I also know that I need other people, and for this I have to push myself out of my comfort zone a little to join with others. I’m always glad I do this, but I need to work at it.
Third, realise that life is essentially a balance of several necessities, including solitude and community.
Our Lord’s example stands out as our pattern: spending time alone, being often with His Father, having time with our friends, and keeping a balance between both, as best we can.
A NEW WAY OF LIVING
Like it or not, we are called at this time to a new way of living, but through it, maybe, we will learn a better way of living in the future, based on a balance of relationships with God, each other, and our world.
IF A CHURCH WANTS TO FLY, IT NEEDS TWO WINGS!
A local church should have two wings, if it really wants to go places.
One wing we could call the main worship time on Sunday, when everyone is together to celebrate what God is doing. The other wing is made up of all the small groups that meet during the week and provide a closer form of fellowship, where we can really get to know each other as friends and help build one another up.
We see this two-winged dynamic in Acts 2:42-47 when the early church met in the temple courts in large gatherings and from house to house in their smaller groups. We see this same structure in Acts 5:42, “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.” Again in Acts 20:20, Paul says, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”
Some still say that the main celebration on Sunday is ‘proper church’, and we measure our progress by the size of the congregation. Others would point out that we only do real church when we meet with each other in smaller and more intimate groups.
But both these ‘wings’ of the church play a vital part, and during a recent special series of midweek prayer meetings it has become clear that what we call ‘home groups’ are in fact essential to our churches’ life, and that we should focus on developing these to bring balance and progress.
And what should these smaller home groups involve? Well it seems clear that the main ingredients of a meaningful home group experience should include a healthy mix of fellowship, learning, and prayer (Acts 2.42).
So, are we ready to fly in 2020?
May God bless us as we follow His leading.
Happy New Year!