The Loneliness of the Long-running Rector

Feb 23rd, 2006 | By | Category: Ministry

Visiting a friend on Tuesday night, we were in maudlin mood. A young man he had known from childhood had thrown himself off a railway bridge, another death to add to our community’s terrible suicide rate.

We pondered times past, happy ones as well as sad, and somehow he got around to telling the story of the night the first child of another friend was born. He and the friend had sat on the green, drinking bottles of wine and singing Beatles songs until four in the morning, being joined by a third friend somewhere in the proceedings.

To me, it was wonderful picture of happiness, a completely carefree abandon in celebration of the marvellous event of human life.

It was also a picture that brought with it thoughts of sadness. Being priest in a community means being the eternal outsider; being in the community but not of it; being aware that the people who are your people at one moment might be someone else’s people in six months time and that you have no abiding place.

It puts you on your guard against forming the sort of friendships where you could sit on the green and sing songs through the night because such friendships inevitably have to be abandoned when you move on.

Friendships last only with those who have been no part of your community or with those who share in your journey, so our closest friends, those with whom we talk every week, those with whom we sit in a ski resort bar after a day on the piste, are those who live nowhere near us, who are unknown here as we are unknown there.

It is a strange life, and I have lived it for almost twenty years. Being always on the edge, being there to lead in times of grief, carrying on when the tank has run dry, walking from the graveside alone as families embrace, it becomes harder as the years pass.

I read a piece on loneliness by Therese Casey in the current edition of the Dominican journal Spirituality. She looks at loneliness that arises from the loss of a significant person; from the loss of a job or career; and at existential loneliness. Maybe, I thought, someone will tell me about the loneliness imposed by one’s vocation.

Therese Casey concludes with a quote from Karl Rahner, “At the end of the day our task is to recognize that God is in the silence, the frustration, the loneliness, the emptiness. Our job is to become aware of this.â€?

Perhaps God was in the sadness on Tuesday night.

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