4-time Academy Best Actor nominee Tom Hanks turns in a masterwork theatrical performance in the 2000 feature Castaway. Definitely worth a watch if you like sun and surf, late FedEx deliveries, slightly used volleyballs and Hank’s physical transformation to depict the utter desolation of a modern man marooned on a south Pacific island for several years, completely alone. Hanks lost 50 pounds from the first to last scenes, as production halted for a year for him to grow out his own natural hair for beard and scraggle to achieve the perfect “I’ve been marooned on a deserted island with only fish and coconuts to eat” look. A few days ago, this movie came to mind as I stopped to look in a mirror. Then I slowly looked around my bedroom. Bathroom. Closet. Yep, it’s official. Your rector achieved (well perhaps not yet with the weight but working on it) almost Castaway status! Wow how men can slip quickly when no one’s looking! I said out loud something, “Okay, we have standards here!” Social distancing, fine. Looking like I am about to make fire on the remote island beach, not so much.
We’ve just reflected upon the unexpected benefits of and the unexpected challenges of this moment, and how both invite us to enter the Lenten journey with our Lord in a more complete way. But both previous reflections by definition include being with someone else during all of this. But what if one doesn’t happen to have, for whatever reason, a “plus one or plus more” for this? What if one has instead only palpable silence, every day, all the time? For some I have visited with remotely, this time is a release from burdensome responsibilities and something of a relief. For these spiritual castaways they never make the boat, sail and oars to escape the island, content (at least for now) to rest in their own company. Inconvenient but manageable as long as those they love are safe. Fair enough. But for others of us, myself included, this isolation is very desolating. We are built for companionship, company and engagement. “Let’s grab Wilson (ur, uh, Wilson’s the volleyball from Castaway. I can explain later!) and get the heck off this island!” For those introverts and any who are comfortable keeping your company for long periods, God bless you on this journey. But for the rest of us…
The great 4th century biblical scholar, cleric, theologian and ascetic Saint Jerome had to relocate from Rome to Bethlehem to complete the greatest translation ever documented to our knowledge, the translation of the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Christian scriptures into the more enduring Latin version, called the Vulgate. He isolated himself to complete this immense textual feat, residing in a cave he believed to be the actual place of our Lord’s birth, adjacent to the future Byzantine basilica of the Church of the Nativity. He suffered terribly from this isolation which drove him into deep faith and focus. The 20th century celebrated Catholic monk, theologian and spiritual diarist Thomas Merton abandoned a rich societal life in New York City to enter the Trappist Abbey at Our Lady of Gethsemani in Bardstown, Kentucky in 1941. Upon arrival Merton called his spartan monastic cell “the four walls of my new freedom.” Both monks, centuries apart, found God’s presence far more palpably in the silence, the stillness and the simple than all the previous libertine experiences life had afforded them. They chose to be marooned from the world to focus upon intimacy with Christ, and both changed the world they inhabited.
I cleaned up both myself and my living quarters after that mirror moment. We actually do have standards, and need to keep them no matter who’s looking or not looking! We have spiritual standards also, for our shared health, wellbeing and resilience. I am understanding this moment to be an invitation to love God and to love my own company in a more honest fashion. God keeps our company too through His living presence we call the Holy Spirit. Being peaceable with ourselves for me is accepting the presence of the Spirit as a Companion when I cannot keep company with others as I love to do. But even the most accomplished ascetics struggled honestly with sustained isolation. If being isolated is taking us down some darker paths, we need to reach out for help. Anxiety, depression, increased use of prescription drugs or other substances, rage, withdrawal, heavier alcohol consumption, despondency or suicidal ideation are never, ever gifts our heavenly Father gives to bless us. Withdrawal from our families and others is never okay and most certainly not now! Watching Tom Hanks act is a joy but looking like him right now is a caution! Character really is who we are when no one else is looking. If you happen to be struggling, please stop everything and call or text us for immediate help, it cannot wait! We may be socially distanced but we are never, ever alone!
- How do you experience the palpable presence of the Holy Spirit today in this moment?
- Where are your gifts and blessings of God’s presence right now? What’s different about those gifts, and what is beautifully new about them?
- Where are you experiencing darkness right now? And if that darkness is overwhelming for you, would you be willing to reach out to let someone who loves you share the burden of this present moment with you? Who is that someone and how fast can you contact them?! Please do today!