A Reflection on isolation

Friday, 27th March 2020

A Reflection on isolation

by the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster

I have never been very comfortable on the ‘phone. My family despair as I try to evade making a call, or taking one. I grew up, an only child, in a very quiet household. There were few visitors and few phone calls. Anyway, the phone was a tricky thing. A dial you had to spin several times and release at the right moment. I never took to that.

Now, suddenly solitary, with a wife who is a head teacher in Bristol, it is time to get over myself. I am using the phone more often. I am also receiving more calls and messages. Suddenly I hear from friends who have not been in touch for weeks or months. They hear from me. In isolation, we look for company. Better still, we become more affectionate. The calls and messages worry about my welfare; they ask after me. In this crisis, there are plenty of stories of bad behaviour and thoughtlessness, but many of us are also encountering something else. We hear and we reach for a better and more loving language.

That language of love is not universal. I am not naïve, there are plenty of households, now, that are just silent, or where there is unkindness, ill feeling, or even violence. This crisis shines a light on us and there are some dark shadows. Up close, we can all be difficult. What I observe is that the bonds of affection that reach over distance are getting stronger. It is friends, far away, that I hear from. I also suspect that some of us, in dark days want to use stronger, better days. I remember a very powerful essay that Rowan Williams wrote after 9/11. He observed that the language of that shattering act of terrorism was violent and life-denying, worse still some of it was framed in language that claimed to be religious. The texts, however, that people sent from a doomed airliner were simple and profound. ‘I love you’ they wanted to say. That is the true language of faith.

We can, I think, persuade ourselves that religion is a solitary thing. We talk (some of us do) about my vocation or my prayer life. We should notice that Jesus called disciples and conducted his ministry in company. We should notice too, those extraordinary miracles do not end with someone simply healed, but with someone restored to community. He raises a little girl from the dead and his first instruction is to her parents to feed her. Lepers are cleansed and have to show themselves to the priest, so that they can be invited back into society. The demoniac howling amongst the tombs goes back into the city at the end of the story.

Our destiny is not isolation, it is community. Faith is not commitment, it is love.