I've always been sort of fascinated by other people listening to headphones, or other people reading. I marvel at how this other person is experiencing something ... hearing sounds or reading words - taking in something that I have no knowledge of whatsoever. They could be listening to a song that would become my favorite, if I could but hear it. They could be reading words that would change my life, if I were but to glance at them. Regardless, they are absorbed in a world of their own in which I cannot share.
I guess it really drives home to me our separateness - how each of us is, on some level, truly alone, truly individual. It gives lie to the philosophy that the world around me is just a construction of my mind - how could I conjure up all those words on all those pages, all those sounds heard by a thousand ears other than mine, and yet not know a single one of them? It also touches on a theme discussed by Henri Nouwen and Paula Ripple, that loneliness is a 'constant companion', to use Ripple's words - that no matter how many people with whom we surround ourselves, no matter how close we may get to a spouse or a friend, a measure of loneliness will remain with us. Or, in contemporary musical parlance, there will remain a "God-shaped hole" in us, that only He can fill - and in this life, only incompletely. That we cannot but "groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies1", looking forward to our being "united with him in his resurrection2".
But... Christians are called to stay in this world that is not our home3, that is passing away4, because we are charged as ambassadors of Christ to the world5. Were it not for this responsibility, what would keep Christians here? As Paul says, "to live is Christ, to die is gain6" - without this calling, this commission7, why not speed reunion with God? I suspect this is something that too many believers consider too little, and too lightly... very likely including myself.
What message are we bringing to those around us? Are we, as Nouwen puts it, offering healing to others by "[inviting them] to recognize [their] loneliness on a level where it can be shared8"? By experiencing their emptinesses along with them, coming alongside their burdens and pains, and helping them to understand that the only hope of true healing is not to be found in this temporal realm? Or are we simply seeking salves for our own loneliness in others, things, prosperity... too focused on treating our own wounds to minister to those of others?
We are called to a narrow path, and a narrow gate9. This is a hard teaching10, but to whom else shall we go11?
1 Rom. 8:23
2 Rom. 6:5
3 1 Pet. 2:11
4 1 Cor. 7:31
5 2 Cor. 5:20
6 Phil. 1:21
7 Matt. 28:16-20
8 The Wounded Healer, Ch. IV, Section II.2
9 Matt. 7:14
10 John 6:60
11 John 6:68