Spiritual stinginess

Christ comes alive in the communion between two people. When we are alone, even joy is, sorrow’s flower: lovely, necessary, sustaining, but blooming in loneliness, rooted in grief. I’m not sure you can have communion with other people without these moments in which sorrow has opened in you, and for you; and I am pretty certain that without shared social devotion one’s solitary experiences of God wither into a form of withholding, spiritual stinginess, the light of Christ growing ever fainter in the glooms of the self.

* * *

What this means is that even if you are socially shy and generally inarticulate about spiritual matters — and I say this as someone who finds casual social interactions often quite difficult and my own feelings about faith intractably mute — you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you. These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christ is always stronger in our brother’s heart than in our own, which is to say, first, that we depend on others for our faith, and second, that the love of Christ is not something you can ever hoard. Human love catalyzes the love of Christ. And this explains why that love seems at once so forceful and so fugitive, and why, “while we speak of this, and yearn toward it,” as Augustine says, “we barely touch it in a quick shudder of the heart.”

* * *

There is a kind of insistence on loneliness that is diabolical. It expunges the possibility of other people, of love in all its transfiguring forms, and thus of God. It does not follow, however, when one is freed from one’s addiction to, or sentence of loneliness, that loneliness “ends.” But it becomes — even in love’s afterimage, even when love is taken from us — a condition in which God can be. Loneliness, when it passes through love, assumes an expansiveness and active capacity. “The body becomes an easy channel for the invisible,” as Fanny Howe writes. “You may be lonely but are not empty.”

— Christian Wiman, My Bright Abyss

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