Finding our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness: A COVID-19 Reading Pilgrimage
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You know those books that are almost too rich to read? Not in a decadent way, but in a raw, important, soul-touching way? Books you can only read by savoring slowly, and even that feels too much most of the time?
That’s what kind of book The Restless Heart: Finding Our Spiritual Home in Times of Loneliness, by Catholic theologian Ronald Rolheiser, is for me. I picked it up last November at a retreat centre I had traveled to for work, and ever since then have been trying to make it all the way through in one piece.
What slows me down is an almost covetousness desire to commit every other sentence to memory, to store it up in my heart for easy access during all the rainy days, rainy moments, of this threadbare life. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.
I’ve been returning to its pages these last few days, as the isolation of COVID-19 drags on. And on. And I find myself venturing through new, uncharted vicissitudes of loneliness. This loneliness doesn’t feel like normal loneliness. It is about more than just a lack of human companionship, but a daily confrontation–forlorn, unbidden–with the great realities of life that are easily hidden in normal times, even lonely normal times.
I’ve never before read a book that talks about loneliness like this. There are memoirs about loneliness; nonfiction works that wax sociological about the growing “loneliness epidemic”; saccharine spiritual devotionals that attempt to convince readers it’s an illusion or a sign of weak faith or a form of solitude to be embraced; self-help books to help us try to become less lonely (by thinking positively, securing better relationships, being more approachable or less shy or less introverted or more introverted… Anything to feel less lonely).
But this book is different.
It does not tell us how to make the loneliness go away. It does not abstractify loneliness into a sociological problem to be solved.
It instead takes up shelter from within the loneliness. It looks around from the inside and notices what loneliness consists of, what its threads and underpinnings are. It gives us words for this way of being. It travels with us into the loneliness–not to make it go away, as though its a pathology we must solve for our lives to make sense, but to find meaning, even beauty, from within it.
So, since so many of us are isolated, doing battle with loneliness in a new way, it strikes me as the perfect time to undertake a kind of pilgrimage through this book. Like the March girls did in Little Women as they read through Pilgrim’s Progress, and like I have done with numerous other books close to my heart–plodding with slow steps through pages, eager for the transformative winds of journey.
I plan to re-read this book little by little, posting short travel notes on this blog as I go, reflecting The Restless Heart back on my own experiences, circumstances, thoughts, prayers right now.
Will I post every day? Every week? Twice a day? I don’t know and there is a much-needed freedom in that. It’s a journey, not a race.
You don’t need to read the book to follow along, but I highly recommend it. If you do, I’d love to compare travel notes here or on social media.