A sermon by Dr. Richard A. Wing, Co-Pastor, October 6, 2019

Inspiration from Matthew 14:23; Mark 1:32-37


Today we worship at the altar of instant measurements, levels of progress and results.  This week I was in the hospital for hip surgery.  Every 30 minutes I was asked to “evaluate my pain level.” “On a 1-10, what is your pain level,” I was continually asked, for which I am grateful.

This week I called Verizon wireless. At the end of my time on the phone, “please take the very brief survey following by staying on the line. I know it’s asking a lot but please do it.”  This week while my wife was driving me home from the hospital, we followed a truck. On the back was written, “How is my driving?” Then an 800 number where I can tell someone how the stranger in front of me is driving.  Anything I experience or purchase wants me to give immediate feedback on the product or service, or speed of delivery.

Read this line very slowly; then repeat again. Without success, we bring that same set of questions to our spiritual life. Have I matured spiritually? On what level am I and how do I move to the next level? When will I reach the moment of union with God like Jesus and experience illumination and enlightenment like both the Buddha and Jesus achieved?

When it comes to the life of the spirit, these questions do not and will not help. You need to drop your world of instant feedback, measurements and desire for results.

Mother Theresa had a spiritual director she would talk to on a regular basis.  He kept notes that she begged him never to share. He violated her request and has helped all of us with the struggle called the spiritual life.  In the book COME BE MY LIGHT, he reports how she prayed fervently all her life that she would feel a daily closeness to God. She said, “only during a 6-month period in my life did I feel the closeness to God that I always wanted.” 

  1. Here is the ultimate deserver of God’s presence in her life.
  2. She seldom felt God’s presence all her life.
  3. She prayed and got out of bed and served anyway.  Someone said, “Most of the good that will be done today will be done by people that got up and didn’t feel like doing it; and did it anyway.” That is the Mother Theresa spirit. 

What Mother Theresa did was to tell the truth about her experience. Pema Chodron is a Buddhist Nun who has haunted me with this: “Enlightenment is knowing where you are and telling the truth about it.”  The best image I have of church is where people gather to give thanks for life itself; name the painful things in their lives; and then promise to stand by each other no matter what.  There is so much talk about spirituality; so little understanding of the meaning of that.  Henri Nouwen says the spiritual life is always in tension between two polarities:

  • BETWEEN LONELINESS AND SOLITUDE: Has to do with me as an individual
  • BETWEEN HOSTILITY AND HOSPITALITY: Has to do with our relationship to others
  • BETWEEN ILLUSION AND PRAYER: Has to do with our relationship with God.

Loneliness is at epidemic proportions in our world today in case you have not noticed.  Nouwen tells of his experience on a subway in England. No one speaks. Everyone hides behind their newspapers. The walls are covered with advertisements. The intent is for you to think, “I can’t live without this product.”  Everything in the photos are things I want to have: two young women in their 20’s on the beach; a yacht owned by a guy who “bought the product;” explorers on horseback that really looks like fun; children dancing on a sunny beach; a charming woman who will tuck you in on the long flight to Singapore.  We connect buying these products to having the kind of life we see before us.  I have checked this out with the myriad of advertisements about medication and things: all of them show people in great relationships having a good time. I seek to replace my loneliness with the product they sell which will, I can’t explain why, will eliminate my loneliness.

In England, there is now a Department of Loneliness. If a person has been in isolation without human contact for 30 days, it is called a crisis.  Now they are setting up ways that people can be in contact with professionals and individuals in their neighborhoods. 

Mother Theresa said: “Loneliness is the worst poverty of all.” Remember she did not seek to change the social order in Calcutta. She sought to make sure that no one died lonely on the streets or in her clinic.  Psychiatrists and Doctors know loneliness to be the expressed complaint at the root of suicide, alcoholism, drug use, and all other psychosomatic symptoms great and small.  Competitive individualism we seek to reconcile with a culture that speaks about togetherness, unity and community as the ideals we strive toward. Nouwen said: “the roots of loneliness are very deep and cannot be touched by optimistic advertisement, substitute love images or social togetherness.” 


  1. AVOIDANCE OF PAIN: We knew a woman in Ohio whose husband died.  She was distraught and had many friends around her all checking in.  She had the independent spirit that many have in the “stiff upper lip” community I served.  When any of us asked “how she is doing,” she would say “Fine, just fine!” She almost resented us asking. In time, she came to me and we discovered that “fine” was Vicodin at 10 a.m. and lots of Vodka at 2 p.m.  She refused to face and name the hideous loss of her husband in the prime of retirement life.

The next root of loneliness is—

  • CONSTANTLY SEEKING FINAL SOLUTIONS:  I can remember myself in the 1970’s with all the many workshops and new approaches to theology and psychology, that I sought to put together a “final retreat” after which you would need no other assistance, but be allowed to live without speed bumps the rest of your life. How ridiculous was my search for a final solution to problems that we will carry with us all our lives.

Another root of loneliness is —

  • MAKING OTHER PEOPLE THE PROBLEM:  We seek others to take our loneliness away and they can’t. Then anger rises because “they” did not take my loneliness away. They just did not want to do what I wanted them to do. In fact, when we create false “fun times together”, many lonely people feel worse afterward because, in fact, it made no difference.  Point: “my loneliness is MY loneliness and I must deal with it and it will not be resolved by more and more activity.”  We all need a friend who can say to us in such a moment: “Dick, do not run; but be quiet and silent. Listen attentively to your own struggle. The answer to your question is hidden in your own heart”

I have a great friend who has gone through many transitions in the past 10 years. We talk a lot. He said, “In all that time you never told me what I needed to do.” I simply helped him vocalize what he was feeling until he worked it out himself. Sigmund Freud said the best of psychiatric care, is that one listens to another until they discover in their conversation the answer they sought in the first place.  Let’s look at the path to solitude.


  1. WE MUST LISTEN TO OUR LIVES:  Parker Palmer wrote a book titled LISTEN TO YOUR LIFE.  A must for people of all ages.  Blaise Pascal said:  “All (people’s) miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” By means of diversion we can avoid ourselves 24 hours a day.  I know a young man who was groomed to be the top executive in an insurance company.  He was kept when layoffs came; he was paid well even in lean times.  One day he quit almost in desperation knowing that he could do the work.  Why? The work did not represent who he truly is. It takes great courage to listen to the voice inside instead of the voice of the crowd outside that is always wanting you to be something other than who you are.
  • LIVE THE QUSTIONS:   Rainer Marie Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves . . . live the questions and then perhaps without noticing it, you will live along some distant day into the answer.”  The church at its best is a journey church, not an answer church. A grace church, not a judgment church. 
  • BE PRESENT WHEN OTHERS SUFFER:  Tolstoy and Graham Greene in their writings did not offer solutions, “but had the courage to enter so deeply into human suffering and speak from there. Kierkegaard; Sartre; Camus; Hammarskjold; Solzhenitsyn—-none offered solutions. Their characters offered themselves.  Do you remember the two Terry Andersons (two men with same name) captured in Beirut? They both were eventually released and told stories. The one from the USA was very ill one night.   The Terry Anderson from England stayed up all night beside him as he suffered.  Later our USA Terry would say: “You have no idea what it means to have someone willingly stand by you silently as you suffer through the night.”

NEVER ARE WE MORE LIKE GOD THAN WHEN WE DO THAT: suffer with others without trying to heal or fix them.  I close with this poem from Mother Theresa:

God cannot be found in the noise and restlessness

God is the friend of silence.

We need silence in order to touch souls


All our words will be useless

Unless they come from Within

Words which do not give the light of Christ

Increase the Darkness – Mother Theresa

We are on a journey with Henri Nouwen

From Loneliness to Solitude – that is the journey we must do ourselves

From Hostility to Hospitality – is the journey we do in relating to others.

From Illusion to Prayer – is the journey we make toward God who is always there. Amen.

Mark 1:32  That evening, after the sun was down, they brought sick and evil-afflicted people to him, 33 the whole city lined up at his door! 34 He cured their sick bodies and tormented spirits. Because the demons knew his true identity, he didn’t let them say a word.

Mark 1:35   While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. 36 Simon and those with him went looking for him. 37 They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.”

Mark 1:3223 With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.