I learned recently that there are a lot of folks who think my wife Wanda and I are weird. We were at dinner recently with a couple of friends who were talking about another couple we know and I looked at Wanda and said jokingly, “Y’know, I wonder what they say about us when we’re not around?”
I didn’t expect an answer, but they were quick to tell us: “Oh, everybody just thinks you two are strange because you don’t do a lot of things together.”
Wanda and I kind of laughed about that, but upon reflection, I suppose we are kind of strange in that way. I don’t like camping, so Wanda goes camping with other people.
Wanda doesn’t care for bookstores, or writing retreats, or music camps, theological events or beer festivals, so I tend to go by myself or with others. One of the features we even liked about the house we own is that it allows me to be in the office doing what I want to do and her being in another part of the house doing what she wants to do.
Which is not to say that we don’t spend time together and enjoy it. We do, but it has been the time apart that has helped us stay together. We’ve encountered other couples who have to do things together all the time, even though one may not like the activity all that much. Or, one person in the couple doesn’t get to do their favorite activity because the other won’t go along or doesn’t want them to do that activity without them or with others.
Wanda and I, however, have a natural rhythm of alone and together time, but sometimes that, too, can get out of whack. There are some times that one is the loneliest number, when we’ve been apart too long and we begin to get lonely, or take the other person for granted or lose our intimate connection. There are also times when we can be together for too long and then two can become as bad as one … when we’re getting on each other’s nerves and snapping at each other.
The key to any relationship, I believe, is striking that balance between being apart and being together, between pursuing individual fulfillment and coming back together to dream common dreams.
Our personal relationships, then, are a microcosm of this larger world we live in. Each of us needs some time for personal retreat, but stay too long and you may become a lonely world-avoiding hermit. Every human being is a social creature who needs to joy and comfort of a community, but if we stay too long, we can find ourselves feeling lonely even in a crowd as we come to expect too much from those around us, asking the community to give us what we can only find in solitude.
Instead, we are called to find a balance between solitude and solidarity.
A Healing Community
Even Jesus knew how important this balance can be. In Luke 5:15-25, the story begins with Jesus retreating to “deserted places” to pray. But, by now, Jesus’ popularity has grown around the area and whenever he shows up, a crowd seems to gather, so he finds he must balance his solitude with his public ministry.
This passage gives us a clue on how to do that. As Jesus was preaching and healing inside of a home, the crowds were so large that some men who were carrying a paralyzed man on a bed could not get him in to see Jesus. So, ingenious fellows that they were, they climbed up to the roof and ripped a hole in it so they could lower the man down to Jesus.
What does this teach us about making room for being alone and together? First, it teaches us the danger of spending too much time alone. I understand this danger, because I tend to be a bit of a hermit. Given the choice of staying home or going out, I’m more apt to stoke the home fires than light up the night on the town.
Those of us who tend to hibernate are like this paralyzed man — we can no longer get out and function in the world. We’re so stuck in our caves that going out into the light of day can be painful, so we stay where we are, paralyzed with fear, or loneliness, or both.
This is where the community becomes important for hermits like me. It took a community to bring this paralytic man outside and get him the healing he desperately needed. This is the role of community — to heal us, to help us become whole, functioning human and divine beings, to hold us accountable and give us a sense of belonging.
Spend too much time alone and you become certain that you don’t belong anywhere. This is one of the major causes of depression in our society. People believe they don’t belong, that no one cares and no one would miss them if they were gone for good.
This is the calling of community, to seek out the paralyzed and get them what they need to be healed, even if we have to tear off the roof to accomplish that. This is the entire purpose of our new Whosoever community, to seek out those paralyzed by isolation, loneliness or in the grip of the lie that they cannot reconcile their sexuality and spirituality and practice both with integrity and help them heal so they can take up their mats and walk as whole human beings.
In this new community, we come together to support one another, to grow our own faith and provide a safe and sacred place to explore both our sexuality and spirituality without the fear of being condemned for either.
As a community we’re called to provide for each other, whether that means giving love, friendship or just holding a space where those around us can be who they really are without fear or judgment. We are called to carry each other, to recognize our solidarity with one another and call each other into the wholeness of community life.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.