Frederick Buechner wrote that “Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too. ” It’s a powerful statement of the need for connectedness between human beings. Jesus spoke of a time when his friends would be “scattered” (John 16:31,32). Of course, he was referring to their rapid dispersal after Gethsemane, at the first threat of danger, but, in another sense, we do live in a time of scattering. He said: “Behold, the hour comes, yes, has already come, that you shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.’” – John 16:31,32. The impulse is for each of us to be flung- whether or not we wish it- into “our own”. Our own what? Our own reality? Our own belief-system of right and wrong. The fragmentation process with which Western society is infatuated is really quite deadly, because we belong together. “It is not right for man to be alone.”
There are two kinds of aloneness: one is either insulated by space or isolated by spirit. It is a small thing to be separated by mere distance. I once sat on a rooftop looking over New Delhi by night. I was seen, touched and heard by none, and yet I wasn’t really alone. I was conscious of the prayers of my wife, my friends and family. The love I had given and received peopled by solitude with a crowd. Their absence, as the saying goes, only made my heart grew fonder. I was connected
Internal loneliness -loneliness of the spirit- is a different matter entirely. Have you ever experienced a conversation with someone who is entirely indifferent to you? Imagine an official who has only to fill in a form for you and, through dint of repetition has lost the ability to care about the individual any more. There’s no real connection, is there? You might speak for an hour together and never really communicate. It’s a loss to both sides.
Jesus once walked through a seething, jostling crowd and yet experienced deep inside himself, the touching heart-cry of an individual. He said “Somebody has touched me.” It’s a powerful thought, isn’t it? The disciples were confused. They saw only on the surface, that physical contact in such a mob was inevitable. But Jesus was speaking about something else. It’s not really mysterious, but is something that we all experience from time to time: the inner connectedness of spiritual contact. We express something of it in the phrase “Falling in love.” In the text, Jesus felt “power going out from him.” It is wrong to interpret this merely as some magical healing process. It is, first and foremost, the spiritual contact between persons, alive and real, caring and loving for one another.
And there -precisely there- is where I choose to live.
With all its attendant pain
- frederick buechner quote (stalechampagne.com)