To be alone is a complicated thing. There are times when we are quite content to be alone – comfortable with ourselves and our thoughts and activities, at peace with whatever we are doing or experiencing. But there are other times, when our deepest need is to be with someone who loves us. To be in the warmth and safety of another’s presence. To understand that, ultimately, we do not live in a lonely place.
Both sides of this coin are elusive. It is hard to become content in our aloneness. It is hard to find that special presence, whether it lies in a person or in faith, that will carry us when we need carrying. I suspect most of us spend our lives searching for and working at accomplishing both sides. Some of us achieve the goal, others remain uncared for and lonely.
This hymn was written on June 6, 1882. Very specific. The reason is that its author, George Matheson, wrote of the experience as being an otherworldly happening that he felt was divinely inspired, and took him a mere five minutes to achieve. He said, it was as if it was dictated by some inner voice that was not his own. What is important to note is that he had suffered something, unknown to us, that caused what he referred to as “the most severe mental suffering. The hymn was the fruit of that suffering.”
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee.
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that follows all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee.
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee.
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee.
I lay in dust, life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red,
Life that shall endless be.
There is such sadness in these words. And such loneliness. They sound like the words of someone who has suffered and who is so very tired. And yet, each verse speaks to the presence of something else. Love, Light, Joy and Faith. These foundations on which to stand in times of pain. These are not the empty sentiments of everything will be alright, these are the pillars that are being grasped because everything isn’t. These are the strengths looked at when strength is gone. These are the powerful ideals upon which a life is built. These are the things left when we are alone.
We all suffer. Some seem to suffer more than others, and I don’t really understand why. But there are times when I hear the words of someone who has suffered and feel a sense of tremendous strength. Tremendous dignity. Tremendous wisdom. Some people come to these understandings walking a long and difficult road and somehow manage to achieve the gifts of love, light, joy and faith despite their circumstances, their suffering. I admire this. I aspire to own and exhibit these gifts. These special people are valuable beyond measure. Valuable in ways our world often doesn’t recognize.
Look around you. Find those that suffer and admire their strength. Perhaps the suffering is small, perhaps it is large, but open your eyes to the remarkable spirit that can rise above the mess thrown at it by life. Admire those who find their pillars, aware of their support even when all else is crumbling.
Look for those that suffer and are alone. Perhaps you are the pillar that they need to grasp – give your love, your light, your joy, your faith. Embrace the lonely if you have a strength to share. Generosity of spirit is also an admirable gift.
Look at your own suffering and seek the smallest place to glimpse the love, the light, the joy and the faith that exists beyond yourself. We are part of a richness of human spirits that can carry and reassure. We are allowed to ask for help. We’ve lost sight of this, but we are allowed to ask for help.
We are not alone. We are many. We are the love that will not let go.