The Shattering of Loneliness: On Christian Remembrance, by Erik Varden

I read this short volume a month or so ago, but Holy Week strikes me as an appropriate time to review it. The title is a trifle misleading, in that Varden (b. 1974), a Benedictine monk from Norway, writes not so much about loneliness as about the whole of the Christian life. Loneliness, nevertheless, provides an apt starting point from which to approach theology; the basis of Christianity is God’s drawing near to us and, thus, drawing believers into fellowship with one another.

Loneliness is also uniquely relevant during these weeks and months in which people all over the world have intentionally, and largely voluntarily, isolated themselves as a precaution against COVID 19. Nevertheless, viewed from another perspective, not since WWII have people around the globe been united in their vulnerability and response to a single crisis. 

Though the whole of Varden’s book is insightful, it was the introduction that moved me most. Varden writes of learning about WWII as a child and puzzling over the problem of evil. In the years of searching that followed he recognized his participation in the human condition, in a world tainted by “the rasping voice of evil; and that, not vaguely round about, but in one’s heart.” Eventually, in Christ he recognized “the fire that obliterates night, the fire that has come into the world as love” (p. 9).

In keeping with the subtitle, every chapter title invokes an injunctive to “remember”: “Remember You Are Dust,” “Remember You Were a Slave in Egypt,” Remember Lot’s Wife,” “Do This in Remembrance of Me,” The Counsellor Will Call Everything to Mind,” and “Beware Lest You Forget the Lord.” Varden begins by establishing the need for humility–recalling that we all start from the same place, needing a savior–and concludes with the reminder that while Christ offers present redemption in this world, we await its ultimate fulfillment in eternity.

Varden’s engagement of historic and contemporary saints as well as secular philosophers makes for a stimulating and thought-provoking conversation. The Shattering of Loneliness provides much to reflect on, not only for the lonely, but for saints and seekers at any point along their spiritual journey. And the co-incidence of Holy Week and quarantine supply a providential opportunity.

Note: Another collection of timely and worthwhile writings I’ve dipped into this week is The Undoing of Death: Sermons for Holy Week and Easter, by Fleming Rutledge.

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