Reading Restless Heart is like attending a privately preached retreat by Fr. Rolheiser. He strives to get into one's moribund soul through a mixture of stories and quotes from literature by following a detailed classic outline of state of the question, definition and category formation, review of scripture, theologians, and important authors and, finally, suggests how to develop a spirituality of loneliness.
Part One deals with the nature of loneliness. Everyone is lonely. Not only that, but loneliness is always part of everyone's existence. As such it is both a danger and an opportunity. Today it is experienced more deeply than before because we have more leisure, our society is fragmented, everything is changing, and contemporary media offer a perfect world that seems obtainable by all, but realistically can be obtained by none. The resultant experience of loneliness is dangerous because, if not understood, it easily causes havoc with all our relationships and destroys our personality.. How do we go about dealing with such deep loneliness?
We cannot deal with something we do not know. Consequently, Fr. Rolheiser attempts to define and categorize loneliness. Knowing, he suggests, is understanding, and understanding offers opportunities to grow closer to God and away from loneliness.
Loneliness is an experience. You have to experience it to know it. No words can express it totally. At the same time there are different aspects of the experience which should be acknowledged. The five major types of loneliness are: alienation, restlessness, fantasy, rootlessness, and psychological depression. At bottom we are lonely for some thing or person. These types suggest "who" and "what" we are lonely for. Christianity provides a clearer picture of the "what" and "who" of loneliness. This picture is drawn from the Christian sources of Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and theologians.
The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that loneliness is caused by sin, everything's ephemeral character, and by a human nature that always wants more. The "who" that heals the broken relationships caused by sin, the changing nature of creation, and the unquenchable thirst for fulfillment is God.
This God the New Testament describes is found in Jesus. It is Jesus who offers us, through conversion and entry into God's kingdom, the movement away from sin and toward the good news that satisfies both head and heart. God is both here, in this earthly realm, and there, in the heavenly. We can encounter God now with the hope that we will live with God forever.
The famous theologians both affirm and apply Jesus message to our present situation. Augustine, Thomas, John of the Cross, Karl Rahner all describe how the present situation of world, fame, pleasure, power, sex, money and other things are natural supports that will not enable our lives, whereas the life in the Spirit, the Kingdom of God, of love, and righteousness are supernatural supports that offer us ways to move away from the loneliness that destroys to the relationships that enliven.
Use our loneliness, Fr. Rolheiser urges, to motivate ourselves, to spur ourselves on to greater creativity, to help be more understanding and empathetic, to sensitize ourselves to our heart's yearnings, to sacrifice ourselves for others, to recognize that the loneliness is God's way of drawing us into union with God and others, and to help us deepen our faith. These are the necessary ingredients of a spirituality of loneliness. We can look at all the different types of loneliness and match them with that offered by the tradition. The living out of this matching is a lifelong struggle within a community of life, searching for a life beyond this one of loneliness. A life that rests in God alone.
The end of Father's retreat offers a few moments to reflect on what he has said. This book was first published twenty years ago. It reflects the concerns and the popular spiritual themes of the time. As a consequence, research and thought since that time are not included. For example the section on psychological depression needs to be expanded and deepened as a consequence of contemporary information, other spiritual writers beside John of the Cross would also expand the retreat to readers from other Christian backgrounds, and a more holistic approach would move beyond the "spirit as supernatural, good," "this world as natural, bad" dichotomy. But, perhaps, these are not the views of the audience today. Yet the baby boom generation is always ready to hear a word that offers a light in the darkness of loneliness which, in its own way, has become a friend.