Connecting with Culture
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What condition is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, severe depression, cognitive decline, and early death? The answer may surprise you as it isn’t a physical or mental illness.
It is loneliness.
Loneliness is at chronic levels: 47% of adults in England feel occasionally or often lonely, equating to twenty-five million people. We sowed individualism, independence, self-actualisation, and materialism and we are reaping isolation and societal fragmentation. Go figure.
A survey by The Campaign to End Loneliness carried out in July 2021 unsurprisingly found that lockdowns during the pandemic exacerbated an already-widespread and severe problem. Seventy one percent of adults believed it would continue to be a problem as normal life resumed and all signs indicate the 29% who didn’t were being unjustifiably optimistic.
Loneliness is harmful and widespread. Clearly something must be done, but what? The government has a Minister for Loneliness, charities from the Red Cross to Mind have support services for the lonely, and freelance friends for hire are proliferating on Fiverr.
There is something we can all do though, something simple yet transformational. Something Jesus modelled, Paul mandated, and the church has practiced down the ages: give hospitality. Regularly. Simply. Generously. Openly.
Hospitality is an intrinsic part of a wholehearted Christian life, and we learn it first by receiving it. The community of the godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, invite us to make our home in their eternally loving presence. God asks us to make him welcome, standing at the door and knocking, not forcing entry (Revelation 3:20).
The simple, countercultural act of inviting others into our space, and nourishing them with food, company, and connection, is a profound and practical demonstration of how things work in the Kingdom of God.
We have some cultural baggage around hospitality which means if we live in cramped or untidy quarters and have never fried an egg that didn’t stick to the pan, we assume it isn’t for us. But we don’t have to host dinner parties. We can start with friendly eye contact on the bus, by sharing a picnic with the person on the next bench along the seafront, by stopping for a cup of tea with the guy fixing the shower.
God created us for belonging and relationship. No one should have to be lonely. Will we embody the invitation issued to one and all to take a seat at God’s table?
Jo Swinney is Director of Communications at A Rocha International. Her new book, A Place at the Table: Faith, Hope & Hospitality, cowritten with her mother Miranda Harris, will be launched at LICC on 8 September.