Notebook

Literature & Life

Ours is a time of loneliness. A year or so before I left the UK, the government appointed a Minister of Loneliness. A state department was called for. We’re aware of great needs in mental health, not least among the young. I shan’t attempt to formulate a universal diagnosis. God save us from clerical psycho-quackery! That said, it’s part of a bishop’s job to interpret societal crises from a spiritual point of view. I maintain, after all, that the spiritual life stands for something real and substantial, carefully aligned to, but not to be confounded with, psychological life. I dare to say this: I think existential superficiality, conceptual impoverishment, and a loss of words are a risk to public health in our time. We live at a great depth; we experience and feel deeply: that’s the way we are. But fewer and fewer have words with which to designate the depths that, by virtue of existing, they touch. So they are vulnerable to offers of simplifying labels, even of re-labelling. In order to live — to survive — we must reach a certain depth of consciousness, there to encounter ourselves and others, to make sense of joy and pain.

From a talk in Norwegian, here, on ‘The Power of Words’.