Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy last month declared a public health crisis of loneliness and isolation, conditions that he said affect about half of American adults and can increase the risk for premature death to levels comparable to smoking daily.
This week’s clergy discuss how they counsel members of their congregation who say they feel isolated and alone.
Chaplain and director of The Islamic Society and chair of the Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University
The Holy Quran states, “And He is with you [Allah/God] wherever you are” (57/4) and that God tells us, “I am closer to you than your jugular vein” (50:16). A believer who understands this fully will never feel alone because their Lord is near, to listen to you and answer your supplications and prayers. Although it is critical to have faith in God and ask him for help, Muslims are also encouraged to seek consultations in the important matters in their life, including physical and mental health. On your own, you can connect with others at the mosque, where you might speak about your feelings of loneliness with a spiritual counselor. But the first step is to realize the presence of God in your life. You will then be able to create meaningful relationships with family and community, and you may begin to love yourself, to enjoy your own company and find joy in exercise, the arts, reading and other healthful pursuits. Eventually, you may realize that you were never alone because God was there every step of the way, giving you strength and guidance to bring a positive and lasting change in your life.
THE REV. MARJORIE NUNES
Senior pastor, Hicksville United Methodist Church
This month I will be retiring from being a full-time pastor. For 23 years I have served several congregations from New York to Connecticut. Before being a pastor, I worked in corporate America for over 20 years. One could say I have been very busy for a long time. But that does not mean that I have not experienced loneliness. I feel that loneliness and being alone are not exactly the same. Loneliness is said to be a state of being alone and feeling sad about it. One can be alone and enjoy every minute of it. But from time to time, most of us experience loneliness. As a Christian, I use scriptures as the key source in ministering to people suffering from loneliness. Psalm 139:13-14 has been very helpful, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Using the scriptures, I lovingly remind the person that God loves them unconditionally.
RABBI LINA ZERBARINI
Kehillath Shalom Synagogue, Cold Spring Harbor
Very early in the most ancient of Jewish teachings, in the Torah, we are told: “It is not good for the human to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It is almost as if our ancestors anticipated this moment, our moment, in which so many suffer from loneliness. There is a solution, and that is community. As a rabbi, I say to my congregants: Come to synagogue. There, we build deep connection as we share our wisdom and experience over sacred text, pray for our needs and those of our loved ones, and care for each other. We also laugh!
A rabbinic text from the second century teaches: “When two sit together and there are words of Torah between them, then the Shekhinah [a feminine name of God] abides among them.” God is present in relationship. It is through each other that we have the deepest and holiest experiences of our lives: love and loss, birth and death, joy and sorrow.
A synagogue is most typically called a beit knesset (house of gathering). This is more frequently used than other names, such as house of prayer or of study. What is important, what is meaningful, and what helps, is to be together.
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