I like the word, solace. If I were to use it in a college classroom, I am not sure how many students would know exactly what the word means. I don’t think this is one of those places where I lament how much the younger generation does not know that I would claim my older generation knew at their age. I am not sure that is true. I do know that I learned so much along the way in life. One great thing that college taught me was how little I knew! Learning new words and being more articulate was an important learning, but it was one of many.
I know solace means offering comfort to those who are sad or somehow grieved. Solace also means offering cheer and making folks cheerful. It comes from the Latin word, solacium, which means to console. A significant element of the ministry I have done throughout my life has been to offer solace. I have been with folks in their heartaches---through deaths, misfortunes and other setbacks. Offering solace is nothing more than offering some comfort.
In many cases there is actually very little that can be done. Frequently solace is offered, but it does not materially change the situation. If a spouse has died, offering solace to the surviving spouse does not change the situation. The dead does not spring to life again. Solace can become part of the medicine of healing. Not all medicine is a pill or a treatment.
Solace is often very simple. It can be as simple as a word or a phrase. It does not require a Ph.D. or, in fact, any education at all. Generally, it does require some understanding, some empathy and compassion. Typically solace is not heroic, but it is usually healing. Just offering care---or knowing someone does care---is a form of solace. Solace does not offer a “fix.” To offer solace is not to become a problem-solver, but to become a healer.
Sadly, too many of us see the healing process as the bailiwick of the medical world. While that clearly is true, it unfortunately limits healing to the professionals with degrees and pedigrees. If we get a grasp on the spiritual dimension of the healing process, then all of us can potentially see ourselves as agents of that healing process. All of us can come to be caregivers and develop compassion. Those talents and gifts come through experience and practice, not education and degrees.
I am always amazed how much ache there is in our world. Of course, there are the huge global gashes to the wellbeing of humanity. There are the global hot spots where war, violence and mayhem seem to be the rule of the day. These wounded places seem so humongous, we feel impotent to do anything about it. Truly, what kind of solace can we offer in the face of the tragedies of the Middle East or other hot spots? Some answers seem simplistic, but I contend they are better than nothing. Why not pray for the people and their problems?
Prayer is not magic and I don’t expect miracles to replace human ingenuity to figure out ways to bring peace and justice to areas starved for these virtues. But for those of us who claim faith in a God who is loving and who loves justice, surely prayer aligns us on the right side. Prayer enables me to identify as a healer and not a hurter. That is a start.
Prayer is also a worthy form of solace for our more immediate situations and contexts. I figure it never hurts to hold people and their situations in the Light, as we Quakers are fond of saying. In addition to this, I stay alert to the opportunities to offer solace. The more aware I am and the more attentive I become, the more opportunities appear that appeal for some solace.
If we have eyes to see, we can often observe a plea in the eyes of someone who sorely desires solace. If we have ears to hear, we can hear the plea of someone begging to be touched---literally or metaphorically. We can develop all our senses and our sensitivities to seek out situations waiting for some kind of solace.
I like to see solace as a form of care and love. As such, solace can repeatedly be offered and the source is never depleted. In fact like love, the offering of solace tends to be compounding. The more you are able to extend to folks, the more you have available. And like love, offering solace often has a boomerang effect. Something always comes circling back to me. In giving we so often are given.