Solitude -Beyond Naval Gazing

“In the lonely place, Jesus finds the courage to follow God’s will and not his own; to speak God’s words and not his own; to do God’s work and not his own…Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our lives are in danger.  Somewhere we know that without silence, words lose their meaning; that without listening speaking no longer heals; that without distance closeness cannot measure.  Somewhere we know that without a lonely place (solitude) our actions quickly become empty gestures.  The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should be the subject of our most personal attention.

 In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared.  It’s where we recognize that the healing words we speak are not our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of as greater love.”

Henry Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, (Notre Dame: Ava Maria Press 1974/2008; rev. 2004), p. 18, 26.

Contrary to what some might think, and although solitude is practiced alone, it is not just for our own self –purposes but it’s also about community. Thomas Merton is famous for saying that “solitude is not turning one’s back on the world; it is turning our face toward God.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New York: New Directions, 1962). As we “turn our face toward God” we begin to realize our words and actions are being transformed into words “that are not our own” but words that offer healing to others.  Our actions are no longer “empty gestures” but become as expression of a greater love. For as God deals with the stuff of our lives, bringing healing and wholeness through solitude, we bring with us a quality of Presence and are equipped to re-enter the world to better be able to love our neighbor as ourselves.

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