There is so much more to say about the practice of silence and solitude but I will finalize my thoughts today. But lest I give the impression that silence and solitude are the only means by which we encounter God, let me proclaim an emphatic “No!” Silence and solitude are just one of the many environments in which we “make space” or create the conditions for spiritual transformation. What we discover is, we become like Christ by being with him. We take on the character of Christ, being spiritually formed, from on-going interaction with Jesus himself. (John 15)
So what does this have to do with solitude? Solitude, like all the other spiritual disciplines, are the intentional environments we create so as to “keep company with”, or encounter Jesus in a meaningful way. So sometimes there are moments and places of a transcendent encounter with Jesus, like a worship service or retreat, that mark us and we are never the same. Sometimes we encounter Christ in the teaching and writing of others through the discipline of study and reading. Sometimes we encounter Christ through the personal disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, fasting or journaling. Still other times we “keep company with Jesus” through sacrificial service to others or the discipline of community or a spiritual friendship.
These and in countless other disciplines we make room in our lives to pay attention to the ways Jesus is inviting us into relationship with himself. Yet what I have discovered is without the discipline of solitude, where our hearts are trained in attentiveness to the presence of Christ, we most often miss him in the other places. It is in the place of solitude we learn to recognize the still small voice of God and begin to flow, like seasoned dancers, to the nuances of the Spirit’s movement in our lives. Solitude, then, becomes a foundational stone to all the other spiritual disciplines. For without it there is the danger that they become dry rituals of forced self-mastery and endless, powerless self-effort striving.
The goal in solitude, and with all the spiritual disciplines, is a continual, deeply-help, interactive friendship with Jesus and finding that just being with Jesus in transformational.
(If you’d like to read more about the practice of Silence and Solitude I recommend “Invitation to Silence and Solitude” by Ruth Haley Barton and “The Way of the Heart” by Henri Nouwen.)