What is Solitude and How Can We Practice it?

Dear family

As I believe most of you know I am a monk and a member of a monastic community called "The Community of Solitude". So what is solitude? It is my belief that the whole universal church is called to spend periods of time in solitude seeking God and yet for me and other monastics this has a special call and meaning. So let's dig a bit and see what we can find that may help us all in our seeking God and coming to understand God's will for us and the journey we are on to Jesus and eternity.

First the word solitude means the quality or state of being alone or remote from society. For me that was easy during the five days I just spent in Big Sur California on top a mountain surrounded by redwood trees and with magnificent views of the ocean from almost anywhere on the property. It was also a cloistered monastery with much of the property dedicated to silence with only a few spots where you could freely talk. It was also miles from anywhere. Easy then to forget everything, the world, work, etc. and just relax, pray and enjoy the beauty of God's creation. However since the Community of Solitude is not a cloistered community at some point we had to come down from the mountain and return to the hustle and bustle of the modern world and all its demands. How do we retain solitude then or is it even possible? Is this something only monks and nuns locked away in their monasteries and convents totally separate from the world can do as they do their daily prayers etc each day or can it be a reality for anyone seeking to know God? First to start this off with let me quote St. Romuald.

"Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms --- never leave it."

In Psalm 46:10-11 the psalmist writes

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us, The God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

Many of us live in urban areas with all the noise and bustle one finds there. Also many also have job, families, husbands, partners, wives children, rent or mortgage payments, bills to be paid and so forth all of which can impinge on our solitude and time with God. So let's have a look at the psalmist I quoted above and see what he has to say to us that may help us in maintaining some solitude in our lives wherein we can sit quietly and listen to what would speak to us.

First the psalmist says to be still. As used it can mean to become inactive. It can also to cease or drop something in order to draw either away from something or towards something like God. Thus this becomes a quality decision to still or become inactive before the Lord. Why is this necessary?

The next thing the psalmist says is to know. In the Hebrew the word used here is yada meaning to know by observing, reflecting or by experiencing something. The purpose then for solitude is to get know something through reflection and observation. It is to reflect on the Psalms of the day we follow as outlined in the Rule of St. Benedict, on what scripture passages we may be reading that day, events and things going on in our lives as well as our world, thus to prepare us for where this taking us to namely God.

The word used for God here is Elohim which can apply to either a god or goddess and therefore is gender neutral. In the Hebrew it was generally thought of as applying to the one true God of Israel Thus Elohim is the supreme God over everything there is nothing nor anyone greater. This is the one we are supposed to be getting to know during our time of solitude, reflection, observation so we may get to know Elohim's ways and hear its voice so we can be guided, directed and led along our journey until it ends when we arrive in heaven.

This is done the psalmist tells us so God can be exalted among the nations and in the earth. To exalt means to actively lift up, to cause to rise or to raise. Thus we are called to raise up the name of Elohim before two groups nations and the earth.

As used here the word nation refers to the heathen, non believers and gentiles. We are called to lift up God so Elohim can be seen and revealed to the nations, We may be able for many reasons to move somewhere to share the gospel. Neither may we be able to move into a monastery or convent and shut ourselves off from the world to spend the rest of our days in nothing but contemplation and prayer. However as we take a little time solitude with God our prayers can go where we cannot and into places currently closed to the Gospel and where anyone professing the name of Jesus can be persecuted tortured and martyred for their faith. Prayer can penetrate into the darkest corners where there seems to be no hope, people are hardened to any mention of God or religion, where indifference if not outright opposition to anything godly seems to be the order of the day and where it seems that it is impossible for any change to ever come. Then somehow the Holy Spirit goes to work, conviction of wrong comes leading to repentance and change. This leads us to the second group the earth that we are to lift up God before which is earth.

Technically as used here it refers to the planet earth upon which we dwell. When we pray "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" we are praying for the kingdom of God, the realm and rule of God to come to earth so God's will may be done over every inch of planet earth.

Also in Genesis 3:19 God says to Adam "… Dust thou are and to dust you shall return". We are children of the earth, whose bodies belong to this realm and which we will all one day leave behind. At that time our fleshly bodies will be buried and return to the earth which the priest will remind you of on Ash Wednesday when you forward to get your ashes marked on your forehead in the sign of the cross and he or she will remind you, you are mortal and will die some day. Therefore we should live our lives accordingly in the knowledge that the end is coming along with judgment day. So we should live to br ready so when that moment comes we can pass over into the welcoming arms of Jesus and into all he has prepared for us.

This leads to one final thought which is we are the children of the earth. Therefore we need to allow God/Jesus to be lifted up and exalted in our lives so all the world can see them. It is to let our light shine so brightly from us there can be no denying whose we are and who we serve. It is to be the hands and feet of the living Christ to a lost and dying world until all come to know and God's reign and peace rules over all the earth.

In closing one other thing needs to be said here. I have made neither mention of a specific place one has to pray in nor any particular time frame. That is because I fully believe in having a place set apart can be beneficial especially at the beginning or ending of the day in actuality any place can become our cell, our place of solitude whether on the toilet, stuck in traffic, in the shower wherever we can shut out the world for a bit so we can seek and listen to God can be our place of solitude. I have also mentioned no time frame as the issue here is can we touch God, hear his voice, and then do it? If we can accomplish that in five seconds cool or if it takes longer that is okay also as the idea is to keep the communication lines open throughout the day so God can speak and guide us through our day and our lives. Thus this becomes something both monastics with a specific call to contemplation and prayer, or an average person can engage in as God leads them,. Pray this has been a blessing to everyone and thoughts and comments are always welcomed.