26. The Cell and Solitude

Br. Jack Crowley headshot

Br. Jack Crowley

The Father of all whom we seek to love is a hidden God.  Therefore we take to heart the words of Jesus, “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  The cell is the place of this secret encounter and reward.  From time to time we may choose to pray in chapel, where the icons and sacramental presence of Christ in the tabernacle draw us to contemplation.  Or we may pray in a quiet place out of doors.  But the cell is the primary place of prayer where we are to stand before God.  The cell therefore must be ordered as a space for prayer and treated as sacred.

God has promised to be there for us: “Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”  As we enter our cells we renew our commitment to meet God there by praying these same words.

We will experience our cell as a place of divine presence and companionship not only in our prayer but in our studying, resting and sleeping there.  There is solace in being alone with God, but the privacy of our cells is not meant to shut us off from one another.  We gladly welcome one an­other into our cells for quiet conversations.

Maintaining a balance in our life between solitude and engagement with others is not easy. We are subject to many pressures that deter us from experiencing solitude:  the claims of work, the fear of loneliness, and the reluctance to face ourselves as we are in the company of Jesus before God. Without solitude we would forfeit an essential means of inner restoration and encounter with God in the depths of our own souls.  Therefore we must find times to be alone.  We need to love our cells and take opportunities to stay quietly there in reflection, and in restorative activities such as reading and listening to music.  We will need to be disciplined in our use of the radio and recordings so that we use them as means of enrichment rather than of empty distraction.  Whenever staying in the cell becomes repugnant to us, or it begins to lose its attraction as a place of solitude, we must remember that we are called to life through death:  “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”  In persevering in our cells we shall discover for ourselves the wisdom of the ancient saying, “The cell will teach you all things.”

Our close proximity to one another in our houses means that further solitude may need to be sought elsewhere.  We should value opportunities to be alone out of doors and in places where we can be replenished in spirit by ourselves.

Our cells are meant to be congenial and personal places so we are free to have around us plants, pictures and other things that beautify them in simple ways.  If we clutter the cells with a profusion of objects or make them chaotic and untidy, our rooms will be a hindrance instead of a help to centered, prayerful living.  Therefore at least once a year the Superior or Senior Brother shall require each brother to renew the order and simplicity of his cell.


  1. Linda Stormes on March 22, 2011 at 14:46

    I have a space — a cell where there are some simple photos, scripture, and the word located together. However, sometimes I pass all of this to go out into a larger room where there is activity and interruptions. Through your words and the Spirit it is clear to me that I must stop and drink where the fountain is. I must not fear the silence, but rather partake of it. It is as though I have built a small altar and I am abandoning it.

  2. Ron Hyde on April 8, 2009 at 17:57

    I work in the airline industry where the pace is fast and furious and stress levels high.

    Recently, I have been putting more thought into creating sacred spaces in my home…visual reminders to, as God asks, “Be still and know that I am God.” Oh, the necessity of silence. Our society screams for our attention at every turn.

    We need our personal sacred spaces more than ever so that we can find peace that passes all understanding!

  3. Kristin Hennessy on March 27, 2009 at 09:14

    “Here I will dwell, for I have desired it”: There is something incredibly powerful about this constant reiteration of will and desire in the life one has chosen. I’ve often wondered if the divorce rate, for instance, could be lowered, if married couples repeated their vows together each morning. Or if coupes simply said, upon waking, “I choose you, again and always.” We have to keep choosing the life we have, in order to keep valuing it. This monastic practice powerfully demonstrates that need and its worth.

  4. Polly Henninger on March 23, 2009 at 04:37

    What a good criterion for ordering and decorating a room: does this help or hinder centered, prayerful living? As my study gets cluttered with papers and unfinished tasks, I get overwhelmed. Although tidy feels better, this is a deeper, more meaningful criterion: does my effort to simplify or declutter point me towards more centered and prayerful living? It’s not just the absence of clutter and endless work but the presence of beauty and simplicity that lifts my spirits and leads me unfettered. Maintaining that is difficult, but it’s worth doing.

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