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.