My dear friends:

I was recently involved in a conversation about solitude. Over the course of the conversation it dawned on me that we should not speak so much of solitude (singular) as solitudes (plural), because there are different kinds of solitude, and different people experience them in different ways.

Since the lockdown began in March many of us have been experiencing more solitude than in the past. That has brought with it, its own struggles as well as graces.

One way in which people speak of solitude is as me time. This is a time to recharge our batteries and renew our energies. We all need to do this, and we all find different ways to do it. This experience of solitude as an opportunity to recharge and renew has been once of the graces of this season.

For others, and especially for those who live alone, this period of extended solitude has been a time, not of recharging and renewing, but of isolation and loneliness, when work and social routines have become virtual or remote, and physical connections limited to what can happen sitting six feet away from another.

For some this time of solitude has been a time of grace and for others a time of challenge.

In the Christian spiritual tradition, there is another facet to solitude that is neither about solitude as me time, or as isolation. In the monastic tradition solitude is not about recharging our batteries or experiencing isolation but enabling an encounter with the Divine.

We remind ourselves in our Rule of Life that the cell, which is the primary place of our personal prayer, is a place of divine presence and companionship. Like Jacob we say surely the Lord is in this place as we open ourselves up to an encounter with the living God, each time we enter our cells and shut the door. In the monastic tradition solitude enables us to encounter God whose name is Love.

While I have experienced this time of solitude as both incredibly renewing and enormously lonely, I have also experienced this solitude as an invitation to encounter the God who so loves the world. In an unexpected way, that is the solitude I have found most challenging, for as I have encountered the God who is Love, I have come to see the world the way God sees it, through the tears of God’s loving eyes.

Some days, I find the burden of this heartbreaking love almost too much to bear. Yet as Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, I know that tears of loving sadness, though they are the story for today, are not the end of the story. He who wept, is also resurrection and life.

The Psalmist reminds us that weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. In this time of solitude, as I encounter the God whose name is Love, I am coming to see the world the way God does, and I weep. But as surely as I know that dawn will come, I know this time of weeping will one day end, and with the Risen Son we will again know life in all its abundance.

However you experience this time of solitude: as a time of personal renewal, unbearable loneliness, or disturbing encounter, this comes with the assurance of our prayers. We are, as always, grateful for your prayers for us.

Faithfully in God whose name is Love,

James SSJE

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Dan on July 15, 2020 at 19:14

    I feel that your comment Diana is so true! James, Thankyou for this reminder. I think that during this isolation we can really take the time to talk/pray and listen to what God is saying to us!

  2. Diana Mayer Yankes on July 3, 2020 at 20:13

    Thank you, James. I have borne this isolation as well as I can as a music teacher (video tele) and elected official (ditto) and caretaker of elderly parent in another state (travel risks taken into account)… but just recently, with the return to lockdown conditions in Pittsburgh where I live, and in a heat wave (old house–no a/c) I am getting the isolation fever like many others. It was a cool reminder to recall, reading your story, of the several monastic communities I’ve visited through the years, especially in Boston area (South Shore) and Colorado (Aspen), and to be reminded of this other, voluntary, sacred isolation. Thank you for reaching out in your ministry to remind us of the spaciousness that we have to be with God in these times. The late hours communing with the quiet night sky from my porch hammock; the routine encounters with birds, bunnies, and speechless pets in the home, remind us that we are not companionless at all. And we have an opportunity here to put down the endless self-improvement tasks and dwell in awe of God’s providence. And bring His face into focus in our gaze.

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