Tuesday, 16 December 2014
In Search of Solitude
This year has been one of great change in this household. Last Christmas my husband had been redundant and we faced an uncertain year until he found employment some seven months later. My journey has been one of faith within the Franciscan Third Order. More changes to that life of faith are making themselves heard...very loudly..with an increasing call to solitude. To prayer ,meditation and silence.
This all started when I introduced a 'no tech' day into my week, to spend the day in prayer, study, contemplation. I found that this solitude provided a fertile ground for recognising the awareness of God, and discovering God in a very personal way. In solitude the soul, mind and body are somehow nurtured in ways that only come about in a solitary existence.
This one day a week in solitude has expanded to cover every day of the week when I do not have prior commitments or obligations. Housework and cooking can be done in silence, and it is exhilarating to do so.
My age and circumstances make it easier for me to embrace a solitary life, but am also aware that being solitary can be a danger. But solitude is not the same as loneliness. I have actively chosen solitude for the purpose of clarity in prayer and awareness of God. Loneliness is something that is involuntary, it is something that happens, not chosen.
People , not just Christians, differ from the amount of solitude they require. I am one of those people, as is my husband, who requires large amounts of solitude to renew ourselves as external involvements drain our energies. This is a spiritual and psychological requirement for our well being.
Can a christian survive as a solitary without corporate involvement? While God is present in a very special way in my days of solitude I cannot deny that I too experience a sense of the presence of God in traditional corporate worship and especially in the Eucharist. All too often though Solitude and the Solitary life is seen by the church as a form of escapism, a way of avoiding personal and social involvement, and this is the response I have got from one or two of my church family who do not understand or accept my choice of following Saint Francis instead of immersing myself in the Church of England.
The church and faith community as a whole see solitude as a form of pietism, an escape from the problems of the world and contrasts it to an involved and committed social activism, which is what has been pointed out to me. I am not disengaging from life, far from it.
So often the church discourages those who would seek a more solitary path. The well used phrase that "There is no such thing as a solitary Christian", while true to a certain extent ,is said to try and instil a sense of guilt into those, like me, who are drawn to solitude. The faith community needs to recognise that its emphasis on group participation is not entirely altruistic, it contains more than a little element of self interest. I do not need the Church Warden's permission to opt out and follow a more solitary walk of faith,
Solitude is not an easy option, it is not a means of escape, far from it, it can and is often and arena for struggle. Solitude is not the place I go to avoid problems and situations, it is the avoidance of solitude that is the escape! The individual who has the courage to choose solitude better be prepared for battle...it's not easy! It takes time to reclaim solitude, and a journey I am choosing to take.
Rather than denigrating the concept of solitude, the faith community needs to affirm the solitary path as a valid expression of a Christian's individual and personal spiritual journey and to recognise that solitude and participation in the life of the corporate church family can and are complementary expressions of the life of faith.