Personal Contemplative Solitude
Blog #8 December 14th, 2020
As stated previously (in last week’s BLOG) contemplative solitude is a nothing less than a pathway to an amazing change in perspective, a shift in perception, from a distracted, often false, way of existence to being present in the reality of every moment, which we find to be filled with God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). Therefore, by its very nature true contemplative solitude must flow from an inner wholeness, of spirit, soul, mind, and body, in Christ Jesus, and in community with others and with all creation. From this perspective we can say that contemplative solitude is an important aspect of what it is to be holy, as one who is fully dedicated to God and God’s ways and sees all that God created as sacred. I believe that the contemplative way best begins with personal solitude, as it is here that we become inwardly balanced to the point of inner peace in Christ Jesus. This is a place where our eyes and ears are opened to who we are as God’s image bearers and God’s children, who are given the ability to exercise God’s gift of spiritual sight and hearing, as perceived inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the presence of God everywhere.
“The ears with which one hears the message of the Gospel are hidden in a person’s heart, and these ears do not hear anything unless they are favored with a certain interior solitude and silence.”
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, pg. Xii
Personal solitude includes very intentional actions. In other words, of all the aspects of solitude, of which we will speak over the coming weeks, intentional action is needed for personal solitude to be something dynamic and effective as a spiritual discipline. We can get away, go on retreat, start a contemplative practice such as Centering Prayer, Lectio Divina, Payer of Quiet, the Jesus prayer, Contemplative walk, Pilgrimage, or prayer of Examen.1 In short, personal solitude is a choice we make that leads to a more holistic solitude, which in many of its other aspects and/or nuances is more passive, as it gradually permeates every aspect of our lives.
Nowhere do we find a more intentional approach to the practice of personal solitude that leads to inner solitude, that leads to solitude with God, others, and all creation than we do in the monastic tradition.2 Historically monastic solitude has been sought in two ways, 1) by an eremitic life in which isolation becomes the primary milieu and 2) through an interior solitude that is developed in the process of life lived together with other people, referred to as coenobitic. Both carry with them their own difficulties, as the hermit in solitude (eremitic way) can easily carry the distractions of the world with them alone into the desert. Likewise, the person seeking interior solitude in the midst of community and life’s numerous interactions (the coenobitic) have their own problems dealing with various distractions that can hinder solitude. Again, we have the gift of intention that we can exercise. These are some of the spiritual disciplines and practices previously mentioned but also can be had though a decision to employ and develop three abilities, or virtues along the way. These are, 1) spiritual discernment. 2) humility. 3) recollection. 4) a deep inner resistance to chaos and frustration caused by trite controversy. We will unpack these in detail in the months to come. For now, I would just like to say with regard to the last on that this does mean that we avoid conversations in which there is disagreement of one sort or another but does include disagreements that would have a negative effect on being inwardly balanced, and present, spirit soul, mind, and body. The person who is active in community seeks ways in which this can be done within the context of regular participation and cooperation with others. The contemplative hunger means to have, by God’s grace, an interior solitude that cannot be shaken by outer events. In fact, this inner personal solitude can even have a positive effect on our surroundings, rather than the other way around. It is this interior solitude that we will explore further next week
1 We will be considering each of these, as well as many other contemplative disciplines in great detail in 2021.
2 A great way I have found to experience solitude in its completeness is by staying at a Christian monastery for several days or even longer and experiencing the monastic way for yourself. The experience can be quite rewarding and have a profound effect on how we live our lives with God in the world.
3 Holy Bishops of Late Antiquity, by Claudia Rapp, University of California Press, 2005