Solitude of the Christian Contemplative
BLOG #6 December 8th, 2020
And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out,
and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed Mark 1:35
As we move into the second week of Advent this year it strikes me as important to usher in the simplicity of which we have been speaking over the past week with the way of solitude of which we will center our BLOG posts on the remainder of the year. As I consider these aspects of the Christian contemplative journey, I ask myself, “Why does this, one of our most holy times of year, always seem to be the busiest, most chaotic? We speak about peace, stillness, and the silence of the season as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ and to be ready for the second coming. Yet instead, we exhaust ourselves to the point of wishing it would just all be over, and we can all just start a new year. What might a simple, peaceful, Advent and Christmas season look like? How much do we really need it, especially after all the craziness of this year? Jesus show us, and the Christian contemplative tradition can train us to live, not only holy seasons of Christmas and Easter, but every moment of our lives in an ever-deepening response to Emanuel, God with us and the risen Christ in whom we live.
In Christ Jesus, as recorded in the Scriptures, we see a regular rhythm of being alone and then being active. This shows us the importance of the contemplative posture of solitude for the Christian contemplative way of being. Solitude is often misunderstood as time isolated from the world, which begins by being alone and ends when we return to our regular way of life. However, this is not what the Christian contemplative refers to as solitude. Solitude at its core is presence. Solitude is a way of inner peace that is akin to recollection, the coming together of our whole self, with God, others, and all creation as one. Over the past four weeks we considered detachment as an aspect of simplicity. Detachment then dovetails wonderfully with solitude as a form of recollection that grounds us in the liminal space between the chaos of the world and the inner peace of God’s holy presence. From this place of solitude, we actively seek to be to come together inwardly, spirit, soul, mind, and body, fully present and at peace, before God. Teresa of Avila refers to our part in this as active recollection. The intentionality of active recollection brings us to a liminal place of solitude in which we allow ourselves to simply and gently rest, betwixt and between, active recollection and what Teresa calls infused recollection, which is solely an act of God, by God’s grace, where we, almost imperceptibly are graced to simply be with God. This being is so subtle that most often it is not even recognized to have occurred, recognized only later when we see the ways in which the imperceptible moment has affected our lives. The desert mothers and fathers called this virtually imperceptible inner peace and presence, apatheia. 1 But I am getting ahead of myself. Solitude therefore is a place where the chatter of the world begins to lose its grip on us so we can return to the world freer and more present than when we left. In a real sense we learn to bring solitude with us into our everyday life that we may move each day to a deeper and deeper awareness of being present and at peace with self, God, others, and all creation.2
1 We will spend quite a bit of time in future BLOGS discussing apatheia.
2 Over the next 4-5 BLOGS we will consider each of these aspects of solitude in the weeks to come