by Lisa Allgood, Executive Presbyter
In these days Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and all night He continued in prayer to God.
Having dismissed the multitude, He went into a mountain alone to pray.
At first blush that’s an oxymoron, isn’t it?
Henri Nouwen wrote “Solitude is the place where God-with-us can be unpacked and where we connect with God-who-is-our-origin, our loving and benevolent Father and Mother, our Savior, our unconditional Lover. And solitude is the place where our own hearts uncover our deep yearning to be loved unconditionally, and to love with our whole beings. Solitude is indeed the place of the great encounter, from which all other encounters derive their meaning. In solitude we meet the One-who-calls-us-beloved. In solitude, we leave behind our many activities, concerns, plans and projects, opinions and convictions to enter into the presence of Love, naked, vulnerable, open, and receptive. Here we encounter a Father/Mother God who is all love, all care, all forgiveness. In solitude we are led to a personal and intimate relationship with Love itself.”
Our culture doesn’t like solitariness. It is structured for couples, for groups, for families. Commercials and realtors (sorry, I’ve been house-hunting for Meredith’s move to Long Island – realtors are on my mind; almost every online listing now has a picture of a table with two wineglasses) and events and technology and – well, almost everything – are presented as best when there’s more than one person.
But solitude – true solitude – is different than solitariness. Different than aloneness. And certainly different than being lonely.
David was forced into hiding and isolation because of Saul’s madness and suffered from that loneliness, but turned it into life-giving solitude when he prayed. “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance” (Ps 42:5).
Solitude – 40 days and nights – prepared both Jesus and Paul for their ministries. As the Scripture cited above, Jesus routinely went off by Himself to pray, especially after events that likely left Him drained.
St. Eucherius told the story of a person who wished to be perfect asked a spiritual director what he had to do, and the answer was: “Solitude is the place where man finds God. In solitude, virtue is easily preserved; in intercourse with the world it is easily lost.” St. Bernard wrote that he learned more about God and Divine things in solitude under the oaks and beeches than from the books and schools of the learned. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of Egypt withdrew to be in solitary communion with God.
Solitude prepared Jesus for the crowds – because He was solitary in prayer to His Father, seeking His Father’s will and strength and counsel. I suspect Paul, after his conversion, was the same. Solitude teaches His servants a deeper understanding of Who He is and what they can do for Him, under His care and guidance.
One of the most impactful exercises – and probably the most difficult – across our entire Living Churches Initiative curriculum is to send team members out, individually, one by one, in silence – and tell them to simply listen for 30 minutes. Listen to what the Spirit is telling you, or showing you, or in one case – singing to you. Where does God want your church to go? What is He dreaming for your church that your church alone can do for His Kingdom?
One of my mindfulness mentors, Thích Nhất Hạnh, said in his book Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise: “Don’t ask me anything more. My essence is wordless.”
So, Beloved Community of the Presbytery of Cincinnati – where are you being alone with your God? Where are you seeking Him to guide you, to prepare you, to strengthen you?
My challenge to you? Seek, in solitude. You will never be alone. And what you learn – what you hear – what visions and songs come to you – will be amazing.
Because the essence of the most Beloved Community? It’s between us individually and our God.