Monday, December 13, 2010

Solitude and Inner Peace

At this hyper-busy season, it seems important to pause and be quiet. To find a place for solitude and to see what happens when we arrive at that place.

I have written about the sadness of loneliness, which is deeply felt at this time of year by many who grieve, and I contrasted it with the source of both peace and creativity: solitude. Thomas Merton, who sought more and more solitude in his later years as a monk, found it indispensable for writing and prayer and wrote extensively about it. For Merton, solitude was being fully inside the present moment, grateful for the richness of our everyday human experience.

As Ron Rolheiser has written: "Solitude consists of being enough inside your own life to actually experience what is there." This, he goes on to say, is never easy because by nature we humans are overcharged with restless energy, the kind that draws us to plan for the future or explore the past and thereby overlook the present moment.

But, if we take the time to practice meditation daily, we can find what Rolheiser calls a gentle place inside each of us: a sanctuary not made by human hands where there is no anger, noise, competition, or injustice.

Although this gentle place can easily be violated by the brutalities of the world and our own deceptions, it is "in that place, entered into through solitude and gentleness of spirit, that we have a privileged access to God..."

In my recent Advent retreat, I referred to this inner space using the imagery of light: the divine spark within each of us, connecting us to God, is one of enlightenment. No matter how dark our world may be, the light is always there.

Today, being St. Lucy's Day, still celebrated in Sweden with its festival of candles on what used to be considered the darkest day of the year, is a good time to reflect on the power of light, which is to say on Life itself, on God who is Light and Life and, for Christians, on Christ, the light of the world.

1 comment:

Ned Kessler said...

In July, 2009 I felt so burned out that I asked for and was granted a month off work. On the last week of that month, I attended our diocesan liturgical conference, and there at the Liturgical Press booth, saw a book called "Finding Sanctuary." The title grabbed me immediately because “sanctuary” was exactly what I was looking for. I needed a place where I could go to escape the noise of everyday life and find God.

Written by Abbot Christopher Jamison of the Worth Abbey in England, this book offered the prospect of learning how to build one’s own personal sanctuary by adopting Benedictine principles for everyday living.

Of the seven steps outlined by Abbot Jamison, the first two are Silence and Contemplation. They are followed by: Obedience, Humility, Community, Spirituality, and Hope. By reading the book and studying much of it, I have made a good start towards building my very own personal sanctuary. The road gets a lot tougher in Step 4: Humility.

I am not always successful in achieving the true silence necessary for contemplation, but some times I am, and that is when I realize I am on the right track.