02 February 2016

Silence and Solitude

When was the last time you were alone?

No family talking around the table, no friends laughing at your side, no barking dogs, no social media notifications. Just you in the stillness of your house or your street or your office.

Recently, my husband was away from home, giving me multiple days of alone time. Some wives would take full advantage of such a time to watch trashy shows, cook food their husband doesn't like and refuse to make the bed (I identify with you women!). Still, there is a time, usually late at night, where I find myself in silence. No body breathing next to me, asking how I am, typing up a paper, taking a drink. No one whose thoughts whir or about whose thoughts I wonder. It isn't until even these barest indications of another human presence are gone that I realize how dependent I am on the presence of another. This is not a parasitic dependence, but a very human dependence I imagine many can relate to.

In these moments, I sometimes think of priests. While they have parishioners, family and friends of their own, how often do priests spend time alone? How often do priests sit in silence? How much more for contemplative orders?

Our world does not know how to handle silence. We turn on our stereos while we shower or clean the house. We put headphones in on our way to work and class. We keep televisions on for white noise as we sleep. We stumble verbally to fill lulls in conversation. We laugh too enthusiastically, ask too many questions, maybe even speak to ourselves out loud. Silence is awkward and uncomfortable.

Our world does not know how to handle being alone. We check and recheck and triple check social media. We go out at night in hopes of meeting someone new. We send a few text messages because surely one of these people will respond. We are out of a relationship for a while and wonder with dread whether some people are meant to stay single their whole lives.

But silence and solitude are not things we should fear.
"And rising very early, going out, he went into a desert place: and there he prayed." (Mark 1:35)
"He retired into the desert, and prayed." (Luke 5:16) 
"And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God." (Luke 6:12)

In the Scriptures, we frequently see Jesus go off by Himself. And boy, do I get it: if I were routinely surrounded by crowds in the thousands (Matthew 14:22), my introvert self would run for the hills. But Jesus wasn't retreating for the sake of quenching anxiety. Furthermore, Jesus wasn't going off to really be alone: He was going away to be with the Father.

Whenever we are alone, we should get into the habit not of thinking that we are completely solitary, but that we are with God. With the world so full of distractions, retreating is good for the health of our souls. Let's get into the habit of retreating, just a little, every day.

  • Build miniature retreats of reading and prayer into your morning routine (I subscribe to Blessed Is She devotions; the Liturgy of Hours is also a favorite of mine.).
  • Pause at noon to reflect on the first part of your day.
  • Close the evening with a moment to examine your conscience and make resolutions for tomorrow.

Take advantage of each moment of silence and solitude to sanctify your life.

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