In this section we look at why and how we spend times on our own in God's presence.
We also think about the difficulties and rewards of longterm solitude.
What about Solitude?
Connecting with God
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be aware of the presence of God and to live in the light of that awareness? This is where the ancient discipline of Contemplation comes in… Many people are seeking spirituality in our society and there is a sense that we are not living according to our potential unless we connect with the divine source of life, creativity and goodness that we call God.
In the busy-ness of life, many people find it difficult to spend the time that it takes to get to know God. Spending time on your own is not an easy option for some people - either because they are surrounding by family, children, others, making big demands on their time and space; or because they are by nature the type of people who prefer the company of others. Nevertheless, contemplation does require a little time spent on your own - or at least on your own in the presence of God. Praying and worshipping alongside of others is very enriching spiritually, but it is only in solitude that we can experience the depth of connection with God that can be achieved through contemplative prayer.
It may take considerable effort - perhaps getting up a little earlier than the rest of the household, or sitting in the car or a park at lunchtime. The desire to find the time and space will be rewarded.
The Dark Night of the Soul
Not that it is possible to be aware of God’s presence all of the time. Indeed many Christian contemplatives (or mystics as they are sometimes referred to) have often gone through dry periods. John of the Cross referred to these as the 'Dark Night of the Soul'. These are the times when God seems very far away. For some people even human contact seems to be withdrawn. This is a very different sort of solitude.
These times may occur because of very 'human' circumstances - loss of employment, health, partner etc. But sometimes there can be a sense of 'calling' to spend some time out of the usual cut and thrust of everyday life. They may occur because we or others have made big mistakes, or when we have a big decision to make, or for no obvious reason.
A small number of people have felt a life-long call to solitude, and have chosen to take up a monastic lifestyle. For most people it has come unbidden, for a period of weeks, months or even years - a difficult time, little understood.
Thomas Merton said that your solitude will bear immense fruit. However most of us find solitude difficult. During a phase of illness I dreaded to be alone and I longed for the stimulation of human company. I wonder how many of us try and stifle the silence with radio, television and an endless round of company and parties. Maybe we are afraid of our own thoughts and the struggles that lie within.
Times like these are difficult, but it may be helpful to know that others have been there before. Many Christians have found that when the period of solitude comes to an end, they find themselves stronger, closer to God, and more able to support others around them.
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