Love of Solitude

As a community we are happy about using the internet to share something of our monastic life with others. Our use of Facebook, Twitter, Google + and so on isn’t random (though it may sometimes appear so): we are doing our best to exercise the traditional hospitality of Benedictines in all the ways open to us. So why am I writing about solitude, and more precisely, love of solitude? For the simple reason that our online engagement presupposes an even greater degree of engagement with God and the things of God in silence and seclusion. Love of solitude is an important element of monastic life that no amount of ‘connectedness’ can or should obscure, but I think it may be something those not called to live the monastic life might gain from thinking about.

One of the problems contemporary culture confronts us with is that of discerning how much of ourselves to share with others, especially online. Do we ‘do’ social media, and if so, what limits do we need to observe? Are professional/semi-professional networks like Linkedin or BranchOut as necessary as having a business card once was, or do they blur the distinction between public and private? During the last few months there has been an explosion of interest in the use of social media by the Churches and some very acute observations have been made. I particularly commend anything written by P. M. Philips (Methodist) or Antonio Spadaro (Catholic). However, I’m not sure that we have yet covered all necessary aspects. Worrying about our personal safety, the security of our online data, or the longevity of some of our sillier postings/comments on blogs and so on, is essentially self-regarding. As Christians, we are called to look beyond ourselves, to God and others; and that’s where it all becomes a little complicated. Is all this online buzz really good for anyone? What part does solitude play in our lives?

Solitude, as we all know, can be good or bad: it can be selfish or selfless, creative or destructive. A lot depends on our attitude and intention. That is why I emphasize the need for a love of solitude. Some people are afraid of silence, of being alone; yet we all need to experience what it is like to do nothing in particular, to spend time being receptive rather than assertive, otherwise whatever we  say or do, online or offline, will be shallow or vapid. A solitude which is not loneliness or emptiness is not achieved without some sacrifice, but in a world where we are endlessly available to others via the internet/smartphones/whatever, solitude seems to me increasingly necessary.

Prayers please
We heard this morning that our founder and Ordinary, Bishop Crispian Hollis of Portsmouth, has bowel cancer. Please keep him in your prayers.

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9 thoughts on “Love of Solitude”

  1. Thank you for your posting. It brought to mind a scene I witnessed six years ago.

    My daughter and I were in the Chicago bus depot (the one on Harrison street, if you’re familiar with the city), so she could catch the bus to Cedar Rapids. It was mid-October, around 4 AM on a Tuesday. The station was a madhouse – buses coming and going, giant-screen TVs blaring CNN and ESPN, the PA changing arrivals and departures, simulated gunfire from a bank of video games, exhausted travellers milling around, talking on their cell phones, eating.

    Then I noticed, off to one side, a family of plain people – Mennonites, probably. You often see them in the bus and train depots in Chicago, especially in the summer, as they travel around the Midwest. A mother in her long, old-fashioned dress and bonnet, holding an infant; a father in suspenders and broad-brimmed hat; an older man with a long white beard; several children – I recall two boys and three girls. And they were just sitting there. Not squirming or chatting or moving aimlessly: just being there. To judge from their body language, it was not a repressed stillness; rather, it suggested serenity.

    It was deeply affecting to see such stillness amid the chaos of the bus station, even as the rest of us were swirled about by the winds of our discontent, like the souls in the first circle. Those Mennonites managed to find the solitude you write of, in the unlikely place of a busy bus station at 4 AM on a Tuesday, and shared it with us.

    And thank you for sharing your solitude, as well.

  2. Thank you for this post. It remind me to find at least a little time for some quiet and solitude in my own life. It is easy to get too busy to do that.

    Prayers for your bishop and founder are promised.

    Prayers that you will soon find the means to get a bigger house to welcome the women who want to join your community are promised.

  3. Thank you for your posting. Prayers will be said for Bishop Crispan, I used to live in Portsmouth diocese when still in the U:K.
    I so agree you have to love solitude. I recently came back from my fist silent catholic retreat at Sediba in Magaliesburg,( South Africa). Bit of a shock to the system at first as I’m a chatterbox, but being guided by Fr. Mike to make silence & solitude your friend you realise that in todays world we need this time more than everbefoer to recharge your batteries, reconnect with your maker on a deeper level and even just appreciate the present moment.
    It is something everyone should even if its just once. I am so going again.

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