Solitude and Temperament
Over the last few weeks we have been exploring solitude as a path to God – one that has largely been neglected in the Christian church for several years. We have come to believe that solitude was something to be practiced by aesthetics, mystics and those who have dedicated themselves to a religious order. Our emphasis on community and community involvement as being the ultimate expression of our faith has led us to neglect or even the potential value of solitude for our own spiritual development. The Celtic tradition – founded on and sustained by the writings found in the Gospel of John – put a strong emphasis on each one taking responsibility for their own faith and practice of that faith. Community was important and people supported one another through prayer and service but each one needed to work out how God was active in their own life and they were encouraged to discover God in their individual lives. Each person was encouraged to find a spiritual mentor or guide with whom they could share their struggles, their insights, their discoveries and be guided to a deeper sense of God in their life. The firm belief that the image of God was the image reflected in each one of them gave them that strong sense that they were all children of God created by the one they knew as their heavenly Father and members of a household that transcended the world they could see and united them with members of God’s family who had preceded them in faith.
For those who followed the Celtic path, solitude and community were intertwined with neither one being optional or superior. What was sought for was a balance where the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of each person were attended to but where each person also took the time to attend to their individual needs. Now that is a very simplistic way of relating something that is more complex. Life is not as simple and straightforward as to be able to attend to our individual needs and the needs of those in community as perfectly as we would like. But it is something that as people who have a faith and trust in the One revealed through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament we need to be conscious of and consciously work at.
One thing we need to do, though, in order to be able to even attempt to attend to these needs is to give ourselves and others permission. We need to listen to what is being expressed by others to us and we need to be able to listen to what our own heart and mind and body is telling us about ourselves. As I mentioned in one of the previous messages, solitude may face us with a conflict or a struggle that we have had that we want to resolve but without pain. But we need to remember that it is only when we find the root cause of our pain that we can begin to heal.
Understanding who we are in our own self – a journey that we choose to take with God – will lead us to being able to accept who we are but also enable us to more effectively accept others for who they are. In a way you could say that each of us has an agenda in life; each of us has a purpose for being. Discovering what that agenda is and what our purpose for being is are critical to being able to live an authentic life, one that can bring us peace in our souls and minds and enable us to experience healing. It will also help us to better interact with others in community as our own journey will inevitably encounter the journey of others and then together we find the path that we can take together.
The focus of Moore’s exploration of solitude for today is that of temperament. Moore explains it in this way. Our temperament is expressed through our moods, our behaviour and our mental outlook. In a real sense, it is how we view the world from inside ourselves. And while these things can be influenced by the world around us, there is no escaping our temperament because it is at its inmost core what makes us tick. How we express our moods, how we display our behaviour and how we manage our mental outlook informs how we react and interact with the world around us. The struggles we have with relationships in our homes, with friends, social groups and within the church can find their roots in our temperament. Understanding how and why we react in certain situations can help us to be more effective in those relationships. And, as ever, being more effective in community cannot necessarily happen if we have no time to be apart.
Moore goes on to talk about examples from the Bible of people of different temperaments. One of the main examples he focuses on is that of Mary and Martha. Mary is the classic introvert who ponders and meditates on life while Martha is the classic extrovert who always sees something that needs doing. And while we have always interpreted the story as Jesus being supportive of Mary and dismissive of Martha, Moore suggests that Jesus is rather encouraging Martha to recognize that Mary has not made a better choice than her but rather the choice that is best suited to who she is. Jesus is aware that every person is not created alike in every way. We are different from one another. We may look the same on the outside, but we are different on the inside.
Years ago, I wrote a song celebrating the birth of our first child. One of the lines in that song is this: “He isn’t me, he isn’t my wife. He is a person with his own life.” When we can recognize and acknowledge that our children will never be exactly who we are, when we can recognize and acknowledge that our spouses or significant people in our lives will never be exactly who we are, then perhaps we will be willing to explore, discover and acknowledge who we are.
For those of you who are extroverts – which apparently is 75% of the population – you may find the call to solitude quite challenging. Being asked to surrender your life of activity and involvement to be in a place where you can be with yourself and God may be enough to drive you up a wall. For those of us who are introverts – the other 25% - the challenge will be to not be absorbed by solitude to the point that we desire to not return to become engaged in community.
The long and the short of it is that we all need solitude – positive solitude. Our temperament and our personality and our sense of how we see ourselves in this moment may or may not be encouraging us to even consider it. But know this – taking time apart for reflection can help each of us to not only regain perspective on our own life but also gain perspective of our community life. Engaging those around us in a way that enables us to truly see one another is key to building Christian community or family life or friendships or other interactions. But key to this is understanding ourselves so that we can engage positively with others. In the Scriptures we are encouraged to remove the log in our own eye before attempting to remove the speck from another’s. This is just one way of saying that we need to look at our own life and comes to terms with our own challenges before presuming to be able to solve the challenges faced by another. Solitude can provide us with that opportunity.
Next week we will look at Solitude and the Life Cycle.