Solitude and the Presence of God
We are nearing the end of this series on Solitude as a neglected path to God. Over the last number of weeks, we have been challenged to interpret the word solitude in a new way. We have been encouraged to see solitude as a positive choice that is intended not to drive us into isolation from society as a form of punishment but rather as something intended to help us grow in our understanding of ourselves and others.
We have been cautioned not to see solitude as a path of escape from our struggles with community and people in our lives. But rather see solitude as an opportunity to deal with situations in our lives that are troubling us and meditate on relationships that are causing us difficulty. And by taking the path of solitude as a path of healing come closer in our relationship with God so that we might feel the touch of God bringing light, hope and wisdom to us.
If we have never truly experienced solitude as a positive choice – a path taken with a purpose – we probably would find the idea that such a choice could bring us healing to be unbelievable. However, I – for one – have experienced such healing in my life. And while the aid of a spiritual friend – one who was prepared to listen to me without judgment – has been helpful, the final healing, insight and peace have come in my times of solitude.
Each of us lives within our own skin. Each of us views the world around us from our own perspective and each of us relates to the world from our own perspective. Solitude helps us to understand the skin we are in and further helps us to understand why we view the world the way we do and how we presently relate to that world; but even more than this, solitude can help us see how we may change how we relate to that world and to the people we live in it with. And in all of this we have the presence of God.
We have been reminded that solitude is one of the paths that we are encouraged to take in our life as people of God. But we have also been reminded that we are to take the path of community. In fact, we are encouraged to find a way to balance our time on the two paths in order to find our wholeness of being. We have also been encouraged to be conscious of our need to give ourselves permission to explore the path of solitude and to give others the permission to do likewise.
And when we come together as a community for worship, for study, for fellowship or for service, we remember that each of us is coming from a place of solitude. Each of us has been created as individuals who then come to a community where we are encouraged to be who we are and to share the gifts we have discovered so that our insights gained in our solitude might be shared with the community and the community may be uplifted.
Note that I have mentioned already the presence of God in solitude. And that is precisely because even when we appear to be alone to the world, we are in the presence of God. The very act of taking the path of solitude leads us to the presence of God. For some of us, we may find God to be present at the start of our path in solitude while others may find God at some other point along the way. But whenever we may find God on that path, know this: God has been present even when we have not been able to see him or feel him.
Often in the Scriptures, God is described as walking with us. David describes a troubling time in his life as walking through the valley of the shadow of death; yet he does not fear to walk that path because the Lord is walking with him. Think of the account of Jesus on the road to Emmaus walking with the disciples. At first they do not recognize him but when he breaks the bread, their eyes and hearts are opened.
Walking the labyrinth is an ancient ritual and one that is a discipline in the good sense. Taking the time to walk the labyrinth with intention and in silence begins to strip away the distractions that can so often cloud our minds and spirits. And that is its purpose. If you look at the labyrinth and try to analyze it, you will be left wondering if it can have any real purpose; but if you allow the labyrinth to simply lead you step by step and allow yourself the time to walk it slowly and meditatively, you will find a level of peace as the distractions of life melt away and you begin to sense the presence of God – perhaps in touch, perhaps in voice. You may find a verse of Scripture comes to your mind or even simply a word. You may even come away with an answer to something that is troubling you and that you have struggled to make sense of.
Stripping away the distractions of life is key to feeling the presence of God and hearing God’s voice within us. Moore speaks of it like this. We live in a world of static – the social expectations placed upon us, the responsibilities for others laid upon us, and our own fears, hopes and dreams. Finding a static-free zone, even creating a static-free zone is critical so we may begin to hear our own heartbeat as well as the heartbeat of God.
Back in 1987, I attended a retreat weekend that was a mix of instruction and opportunity for self-reflection. The first evening introduced two talks. The first was entitled “Know Yourself”. We were encouraged to let down our guard – so to speak – and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to us things about ourselves that we may or may not have been aware were issues in our lives. The second talk was “The Prodigal Son.” In that talk we were encouraged to consider the distance that we may have felt in our life between God and ourselves. For some of us that distance was probably greater than for others. We were encouraged to see God as the Father who was welcoming us home with open arms and no judgment. At the conclusion of these talks, we went into a period of silence until the morning chapel service. For some, the time of silence was the longest night they had ever spent. Yet, that time became pivotal in terms of opening our spirits and our minds to hear afresh God calling to us and beckoning us to close the distance that the distractions and choices of our lives had caused. The combination of opportunities for solitude and community blended in such a way that the experience created a deep bond between us and renewed our faith in the presence of God in our lives.
Solitude may be a path we take solo – separating ourselves from the community – and that is true. But it is a path that we take in order to strengthen our bond to one another in community. It is a path that we take so that we might better understand ourselves. It is a path that we take so that we might better understand God, who God is and be able to experience the presence of God for ourselves.
We take the path of solitude that we might be inspired by God, feel the breath of God, the touch of God, the heart of God and experience again what it feels like to be truly loved and truly forgiven.
May you find the presence of God both here in this place and this time and may you discover the presence of God wherever you go as you walk the path of life that God has given you!