Solitude and the Self
While we often are told through messages and teaching in the Church that we are to deny ourselves, this has often led to an unhealthy denial of self. Bringing our wills in line with the will of God, allowing our bodies, minds and spirits to be attentive to the ways of God and enabling ourselves to offer our lives to God – these things are not the same as discovering who our self really is. It is Moore’s contention that our ability to truly understand who we are – our identifiable self – will not only allow us to be more authentic in our own right but also allow us to be more authentic in our service to others and our relationships with others.
What Moore is proposing is that through solitude we can discover for the first time or rediscover what makes us who we are outside of all the things in our life that have made us into the image that the society sees. But Moore is not suggesting that the roles we have held in our lives or the occupations we were involved in are of no consequence or value to who we are; rather, he wants us to consider exploring behind those roles. What can we discover in ourselves that will bring to our lives a peace and a direction for our life that has eluded us?
Sometimes it is a personal tragedy or catastrophe that pushes us to look for meaning in our life and our world. Moore points to the example of the prophet Elijah who was striving to remain faithful to God and yet felt that the whole world around him was collapsing into ruin. He truly feared for the future. Not knowing what else to do, he escapes to Mount Sinai – a spiritual home for the people of Israel, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments and saw God face to face. By going there, Elijah is first of all seeking to reconnect with his centre – his spiritual “home”. When we feel overwhelmed by the world or by situations in life that cause us to falter, returning to the values of our spiritual community and connecting again to the traditions that have formed us can help us to become grounded again.
It is when he has come to that place he considers “home” and it is when he is patient with himself and with God that Elijah finds the clarity he is seeking. But first he must endure the earthquake, the wind and the fire. We too need to experience and go through what shakes us to the very foundations, what seeks to sweep away all distractions and what consumes everything that is of no ultimate consequence in order that we can hear what God is truly seeking for us to hear and to learn. For Elijah it is in the silence after the earthquake, wind and fire that he encounters the God he has gone to find. It is important to remember that we can not just go to a place of solitude and expect to immediately hear and feel God. We will need to be patient as gradually the baggage we have brought is unpacked and put away.
It is worth noting that most people do not even consider a journey of discovery of self until reaching midlife. No doubt this is influenced by a preoccupation with work and physical security, possibly marriage and the raising of a family. Time for self and self-reflection is not generally available and if it is then not in any appreciable amount. Midlife often provides the first real opportunity as we come to realize that the time for building careers, establishing significant relationships and raising children are coming to an end. We then look ahead to try and fathom what our life now might be as we go into the second half of this earthly journey.
So, solitude provides for us not with an escape from ourselves but an opportunity to engage with ourselves in a place we call “home”, a place where we feel safe to explore whatever might be revealed in the silence that comes after we have settled ourselves. Solitude gives us the opportunity to reflect and to meditate and allow ourselves to dream and imagine. Where that “home” is will be different for each of us; but even if we find ourselves in the same physical space, each of us will be in our own spiritual space with God.
But here’s something worth remembering. Our journey in solitude is ever to lead to a reconnection with our journey in community. When I received the touch of God in my life, I was puzzled and sought clarification and confirmation from the community. The community encouraged me to explore that touch. Eventually that led to the community confirming me as a candidate for ministry within the church, but I also needed to seek that confirmation within myself. My time in community and the affirmation I was receiving needed to be answered by my time in solitude. When someone is asked by the community to take on a specific role, the person needs to seek confirmation within themselves. The community’s willingness to let the person seek for that confirmation in solitude and prayer is critical as then the person does not simply accept what others are saying but the person has found that they have the gifts needed to fill that role for the community.
So, what is the purpose for seeking revelation and clarity through solitude? How does personal clarity lead to a closer relationship with God and with ourselves as children of God?
Solitude gives us the opportunity to become clear about our own needs. It is about rediscovering our emotional, physical and spiritual needs for health and wholeness so that we may truly love and serve God and those in our community. Unless we can take time to get back in touch with own selves, we will find ourselves less and less able to effectively respond to others.
Solitude can also begin the process of reconciling the split between our inner and outer selves, bringing us ultimately to a more focused relationship with God – to be at peace with our self, to have a singleness of eye, a purity of intention.
Solitude can help us gain clarity about our own particular vocation – our calling or life mission. Through solitude, we can discover or rediscover what we are most passionate about, what truly brings us a sense of fulfilment. It may be a great life-changing revelation or simply a confirmation of something that we are already engaged in.
Finally, solitude may help us to become clearer about our own gifts as they relate to our community. Discovering our gifts and then using those gifts for the benefit of others.
A good friend of mine from Morrisburg – Fr. Jim McGillvray who was a charismatic priest shared this: “Our spiritual gifts are not given to us so that we might boast of who wonderful we are. They are given to us so that we can serve and encourage and build up the community of God’s people.” He also said that we are not to jangle with our gifts. Jesus never made a big deal of the gifts he had to share. But he offered them freely to any who sought his help.
And so rather than separating us from community, solitude brings to us a depth of understanding of who we are and who we can be. May we all be encouraged to find the self God created us to be so that we can build each other up as a community of faith in this place.