In our day God is using the spiritual discipline of solitude as the great liberator. Solitude liberates us from all the inane chatter that is so characteristic of modern life. It liberates us from the ever-present demands that are put upon us; demands that in the moment feel so urgent and pressing but that in reality have no lasting significance. In solitude the useless trivialities of life begin to drop away. We are set free from the many “false selves” we have built up in order to cope with the expectations others place upon us—and we place upon ourselves. Solitude empowers us to walk away from all human pretense and manipulation.
In addition, God uses our experiences of solitude to enable us to become who we truly are. We begin, slowly at first, to live simply before God. Increasingly we come to see things in the light of eternity, and as a result, successes and failures no longer impress us or oppress us. Experiences of solitude root in us a deep, abiding hope; a hope that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good. In solitude we are so bathed in God’s greatness and goodness that we come to see the immense value of our own soul. The result is that we become increasingly freed from our frantic human strivings.
Of course, all of our experiences in solitude are done in the presence of the living God. We are, after all, experiencing solitude as a Christian spiritual discipline. In times of solitude, we become enveloped in God’s very presence.
There is an intimate connection between solitude and silence. Silence, you see, creates in us an open, empty space where we are enabled to become attentive to God. And oh, how we need such open spaces in our modern techno-world with its relentless barrage of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Indeed, many people today have become little more than walking “towers of babble.”
Today silence is one of the most essential disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts a stopper on all this mindless chatter and clatter. It enables us to step aside from the noise and hurry and crowds of modern life long enough to allow God to create in us attitudes and habits that will hold us constantly in the loving presence of God.
There was a time, not so very long ago, when solitude and silence were available to people by the normal conditions of everyday life. Not any longer! In our day we have to choose solitude and silence and plan our lives accordingly. It can be done, of course, especially as we catch a vision of their liberating qualities. Thomas Merton wrote, “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love [others]… Solitude and silence teach me to love [others] for what they are, not for what they say.”
Foster, Nathan. The Making of an Ordinary Saint