Tag Archives: solitude

A Personal Spiritual Retreat

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I’m the sort of person who doesn’t mind going to a movie alone.  That’s weird I know, but then again so am I.  All of the voices inside my head get along pretty well most of the time so the occasional time alone is positive more often than not.

My new preaching gig graciously allows me to attend some sort of conference each year, but since nothing particularly appealing fit into my calendar and since I never really had a chance to reflect prior to jumping from one job into another, I opted for a personal spiritual retreat this year—retreating today and returning on Friday.  I suspect that I will talk to a person or two along the way at a restaurant or convenience store, but the plan is to spend time alone in silence.  Listening to the sound of stillness.  Meandering on a couple of scenic runs.  Praying and meditating.  Reflecting and planning. Dreaming.  Preparing my mind, heart, and soul for a new year (as our church family marks time) that is rapidly approaching.

Utah is my chosen destination, partly because I have never been, partly because it is far enough away and yet not so far either, and partly because of a landmark there that may or may not have something to tell me about the sermon series I intend to deliver in the fall.  We’ll find out soon enough.

We are all different.  For some, such a week ahead may sound like torture, but I am almost giddy with excitement.  Who knows what might emerge when I get away from routines and responsibilities, meetings and appointments, emails and notifications long enough and far enough to take a deep breath and truly listen?

The Secrets of a Sacred Space

Stauffer“Let the site tell you its secrets.” — Christopher Alexander

I joke that my propensity to arrive early for absolutely everything is a sickness, but in reality it is a treasured quality since it reminds me of mom and dad.  Being early is my heritage.  With age, it seems that I am less impressed with my unique qualities and particularly value those characteristics that connect me to a larger story.

I arrive very early for work on Sunday mornings to prepare for our church’s collective time together, a couple of hours early in fact—and love it.  We decided to meet in stunning Stauffer Chapel this summer thanks to a brilliant suggestion from my friend, Sara, and the setting has made the early morning solitude particularly delightful.

I like the strange sensation of opening the door to discover that no one else is there and being the first to step inside.  I like turning on the lights and straightening the hymnals and removing the leftover trash from the pew racks.  I like arranging the podium and communion table just right and reviewing the sermon, imagining the congregation at breakfast preparing to join with me and with others.  I like propping open the doors and hearing the gurgling fountain outside and then returning to the deafening quiet inside and the intense feeling of anticipation. I like to notice the sun pierce through the massive stained glass spraying psychedelic graffiti all over the quiet sanctuary.

Famed architect, Christopher Alexander, argued that users of a space know more about their needs than the architect and wrote, “Let the site tell you its secrets.”  In my sacred Sunday solitude, I don’t seem to be able to articulate my needs, but it sure seems that the space has secrets to tell.  I listen each week and can almost hear them.  Maybe if I listen long enough?

In reality, I’m not sure that sacred spaces have actual secrets to tell.  But maybe the wonder that is found in showing up early to listen is secret enough.

All by Myself

18380808_1524829434235903_6230348940479299584_n(1)“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich

Our kids are grown, and my wife was out of town for the past week.  You do the math.  The house sure was empty.  I read a lot and for some diagnosable reason made the bed each morning and carried on with life’s responsibilities, but since television isn’t my thing and I rarely listen to music, other than the weird times when I carried on a conversation with myself, it sure was quiet around the house.  As they say, too quiet.

I think everyone would agree that loneliness is a terrible thing, but as Tillich noted, the English language makes room for an optimistic approach to time alone and calls it solitude.

Wendell Berry described solitude as the place where “we lose loneliness,” which is just a delightful thought.  He claims it a space where your “inner voices become audible” (tell me about it) and you sense “the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.”  It is a time and place where you reconnect with the inner you.

I don’t always like the inner me, but he deserves notice from time to time, and given the noisiness of this party called life it takes a little work to find the space.  Or your kids grow up and your wife takes a business trip.

When my dad died in 1994, I worried that my mom would be lost every day.  Turned out I was wrong.  When I spoke with her about it, she said, “I’ll be sad from time to time, but I’m not going to let myself be sad all the time.”  And for the eighteen years she had left on this planet, she was right.

Berry concluded that one emerges from solitude more useful to others: “The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”¹

In solitude, I reflected on solitude and concluded that it deserves incorporation into the rhythm of life.  But I’m sure happy to have my wife home again.

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¹ Wendell Berry, “What Are People For?: Essays” 11 (Counterpoint, 1990).

 

A Place to Let Go (for the November in Your Soul)

The origin of the phrase “blowing off steam” is no mystery, and anyone with firsthand experience of the real thing knows that it is best not be in the neighborhood when it happens. Regardless, we all need an outlet from time to time, and although I am a big fan of the annual vacation, it seems that humanity needs a way and a place to release some pent-up emotions a little more often than once a year.

If you do not have said way and place, make it a priority.

As an encouragement, recall this famed passage from Melville’s classic, Moby Dick:

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth, whenever it is damp, drizzly November in my soul, whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet, and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.¹

Where is your sea?

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¹ Garrison Keillor, Good Poems 284 (2002).