As I near the end of my sabbatical, I am spending time in solitude here in Kentucky at Bethany Spring, the retreat house for the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living, just down the road from the Abbey of Gethsemani where Thomas Merton lived as a monk.
According to the Merton Institute, when living contemplatively, we recognize:
*Our everyday, ordinary life is our spiritual life.
*It is every person’s primary vocation to be fully human, aware of who we are and how we relate to others.
*All relationships are interrelated and we see God in each of them.
*Our spiritual formation cannot take place in isolation. It is grounded in the experience of relationships and community.
*Our personal transformation is the foundation for societal and cultural transformation.
Words like solitude, silence, and contemplation are not words many of us find comforting. We are not used to being alone with ourselves and God. We might even be afraid of solitude. We definitely don’t think we have time or need for it.
But solitude is a time for rest, renewal, refreshment. We all need sacred spaces, “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is thin, where we can simply sleep and eat and pray. We need a space where God speaks to us and humbles us and re-commissions us. Do you have a place like that?
Trevor Hudson, in speaking of the transforming nature of solitude, reminded me, “The God who called you to solitude promises to meet you there.” I believe that to be true.
He also quoted Henry Nouwen who once said, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.”
Here is a poem that I have written while here in the retreat house. While I am not much of a poet, these words reflect my experiences here.
In solitude, I was not alone.
The Spirit that infuses creation spoke loudly
through the chirping of crickets, the fluttering
of birds of all kinds, and the persistent buzzing
of a bee reminding me to respond.
Those whom I love were there in the silence.
I smiled as I recalled (how could I ever forget?) their faces,
their quirks, their hugs, their laughter,
their uniqueness as children of God.
And of course, the shadows were also there -
The need to be loved, the fear of failure,
the competition to be smarter, the temptation
to define others for my own sake.
But in solitude, the shadows are more recognizable and less frightening.
Then, a still small voice in the silence (because I am finally still and small and silent) reminds me . . .
“You are loved.”
“You are accepted.”
“You are not alone.”
In solitude, I can hear the Spirit’s voice.
In solitude, I can see myself more clearly.
In solitude, I am never alone – I am surrounded by love.
Tommy Bratton is the Minister of Christian Formation at First Baptist Church of Asheville. This article originally appeared in his blog, Getting Dressed in the Dark.