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Solitude and the Passionists
The very first thing that Paul wrote in his Rule for Passionists, was to do with the location of his communities, which he called ‘Retreats’. This highlighted the environment he thought helped a person to experience God’s presence and contemplate God’s love and compassion.
In our modern life there is almost a conspiracy against silence. Many people are driven to avoid quiet. Even shopping centres and elevators have music playing in the background. It seems wherever we go there is constant noise. It is significant that Mozart once described the secret of his music as …..’the silence between the notes’!
Ministers today often seem to believe that they must be constantly available. The door bell, phone, (mobile phone), fax, e-mail add to the pressure and demands. Often the first question we are asked is “How have you been ? Busy ?”
We are bombarded with information from around the globe. We see images on television or in the newspaper of famine, war, floods, and poverty from every country on earth. Some people feel guilty if they take time out and yet this is necessary for physical, emotional and spiritual health. Solitude is a faith experience. It involves withdrawing from life for a brief time in order to come back stronger and more spirit filled
Solitude has a rich religious tradition and it has an especially strong biblical tradition. The desert, wilderness and mountain are places where individuals withdraw for a special time with God. Jesus went off to a ‘lonely place’. He spent forty days ‘in the wilderness’. He spent thirty years of ‘being hidden’. ‘How busy was Jesus ?’ How did he escape the noise ? In his day there were no cars or planes. Israel is a small country and most people lived in small towns. It is clear that Jesus’ times of solitude were creative and often preceded new directions (eg Lk 4:42-43 Lk 6:12-16; Lk 11:1-4; Lk 22: 39-42)
For Paul of the Cross, solitude was necessary for kenosis (self-emptying) which was vital for his spirituality (Phil 2: 6-11). He saw that a physical environment helped this so he had his retreats built close to but away from townships; and ‘in’ a quiet and peaceful nature setting. There were established times of quiet and each person had to have an individual room which was to be a place of quiet for effective study and recollection.
Paul saw that inner solitude is more important than outer solitude and he maintained that if a person had true solitude ‘one could have solitude in a crowd’. He further suggested that if solitude is creative ‘one will be able to serve untiringly’. It has been suggested that a motto for the Congregation in Paul’s mind was ‘contemplate and lead others to contemplation.’
We can’t escape the fact that modern life does create demands. Many situations (home and work) are noisy and it is difficult to escape. However there are quiet places. Some mothers have resorted to the bathroom for a few minutes peace! In the same way, the bedroom or garden can be places of quiet
It can help to establish a sacred space in the home - even if it is just an open Bible, a candle, and a chair. Others can be taught to respect that in this space there is no intrusion except in an emergency. There are other practical things we can do. Perhaps like Jesus, who ‘got up long before dawn’ sometimes we may have to do this. We can go for a stroll, sit under a tree, use headphones & quiet music, or go into a church.
In the gospel scene at Gethsemane Jesus took companions ‘just to be there’. We can ask for family co-operation in respecting times and places of quiet. Een if others are ‘there’, we can have our time or place of quiet. Restful music played in the house can help create a reflective mood. A blaring radio or TV does the opposite. A practical point is not to interrupt others without necessity and to ask that this be a ‘rule’. It also helps to ask if we need to be constantly available ?
It also helps for us to take advantages of the ‘five minutes’ we sometimes are given throughout a day. It might be when you first wake up or before retiring. It could be waiting in traffic, at a check out, in a queue or at a surgery. These 5 minutes can be times of prayer and quiet. Turning off noise whenever we can, such as in the car is an aid to solitude. As Paul of the Cross stressed, an environment of quiet helps for interior recollection.
We need also to avoid being frenetic and seek rather, to be calm. We remember the fable of the hare and the tortoise. We can assist this by making ourselves unavailable at times by using an answering machine or leaving a phone off the hook. The world will not come to an end by such action!
- Individual and family strategies may be necessary to create an environment where we can experience God.
- Decide to be a person of peace - don’t panic; be calm
- Take time to be alone; quieten down your ‘inside’
- Just ‘be’...appreciate; you don’t have to ‘do’