Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Dialectical Movement from Solitude to Community

Saline, Michigan
In the life of Jesus we see a dialectical movement from solitude to community, a return to solitude, then back to community, and so on. Jesus spent much time alone with the Father, much time with the Twelve, and much time with crowds of people, then withdrew to lonely places again. All these movements are needed for a rich spiritual life. If one is missing, life becomes incomplete and distorted.

My solitary times with God work to make me a better Jesus-follower, and a better husband to Linda. She knows this is true and, BTW, you can ask her about the difference this makes in me and in us. "Us" is better when we practice withdrawing from one another to get alone with God.

But alas and ten thousand woes, our Western world does not know this thing called "solitude." It does know spiritual isolation and loneliness, which are the bitter fruit of the loss of true solitude. Thomas Merton writes, "The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude which is necessary, to some extent, for the fullness of human living." (Merton, The Silent Life) How does this work? Here's one example.

God will show us the illusion of our indispensibility and break us of it. This is important because the "indispensible person" consciously or unconsciously becomes "the center of attention" in community. "Community" then becomes inauthentic. But in solitude (with God, away from people) we come to see that our worth is not the same as our usefulness. Now imagine having your heart transformed in that way. The person who is so transformed returns to community not being so needy or needed by others.
Merton again: "If man is constantly exiled from his own home, locked out of his own spiritual solitude, he ceases to be a true person... He is not even a healthy animal. Man becomes a kind of automaton, living without joy, because he has lost all spontaneity. He is no longer moved from within, but only from outside himself. He no longer makes decisions for himself, but lets them be made for him." (Ib.)

The non-solitary person is the passive person, the "acted-upon" person; the reactive person, rather than one who is used by God to transform culture. In solitude we are broken of our demonic need to preserve our persona before others, either bowing or shrinking from their approval or disapproval. Finding the approval of God to finally be enough, God then can work through us to influence others towards him and his kingdom.

The person who shuns solitude "no longer acts upon the outside world, but lets it act upon him. He is propelled through life by a series of collisions with outside forces. His is no longer the life of a human being, but the existence of a sentient billiard ball, a being without a purpose and without any deeply valid response to reality." (Ib.)

With that last quote we see that Merton prophetically decribed our current world of tweeting and texting personas.