Thursday, June 25, 2015

Solitude As the Place of the Great Encounter

Munson Park in Monroe
Henri Nouwen writes: "Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter— the struggle against the compulsion of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self." (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

What does Nouwen mean by this?

First, "solitude" is being alone with God. There can be an interior solitude even when others are around. This inner condition is cultivated as one takes much time, without the presence of other people, to be alone in the presence of God.

Second, solitude is the place of the "great struggle." The struggle is "against the compulsion of the false self." This is the self that has come out of the kingdom of darkness. The false self is life-denying, controlling, manipulative, fearful, defeatist, and condemning. In solitude, especially as one begins to practice it, these unloving voices can make the experience crushing. In our busyness we have covered them up. Now, in our solitary unbusyness, the voices of darkness step onto the stage of our soul and recite their lines.

Third, solitude is also the place of the "great encounter." Here we meet "the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self." Here is God, who calls our name, saying, "You are my beloved child." In the God-encounter nothing surpasses this.

In solitude, the false self is burned away by the purging fires of loving holiness. This is soul's transformation into the joyous freedom of Christlikeness.