“The lover of silence draws close to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him.” –John Climacus
In the previous post on solitude, I described several strategies I employ to create solitude throughout my day. Starting the day with silence and solitude, avoiding any digital connections in the morning, having the first conversations of the day be with my God, living with little of the noise and distraction that comes from television, radio, and other entertainments, choosing to walk and bike to create times away from people and hurry, and utilizing time driving as a time of silent solitude. And in case your wondering, while walking, riding, and driving I pray with my eyes open.
These “disciplines” do not seem like disciplines at all, for I find them refreshing, creatively energizing, and a source of joy and peace in my day. Solitude is a path to spiritual, mental, and emotional recovery. In solitude we recover from the assaults of the world, the flesh, and our enemy the devil that are relentless upon us. To start the day well-oriented, and then to often find solitude to recover from the most recent assaults leads to being well-grounded and focused. It also reduces the amount of time spent not conscious of our God and His presence in us.
These practices are often not sufficient by themselves, and all of us need occasional times of deeper and longer solitude. We need full days, and more often multiple days of time in which we are able to devote our full attention and affection to the Holy Spirit within us. This is, by the way, why we do well spiritually at camps and retreats. When we are away from the assaults, our phones are off, we are with other believers and focused on spiritual growth, we come away refreshed and energized. We are made for such times. When we do not have them, we suffer in spirit. We come to a level of ignoring the Holy Spirit within us that leaves us dry, stilted, and longing for deeper things. We cannot fill those longings or soften the ground of our hearts with an hour or two each week. We must have more.
For me, the more often comes in spending days or sometimes a week or more away from people, digital tools, hurry, and noise. I go to the wilderness. My most recent trip was to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness here in Minnesota, a trip I do every year. Most of the time I go with a good friend and brother from out west. This trip, I went solo, paddling into the wilderness alone for six days. The weather cooperated by forcing me to stay in one camp for the entire time, which was a tremendous gift. That freed the time each day to be in the conscious presence of my God and have conversational communion with Him. This was the all-day experience for the entire trip.
The best way to design a solitude retreat is to let the Holy Spirit guide you each day. He knows what is best for us every day, and desires to guide us to that best. And He will, if we are in the habit of listening for and responding to His leading. My experience has been that if I over-plan the retreat, I am in control and not the Spirit. I will get mostly what I have, which is not enough and not the purpose. I want what the Spirit is planning and must yield to Him in the details of the day.
What does such a solitude retreat look like? Here is how mine went. Every morning I awoke and began the day by speaking to the Spirit before exiting the sleeping bag and the tent. I asked Him what He wanted from me next and committed the day to Him and myself to be under His guidance. Breakfast and camp chores were done while in conversation with the Holy Spirit. When all was done, I sat down to read and journal. My readings each day included 2 Corinthians, with journaling of what the Spirit was teaching as I went. That often lasted for several hours, punctuated with walks or changes of location if the weather permitted. I spent time each day reading in the three books I brought, journaling the words of the Spirit, meditating and listening in silence. I walked often to explore my island home, praying and meditating as I did. I also took breaks to enjoy the animals (except for the crow that ate some of my food and the chipmunk that purloined my right glove), the scenery, the changing weather and water.
Sound boring and repetitious? It wasn’t so at all. The days flew by, and the time was engaging and energizing because the Spirit of God was speaking continuously. I am still unpacking the truths and the ideas He gave during the trip, as recorded in the 29 pages of journal entries and some of the book and scripture passages. I expect the unpacking will last until the next solitude trip in late November.
“Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone on the mountain top? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved. To pray is to listen to the One who calls you “my beloved daughter,” “my beloved son,” “my beloved child.” To pray is to let that voice speak to the center of your being, to your guts, and let that voice resound in your whole being.” –Henri Nouwen
In the next post, I will talk about my annual planning for solitude retreats