In the middle of sentences loaded with actions such as healing, attending to suffering people, casting out devils, responding to impatient disciples, traveling from town to town and preaching from synagogue to synagogue, etc., one finds these words: “In the morning, long before dawn, he got up and left the house, and went off to a lonely place and prayed there”. The more I read this silent sentence locked in-between words, the more I have a sense that the secret of Jesus’ ministry is hidden in that lonely place where he went to pray, early in the morning, long before dawn. In the center of breathless activities, we hear Jesus’ restful breathing in the decision to spend some time in solitude. Surrounded by hours of moving, we find a moment of quiet stillness. In the heat of such involvements there are words of withdrawal. In the midst of action, there is contemplation and solitude.
Somehow, I have a sense that without silence words tend to lose their meaning, without listening, speaking no longer heals, without distance, closeness cannot cure. Somehow, I know that without a lonely place, action tend to quickly become empty gestures. The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and therefore should be the subject commanding our most personal interest and attention.
A life without a lonely place, that is, a life without a quiet place easily becomes depressive and destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive. We would then tend to look at our fellow human beings as enemies to be kept at a distance than friends with whom we can share the gifts of life and of our selves including all our woes and joys, fears and hopes.
In solitude we slowly unmask the illusion of our possessiveness and self-centered nature and then discover in our selves that we are not what we can conquer but what is given to us. In solitude we listen to God speak to us. We listen to ourselves speak to us. We listen to our friends, neighbors, colleagues, foes and nature speak to us. We weigh our potentials and accept our limitations. We make decisions and either commit ourselves to or detract from those decisions. In solitude we gain insights on variety of things and become fuller human beings. To the degree that we have decided to let go of our dependencies and inordinate attachments, whatever that means, we can form a community of faith in which there is little to defend but much to share. We learn to take the world seriously but not too seriously.
There are endless cases of depression and psychosis in our world today simply because people rarely attempt to look reflectively at their individual struggles and/or critically evaluate their lives with the mind of deciding/choosing the way forward. People hardly risk trusting others so as to freely share their problems and struggles, since as the saying goes “confiding in others allays pains”. Since little time is spent in solitude, the burden being carried sometimes become overbearing and overwhelming. They then tend to break the person suffering it or carrying them. When we are able to create some time for solitude and prayerful reflections, especially in the middle of our actions and concerns, our successes and failures loose their power over us. When this happens we are better able to explain that our love for this world can be merged with a compassionate understanding of its illusions. We bear a mood which suggests that our serious engagement can go with an unmasking smile at life.
It might be good to stress that we can form a fellowship of the weak, transparent to him who speaks to us in the lonely places of our existence. He says to us; “Do not be afraid, I will go before you always. Come and follow me and I will give you rest”. St. Ireneus said that the glory of God is man [a human being] fully alive. We should therefore try to be fully alive, but let us not forget, once in while, to get up long before dawn to leave the house and go to a lonely place to pray just as the Master did.