Life is full of so many distractions that call us away from the inner journey and prevent us from responding to the call of intimacy from our creator. My days are filled with lists of tasks to perform, deadlines to meet, phone calls to make, meetings to attend, trips to the supermarket, meals and washing to be prepared, household chores, emails to be answered….. the list goes on and on. Most of these things are good and important to do, I enjoy my job and I love being a mother and a wife, but its the speed at which my life is moving that has become the problem. Because my days are so busy, it is so easy to ignore the call to solitude, my hearts longing to pause, to wait, to listen, to slow down and to spend time on my own, in silence.
As a child some of my favourite places were spaces where I could dream; I would spend what seemed like hours sitting on my garden swing, singing, looking into the sky and trying to reach the clouds, listening to the bird song and pretending that I was flying with them. Or just messing around at the beach not too far from our home, paddling in the gentle surf and collecting shells, and looking in rock pools at the wildlife. These were times when my mind had the space to wander, to observe the minutiae of life around me, to share my observations with Jesus who I always knew was with me, and to listen to what creation and creator wanted to share with me. Distractions were few in those days as we didn’t have a tv for many years, and of course no computer games, emails or mobile phones to call us out of our solitude. But what I enjoyed in those times is something that I always yearn for now and have to make a conscious effort to make space for in my now busy, adult life.
Solitude is so important. If we want to be at peace with ourselves, to enjoy an inner harmony, to experience the living in grace that Jesus talks about, then we need to learn to live the simple life. By this I mean a life that is not fragmented but one that is learning to remain whole amidst all the many distractions, to remain balanced and open to the rhythm of both solitude and community, to embrace the ebb and flow of retreat and activity, of contemplative prayer and collective celebration.
Anne Morrow Lindberg describes this beautifully in her book ‘Gift from the sea’
‘It is a difficult lesson to learn today – to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me the break is the most difficult. Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I shall be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before.’
I am finding that it is not because my life is too busy that I don’t spend time in solitude but because I don’t always see it as essential. I manage to find the time to go on facebook, to watch the news, to do the washing, to do more than the required amount of hours at work, and so it is my attitude to solitude that needs to grow in order that I embrace a rhythm of life that is more balanced. My desire to grow deeper in love with my saviour needs to be nurtured until I find it an absolute necessity to spend time alone with him as well as with others. Our contemporary church services often do little to encourage the balance between solitude and community, by the continuous singing of choruses, the proclaiming of the word of God, the loud collective prayers and the constant call to service and activity, we often neglect the traditions of silent prayer and the beauty of contemplation, and yet the bible is full of stories and passages that teach us the importance of solitude.
Jesus regularly spent time alone with his heavenly father, retreating to the hills, or setting the boat out onto the lake. Lent is the time when we specifically remember Jesus’ 40 days of solitude in the wilderness, that equipped him for the period of public ministry that was to follow. How much more should we need to embrace the ebb and flow of activity and rest, of time alone with our saviour and time to celebrate collectively. May this Lent be an opportunity for us all to embrace more of Gods grace in our lives.
Try and spend a little time in solitude this week, it might be a walk in the park alone or even just getting off the bus one stop early and walking with your thoughts and prayers. If you can make the time try and spend an hour in the company of God alone, find a quiet corner, or even just shut the kitchen door whilst preparing the tea, but enjoy the sound of silence, listen to your soul, and let God whisper gently in your ear.
Lesley Sutton is an artist and curator and director of PassionArt