Solitude and the Spiritual Life

Solitude by Serhat Demiroglu

Mark 6:31a (NRSV)
Jesus said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”

Solitude is the place of purification. -Martin Buber

There is a physical desert, inhabited by a few exceptional men and women who are called to live there; but more importantly, there is an inner desert, into which each one of us must one day venture. It is a voice; an empty space for solitude and testing.
Frere Ivan

The “prayer of quiet” is a most simple and universal path. Of all the religious rituals and practices I know of, nothing will lead us to that place of nakedness and vulnerability more than regular experiences of solitude and silence, where our ego identity falls away, where our explanations don’t mean anything, where our superiority doesn’t matter and we have to sit there in our naked “who-ness.” If God wants to get through to us, and the Trinitarian Flow wants to come alive in us, that’s when God has the best chance. – Richard Rohr

Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention. Jesus says, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.” (Matthew 6:6) – Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New

He [John the Baptist] is in the wilderness. Obviously because he finds these surroundings appropriate to his life- the parched solitude, the endless spaces, where no one can feel at home. Inevitably we keep discovering that we too are in the wilderness, the wilderness of a great city, the wilderness of isolation, a wilderness that seems to have no center, a wilderness we cannot feel at home in. -Karl Rahner

Deprivation is neither the focus nor the final word of the wilderness. As the honey-eating John knew, the desert offers its own delights. What the wilderness gives us is a path that helps us perceive where our true treasure lies. And does not merely give us a path: empties us enough so that a path is made within us. Through us. Of us. A road for the holy to enter the world. A way for the Christ who comes.
Jan L. Richardson, Through the Advent Door: Entering a Contemplative Christmas

A solitude is the audience-chamber of God. –Walter Savage Landor

Master of the Universe
Grant me the ability to be alone.
May it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grasses,
among all growing things
and there may I be alone,
and enter into prayer
to talk with the one
that I belong to.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratzlav

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. – John Muir

Loneliness is not something from which we must flee
but the place from where we can cry out to God,
where God will find us and we can find God.
-Jean Vanier, The Broken Body

Quotes from The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen

  • Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
  • We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.

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For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this devotional in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

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