Tag Archives: Contemplation

Mystic Monday: Guico I, Solitude

“You are aware that in the Old Testament, and especially in the New, almost all the greater and more profound secrets were revealed to God’s friends when they were alone and not in the midst of milling crowds. These same friends of God almost always avoided the hindrance of crowds and sought out the convenience of solitude when they wanted to mediate more deeply on something, or to pray with greater freedom, or when they wished to be removed from earthly concerns through mental energy. […] and you should agree that solitude is the greatest support for sweet psalmody, pious reading, fervent prayer, deep meditation, ecstatic contemplation, and the baptism of tears.” —Guico I, from The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism

My students and I have been reading the American Romantics for the past six weeks or so, and they are always struck by the amount of time the writers spend alone. I am always envious of the same. What strikes me about Christian mystics, especially the earlier ones, is their love and appreciation for silence, for being alone, and for prayer and meditation. Why aren’t American Christians as dedicated to making space for God’s voice? I try and fail to open up solitude and quiet, even for a few minutes. Thoreau writes in Walden: “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.” I, too, like to be alone, and I am wearied by even my best and closest friends. Don’t get me wrong, I love being with people, but being real and present with others is exhausting and sometimes confusing. But there is a difference between being alone because I want solitude, like Thoreau, and being alone because I strive to hear the voice of God, like Guico I.

How, then, can I as a 21st century Christian foster the type of solitude that elicits the revelation of God’s profound secrets? Where can I pause, meditate and pray, and hear those deep stirrings that I long for? Most days I am so caught up in my own life and its pressures and deadlines that I forget to take a moment to listen for God. I forget—no I don’t forget—I don’t make time to just be, to just sit in the presence of Nature and listen for God. I worry about the future, when I should just simply be. I try to interpret my past, when I should just simply be. I miss everything present because I am on a deadline. I know that “solitude is the greatest support for sweet psalmody, pious reading, fervent prayer, deep meditation, ecstatic contemplation, and the baptism of tears,” but I will never experience it if I don’t make solitude a priority and not just an escape from the chaos of the world. The solitude I need to experience God is an intentional solitude wherein I try to hear God’s voice, sense God’s presence, and feel God’s joys and sorrows.

I suppose the feeling of God in moments of intentional solitude mirrors Margaret Fuller’s awe at the face of a Niagara Falls that she thought she already knew everything about: “This was the climax of the effect which the falls produced upon me-neither the American nor the British fall moved me as did these rapids. For the magnificence, the sublimity of the latter I was prepared by descriptions and by paintings.” This reminds me of the ways in which God just sort of creeps up on us in the least expected ways. We look toward the falls for the great beauty, but we are taken aback by the simplicity and power of the falls. I hope I can find some ways to be taken in by the sublime nature of God’s unexpected beauty, but I know that will only happen if I make time to seek God intentionally through prayer and meditation in solitude. I wont’ be overcome by rapids in a crowd of people. So, I ask again, how can I make time for beautiful solitude in which I come to expect to hear the voice of God? Possibly I’ll make time for a retreat of solitude this summer, but more intentionally, I’ll make 15 minutes each morning for meditation and prayer.

Lent Day 2: Miseducation and Common Prayer

I’m sitting in Bracken Library, taking a break from scanning pictures into the computer for my students most recent project, and it’s a little bit eerie in here. There are probably only 25 or 30 people at the computers, if that, and it’s very quiet, even here on the first floor. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the library quiet like this. Today has been strange all around, though, so I am not sure I should be surprised about the library.

Today was the last day of Istep for the 8th graders, so tomorrow we move back to doing our regular classroom stuff, instead of being broken up and spread around for testing, so my stress level will surely go back down. The students told me they thought the test was easy, which either means they did really well or really poorly. I think they were trying to tell me that, so I would feel like they had done super well. One student even said, “It’s because you taught us so well.” I have no doubts I teach well, but I will see in a few months how well they did on this stupid test, which is all that really matters now isn’t it? Two days makes or breaks a student. And his or her teacher.

Anyway, I did receive another blessing today. When I got home, I had yet another book that I purchased with my Amazon points waiting in my mailbox: The Miseducation of Cameron Post. I made the mistake of starting to read it, and now I don’t really want to do anything else. Obviously, if you clicked the link, you notice the secular nature of the text, but to me, the subject is so intimately intertwined with my spirituality, I can’t see a difference.

Church people insist that our sexuality reflects our spirituality by encouraging people to remain virgins until marriage for the sake of religious purity, so it only makes sense to me that our sexuality is somehow an act of worship. Maybe this is why I nearly weep when I find a book that speaks to my soul like this one. I keep finding myself thinking, Where was this book in 1987? My life would’ve been so different if literature like this had existed then. I might have realized at a much earlier age who I really am. I might not have been so lost for so much of adolescence. But I can’t go back, nor do I want to!

As I am reading this book it makes me think about how intricately woven we are as human beings, how delicately God put us together, but yet how hardy we are. I mean let’s face it: humans are fragile but resilient. We can crack or break, but we can take a lot of shit before we do. In a strange way, I think that’s what Lent is about. God wants us to recognize that we are fragile, but that we are designed to weather the storm, whatever that entails. Jesus wants us to follow him to that cross, where our resilience meets our obedience meets our fragility.

For the first time, today I tried to pray the various prayers throughout the day from Common Prayer, and I think it went well. I noticed that it made me think through the day about who I am in Christ. I love that the midday prayers are the same every day and I love that one of those prayers is St. Francis’s: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” And of course he goes on: “For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” How beautiful. And if we really pray it and believe it, how can we not be transformed?

Through these ritual prayers, I realized that I was more conscious on some levels about how I conducted myself in the classroom and with colleagues, but praying through the hours also drew attention to the fact that I am so far from where I want to be spiritually. However, praying so frequently and with a specific prodding to pray for others really made me think hard about those around me who need prayer, love, grace, and my action. And so I continue to learn.

Peace.