Tag Archives: Vision

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.

Common Prayer, Exercise, Whole 30 (Day 1)

We don’t have school today, which is nice because I get to have a sneak preview into what summer will be like. I got up at about 6:00 this morning, leisurely put on my clothes and shoes, and ran the two miles to Ball Pool. I hopped into the pool at 7:00AM and swam a little over a mile, then walked home, arriving by 8:30. I moved my body 5 miles by 8:30. How amazing will summer be?! I will be able to have all of my “required” exercise (it’s my goal to move at least 5 miles every day) and my morning prayers/quiet time finished by 9AM, and then I’ll have the whole rest of the day to work on art, house chores, gardening, or whatever, and because I’ve switched to the paleo/primal diet, I actually have energy to do things! All of these things are perfect meditations in the love of God. Moving the body. Contemplating God’s word. Praying for others. Being meditative.

But, we still have about thirty-five days of school left, so I can’t get too excited about summer yet. Not that I am counting down the days, because I don’t really do that. I generally love school. One of my favorite times of year is when I get to buy new school supplies and a few clothes.

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Today’s morning prayers had a snippet about Dietrich Boenhoeffer, and the thought-provoking quote provided from him really made me think: “So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life, but in the thick of foes.” Generally, I don’t look at other people as foes, but the first part of that really struck me. I spend a good portion of my time thinking about how I could be a better Christian, and that vision usually includes some form of me living in a convent or some other monastic situation where I don’t have too much contact with the outside world. Boenhoeffer is so right, though. My Christianity really means nothing if it’s cut off from the world, hidden behind closed doors. The idea of Monastic life, as manifested by the folks who live at Simple Way in Philadelphia, really appeals to me. They are making a difference while still living according to a modified version of the ancient cycle of monastic life. It’s really beautiful and there is so much good.

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This Lent really changed me. I feel much more hopeful, much more alive. Being out in the wilderness was good for me. Having a friend to talk with about how that feels was helpful. Fasting during Holy Week made the whole 40-ish days come alive, and I realized (again) in a very real way the humanity of Jesus: he was a real man, with friends and family, who suffered horribly and died. However, you interpret the act of the cross, the actual human events leading up to it must have been excruciating for Jesus and for all those whose lives were touched by his. Then, yesterday, the very real joy of Easter came crashing into me in a way I’ve never experienced before. I teared up a bit at the sunrise service. Maybe my life with Christ needed some attention, maybe I needed the Bible to become real for me again, maybe I just needed to make some tough decisions, or maybe I just needed to listen, really listen, to what I am being called to do. It certainly isn’t a life that’s so busy I don’t have time for friends, family, or even people I don’t really know. I’m called to a more contemplative life, a life filled with spiritual thinking, grace, love, and peace. Now my only problem is figuring out how to make this life I envision, this life I am called to, a reality.

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Duh, I published this without adding the thing that made me start to write this post. Today is the first day of my Whole 30 experience. I forgot I was going to start it today, so I bought some yogurt for breakfast this week, but I am just going to freeze it and eat it when I am finished. I have only one cheat for the next 30 days, and that’s raw honey. I’ve been eating a tablespoon of it every day for my allergies, and it seems to be working, so I don’t want to cut that out. Other than that, I am Whole 30 all the way!

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