Yesterday afternoon I unashamedly drank an entire bottle of the finest quality solitude.
Obvious statement alert: living in community, life is full of people. People in your kitchen, people in your lounge, people in your garden, people in your hair. As a married man there’s even another person in my bed (and, if any of my children have a nightmare, there’s more than one other person in my bed).
Now I believe a life full of people is the life God calls us to. After all, his commandments can be summed up in the word ‘love’. Ever tried loving on your own? Even the solitary hermit has a community of beloved people in his heart – otherwise, I contend, he is no true Christian.
Yet for a life full of people to remain fresh – to remain, in fact, loving – there is a need for times of solitude. I’m not talking about solitude’s rather shallow cousin, sometimes called ‘me time’; I’m talking about deliberate times of aloneness and stillness in which a person comes back to themselves, to their centre – and therefore to God. It may involve prayer (all of life involves prayer), but not necessarily conscious prayer.
So yesterday afternoon I went to a village near the city in which I live. I sat on a bench, overlooking a pool. I read a bit of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. An old chap came and sat next to me and we said nothing to each other. The sun was warm. I wrote a poem and didn’t worry about the fact that it wasn’t very good. I wondered along a country pathway. I sat next to a field of cows, reading a commentary on Romans. Then I dozed off (it wasn’t the commentary, more the peace and the sun). And after that, I read some more of the commentary. Then I came home.
That night I spent about an hour listening to someone who’s been pretty troubled and needed to talk. I was able to listen. Not perfectly (listening doesn’t come naturally to me, as my wife tirelessly points out); but I was able to be there for that person. I don’t think I would have been able to be had I not taken a good long swig of solitude earlier.
That’s the difference between solitude and ‘me time’. Solitude, ultimately, is about community. It resources us for love.
To truly live in community, it is vital that we make space for solitude.