Holy Solitude. That’s the name of a book I got to inspire my reflection this Lenten season. (Holy Solitude, Heidi Haverkamp) With characters from biblical stories and from the history of religious practice, I am invited to enter the wilderness to be alone with God.
Participants in this book’s practices are encouraged to ‘decorate’ the house, as one would for the season of Advent or Christmas. In some ways it is more ‘un-decorating’, as the author suggests removing candles, for example.
I have been slow to enter the process and the practice, but as this first week has unfolded, I have read stories of Hagar and been reminded that she entered the wilderness, cast out of Sarah’s house not once, but twice; and of Paul, contemplating his withdrawal from a quite extroverted way of living for three days of literal darkness and introspection.
I have turned off the timer on my string of lanterns, which usually shine for half an hour around breakfast time, and for a couple of hours in the evening.
I replaced a red lotus candle holder from the bowl on the dining table with dead or dying branches and fallen bark from trees outside (my Lenten guide encouraged the use of things found, not bought, as an appropriate Lenten practice). Placing some dead twigs in the vase with a face on it is an interesting comment on Lent’s mindfulness …
The rest of the candle holders I have on display remain where they are, but the candles are hidden, and the tree that lights up, which I bought for Christmas then kept out as an ornament in my developing indoor garden, is also not on display any more.
For many, the invitation to embrace solitude is a stark contrast to daily life filled with partners, children, house mates, even pets. For one such as me, who lives alone, and spends a great deal of time in that solitude and stillness because of illness, what will I gain from such a focus through this season?
I think I yearn for encouragement to relax into this solitude. When I feel down, and that’s quite a bit during these days and weeks of pain, discomfort, illness, my mind plays tricks on me and tells me I want a partner. I need encouragement to remember this way of living is my choice because it suits me well, it is life-giving.
I need encouragement to relax into the stillness. Four days off last weekend, and I spent three of them playing clarinet, doing jigsaw puzzles, reading, watching movies, watering the garden, sleeping. The fourth I spent writing. All day. And in the days that followed, that creativity and productivity has continued. To others, I look very busy when they see the work I produce. I need reminding, again and again, that it is from stillness, contemplation, solitude, that such productivity emerges. My contribution through my work and placement will not be, or look, like that of my colleague. It will be, it is, appreciated, valuable, and significant for what it is.
As I strive to keep my commitment to engage in this practice of Holy Solitude through Lent, I hope, I pray, it will lead me to a sense of peace with a way of living that is forced upon me by circumstance. I hope it will lead me to an enduring commitment to solitude and stillness as my way of living God’s Way. I hope it will lead me to gratitude, confidence, joy, in the midst of a season that feels like a harsh wilderness most of the time.