Thursday, December 17, 2009

Converting loneliness into solitude

It would probably be wrong of me to post the entire book of Henri Nouwen's writings from 'The Only Necessary Thing,' but this section entitled "Converting Loneliness into Solitude" on pp. 43-44 is good stuff. It says...
In discussing [solitude and the need for it], three words are important: aloneness, loneliness, and solitude. You and I and all people are alone. Aloneness is a natural fact. No one else in the world is like me: I am unique. No one else feels and experiences the world the way I do: I am alone.

Now, how do I deal with my aloneness? Many people deal with it through loneliness. That means you experience your aloneness as a wound, as something that hurts you, makes you miserable. It makes you cry out, "Is there anyone who can help me?" Loneliness is one of the greatest sources of suffering today. It is the disease of our time.

But, as Christians, we are called to convert our loneliness into solitude. We are called to experience our aloneness not as a wound but as a gift - as God's gift - so that in our aloneness we might discover how deeply we are loved by God.

It is precisely where we are most alone, most unique, most ourselves, that God is closest to us. That is where we experience God as the divine, loving Father, who knows us better than we know ourselves.

Solitude is the way in which we grow into the realization that where we are most alone, we are most loved by God. It is a quality of heart, an inner quality that helps us to accept our aloneness lovingly, as a gift from God.

In that place our activities become activities done for the other. If we accept our aloneness as a gift from God, and convert it into deep solitude, then out of that solitude we can reach out to other people. We can come together in community, because we don't cling to one another out of loneliness. We don't use or manipulate one another. Rather, we bow to one another's solitude. We recognize one another as people who are called by the same God.

If I find God in my solitude, and you find God in your solitude, then the same God calls us together, and we can become friends. We can form community, we can sustain a marriage, we can be together without destroying each other by clinging to each other.

Ah, there is so much more. I will just add one more tidbit from p. 42 that is related:
A life without a lonely place, a life without a quiet center, easily becomes destructive. When we cling to the results of our actions as our only way of self-identification, then we become possessive and defensive and tend to look at our fellow human beings more as enemies to be kept at a distance than as friends with whom we share the gifts of life.