“Solitude, silence and contemplation?”
A friend recently sent me an email sharing a few snippets from material he had been encouraged to read by a friend who was into a religious leader, whose name I won’t mention.
One of the snippets promoted “solitude, silence and contemplative prayer.” It was somehow interwoven with “loving one another” and being connected to Jesus.
I’m paraphrasing because, quite frankly, all the ideas, though very acceptable separately, came across as mumbo jumbo. It was like the alphabet soup of religious, idiomatic jargon swirling together in a suspended state. The order of the ideas could shift with no change in meaning.
My friend wrote me wanting to know my thoughts.
To be honest, I don’t get it. Besides confusing, it is all so yesteryear.
The terminology harks back to a time when solitude was fairly common, silence was required and contemplation was allowed only in prayer, the silent kind. No audibles allowed.
I don’t know why we still use these terms.
The words were popularized when religion was owned and operated by the powerful few, centuries ago. The Spirit was entirely regulated.
Whatever ideas individuals developed through personal contemplation had to be kept a secret lest they be accused of heresy.
Today we’re smarter. We understand that these words describe the very issues that deprive people of feeling alive. Jesus commented on this very thing, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free!”
“Free” being synonymous with “Alive!”
And He said this to the most rigidly religionized people of the day. He didn’t say anything about solitude, silence or contemplation. According to Jesus, all they needed do was “continue in His Word.”
That sounds like action to me.
Should we still be using such words? Let’s look a bit closer.
At best, teaching solitude is cruel. Many struggle with loneliness even when surrounded by people? Jesus was followed by large numbers of people who were already isolated from one another by misunderstanding, judgment and rejection.
What they all had in common was Jesus. He worked to bridge the gaps, not between Himself and the few, but for everyone.
If anything, Jesus taught us to get out of our solitary selves and join the mix. He was out-there. We should be too. Instead, we teach things that feed our natural tendency to disconnect!
Is that the point?
Togetherness Breeds Accuracy
Thinking and expressing ideas in company is not just allowed, it’s needed. In public is the only place an idea can be tried and tested.
No one accepts anything these days. They don’t have to. Every idea is assessed, measured and judged before it’s fully formulated, and that’s a good thing.
Our personal notions are most comfortable when entertained in the solitude of our own imaginations. But our precious mental gems might become fallacious foolery when inspected by the public.
Is it possible to love one another if there is no togetherness or conversation, if we stay isolated in solitude? Relationships are forged in the heat of disagreement, never in solitude.
Silence is no better.
How many feel squelched in the middle of a roaring conversation about anything? They have something to say. They never get to share. In the long run it creates the equivalent of mental constipation.
Thoughts become impacted.
Why create more silence? Silent contemplation sounds like running to me. More like a passive-aggressive response.
Instead, let’s learn to speak with and to others. Silence engenders certitude. Absolute silence (not even thinking) stimulates worry. Conversation tends to curb brashness.
This is the worst of the three.
Can’t we find a better word than contemplation, a centuries old religionized relic of the past that is more synonymous with narrowing, rather than broadening the vision.
“Contemplation” simply means to think about or focus on a topic more attentively, but there are better ways to say that. Sticking to religious nomenclature is like creating a new and different narrow way to the one Christ mentioned.
If we’re going to be forward thinking and progressive, shouldn’t we come up with a new way to describe the process of discovery?
Tradition Doesn’t Ignore Personal Differences
There’s nothing wrong with solitude or silence, if that’s what you prefer, but why preach it? Why make it a standard or rule of practice. “Focus” is actually the key word and the ability to focus is not the same for each person.
I’ve known people who focused best in the middle of a crowd with music in the background. Must they now change? We’re all different. Let’s not impose generalized rules.
The object of devotional exercises – I don’t like that word either – should be the emphasis, not how one person or group devotes.
The intent of a devotion is to think through important ideas or see those ideas from a different perspective or hone the understanding we already have or even remember ones that have faded.
You can’t do that effectively by shutting down, which is kind of what “solitude, silence and contemplation” sound like.
- I enjoy thinking through issues early in the morning, when I first get up, but others may focus best at night or midday.
- My thinking is provoked most when I read a book on a topic, not a short devotion for each day. Reading daily devotional booklets has always felt like mentally chewing someone else’s regurgitated thoughts and trying to make sense of it. But that’s just me. Not everyone feels the same way.
- Whatever I gain from the reading/thinking exercise is processed more completely when I write it down. Writing doesn’t make my thinking more accurate, it just helps to create a better overall picture.
- Engagement in life’s regular activities helps open the thought processes. Ideas develop even while shaving!
- When I’m alone in a noiseless environment, and my thoughts or energies aren’t actively engaged, is when I worry.
It may work for some but solitude, silence and contemplative prayer doesn’t work for me. If I were to preach what did work for me, and that’s not my intent, it would look something like: Early, Read and Write.
Every person has a formula that works for them but what works for one probably won’t work for all.