Moving from a Center of Solitude

There are authors I read in rotations. I will re-read a short list of writers because their work helps me remember myself, helps me fall into who I am, enable me to in their work see my own because reading them is a way of listening to the sacred in them – and, therefore, listening to the sacred in me.

I’ve done less reading rotations but I am reaching back for the reading plan that soothes my soul. When I’m at my best, I’m reading bell hooks annually, for instance. I’m thumbing slowly through the words of Howard Thurman. I’m probably sitting with something from Na’Im Akbar, Eugene Peterson, Joyce Rupp, and Gerald May.

Right now, I’m slowly re-reading Henri Nouwen’s Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. I met the book when I was reading for my supervisory education training in CPE. I struggled with whether this particular work of Nouwen would make it into my theory of supervision and because I met it pretty late, I decided to have him as a quiet partner in my soul care, even though not a featured one in the papers that I wrote and discussed at committee.

In the book, he’s writing about how loneliness transitions into solitude. He says that allowing loneliness to move into solitude changes anxiousness into love. His work in the book is, in part, to critique culture that engenders compulsive reactions, anxious choices, and unconsidered alertness to things that aren’t core to us. He writes:

“But in solitude of heart we can listen to the events of the hour, the day and the year and slowly ‘formulate,’ give form to, a response that is really our own. In solitude we can pay careful attention to the world and search for an honest response.

(Reaching Out, p. 50)

He says that loneliness births anxiety and that anxiety disables our self-recognition. It removes our ability to see our own core. Without being able to recognize our core, we move from one anxious reaction to another, stepping farther from who we are and from the solitude of the heart.

The solitude of the heart is where the honest response is. It’s where, when we step away from fear provoked by anxiousness, we hear something that sounds like peace even if complicated for the sense it doesn’t make in a chaotic, dynamic world. In that world, we are moved to react. In that world, we are moved by noise.

In the solitude of heart, we move to a core slowness that isn’t about timing but choosing. We pace ourselves by peace not fear. Nouwen gives ways to move toward peace in the book. One way, if you’re interested, is in weeping, learning to weep, and learning to keep vigil.

Already, you may think, with Nouwen, “No one wants to do that.” Precisely. Weeping, he writes, is a way to “listen carefully to our restless hearts.” Rather than medicate them with psychic numbing and anesthetics, he says, being in the middle of sadness helps us locate joy, peace, and the beginnings of solitude.

May we keep moving toward the core, the truth, the slower and stronger revealed reality of who we are.

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