Prayer in Solitude

“...whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  Jesus (Matthew 6:6)

I grew up seeing my parents kneeling in prayer by their bed. It was a regular occurrence to see my mom sitting quietly in the living room having her “devotions”. The pull into solitude and silence is both part of who I am and how I’ve been formed. As a young mom of four children I longed for silence and solitude. I was fortunate to find spiritual mentors who taught me to recognize God’s still calming presence in the ordinary routine and sometimes chaos of life. And when life truly did become chaotic while living in Haiti, it was Henri Nouwen who accompanied and taught me the great importance of silence, of simply being still and paying attention. “Then you realize that you can do many things, not compulsively but freely. It is the silence of the ‘poor in spirit’ where you learn to see your life in its proper perspective. In this silence, the false pretenses fade away, and you can see the world again with a certain distance, and in the midst of all your cares, you can pray.” (Nouwen, With Open Hands, p. 39)

It was during those years in Haiti, when my exterior world was at best unpredictable, that my interior world of silence and solitude became a calm spaciousness of communing with God. In that interior silence of being still and knowing God (Psalm 46:10; 62:1; 131:2) my exterior world was given proper perspective and my capacity to live with uncertainty and unpredictability was increased. In the silence I found both security and freedom. In the silence of contemplative prayer I knew that regardless of what happened in life and regardless of my failures and successes in meeting the demands of life, I am the beloved of God – nothing could change that. In the silence I was reminded that my storied life exists within the larger story of what God is about in the world.  God actually isn't standing back and watching to see if I will measure up. There is enormous security and freedom in knowing that.

Moving back to Manitoba, where life is far more predictable and busy, I became a list-maker as a way to organize my days’ many tasks. I would put “prayer” on the list but so many days I never got to it because everything else seemed more important and urgent. Sitting in silence seems grossly unproductive and counter intuitive in our highly efficient, multi-tasking culture. There’s nothing to show and measure at the end of 20 or 40 minutes of silence. Best to leave prayer for the end of the day when I’m drifting off to sleep, or perhaps I can shoot off several prayerful thots or pleas of help to God throughout the day.

Eventually God got my attention and I returned to a regular morning sit beginning my day in silence and solitude.

Now, many years later, with kids grown and grand-boys on the scene, with Dan and his uncertainties around health, with the restrictions of covid-19 forcing us to be at home and with the global uncertainties we are all living with I am deeply grateful for the practice of silence that has become for me a daily habit. No longer do I put it on my to-do list nor do I wonder if or when I can do it. I have lived long enough and lived through enough to know there are many things I can live without; there are a few things I must have. Solitary prayer is one of those. Fortunately I have always been an early riser, up before the sun and anyone else in the house, so there in the stillness of early dawn, my day begins.

Committed to following Jesus in my life includes following him into solitary prayer with the One whom he knew intimately as Abba (Mark 14:36, Romans 8:15). As he spent time alone with his Father in order to order his active life of ministry, so too must I.

A few things silence and solitude have taught me ...
In silent prayer my limitations and vulnerability are met by God’s grace that is truly sufficient.
In silent prayer I can, in my limitations and vulnerability, be on common ground with all of humanity and with our global community, knowing that God’s grace is enough for us all. “Contemplation must not be confused with abstraction”, wrote Thomas Merton. “A contemplative life is not to be lived by permanent withdrawal into one’s own mind. ..[A contemplative] is the one who is best attuned to the logos of humanity’s present situation, immersed in its mystery, acquainted with its deepest suffering, and sensitive to its most viable hopes.” (Thomas Merton, The Inner Experience)
In acknowledging my limitations and brokenness, in my openness to receive from God, God ministers to me with love and grace. That love and grace enable me to engage with and minister to others with that same love and grace. "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything." 1 John 3:18-20

Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century. She lived her life committed to the regular practice of prayer and meditation. She insisted that we maintain that practice regardless of how tedious and uneventful it may seem, regardless of the trials and joys of life. To remain committed to the place of silence where we know our life hidden in Christ, is of ultimate importance.
Her famous poem speaks to what she came to know:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.
- Teresa of Avila (1515-1582, declared a saint in 1622, named the first woman Doctor of Prayer of the Church in 1970)

My prayer for us all is that we find place and time to commune with God. For some of us it is sitting in silence. For others it is in walking meditation, or gardening, or creating artwork, or listening to music, or . . .

Where and how does it happen for you?

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