SOLITUDE AND COMMUNITY
READ: Luke 4:42-44
“When daylight came, Jesus left the village and went off to a lonely place. The crowds went to look for Him, and when the crowds caught up with Him, they tried to prevent Him from leaving. But He said to them, “I must proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God to other villages as well, because that is what I was sent to do.” And Jesus continued His preaching and teaching in the synagogues throughout the province of Judea.” – Luke 4:42-44
The Benedictine approach to Christian discipleship requires a commitment to both Solitude and Community. This follows the pattern modeled for us by Jesus. Jesus ministered to the crowds; Jesus gathered with His Twelve; and Jesus went off by Himself to the lonely places. Our souls are nurtured and strengthened by both “Solitude and Community”, not by one or the other, but by both. Certain aspects of the Christian spirit are found and matured in the lonely places, the wilderness places, the places of deep Solitude. And certain aspects of the Christian spirit are found and matured in the crowded places, the relational places, the places of meaningful Community. We meet Christ one-on-one in those quiet, lonely places, in intimate conversations between our soul and God’s Spirit; AND we meet Christ in the wholeness of the body of Christ, in those active, gathering places, in the intimate conversations among brothers and sisters in Christ. Here, in the communion of Community, we hear the voice of God spoken through voices other than our own. The mature Christian cherishes both the role of Solitude and the role of Community in learning and producing the ways and wishes of God.
At Greyfriars’ Abbey, we carve out of each day, hours of Solitude. They are not left to the whimsey of serendipity, but rather are scheduled times of our living. As meal times are to nourish and replenish the strength and energy of the body, so the contemplative times, nourish and replenish the strength and energy of the soul. They are times when no other agenda exists except the agenda of my own inner life and the agenda of God’s expressive Presence. They are quiet times when listening can be forefront, a place in time where the unheard whispers of both God and soul might finally be heard. They are times of reading God’s Word ever so slowly, consuming both its letter and its spirit; they are times for translating the stirrings of my soul into prayers; they are times of dreaming and recollecting, but never planning nor analyzing; they are times when God and soul can simply be together … off together with each other.
To complement this Solitude, at Greyfriars’ Abbey, we have a disciplined daily schedule for Community. Five times daily, we all gather in the Chapel for the sharing of the Divine Office, a lectionary of reading Scripture together interlaced with songs and hymns and prayers, both ancient and contemporary. Twice daily, we all gather in the Refectory for our Common Meals of breakfast and dinner. Some gather also for lunch, but many have lunch either where they work or in their hermitage. At our Common Meals, we eat family style, passing dish from one hungry soul to the next. These are “less” quiet times than our alone-times. Oh, there is no raucous frivolity, but nowadays, the Benedictines will converse with their Brothers, sometimes quite casually about everyday matters, sometimes quite seriously about significant matters. Once a day we gather in the Community Hall. Here the Abbot teaches and instructs, matters are resolved and assignments made, questions are asked and news is shared. But most of all, these times of Community remind us that Christ is most powerfully present in the Spirit that is shared among us.
When I am away from Greyfriars’, I quickly remember how difficult and challenging it is out in the “real” world to establish this holy rhythm of Solitude and Community. Like Jesus experienced, so often the crowds come looking for us! Yet, at other times, the meaningful Community seems so hard to find, in the midst of the multitude we somehow still feel so alone. Oh, there are crowds to be found in crowded malls and in crowded arenas, even in crowded churches, but those places where spiritual kinfolk gather to share heart-to-heart conversations are not that easy to come upon. But as challenging as it might be, the Christian disciple MUST find a way – and I believe God will help you find a way – to have both your places of Solitude and your places of Community.