Monday, June 8, 2009

The Glory of Being Alone

"Silence is the way to make solitude a reality"
~Henry Nouwen

When I was a girl, I spent many hours with my grandmother on her front porch watching the rain. Sometimes we would talk but more often than not words were unimportant and instead we would both get lost in the beautiful conversation between the wind and the raindrops. I did not understand in those days how she was schooling me in the art of solitude. All of the mornings I would find her in her breakfast room, sipping coffee and listening to the serenade of the blue jays and cardinals outside of her opened back door, she was teaching me the importance of what Wordsworth called "a wise passiveness."

I have known people who find themselves anything but companionable and I feel so sad for them as I have nearly always enjoyed my own company. This is not because I am anything special, but rather that I was taught at an early age to appreciate, even relish silence and solitude and to seek it out regularly as one might seek time with a dear friend. Sadly, this is a lost art in our current time and with an ever increasing number of distractions and ways to connect with others, this generation has forgotten how to connect with self, which ironically leaves us with much less to offer all the other people with whom we work so hard to connect.

Paul Tillich said that "Language has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone, and the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone." I long for my own children to know the glory of being alone for it is in that place where we become acquainted with our true selves and can then see the transformation from who we are to who we can become. God's transforming grace can meet us in the contemplative silence with an overwhelming clarity that is unknown in the hustle and bustle of busy living and it is a meeting of unparalleled importance. It is what elevates the leader from good to great, the Christian from shallow to deep and the person who is alone from pain to glory.


Erica June 8, 2009 at 8:42 PM  

Excellent blog, Beth. I really appreciate your thoughts on silence and solitude. They are so key to knowing ourselves and being at peace in the world. It is easy to lose touch with ourselves and with God when we forget to make space for these. Since I've been in Nashville and have few friends here I have a lot more time for silence, but often have found myself filling it with noise, maybe out of loneliness. I sometimes forget how glorious it can be to be alone, how much I enjoy and benefit from a solitary walk or journaling or just sitting outside watching the world happen. Thanks for reminding me. I also loved hearing about your grandmother. She sounds like a wise and lovely person.

Beth Brawley Taylor June 8, 2009 at 10:06 PM  

Thank you, Erica. I needed that encouragement. :)

Rachel June 8, 2009 at 11:17 PM  

Oh this is just beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing this.

Cee June 8, 2009 at 11:22 PM  

Wonderful Beth. I wonder how long it took you to realise the lessons of solitude of your grandmother. I too love being alone, love solitude. For me now, it is achieved through writing and reflecting on my days which are very busy with two young girls. I wish I had known this peace earlier. You see I have always loved solitude but have found myself pulled against the tide of the world longing for myself to enjoy the busyness that others seem to embrace so wholeheartedly. It has taken me this long to realise and embrace the beauty of solitude. The joy of taking time, pondering, not rushing my girls and simply being.

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Beth Brawley Taylor June 10, 2009 at 8:07 AM  

Thank you, Rachel and Cee! And Mark, I visited your sight and added my name to your followers. I enjoyed seeing all that God is doing through your ministry.