Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Solitude

“Walking up and down in Bardstown outside Krogers, in the cold, saluted by man, woman, and child. I thought that never, never could I make sense of life outside the monastery. I am a solitary and that is that. I love people o.k., but I belong to solitude. It was so good to get back and smell the sweet air of the woods and listen to the silence.”[1]

Although easily perceived as one, I’m honestly not an anti-social person. I am happily married and enjoy life with my wife. In my work I am engaged with people on a day to day basis and I find it rather interesting that so many of the people that I work for want to sit and chat with me about more than lawn care nuances, despite my being often soaked with sweat and covered with lawn debris.

Although I garner an income from my labor, what I do is also a platform for sharing life in the Gospel, with a Benedictine orientation, in a theologically non-threatening way. Canned evangelistic tactics and proselytizing have no place in this venue. It does, however, bring about numerous opportunities to encourage people to simply trust God when the winds of life blow contrary. The solitary nature of my outdoor work also provides me with plenty of opportunities to pray for people while I am physically working on their lawns and shrubbery.

For these opportunities, and for the income, I say thanks be to God. It’s a pretty neat deal.

Merton’s journal entry on December 13, 1958 strikes quite a harmonious chord with me. He was searching for something when he entered Gethsemani, though I hardly think he could have verbalized it so well early on in his monastic career. But he found it, embraced it, and lived it. Solitude. Both interior solitude and eventually the solitude of his hermitage in the woods.

It took quite a number of years for me to finally recognize and embrace my own solitary nature. I ran from it for most of my life and in my younger years my running put me into a lot of troubled waters. Jonah wasn’t the only one to see a whale’s innards. His literally. Mine proverbially. But a whale just the same.

Once my whale finally literally deposited me on my face crying out to God for mercy and forgiveness, I busied myself in active ministry roles that I perceived to be vocations. Even so, I was always struggling interiorly with something that I couldn’t name, and struggling with it within the context of faith traditions that had, long ago, renounced it as a viable means of Christian faith expression.

Solitude had no name in my young, tender years. But it definitely had a friendly face and form. Though I had experienced it often as a child growing up on the small family farm, I grew so estranged from its reality that solitude became beyond my recognition and embrace.

[1] Thomas Merton, A Search For Solitude, p. 239