As I slowly, slowly, slowly work through Foster's book, I discover things I missed the first several times I read it.
Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. The fear of being left alone petrifies people... Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that strap to our wrists or fit over our ears so that, if no one else is around, at least we are not condemned to silence.
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Silence is hard for me. All the words build up inside me, and my great fear is that I'll forget them before I share them. I have stacks of journals filled with what amounts to "inanity," as Foster puts it. I have a blog that takes the best of those journal entries and automatically shares them with about a hundred of my closest friends.
But what of it? Why do I do this? Yes, I think what I have to say is valuable. But is its value only realized once it's shared? I find it ironic that Foster lists solitude as one of the "outward" disciplines when it can really only be practiced inwardly.
Fortunately, there's a reason Foster wrote his book in the order he did. First, we realize that discipline is about life-orientation, not making checklists. Next, we sit quietly in mediation to jump start our ability to think for ourselves. After doing this for over a year now, I've found that the distance between my noisy life and the ability to enter solitude shrank from an uncrossable chasm to a small, simple step forward.
The only thing that changed in me was perspective. When fear is the motivator, everything seems big. Instead, realizing that it's actually very simple to live, huge problems become gentle as a spring breeze, and you realize that this world only has the power you give it.
So, what is solitude? Sometimes, it means being alone. But as Bonhoeffer says,
"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community... Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair."
Solitude, simply put, is the acceptance of your own completeness apart from and as a part of your community. You are valuable to them. They are valuable to you. You are valuable to you. And, we always hope, they are valuable to them.
Part of being human is living as an individual within a society. It's not good to be "alone" or "lonely." However, one must also be in the world, but not swept around as part of it.
I'm still working on this one... These aren't complete thoughts yet, but I really needed to get these words out to someone!
In the meantime, if you have any ideas of your own:
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